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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Danger of the Daily Publication's Echo Chamber

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Cyclical news stories and insular communities are causing a sharp uptick in the narrow-mindedness of today's media consumers.  ♦ 
With the boisterous entrance of Donald Trump into politics, media platforms have switched their focus, shadowing his every move whether it be personal or international. The notifications that pop up on our screens, telling us what President Trump has tweeted, are equivalent to having daily fireside chats via radio with President Roosevelt in 1933. The era of social media simply being social is no longer the case, as outlets are more focused on celebrity minutia. This shift in news coverage and morphing purpose of social media to follow celebrity politics have changed the nature of daily news publications for good.
   Newspapers give the option of reviewing all news, as opposed to social media sites that allow you to specifically target news groups or outlets whom you choose to follow. At first it sounds productive to only see what you want to see, but in reality it’s causing stalls in government progress, lulls in productive conversations, and barriers between beliefs. Social media has helped construct a political echo chamber; many people are stuck in this echo chamber, bouncing around the same information and ideas because of their narrow views or interests.
   Daily publications used to mean that readers engaged with a variety of different newspapers that covered a variety of different topics and interests. Articles were well-researched, well-written, and relatively unbiased when it came to aligning with red or blue. Long gone are the days of newspaper delivery and unfolding a swath of black and white in front of you.
  Now, an estimated 61% of millennials garner news primarily through social media. The overwhelming worlds of Twitter, Facebook, various news outlets, and so much more information are packed into people’s lives, streaming constantly from phones in pockets and purses. Instead of long articles, we are delivered “truth” in short, sometimes ambiguous tweets. Things spin through the news cycle much more quickly, taking just a click to publish and a swipe to refresh for new content.
  This echo chamber is a result of partisan individuals choosing only to follow like-minded people, people who make them feel comfortable. The material readers engage with affirms their beliefs, further polarizing them along the political spectrum. Intellectual growth often comes when our views are challenged, but the political echo chamber allow no opposition, no challenge, just glorious affirmation.
    According to the Pew Research Center, when news comes primarily from online sources both parties are more likely to be extremely biased and closed off. About 51 percent of conservative Republicans said that reading one-sided news is ok. About 73 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans agree that they see a news media bias. What this is resulting in is a loss of moderate viewpoints, constantly being inundated with overwhelmingly partisan news moving us toward the extremes of the political spectrum.
   Although newspapers have always had an unspoken political party association, the correlation between news outlets and politics has grown stronger with the inauguration of our 45th president. News sources that disagree with the president are automatically labeled “fake news” while even slight praise to the administration is retweeted, re-blogged, and shared far and wide. People have stopped looking at opposing news views, comfortably content with the ever-refreshing feed streaming from their favorite media sources.
  With every curious click, whether it be a morning show page, an opinion article, or a politician’s reelection page, the user is triggering algorithms. These algorithms are designed to lead the reader to similar content that says the same thing but in a different way, or says the same thing but, this time, with pictures. The echoes get louder with every click. Every social media app has sponsored news posts that are inescapable and inextricably tied to your other web browsing.
   Another outcome from the difference in everyday publication is that the public is having more and more difficulty distinguishing opinion from information. Do people fact check or just automatically believe them? It’s so easy to believe something when it’s typed out and posted on a news website, or appears to be supported by photographic evidence. But we are misled all the time because of our diminishing ability to question fact. We all want to read things that flatter and complement our own personal beliefs, but don’t we all want to be right too?
   It might seem hopeless, but there are many ways to avoid being sucked into this wormhole. Aim to be well-rounded. Inform yourself with opinions from all sides. Make sure to get all aspects of the story before reaching a conclusion. Consider how social conditioning effects the story, think about whether or not there is discrimination involved, etc. It’s easy to believe your side of the story is the right one when it’s all you’ve heard. It’s absolutely vital to not let yourself be polarized by the algorithm, by your own sense of comfort. We must all (yes, all) be able to work together in order to do what is best for the country as a whole, and a filtered media diet is not the best start.
  • About the Author
    Sara Azalone is a junior at Miami University studying Political Science, Professional Writing, and Italian.
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    Cloaked in Magic: Real-World Issues Disguised in the Wizarding World

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    J.K. Rowling has an expansive imagination, but some parts of the wizarding world aren't too far from our own reality.  ♦ 
    Sitting in a café in Edinburgh, J.K. Rowling put pen to parchment and created a magical world we all still dream of becoming part of. The wizarding world keeps multiplying, much like a Gemino curse, allowing fans to continually reengage with magic—but also with their own reality. The themes within the books transcend time and continue to remind us that even the most magical societies still are poisoned with anger and hatred.
       On the surface, the Harry Potter series appears to be a children’s tale filled with triumph over evil and entrancing new narratives, but below the shiny surface there are many issues that connect the muggle world to the wizarding world. The themes the books explore are mature beyond their years and serve as a mirror to the world around us.
       Issues of racism, classism, and outright discrimination are all very much present in Harry’s universe. In the books we see Voldemort rise to power, bringing hate and anger close behind him. Consider the Magic is Might monument which sits in the center of the Ministry of Magic, an executive hub for magical beings everywhere. It depicts a witch and wizard sitting comfortably atop a human chariot, a group of muggles painfully struggling under the weight, showing witches and wizards as individuals who see non-magic folk as inferior, as slaves. Consider Hermione’s social justice organization, SPEW, a group put together to literally advocate for the abolition of house elf slavery, drawing attention to the problems of human trafficking and slavery, still very much a part of our real world. What about discriminatory slurs, such as Draco calling Hermione a mudblood, Draco calling the Weasleys out for being poor, for being “blood traitors” and not honoring their “pure bloodline”? There are so many moments of hatred and prejudice throughout the books.
       The Weasleys are portrayed as the good guys, but even they are not exempt from holding their own prejudices—Ron is disgusted when he finds out Hagrid is a half-giant and is terrified when he discovers Professor Lupin is a werewolf. Ron, while at his core pure-hearted, has been socially conditioned to believe those different than him are inherently lesser or “bad.” Readers get to watch Ron grow and overcome his biases through positive experiences. Perhaps we as readers see ourselves in Ron (and Draco), realizing we need to addresses some of our own prejudices. Rowling did not create a perfect world, but one that is flawed and dynamic. When you strip away the fantastical aspect of witches and wizards, you are left with reality: entire groups of people facing systematic oppression enforced by people in positions of power.
        Sooner or later, everyone learns what pulls the carriage to Hogwarts. Death is arguably one of the largest real-world themes throughout the Harry Potter series. This should be no surprise though, seeing as to how large a role death plays in our own lives. All the characters penned by Rowling have gone through various stages of grief and loss of either a friend, a family member, or a loved one. Readers both young and old use these characters as mirrors for themselves, finding new ways to heal and cope. The series begins with the merciless murder of Harry’s parents, of course that’s going to affect him for the rest of his life. When Harry comes face to face with the Mirror of the Erised, his parents are once again smiling by his side—but this is not a possible reality, even with magic.
        Harry Potter is just as relevant now as it was twenty years ago. So long as there are people willing to speak out against injustice, the stories will be there to illuminate our paths, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione leading the way, standing up against slavery, against discrimination, against hatred, and instead helping those who are silenced or underrepresented. Harry Potter will continue to excite and engage fans because it challenges them to think about the world they live in, and if change can be enacted for the better because of it, then that’s magic enough.
  • About the Author
    Paige Landers is a junior Creative Writing major with a minor in Disability Studies at Miami University. Paige competes with the Miami University Equestrian Team and volunteers her time training future service dogs through 4 Paws for Ability; she is also a Disney College Program alumni. You can normally catch her out and about with a puppy by her side and a coffee in her hand!
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    Why We Need Creative Classrooms

