Summer Blogging/Condoleezza at W&M

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It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog; how do these things even start, again? During my 16 year hiatus, I’ve taken up contortion, succumbed to the weight of my scholastic burdens, and joined a luge team in preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang (stylized as PyeongChang by the Olympics committee, but not anywhere else– why..?) Sadly only one of these things is true, though I have high hopes for new creative ventures over the next few months. I’m staying at William & Mary this summer to work at the library, continue some research on youth violence for a Government Department professor, and work a paid position proofreading and editing a biography on Robert Frost that one of my English professors is writing. That last endeavor is by far the most exciting, but also the most intimidating: how can I, an undergraduate who can barely manage putting on socks in the summer months, be expected to provide useful writing aid to a published poet and author with a Ph. D? It’s an awesome opportunity that I know will really benefit me, and it feels like a pretty grown-up thing to do. But I don’t know, it’s weird.

As for other things I have planned for the summer, I’m really thrilled to have more free time to blog again. They say that writers should write every day, and I’ve done that to some extent, but not nearly at the level that I’d consider to be optimal. I’m going to try to pump out posts with some regularity while getting back into creative writing privately. I suppose I’d share a creative piece if I felt very confident in it, but we’ll see. It’s been a while. Outside of writing, a friend also staying at W&M suggested that watercolor painting could be a fun hobby, which I would definitely be into. There’s a whole lot of TV that I haven’t had time to watch, too, like Empire, Silicon Valley, Scandal, Jane the Virgin, Fresh off the Boat, etc. So that’ll definitely be happening. And there are plenty of other things that I’m excited about that I don’t feel like writing about right now. It should be a great time! Now, to change the subject, I’d like to talk a little bit about something that stirred some controversy this semester at W&M.

Condoleezza Rice was announced as the 2015 Commencement speaker back in early March to an extremely mixed reception. There was talk of people on both sides of the argument writing letters to the administration urging them to cancel her appearance and defending her merits as Commencement speaker, respectively. I’ve been wanting to offer my perspective on the issue for a while now, since I think it varies a bit from a lot of what I’ve been hearing. I’ve mostly just come up with variants for her name following her resurgence in the W&M popular dialogue (Condensation Quinoa, Continental Barley, Conversation Basmati), but I do have other things to say, too. First of all, it’s important to acknowledge the gravity of Rice’s achievements: she was the first female Secretary of State, the first black female Secretary of State, and the second overall black Secretary of State after Colin Powell just before her. She IS “#blackexcellence,” as popularized by Twitter, whether you agree with her politics or not. I don’t, but I fully recognize her accomplishments.

Secondly, a lot of the criticism directed at Rice relies on rhetoric decrying her for being a “war criminal,” a statement on which I have mixed feelings. I won’t comment on whether or not I feel that Rice qualifies as a war criminal for her role in launching an illegal war or approving the torture of terrorist suspects, but I find it odd that many of the same people demonizing Rice for war crimes would very likely express excitement for an appearance by President Obama or Hillary Clinton at William & Mary despite their less than ideal track records. I would just prefer consistency in how we choose to critique our politicians over criticism based on party lines.

Lastly, and most importantly, I disagree with sentiments suggesting her censorship. I find that kind of behavior destructive and counterproductive. Surely Rice would have something interesting to say as a successful black woman in politics, regardless of her political affiliation. Censoring her entirely serves only to negate discussion and doesn’t yield the desired effect, in my opinion. A more effective way to demonstrate opposition to Rice’s politics while still allowing her to speak would be some form of symbolic protest that she wouldn’t be able to ignore; for example, students might paint their palms red to represent the blood of war crimes, and then raise them while she is delivering her speech. That’s powerful. That’s something that people will photograph and talk about. And that’s something that she will remember when she leaves the William & Mary campus. I would choose that kind of extremely visible protest over shutting an event down all together 100% of the time.

So, that’s all I have to say for now. Hope this has provided some insight into my summer plans and thought process when it comes to this particular issue. I heard there there’s free coffee at Wawa today, so I’m gonna go do that. Get outside and soak up that Vitamin D, kids.

Valar morghulis,

Kyle

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My Issues With This Season of American Horror Story

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American Horror Story used to be one of my favorite shows, but this last season was, frankly, a hot mess. I’ve gotten used to AHS’s particular brand of sloppy writing: plot holes all over the place, rushed storylines, and more attention being given to writing sassy dialogue than actually producing a cohesive plot. And until now, that’s been fine with me! Every season of American Horror Story introduces strong, witty characters who have given me plenty of one-liners to quote again and again with my friends. So in that regard, I would say the show is pretty successful. I can probably attribute part of the reason that the show lost me this season to the fact that it was lacking in the humor area. That, combined with the finale, has left me feeling pretty blasé about continuing to watch the show.

I always knew that one of the big points of this season’s theme would be to show that the real “freaks” are not those who are physically deformed and/or different, like the performers in the freak show, but in actuality are those who have immense wealth and privilege and think they’re above the law, like rich boy Dandy Mott (played amazingly by the hunky Finn Wittrock). This message ostensibly seems like a pretty good takeaway, but the way that the show framed Dandy’s mental illness really bothers me. We learn early on that Dandy’s family has had a long history of inbreeding in order to keep their money to themselves, consequently causing mental illness to run in the family. Thus, Dandy was born a psychopath. He had lots of interesting scenes that provided some insight into the inner workings of a psychopath’s mind, but overall, it seems like the writers used his condition as a horror tool in the same way that we’ve seen over and over in other TV shows, films, and books.

Freak Show took place in the 1950s, so it’s probable that Dandy’s condition may not have been as well understood or treated as it might be today. Still, I find it somewhat unsettling that the writers were so quick to cast Dandy aside as the freaky psycho not worthy of any sympathy when, like the “freaks,” he never asked to be born that way. Right before killing him in the season finale, Angela Bassett’s character Desiree tells him, “you may look like a motion picture dreamboat, but you’re the biggest freak of all.” What does this say about his mental illness? This season of American Horror Story was set in the 1950s, but I firmly believe that many of its messages can be interpreted through a contemporary lens. In the same way that its plot suggests that we should not judge others who look different from ourselves in the present day, it also suggests that psychopaths are not worthy of sympathy.

This tendency to demonize the mentally ill pervades our culture in a way that makes people feel ashamed to seek help or be honest about what they’re dealing with inside their own heads. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I truly believe that we as a society can and must accommodate people dealing with severe mental illness, and I look forward to advances that will make it more and more possible for them to live safe, happy lives. An important step in doing so is removing the stigma attached to mental illness, which I believe AHS has only added to via its treatment of Dandy this season. Am I reading too much into it? Maybe. Still, I stand by the fact that this season was a disappointment. Better luck next time, I guess? Here’s a link to a super interesting TED talk given by a scholar living with schizophrenia—this is the sort of stuff that contributes positively to mental health discourse. Take note, Ryan Murphy.

Good vibrations,

Kyle

2014: My Year in Videos

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If the preview picture confused you it’s because the one I wanted to use was giving me trouble, so I went with a collage I made of my friend and I instead (hey Bridget). I was feeling pretty nostalgic today and decided to compile a list of some of the videos that I remember most from 2014. I thought of videos that I found funny, enlightening, important, and/or intriguing, and ended up with a list of 19. At first I considered that maybe I’d squandered the opportunity to pick a number with some kind of meaning or pun (ex. 14 videos from 2014), but then I realized that 19 videos for my 19th year would work perfectly. Without further ado, here is the list:

Adult Swim: “Too Many Cooks”

Amanda Seales vs. Steven Santagati: Catcalling Debate on CNN

Azealia Banks: “Chasing Time” Music Video. I wish she would focus a little more on her music and a little less on her Twitter beef.

Barack Obama: Plans for Immigration Reform. Sorry bout it, xenophobes.

CNN: Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Diane Guerrero: Telling the Story of her Family’s Deportation

Edward Snowden at TED2014: “Here’s how we take back the Internet”

Emma Watson: Speech at the UN Women’s HeForShe Campaign 2014

FKA twigs: “#throughglass”. ‘Twas a great year for twigs. I’m obsessed with the vogue influences here and almost feel compelled to buy Google Glass when I watch this. Almost.

Geena Rocero at TED2014: “Why I Must Come Out”

John Oliver: Ferguson and Police Militarization on Last Week Tonight. Everything John Oliver did/said was on point this past year. He gets it.