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    Ever wonder why so many students think reading is a chore? Maybe it’s because we teach it that way.  ♦ 
    Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, The Great Gatsby . . . I’m sure you’ve heard of these books before, and would I be correct in assuming you’ve read all of these due to school requirements as well? I thought so (though I’d be thoroughly impressed if not!). Today's students are taught the same lessons, themes, reading skills, and comprehension techniques from a commonly-thin selection of books with little-to-no variation between schools or even past generations. The books themselves might not necessarily be the problem—these books are classics and provide ample experiences for readers to learn from—but they do provide the exact same experiences decade after decade, taught in the same way, and that’s part of the problem.
       When a single book is selected to represent an entire genre, an entire movement, practice, and theme, then that book solidifies itself as a cornerstone, the foundation for all knowledge on that specific subject. In other words, these stories become textbooks, and we all know how textbooks work (and how students tend to think about them). They’re the standard-bearers of information that supply us with the necessary knowledge on a subject. Which is to say, like an obligation instead of something vital and creative or even fun.
       For far too many children, there is little creativity in the English classroom. Essays dictate whether or not we understand a subject, and perhaps more importantly to our teachers, professors, and the school board, they expose whether or not we actually read the book. Teachers have thus become literary babysitters, with little room to navigate the learning imagination, the one tool so crucial to each and every perspective of all the stories in our lives.
       For a student to make an argument based on lessons they learned from the book, when these same lessons have already been taught, and when the "correct reading" regarding themes and takeaways have been cemented firmly into the back of the instructor’s mind for years, there is little room for deviation. There is only one argument to be made, the same one that has been produced by every student at every school during every semester. And none of this sounds like a particularly inspired way to lead students toward the joy and surprise and rewards of reading or writing.
       If a student wants to go about their education in a more creative way, they must often push themselves to do so. Even with such a mindset, they are often stifled in favor of falling in line with the prompt given to them. Free imaginations, adaptability to new circumstances, and critical thinking are qualities all good readers must cultivate, but not allowing them to venture outside of approved course materials, with set outcomes, ends up limiting students' desire to read in the first place.
      What's more, teachers today face a number of obstacles previous generations didn't. According to a study done by Common Sense Media in 2014, 27 percent of 17-year-olds reported they “hardly ever” or “never” read for fun. Compare that to a similar study from 1984, when only 9 percent of 17-year-olds reported the same. This might not be exclusively the fault of canonical books, a rote curriculum, or teaching to the test; the internet today is intertwined in our daily lives, and the constant investment into news from all across the world is hard to look away from. So how are teachers trying to actually save the lost art of reading for pleasure, given the obstacles they face?
       A recent article in The Guardian collected a number of methods teachers have employed in order to assist young learners in developing a unquenchable desire to digest information via text on paper. These tools and activities include such seemingly simple ideas as personal challenges and classroom competitions to incentive reading, promoting reading as a creative escape from stress, and implementing randomized "Drop everything and read" periods, where students can escape from whatever task they're doing for ten minutes of reading. This particular idea encourages students to read anything so long as it is a book, and as a result many different types of literature have healthily invaded the classroom and inspired further exploration. While there is no one, "correct" way to approach these lessons—every student is a unique learner—these fresh ideas are a start and should be further cultivated to continue the efforts to reengage students with books.
      If we want to create a society of considerate, thinking individuals, we must allow (the sometimes strange) youthful creativity to run rampant. Giving choices and adapting to the student’s desires of literature in the classroom is a great place to start. Obviously we shouldn’t undermine the system that (perhaps ironically) led to a skeptical mind writing this argument. There can be a balance. But to start tipping the scale in the direction of a more individual-based desire to learn and create from the knowledge encountered, we must empower said individual to go beyond the scope of basic expectations.
  • About the Author
    Connor Paquette is a senior at Miami University working toward a Bachelor's in Creative Writing with a minor in English Literature. He has authored many short stories and is currently in the process of writing a fantasy novel, as well as a television drama pilot, a feature-length movie, and a children's novel. Connor is adept in graphic design and creates infographics for his hometown soccer team, FC Cincinnati, and contributes to a local blog covering the team called Orange & Blue Press.
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    Monday, May 14, 2018