La Roux: “Kiss and Not Tell” Music Video. Really into this video’s aesthetic, and thought her new album was fun and somewhat underrated.

Malala Yousafzai: Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. She’s an amazing human being. I highly recommend reading her book, I am Malala.

Mellody Hodson at TED2014: “Colorblind or Color Brave?” Super important talk about the uncomfortable topic of race in America, which was obviously huge throughout 2014.

Solange Knowles and Jay-Z: Elevator Fight via TMZ

Tricia Miranda: “Anaconda” Choreography. I watch this video several times a week as a form of replenishment. The third dancer KILLS it. Not even losing an earring could stop her.

Trinity Kardashian Bonet: Runway Looks from Season Six of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Perfection.

World of Wonder: Every episode of “Fashion Photo RuView”. I picked just one of my favorite episodes, but this webseries had me cackling from the beginning till the end of 2014. I recommend it even if you don’t watch the main show, RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Zak Ebrahim at TED2014: “I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace.”

There’s a lot of different things going on here, but this is a pretty decent sample of the types of things that captured my attention this past year. There’re obviously many more things I could have highlighted, but these are just some of the first ones that came to mind. Feel free to check them out and share your thoughts.

Tickles,

Kyle

As Seen on TV

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Hello again! As I said at the end of my last post, I’m focusing this entry on my fashion influences from various TV shows. As self-involved as it feels to be doing so, I can’t say I’ve ever made an attempt to fully articulate the aesthetic I’ve developed from being someone who watches a little too much television. The fashion choices of some of my favorite characters have definitely manifested themselves in my own style, so this is a fun opportunity for me to explore some of my influences and make some sense of my clothing options. I have to begin first with two iconic characters from Saved by the Bell: Zack Morris and Lisa Turtle. I watched re-runs of the show all the time in middle and high school.

Saved by the Bell in general featured a lot of whacky fashion choices that I love (like matching separates and denim on denim), but Zack and Lisa in particular really do it for me for different reasons. Zack’s sweater collection is amazing; he ran with the ugly sweater trend and made it work TOO well. He also taught me that layering a button-up under a ridiculous sweater is almost always a good idea. He’s the poster boy for taking loud, thrifty clothes and turning out effortlessly cool and polished looks.

You'd look shocked too if you suddenly realized you were a god among plebeians.

You’d look shocked too if you suddenly realized you were a god among plebeians.

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I have no idea what’s going on with this pattern, but I’m so into it.

Lisa Turtle was the queen of fashion at Bayside High, and for good reason. What I love about her is that she was fearless when it came to her look. Anything you could think of that sounds like a regrettable idea, Lisa did, and she did it successfully. She taught me that playing it safe with clothing is boring, and that you can pretty much pull off anything with the right attitude. You go, Turtle!

Are all men truly created equal if some people can wear sweaters with parrots on them while others can't?

Are all men truly created equal if some people can wear sweaters with parrots on them while others cannot?

Having a bit of an Alexis Carrington Colby moment here, but cuter and in high school.

Having a bit of an Alexis Carrington Colby moment here, but cuter and in high school.

Continuing my 90s fashion fixation, another personal hero of mine is Rickie Vasquez from My So-Called Life. Most people point out Angela or Rayanne as MSCL‘s big style icon, but I’ve always found Rickie more fascinating. MSCL started and ended before I was born, so I really only discovered it a few years ago while I was still in high school. I was immediately obsessed with the show’s angst and sincerity, and with its depiction of Rickie, a queer Latino boy in high school, since I’d never seen a character with a background quite so similar to mine before. While his storyline definitely merits analysis, his personal style was killer. I loved how he’d sometimes mix masculine cuts and feminine patterns in his wardrobe, and he’s a big part of why I find gender-bending in fashion so interesting. Challenging gender norms raises enough question marks in the present day, so I can hardly imagine how difficult it would have been for a character like Rickie to thrive in all of his hipness and flamboyance in the middle of the 90s. He inspires me to think outside the box in terms of what is acceptable for boys and girls to wear.

Yes, just yes.

In this picture, Rickie looks like the bellhop at the coolest, gayest hotel in the world.

Laughing comes easily when you and all of your friends look this good.

Laughter comes easily when you and your friends look this good.

Moving on to more contemporary fashion influences, we have Jessa Johansson of HBO’s highly polarizing Girls. Say what you will about Lena Dunham and the merits of Girls as a program, but watching even one episode will show you that Jessa does her own thing when it comes to how she dresses. Her dialogue and attitude characterize her with general indifference towards how others feel about her, which she reflects via outfits that scream, “I really don’t care what you think of this because I know I look awesome.” A lot of what she wears is very flowy and comfortable-looking, which I believe good fashion really ought to strive for. Why can’t you look good and be luxuriously comfy at the same time? Oh wait, you can. Just ask Jessa. I like to incorporate bohemian-style clothes like hers into my wardrobe on occasion to offset the louder, more vintage statement pieces that I live off of in much the same way that most other humans live off of food and water.

I wish I could just wrap myself in a satin curtain the way Jessa does and just be ready for the day.

I wish I could just wrap myself in a satin curtain the way Jessa does and just be on my way.

Jessa tends toward the risqué at times, which I respect and emulate at times. Sheer perfection. (teehee)

Jessa tends toward the risqué at times, which I really respect. Sheer perfection. (seewhatIdidthere?)

The last influence I’m going to profile is the incredibly stylish coven of witches from American Horror Story: Coven. All of the characters I mentioned beforehand dress pretty colorfully, but the AHS witches adhere to a strict black-only dress code that managed to stay exciting despite its literal monotony. Zoe Benson was not one of my favorites during the show’s run, but I was crazy about her outfits. She got me interested in hats, which I’d always thought weren’t really for me. I also loved both Madison Montgomery’s sleeker, flashier take on the witch look and Nan’s sweet, Puritanical ensembles. The true star for me was Myrtle Snow, who frequently deviated from the dark look in favor of loud, yet still witch-inspired fashion. I could say more about how rich and wonderful the show’s styling was, but my main point in mentioning it is that I’ve embraced black as stylish and versatile where I might have seen it before as drab or unstimulating. An all-black outfit can be a lot of fun to put together and can make just about anyone look hip and mysterious.

How many arctic foxes were sheered and then burned at the stake in order for this outfit to exist?

How many arctic foxes were skinned and then burned at the stake in order for this outfit to exist?

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I want everyone to show up to my funeral dressed like this.

Myrtle Snow is the lovechild of Grace Coddington and Sybill Trelawney, christened at a Balenciaga fashion show. Very Hogwarts meets runway.

Myrtle Snow is the lovechild of Grace Coddington and Sybill Trelawney, christened at a Balenciaga fashion show. Very Hogwarts meets catwalk. No one’s ever looked this good taking their N.E.W.Ts.

Hopefully all of this provides a little insight into my aesthetic, though I wouldn’t attribute everything I wear to these sources. Not only was this not an exhaustive list of my TV influences, but I also draw inspiration from all sorts of places that aren’t necessarily as cut and dry as a character’s wardrobe in a visual medium like film or television. I’ll probably get into more of that at some other time. On a side note, I tried to think of other male fashion influences and couldn’t really come up with many I identify with (other than Will from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and sometimes Marco from Degrassi, though I don’t agree with all of his fashion choices). I guess I just find men’s fashion on TV more boring as a whole.

Honorable mentions go to Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl, Don Draper from Mad Men, and Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones. While these three have fantastic senses of style, they aren’t characters that I specifically relate to in terms of the look I go for. Hopefully I’ll look as stylish and classy as Don Draper when I’m a grown-up professional, but for now, I like to keep things a bit more fun and experimental. I’d describe my personal style as a mix of kooky and spooky, which is how I came up with the name for this blog. Thanks for the read.

Cool runnings,

Kyle

How does blogging work?: SJWs and Leelah Alcorn

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I consider myself pretty vocal about my thoughts and feelings when it comes to my social media presence, but lately I’ve been hesitant to post on my Facebook about certain things that have been going in on the news. Part of this came about due to general frustration with the state of the world (I’m holding onto as much teen angst as possible before I turn 20 in April), but a big portion of it was a sudden awareness of the dreaded “SJW” (Social Justice Warrior) label that gets ascribed to folks who consistently write impassioned posts about social justice news and issues on their online accounts. Self-identification is always cool, but I get iffy once you start identifying other people with labels that they may or may not be comfortable with.