    Dystopian Fiction Is the New Realism

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    Dystopian fiction always rises in response to a difficult historical moment. We’ve been in one for a decade now.  ♦ 
    Ten years ago, the dormant subgenre of dystopian literature—which in most readers’ minds probably still meant George Orwell’s novel 1984—was suddenly brought roaring back to life with the release of the YA phenomenon The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’s trilogy of books stands as an example of the best qualities of dystopian fiction—in its questioning of the overly-wealthy and how those in power operate to hold onto that power; in its willingness to include diversity and speak for and to those groups who are marginalized and subjugated. The film adaption, as film adaptations are wont to do, omitted most of the commentary about race and power that exists in the novel—the olive-skinned protagonist Katniss was portrayed by the white actress Jennifer Lawrence, and the tensions between the poor community of people of color and the better-off white residents of District 12 was absent entirely—but the reception of both the books and the films marked The Hunger Games as a legitimate sensation, and their timing suggests why: the book debuted in 2008, the films in 2012, in the heart of the Great Recession.
       The commercial success of The Hunger Games inspired a number of YA imitators—chiefly Divergent and The Maze Runner—which didn’t have quite the mainstream appeal as the original, perhaps because these works didn’t speak to the moment in the same way: both incorporated class, and therefore power, distinctions into their narratives, but they lacked the hard-hitting commentary that characterized the genre and The Hunger Games. They even followed a similar outline and plot, including arbitrary divisions of people and a teen protagonist needing to be convinced that they are The Chosen One destined to save society. But The Hunger Games succeeded not just because it told a great story; it told one that audiences shaken by the threat of global economic disaster felt connected to.
       This perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise, as dystopian fiction, in addition to dealing with environments that are typically totalitarian, authoritarian, and environmentally degraded, has always stemmed from and reflected real-life events and concerns. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale correlates to the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s; J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World derives from the concerns about environmental changes in the 1960s, after the impact of nuclear weapons were understood in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Speculative sci-fi author Octavia Butler incorporated her own experience as a black woman into her trilogy Lilith’s Brood, where the titular protagonist struggles with losing her autonomy to an oppressive force and being discredited by her former allies. The commentary on womanhood, namely black womanhood, pointedly addresses the unending quality of life gap between black and white Americans, between men and women. Dystopian authors often embrace rather heavy-handed literary techniques when it concerns self-insertion into their stories, true, but this personal experience colors the genre with genuine commentary on the world, rather than simply being imaginative stories well-told.
       What’s interesting is that The Hunger Games wasn’t an isolated hit but the start of a decade-long run where dystopian fiction, both new and old, has suddenly found mainstream success and renewed relevance. Whereas George Orwell’s 1984 was written in response to the rise of totalitarianism following World War II, it also appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding fears of technology and surveillance—see Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Homepod—and even jumped into the #1 spot on Amazon following the tumultuous 2016 election. Likewise Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, based off the Phillip K. Dick novel of the same name, explores an entire alternate reality stemming from the Axis triumphing in World War II; it was adapted for Amazon during the divisive eighteen-month campaign for the 2016 presidential election that saw the rise of the “alt-right”—white supremacists whose views align with 1930s Germany. The Hulu adaptation of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale premiered in 2017, the year of the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement. Even Netflix’s Black Mirror adopts stories that consider where technology can take us, or has already taken us, which seem both futuristic and as close as today.
       Dystopian fiction, in any of its storytelling forms, demonstrates increased connectivity to political turmoil and social unrest, and its rise in popularity over the past decade reflects our public concern and emphasis on troubled politics and the societal psyche. Sure, it’s scary to think about Big Brother or the Capitol, but when you read warnings from a voice that has experienced oppression, it means more and allows you to connect your fears to those portrayed in the work. Dystopian fiction remains in the spotlight not because it tells an otherworldly story but because the stories are grounded in reality: ours.
  • About the Author
    Alex Grana is a junior studying Professional Writing at Miami University. She is currently prepping for the LSATs and applying for law school in the fall. At Miami, she is a member of the feminist group F Word, College Democrats, and serves as the executive treasurer for the Miami Dance Corps.
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    How Breaking into Publishing Is Like a Bad Romance

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    It’s not you, publishing, it’s me. (It might be you.)  ♦ 
    When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was Blossom from PowerPuff Girls. She had red hair, I have red hair; she was the leader, I believed I was a leader; et cetera. As I grew up, my dreams changed. For a long span of my life, I wanted to be a lawyer. Someone powerful, who can make a difference; eventually, I’d become a part of the Supreme Court Justice. That was the goal.
      Fast-forward to my junior year of high school when I was lost and had no idea in which direction my life was going to go. I knew I loved English, but aside from teaching, I had no idea what I could do with a degree in English.
       I got my first look into publishing when I was the editor-in-chief of my high school yearbook. I broke my neck editing that book—not literally—and I didn’t mind a second of the lost sleep or missed meals. For the first time, I found something that I was passionate about, something I was excited about.
       Come graduation and freshman orientation, my life was filled with “What are you going to do with that?” getting asked over and over and over again. Every time, I’d answer the same thing, “I’m going to publish books!” each time, my smile getting bigger. I could tell there’d be a long list of people I’d have to prove wrong—I could have a great career with an English degree!
       I could do what I loved!



    They Tried to Warn Me about You


    Everyone told me how exciting and awesome the publishing world is. Everyone thought you were so cool, and that we’d be a great match. A few people warned me about you: your low income and long hours and all that. But for whatever reason, until recently, no one thought to tell me that this industry is one of the hardest industries to break into, which I didn’t find out until I actually started to apply for jobs and internships.
      Luckily, I was able to gain a little bit of experience right after high school, when my best friend’s mother started her own little publishing company, and I learned a lot about the world that I wanted so badly to be a part and the excitement I had for the future built up. I thought you’d like that. I thought you’d be impressed.



    I Know You Saw My Application, Because Your Read Receipts Were On


    As time went on in my college career, though, my excitement toward finding a job in publishing began to lag as rejection after rejection came in. Yes, I know, ”expect rejection” is one of the first things you hear as you try to break into the industry. But it’s not just that I got rejected but how. You think rejection will mean, “Thank you for your time,” or, “Here’s how you can improve your application.”
      Instead, I found out I was rejected a different way: the start date for each job I applied for passed with my never hearing back, and I eventually got the hint that I was not wanted for these jobs.
       That’s right. The companies I applied to ghosted on me.



    Get Your Friend to Introduce Us


    I remember desperately wanting to work for HarperCollins in New York City. After seeing The Proposal and watching Sandra Bullock rock the publishing world and fall in love with her assistant (the always gorgeous Ryan Reynolds), I knew even more that the publishing world was for me, knowing full-well that my life wouldn’t end up exactly like this movie. My excitement built up even more when I found out a former sorority sister had a sibling who worked for HarperCollins. She put me in contact with her sister and I immediately started networking, trying to find some way into this big bad world of publishing. My mother’s words, “You need to know someone to get a job like that” echoed in my head and I smirked while typing the very enthusiastic email to my “way in.”
       A few days later I was pumped to see her response. My large grin fell with each word read as she explained that she didn’t necessarily work in the publishing department and therefore didn’t actually know anyone to the extent I needed. Cordially, I thanked her for her efforts and response and wished her well, as she had left HarperCollins to pursue law school at NYU.
       Now, instead of my mother’s words in my head, I had everyone I had ever told I was a creative writing major screaming, “What are you going to do with that?”



    Maybe We Should See Other People


    I soon grew irritable at the pure mention of the future. I obtained a few jobs that gave me an income—instead of a summer internship in New York City, I spent one summer working at a golf club, not exactly building my résumé—but no experience that would help me break into publishing.
       In an effort to build up some more skills that might make me more attractive to the publishing industry, I had an idea—I went to a friend whose major was marketing and decided that maybe I should focus on that aspect of it. Within a couple of weeks, she had helped me get a paid internship with Miami University’s Marketing and Communications office for the summer going into my senior year. I was ecstatic because the job included editing the content that thousands of high school seniors will see when they’re being recruited for the school. The relief I felt to have some kind of experience under my belt was amazing, and again it encouraged me to begin searching for big house publishing jobs, so I could brag about my newly obtained skills.
      And again, the job search went nowhere.
     That’s when I realized something: marketing had actually been good to me. Marketing appreciated my work. Marketing had been right there all along.
       I decided, for kicks, to try applying for jobs that focused more on marketing. Within an hour of sending in my first application, I was offered an interview. The joy, relief, and excitement I felt when I received that email was something I hadn’t felt when filling out applications and sending in résumés in a very long time, and that’s when I decided to stick with this journey. I’d been so focused on that attractive publishing job that I hadn’t seen the industry right in front of me.
    --
    In some ways, this job search led me to lose my passion for publishing. I’m not sure if it was the constant rejection or the frustration, or the fact that publishing likes to play games. But I have accepted a marketing job for after graduation, and I have opened a window to the future. Who knows? Maybe I’ll fall in love with publishing again. But even if the breakup is for good this time, the future is still bright, and the options are infinite.
  • About the Author
    Alexis Hite is a senior Creative Writing major with a Marketing minor. She’s from Columbus, OH, and plans to move to Greenville, South Carolina, after graduation. She enjoys reading novels and BuzzFeed articles and works at Brick Street Bar & Grille in order to help pay rent and feed her two kittens, Cleo and Oliver. When she’s not at work, you can find her in her bed binge-watching shows on Netflix and Hulu.
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    Millennial Students Defy E-Books for Traditional Books

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    When it comes to their studies, the generation that grew up with a screen in hand prefers old school to new school.  ♦ 
    Millennials are known for numerous traits that split them off from their predecessors in Gen X and the Baby Boomer generations—they make up the majority of people in the workforce, they’re the fastest-growing generation, and they hold views towards politics, marketing, education and religion that vastly differ from the aforementioned groups. As a millennial myself, I cannot deny that there are some traits that often make us look bad as a whole, and one, in particular, is our relationship to technology. While Baby Boomers grew up with television being the driving force of their childhood, Millennials grew up with the limitless world of the internet and, along with it, social media, Amazon, iPhones and, most notably when it comes to our reading habits, e-books.
       Of course millennials also grew up with the tried-and-true physical books that older generations depended on, the kind that requires the flipping of actual pages, but they were the first generation to have the ease and ability to read any book with a click of a mouse. So it’s interesting that 90% of millennial students, the generation most adapted to the use of a screen, prefer to use a traditional book for their studies, according to a new report.
       Why do students prefer to use traditional books when they have the instant world of online reading at their fingertips? According to Tech Times, students prefer traditional books over e-books because e-books are distracting, headache and eye-strain inducing, and cannot be highlighted or written on. Despite students being constantly submerged in a world of technology, the tactile and sensory experience of reading print, such as the smell of a book, and familiarity with the format convince students to unplug while studying and pick up a large, bulky chemistry book instead. The growing trend majorly belies the discrepancy that parents, teachers, and policymakers believe that students prefer the convenience and ease of the digital screen, whereas students actually perform better and comprehend more when using a traditional print book. Despite this, lawmakers continue to push forward with digitizing student’s education and materials. According to Forbes, California passed a law in 2011 requiring all college textbooks to be available in electronic form by 2020; in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed legislation for public schools to convert their textbooks from print to digital versions.
       The pros of reading digitally include being able to consume light reading such as news and other articles with video or digital components; however, for heavier reading, such as those with textbooks and academic articles, a physical book proved to be the better choice for student’s long-term retention. On the other end of the spectrum, critics of e-books for textbooks worry that while they are the presumed to be the future of higher education, they are being forced into student’s lives. and professors and students alike found that relying on a tablet or computer to view text was not only very distracting but also made way for other sources of enjoyment—social media, texting, and online shopping to name a few—to become much too frequent in lecture halls across the US.
       As an English major myself, many assume that if one is caught with anything other than a traditional book in hand, that its blasphemous work. While I do occasionally enjoy the smell of a hardback book and prefer to keep my books stacked throughout the nooks and crannies in my childhood home, I’m not some staunch overseer who thinks e-book users are “traitors.” I have purchased several e-textbooks for my various courses throughout college, especially online courses. That being said, I prefer to take notes from and highlight in traditional books when it comes to studying. I think this habit stems back to the fact that when I was in grade-school, e-books were not on the market yet. I grew up with bookmarks, dog-eared pages and a nostalgic appreciation for the “real” written word, per say. Regardless of one’s opinion on this stance, there should not be animosity for those who prefer e-books. They have plenty of benefits, especially for students who are always looking for convenience and, given the increasingly high costs of textbooks, an excellent way to get the material and also save a buck or two.
  • About the Author
    Julia May is a senior Strategic Communication and Professional Writing double major. She hails from Akron, Ohio and is an unapologetic Cleveland sports fan. When not doing schoolwork, she enjoys learning to cook a new recipe, being out on the lake, and reading a good book. After graduation in a few days, she will to move to Cleveland where she will work at Modgility as a Brand Journalist.
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    Friday, May 11, 2018

    The Writer’s Existential Crisis: The Dystopian Future of the Literary Marketplace

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    Print declines. Literature moves online. Online disappears. This isn’t a plot to a techno-thriller but a genuine concern for what “permanent” means in the digital age.  ♦ 
    As humans, we’re all terrified that our existence won’t matter, and we look for ways to leave our mark on the world. For writers, editors, linguists, filmmakers, scholars, and other artists, that way is through our work, hoping that something we’ve created might live beyond our years and prove that we were ever here. (Even Shakespeare worried that his words would be insignificant in the long run, and he was Shakespeare!) But the twenty-first century offers its own particular issues for the writer’s existential crisis, and the question of whether one’s work will survive has taken on even greater importance given recent developments which have reshaped publishing and how we read. Specifically, the decline of the literary print industry, the monopolistic growth of online e-book publishers and retailers, and relentless governmental regulations on internet accessibility are contemporary threats to the writer’s hopes that their words might indeed last forever.