SJWs are frequent targets of criticism for folks too cool to express their views and feelings publicly, viewing them as “keyboard warriors” who spend more time typing away about injustice instead of actually trying to enact change of any kind. The term SJW itself indexes the Tumblr activist type; the pop culture nerd with a radical haircut who writes long entries lambasting white heteropatriarchy as the root of society’s evils, while occasionally reblogging cat GIFs. I’m friends with plenty of those people (and am like that to a certain extent), but I’m not necessarily cool with having that label attached to me because I don’t like when other people put me into boxes. If I want to put myself into a box, that’s my prerogative. The gay box, for example. That’s all me. Feminist box? Hell yeah. SJW has negative connotations that I don’t care to identify myself with, so if keeping my thoughts on political issues contained in my own blog space is a way of avoiding that label, so be it. I’ve totally always wanted a blog, anyway.

To be clear, there’s really nothing wrong with being a Social Justice Warrior in my book. Fight the good fight! All of the people I know who that label might apply to are super engaged in activism outside of social media, and they certainly don’t call it a day once they’ve finished writing that 50+ likes status about the latest atrocity in the news. I hate that that’s what people think of SJW types because it’s just not true. Words are important and have weight, and if utilizing social media is the best way to have your voice heard, why not do it? I don’t feel like using my Facebook in that way anymore, so I’ll save it for this blog and for my Twitter. So, let’s talk a little about Leelah Alcorn.

When I first read the news, I was absolutely devastated. It’s taken me a while to process my thoughts on the whole story, but here they are. People commented things like, “Leelah was so beautiful” and “she was so pretty, what a tragedy.” Would it have any been less tragic if Leelah weren’t beautiful? Why is that the takeaway from reading her story and her suicide letter? What about the fact that Leelah was extremely talented as a writer? At 16 years old, Leelah’s writing was at a much higher caliber than a lot of what I’ve seen from students several years older than her at my ‘prestigious’ university. I found Leelah’s voice as I read her letter, and although there’s no way I could ever fully understand her pain, she wrote in a way that powerfully conveyed both her despair for her situation and her passion for the transgender movement. That’s something that some people take their whole lives to learn how to do. She wrote, “My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.” Expressing that becoming a statistic would be a more desirable option than continuing to live is astoundingly tragic coming from anyone, but especially someone so young. Focus not on how “beautiful” she was, but on the fact that we lost a brilliant young person when Leelah Alcorn committed suicide. Media narratives tend to emphasize looks as a factor in what makes a death tragic, which I think is stupid and detracts from what actually matters.

As for Leelah’s parents, I don’t have anything kind to say. I could spew vitriol about how they’re horrible people who have continued to dishonor their daughter even after she committed suicide entirely because of them, or why I think they should be charged with criminal neglect and murder. While I do believe all of that, all I really want to say is that it’s clear that people like them are not equipped to have children. How could you not be aware of the damaging effects that trying to force your beliefs on your child could have on them? We talk so much about how it’s 2015 and how much progress has been made for the LGBTQ community, but transgender issues continue to lag behind the movement in terms of acceptance and understanding. How many trans people need to be driven to suicide or murdered by others before we embrace the ideas of gender and sexual diversity? My heart breaks when I think of the lack of interest there seems to be in truly understanding those who were born different than ourselves among the bulk of mainstream society. Is the idea of gender being more complicated than just “male at birth equals boy and female at birth equals girl” really that difficult to grasp? If you can’t love your child unconditionally, then you don’t deserve to have children. Leelah deserved better than her parents. She deserved better than her murderers.

Not all of my posts will be quite so heavy—the next one will actually be about my fashion influences from television, a comparatively more lighthearted topic. Thanks for the read, and feel free to let me know your thoughts on anything I’ve written. On a happier note, a transgender woman from the lowest caste in India, the Dalit, was recently elected mayor in the state of Chhatisgarh. Isn’t that wild? Here’s the link to that article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/05/transgender-woman-elected-mayor-india-chhattisgarh

Warm sensations,

Kyle