    The Demise of Print


    Print started out as one of the major proponents of the Great Equalizer, as the printing press allowed masses of lower class individuals to become literate and to enjoy literature But with the rise of big publishing in the twentieth century, and with its consolidation of power into the current one, the Great Equalizer’s most influential tool became corporatized and monopolized as big publishing branded itself as literature’s “gatekeepers.” The “Big Five” publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan) account for around 60% of the print books in circulation throughout the literary marketplace, as these companies held the capital and clout required to control literature’s production and distribution. In order to even have the chance of becoming a renowned, recognized author in this model, authors had to infiltrate the ranks of one of the “Big Five” publishers, to make it past the gatekeepers, just to have a shot at success.
       This stayed the essential dynamic in publishing until 2007, when Amazon, exploiting the inequities in this situation, constructed a system that gave more liberty, more rights, and more money to authors and small book business owners on an easy, digitized platform: Kindle Direct Publishing. This initially seemed like a good thing, democratizing publishing and potentially threatening to drive the “Big Five” and its gatekeepers out of business, but Amazon’s rise has led to problems of its own. For one, Amazon has been aggressively monopolistic in its own practices; one of the best examples of Amazon’s new-found, unrelenting control over print corporations is of its abuse against Hachette after a disagreement between the companies concerning concessions on books sold through the online marketplace. Amazon took its fury out on Hachette by delaying Hachette deliveries, refusing to make Hachette books available for preorder, and allegedly subverting sales by an algorithm adjustment. In this case, Amazon uses its platform to bully its way to getting better business deals, which ultimately drives its competitors out of business altogether.
       Even more concerning, Amazon’s opening the gates to online, digital publishing is slowly murdering the print industry altogether—and we’re acting as accomplices. Whether it’s for a better deal as consumers, to pay a fraction of the price for an electronic version of a book, or whether it’s to satisfy that tiny voice in our heads, as authors, saying that e-book sales will guarantee that our work lasts forever, we’re feeding the electronic-literature monster and perhaps destroying print in the process.



    The Death of Net Neutrality


    So why would a shift to e-books and electronic literature be a cause for concern? As if monopolistic practices and unchecked capitalism weren’t enough to worry about, the government is now actively trying to regulate our access to the Internet, which is currently protected by net neutrality. Net neutrality mandates that all information on the internet is treated the same by service providers, which cannot block, slow down, or charge money to view certain online content. In November 2017, legislation was put forward by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality, which will be put into action unless both Congress and the House of Representatives pass a Congressional Review Act. In layman's terms, our internet access will be restricted and charged unless the legislative branch stops it within the next few months. We’ll have to pay to scroll on Instagram, to rant on Twitter, to write an essay on Google Docs, to look up something on Wikipedia—and, of course, if publishing continues its trend into online and e-books over print, then a threatened net neutrality threatens the future of publishing, or at least it threatens those smaller independent publishers and artists whose work could be throttled or buried altogether in the online marketplace.
       This has happened before in United States history. With the invention of the radio, many technological pioneers used their radios to experiment with signaling, communicate with other operators, and produce material. That is, until 1912, when “An Act to Regulate Radio Communication” limited the distance these amateur users were allowed to broadcast to. This act is similar to the nullification of net neutrality, because it too limits the everyday users and privileges institutions. By 1920, the corporatization of the radio had become official with the enforcement of commercial licensing for all broadcasters. The governmental institution that protected the major radio companies was named the Federal Radio Commission, and was shortly renamed thereafter the Federal Communications Commission. So, the same people who took the radio away from the American people and put its power into the hands of a few is now trying to take the internet away—and as a result, those writers and artists who’ve chosen to publish digitally, with the mistaken belief the internet would make it last forever, could find their words vanishing as if they’d never been written.



    What Does This Mean?


    Where should the writer publish in order to ensure their words will outlive them? And what can we do, both as artists and consumers, to make sure this dystopian future never comes to pass? We have two options really: 1. Wallow in despair about the inevitability of obsolescence, or 2. Fight and write. We can fight the “Big Five” and up-and-coming monopolies like Amazon by supporting small presses and independent booksellers. We can fight legislative efforts to destroy the digital free market currently sustained by net neutrality by contacting your elected officials and protesting until our voices are heard. And lastly, we must fight to write by becoming authors, editors, linguists, filmmakers, scholars, and artists and by doing the unfathomable— write like our words will last forever.
  • About the Author
    Jessi Wright is a junior with an English Literature and Professional Writing double major and a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies minor from Miami University. Originally from a small town in Southern Ohio, she hopes to escape country life one day and become an English professor and editor. In her free time, Jessi likes to read, hike, and play with her many animals.
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    YouTubers Taking over Shelf Space

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    Daily vlogs, challenge videos, boyfriend tags . . . and now, a shelf at your local bookstore.  ♦ 
    YouTube is no doubt one of the biggest phenomenons the internet has brought to life. It started as a place to publically store videos, often so people could share their content amongst a group of close friends, and has ended up growing into a massive platform that has branched off into a multitude of varied communities and interests. Makeup, fashion, lifestyle, comedy, travel, education—anything you want to find, YouTube is likely to have it.
       Over time, some of the people within these communities began to grow and maintain their own following, giving them a new type of fame. Some called them “internet famous,” while others simply referred to them as “YouTube famous,” almost as if being famous from the platform created by YouTube made you different from, not typically on par with, the average Hollywood celebrity.
       Yet, just as our “traditional celebs” have recently done, many YouTube celebrities have taken the reading world by storm, writing and publishing their own books in a whirlwind that seemed to take place overnight. More importantly, people bought the books, and really, why wouldn’t they? Plenty of famous people write successful books, so why would a celebrity born from YouTube be any different? When YouTubers books started filling the shelves in my local Barnes & Noble, I admit that I was a bit confused and unexpectedly annoyed at first—an emotion that seemed to be shared by other readers, as well. For some reason it felt as if YouTube stars were manipulating their audience into buying their books in order to make more money. I would watch my favorite YouTubers’ daily vlogs and then be hit with the suddenly-ubiquitous concluding line to their videos: “Also guys, don’t forget to pre-order my new book!”
       I recently purchased actress Lily Collins’s new book Unfiltered; No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, where she talks in-depth about her life and the struggles she faced growing up such as eating disorders, bad relationships, and more. I bought the book because I was a big fan of her work, and I was genuinely interested in what she had to say and learning about her life. Is this really different from an eighteen-year-old who wants to dive into YouTuber Shane Dawson’s I Hate Myselfie: A Collection of Essays, in which Dawson recounts numerous events that occurred throughout his life?
       The only difference between reading a book by a Hollywood star and a YouTube celebrity is the perception that internet celebrities aren’t “real” celebrities. Yet YouTubers such as Joey Graceffa, Shane Dawson, and Tyler Oakley have been building up their audience for years, bringing viewers closely along with them through the many life changes and challenges they’ve faced. Many watched these three, and countless others, grow as people, establishing a real connection between the fans and the personal life of the YouTuber. So, maybe it was correct to label them their own type of celebrity after all—fans feel closer to YouTube stars than Hollywood stars, because it feels like we have a more direct line to them.
       So why are many frustrated with YouTubers for doing the same thing Lily Collins and numerous others were doing? Building a name for themselves and then branching out into other forms of entertainment? Using their name and audience that they worked to establish to promote their content doesn’t make them the bad guy; it makes them smart, and in many ways they’re just using a different medium to connect with their fans. While some may not have the best intentions, and could very well be trying to make money off of their already well­-established audience, at the end of the day why would anyone be mad when they’re simply demonstrating good marketing strategies (and giving fans what they want)?
       YouTubers are special. The way in which they connect with their fans, the world, and life is a fresh and new experience—the complete opposite of your traditional run-of-the-mill movie star. YouTube has permitted a certain level of closeness within the community, which does have an effect on how certain situations may be perceived and even how YouTubers themselves are perceived. We view Hollywood movie stars through a blurry lens, never really getting the clear image of who they might be, but YouTube has established a real bond between people.
  • About the Author
    Sarah Von Hendrix is a freshman Creative Writing major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Her interests include reading, writing poetry and fiction, running, procrastination, and more reading. She hopes to one day publish her own novels and live somewhere with way less snow than her hometown, Cleveland, Ohio.
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    Writing for Clicks or Likes

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    In an era when writers are struggling to profit from their work, does writing for free still have a place?  ♦ 
    There’s a new dynamic developing on the internet today. For decades, almost a century, the same establishment ruled, and the machinery of big publishing houses churned out the writing the vast majority of the population read. Small presses and self-publishing existed, but these were generally unprofitable for the author. Then, with the rise of the internet and Amazon, the old relationship of author, publisher, and bookstore was shattered. No longer did authors have to go through the same gatekeepers of a few publishing houses and a cadre of agents. Today, small presses are on the rise and often offer contests and open calls for submissions. Hundreds offer self-publishing services, and several big successes have taken away the stigma of bringing a passion project to the public yourself. Meanwhile, Amazon and other internet companies allow writers to self-publish e-books for free. The Martian became an overnight sensation through this method before being picked up by Penguin Random House for hard copy release.
       Though many Kindle books languish unread on virtual shelves despite years of hard work by their creators, the goal for many aspiring authors is an ultimate success story like Andy Weir’s. Others have found ways to make the most of Kindle Direct Publishing. One only has to Google the phrase “write an e-book” before the option of “in 7 days” appears. Right there on the search page, before you even click on a single link, are instructions from a writing services site on how to boost your e-book’s page count by using larger font and starting each chapter on a new page. There’s a blog which promises “Thirteen Steps to Write and Publish a Free EBook in Thirteen Hours” and e-books with titles like HOW TO WRITE AN EBOOK: In Less Than 7- 14 Days That Will Make You Money Forever, which sells on Amazon for $2.99 and seems to have followed its own recommended format for a quickly written “how-to” book. Sensational claims aside, what the rise of this self-pubbing cottage industry really suggests is that there’s a large contingent of emerging writers out there trying to figure out how to get their work noticed in a difficult and crowded market, and they’re especially having a tough time figuring out how to actually make money from their work.
       In fact, a resistance to paying for the written word at all has in recent times entered the public consciousness. On November 6, 2017, The Guardian published an article headlined “‘We’re told to be grateful we even have readers’: Pirated Ebooks Threaten the Future of Book Series” in which YA authors Maggie Stiefvater and Samantha Shannon discussed how widespread pirating of their books hurt sales and almost prevented them from continuing their series. The article quoted Shannon’s Twitter where she wrote about being shamed by fans for wanting to be paid for her art. There is an existing perception that art should be produced for its own sake and that anything else is selling out. Most established creators would wholeheartedly reject that idea. They need to eat after all. Of course, what they make could be produced part time while they work another job, and most start off that way, but it takes longer to build a career and prevents them from fully devoting themselves to what they love. There are seemingly more options now for artists to reach out to their audience for financial support –the same principle that applies to YouTube creators who monetize their videos and ask viewers to support them on Patreon so they can work on videos full-time—for the traditional writer, their ultimate goals (which sometimes take years to achieve) can be trickier to fund.
       Remember Andy Weir? The man whose self-published book made him rich and got a movie deal? In an interview from 2014 available in the back of The Martian’s paperback release and also on his Penguin Random House website, Weir was asked “How did you feel when your original, self-published version of THE MARTIAN became a phenomenon online? Were you expecting the overwhelmingly positive reception the book received?” In his response, Weir explains that the story was available for free for months on his website and that he only put it on Amazon, at the minimum price Amazon would allow, because some of his readers requested he do so to make it easier to download. He was surprised by the sudden burst in sales and the publishing and movie deals that came fast on its heels. In the interview, he still sounds bewildered at how the story he wrote around his hobby of planning hypothetical space missions became a bestseller, especially since it doesn’t seem he ever had the intent to sell it. Weir clearly knew how to put the book on Amazon and knew how to set a price, but he didn’t do so until someone else asked him to, and even then he did it as a convenience to them. So why did he write a book if he didn’t want to sell it but did want people to be able to read it?
       It’s been claimed that the longest work of fiction in the English language is a 4 million- words-long Super Smash Bros. Brawl fanfic called The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest. A Mexican-born college junior living in the US known only as “Christian” has spent years writing a massive fanfiction about the Nintendo characters in the Super Smash games. Another bestselling author whose self-published success made headlines in the last decade is E.L. James. Fifty Shades of Grey may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s no denying its popularity and influence. It was also originally written typed on James’s Blackberry as Twilight fanfiction. The success of Fifty Shades of Grey and The Martian can be interpreted as success stories of authors who had settled on writing only as a hobby and were picked up by the major publishers, brought to a wide audience, and made a lot of money. Except part of the reason why they were picked up is because they were already being read by thousands, showing a broad audience for books in underrated genres, even though the books were initially offered for free to relatively small and specific online communities of like-minded fans and readers.
       So why do people write fanfiction when they could just as easily not? Because it has a built-in audience, it’s almost guaranteed that someone will read it and leave a like or a comment. But that built-in audience also takes away a key intent of work in a capitalist society—that it will turn a profit and allow the creator to live the lifestyle they desire. When the needs of rent and food and expenses are met by another occupation which the writer does not want to abandon (or imagines they never will be able to abandon) then the need to make money off writing lessens. Maybe they think it would cheapen the writing or negate the relaxation they get from writing as it converts a leisure activity into another job. So do authors only want their books to sell because it pays the bills, or because if they don’t, the publisher won’t continue to make their books available to be read? If money was no longer an issue, would people still write?
       My theory is that profit from writing is in some ways an indication that others have liked their work. Before booksellers could get reader reviews or be tweeted at by readers, sales were the only way to determine if a book was liked. The plus side was that this symbol of adoration could also liberate an author from a dull day job, fund a research trip, and on rare occasions allow the writer to live in the lap of luxury. There are a lot of reasons people want to make money, but money was also validation for the work. It was proof that they were being read and enjoyed. Today, free online content has a lower requirement of quality to pique interest and interaction; after all, it’s free. Perhaps it feels safer than the process of constant rejection that comes with selling a book. They can put it out there in the world and see what comes back. Andy Weir thought everyone who would read his book already had; he didn’t think anyone else would want to. (The trade paperback edition of The Martian stayed on The New York Times Best Seller list for seventy-six weeks, with twelve consecutive weeks at number one.)
       Not too many people question why people produce free online content. The presumption for most products is that it’s for ad space, or that it’s a free version meant to garner interest in a paid version. Still, they don’t wonder why anyone codes a free plug-in for Google Chrome or writes a novel and then just posts it on their blog. On one hand, it can be viewed as altruism, or on the other, a lack of confidence in their own talent. As the internet increasingly tries to monetize itself, and as American society continues to hold onto the dollar as the end-all-be-all, the question of writing for clicks and likes—and where it might lead—is a much more complex and interesting one than at first it might seem. And it might even turn out to be more profitable.
  • About the Author
    Caroline Forrey is currently a sophomore at Miami University majoring in Creative Writing. She enjoys spending long hours on Wikipedia researching random topics, reading, and overanalyzing TV shows. Oh, and writing.
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    Wednesday, May 9, 2018

    The Mystery of the Mystery Genre

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    Romance may be the number one genre in fiction, but it's mystery that keeps us on the edge of our seats.  ♦ 
    I’ve always been an avid consumer of mystery books, gobbling up as many Agatha Christie novels I could get my hands on. I used to believe that every young teen loved the suspense and intrigue that mysteries had, but while I busied myself in bloody tales and shocking endings, my friends were reading the easy romances prominent in Sarah Dessen and John Green novels. I realized my old soul had chosen an even older genre to love, diving into the timeless works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. To me, a mystery novel is something to enjoy, to savor, to indulge in. Read by lamplight in a cozy armchair (preferably on a rainy evening), mysteries hold something different than any other genre, which is why I was most worried about the literary push to ereaders. The atmosphere and ambiance a mystery novel demands don’t exactly fit well with the bluish glow of a backlit screen. I thought the extinction of the genre was certain to be at the hands of Kindle users, so why is the mystery genre one of the most popular among ebook readership?
        This was a case for Hercule Poirot. As shown in past years, mystery novels tend to lag behind other categories in sales and profits. However, in recent studies, those numbers are growing exponentially among ebook’s publishers and sellers. As confirmed by BookBub, an ebook recommendation and seller site, the most desired fiction is now mystery thrillers, having the highest subscriptions out of any ebook genre. Traditionally, romance has dominated the highest sales, but BookBub ranks the mystery/thriller genre higher than their romance category, with almost a 90,000 readership lead. Several ‘big publishing’ houses are also joining the movement and are beginning to publish digital only imprints of mystery novels; Random House published the mystery line Alibi, while Harper Collins created the digital mystery imprint Witness.
        It’s not only ebooks either. Examining recent New York Times bestseller lists confirm that mystery genre novels continue to dominate. “Of the top ten books on the hardcover fiction list last week, five were mysteries. And last week’s Nielsen’s BookScan reports that for bestsellers in all categories or formats [ebooks], eight of the top ten were mysteries." According to Bookstr, mystery and thriller novels come in second (to romance) at $728.2 million in revenue, a large increase from previous years, but why the sudden revival? We may have Indie publishing to thank for this.
        Classic mystery novels are becoming more and more popular, yet most of the sales are coming from new titles and authors just starting to make a name for themselves. Could this be due to the ease of ebook self-publishing? Indi publishing, otherwise known as self-publishing, allows new authors to independently publish their own novels and avoid the time consuming and strenuous process that comes with the ‘big five’ publishing companies. Amazon and other ebook publishers are creating a platform for new writers to reveal their work in excess, causing more and more of the genre to flood the market, hence leading to higher revenue and sales. “Like romance—a genre that famously sees some of its self-published authors make millions—crime fiction lends itself well to self-publishing, in part because authors can pump out a ton of books in a relatively short time while building and engaging with an active audience online.”
        Indie publishing also encourages authors to employ new marketing strategies for potential readers, while still maintaining engagement with current readers. Unlike traditional publishing, Amazon reviews, email subscribers, free or discounted download offers, and Facebook/news site advertising are all ways independent publishers gain popularity with titles,. For example, Bookbub’s mystery subscribers (over 360,000) receive email notifications weekly with new suggestions for titles to read, recommendations of mystery titles for book clubs, and all sorts of coupons and deals for buying mystery genre ebooks. Still, all these marketing ploys are aimed at technologically savvy individuals (traditionally the younger generation). If the demographic of mystery readers is weighted so heavily towards retirement age, why is the mystery genre one of the fastest growing, selling, and publishing in the technology-reliant, ereading stratosphere? Has there been a reversal of readership? Have I been wrong all along about my ‘antique’ love for mysteries? (If curiosity really did kill the cat, it’s a good thing I’m not feline).
        Following the steps of any great detective, I needed to examine the true demographics of mystery readers before jumping to conclusions. I hoped to find some clarity by examining the genres most popular among age groups, yet my findings introduced even more skepticism. Mysteries, as no shock to anyone, are typically more attractive to the older generations and not so to the younger, but how large is the gap? It turns out, from a study developed by Nielsen Market Research, the largest percentage of mystery readers- a solid 28 percent- is over the age of 65. The second largest readership is the 55 to 64 age group, weighing in at 19 percent. To put into perspective, that’s a total of 47 percent of the readership being 55 or older. If we include the next age grouping, 45 to 54, we have 63 percent of all mystery readers. Therefore, the majority of mystery readers get discounts at grocery stores and specialized parking. I was very skeptical that these individuals were the main supporters of Amazon’s trend-setting ebook empire.
        After hitting a wall at every turn, I took a tip from almost all mystery novels and took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. If the genre is becoming more and more popular on ereaders, who is the main consumers of the mystery ebooks? I looked into the overall demographics of one of the leading ereaders; the Amazon Kindle. Like any good mystery, plot twists are crucial to the story, and this one came at the perfect time. As it turns out, the percentage of Kindle readers in the 50 to 69 age group is actually greater than in the 30 to 49 age group (39.5 percent compared to 34.8). Surprisingly, the older generations hold their own in Kindle ownership with just over 47 percent over the age of 50. This is a much greater percent of ebook users than expected, which can partially answer our question about the mystery genres growth, but why is Amazon’s Kindle becoming popular among older generations? Could it be that ebooks are actually more beneficial to older consumers? Respondents to the study sited medical issues like arthritis and “a variety of other impairments, from weakening eyes and carpal-tunnel-like syndromes to more exotic disabilities” as reasons why ebooks make reading easier, not even mentioning the enlarged print options. It makes perfect sense that the mystery genre is expanding in the ebook realm if the main demographic for readers are now moving towards ereading.
        No matter what age or the underlying reasons for mystery’s revival, it continues to grow in popularity, increasing daily. Despite the larger classification of the mystery genre to be meant for the elderly, I’m thrilled to see an increase among the younger generations as well. But hey, if your grandma ever wants to start a book club, count me in!
  • About the Author
    Claire Podges is a sophomore Professional Writing major at Miami University. She enjoys hiking, skiing, writing, and reading every mystery novel she can get her hands on. When not in school, you can typically find her by the water of her family’s lake house in Traverse City, MI, reading one of her favorite Agatha Christie novels.
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    Fantasy in the Modern Age

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    As fantasy leaps from the page into other forms of media, it’s finally leaving behind some of its most divisive tropes.  ♦ 
    When a book, movie, or television show has the fantasy genre labeling it, audiences know at least some of what they can expect: swords, magic, mythical creatures, invented languages, some form of perilous quest, and a number of other familiar tropes that have become so standard to the genre that any fantasy work without at least one of these traits may not be thought of as fantasy at all. Most of these tropes have been passed down from those fantasy works that are widely recognized as the best of the genre, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, but lesser fantasy works that adhere too tightly to these tropes, or that do so unthinkingly, can make the genre stale as a whole and can keep away new readers who might equate the genre only with these too-easy clichés.
       Then, there are a number of even more pervasive, and even more problematic, tropes that have infiltrated the genre for a long time, and which ought to be stricken from the Book of Lazy Fantasy Devices altogether—namely, the infrequency of female protagonists in story, the over-embellishment of narrative description and worldbuilding, and the over-reliance of physical combat as a solution to many of the difficulties the protagonist faces. But as pervasive as these tropes are, some recent fantasy works have shown that they don't have to be the norm.



    Fantasy’s Representation Problem


    Beginning with the most divisive trope, women in fantasy have traditionally served as secondary roles to male protagonists. Their most common role is that of a love interest, and in turn their physical appearance is the subject of focus more often than their characterization. The reason for the scarcity of female leads in the fantasy genre can vary depending on what source material is being referenced, but the most common reason is that the majority of fantasy consumers, at least historically, are male. (This isn’t just a cliché of its own—a number of online surveys have been conducted to determine the demographics of fantasy readers, and each survey revealed that the male-to-female ratio is indeed skewed toward the male side.) Fantasy authors and content creators know that the genre they are working with is male-centered, and in turn they cast male leads that their audience can find more relatable, or their mindsets presumably easier to understand. But this has also meant that fantasy’s female characters—in novels, films, even in fantasy art—have too often been reduced to one-dimensional male-fantasy fulfillment instead of strong characters in their own right.
       This particular trope isn’t one set in stone, however, and recently fantasy entertainment has made bigger strides in offering complex female characters; ultimately it’s the actions and motives of a protagonist that fantasy consumers find the most striking, regardless of whether they are male or female, and the genre has finally begun to catch on. The fantasy sci-fi hybrid video game Horizon Zero Dawn is one such example, where the game’s protagonist is a young woman named Aloy, who was cast out of her village as a child and then trains to become a skilled hunter and warrior, eventually gaining entrance into a new tribe through a series of trials called The Proving. There are no romantic plot devices, and her physical appearance never controls the narrative; all that drives the story is her desire to save her adopted tribal homeland from a robot invasion with her bow and spear. With over 7.6 million copies of the video game sold worldwide in a year, it is clear that male audiences are hardly deterred by a female lead instead of a male one. The notion of having a male protagonist for male consumers of fantasy products is a trope that more and more modern works are starting to let go of, and in turn more variety and diversity in the genre are coming about.



    Worldbuilding at the Expense of Character


    Of all the fantasy tropes that can keep potential newcomers at bay, lengthy paragraphs of overdone narrative description and worldbuilding are some of the most glaring offenders. This trope took root in the fact that fantasy takes much of its narrative composition from epic poetry. J.R.R. Tolkien has stated that The Lord of the Rings was heavily inspired by the epic poem Beowulf, and in turn many of the characters and settings reflect medieval characteristics. Tales of heroic deeds and mythical settings are the heart and soul of fantasy, but the sheer magnitude and intensity of their descriptions can overwhelm both new and experienced readers. It is generally accepted that readers will not recall every detail the fantasy creator painstakingly describes or presents, and some go so far as to skip over these bits in the story entirely to move into a more fluid point in the plot. But that’s sometimes easier said than done, as the fantasy world often gets page after page of worldbuilding description.
       The even bigger problem with the overuse of worldbuilding is that it’s often presented at the expense of character, or sometimes even instead of it. This poses a particular problem, as in fantasy especially it can be difficult for readers to always sympathize with and connect with characters in terms of who they are and what they’re attempting to do. Few people can relate to someone like Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings who must wrestle with the task of becoming a king as well as beating back the armies of monsters that threaten the world. When fantasy works lean too heavily on its worldbuilding, this adds yet another layer of distance between character and audience.
       But this doesn’t have to be the case—the needs of the fantasy world can absolutely co-exist alongside characters with whom audiences can find similarities and can root for on a more day-to-day level, such as the characters found in the animated television show Avatar: The Last Airbender. The age range of the main characters goes from twelve to sixteen, with the protagonist Aang being the youngest. Despite the regular use of their supernatural abilities to control the elements of air, water, earth, and fire, the narrative focus isn’t on the otherworldly but on problems faced in the real world. Coming-of-age responsibility, a developing sense of morality, and even teenage love are all topics addressed by the show and experienced by the characters. The realistic response to these issues by teenagers is often one of immaturity, sometimes to comedic effect, but it’s believable nonetheless. The plot still retains its epic quality of a grand quest, but those within it have mentalities and motivations that modern youth can relate to. And it is because of the narrative being so character-driven that the lengthy descriptions of worldbuilding—such as background information about the Chinese dynasty-era inspired fantasy world—aren’t needed, as the world is shaped and described by those that operate within it in perfect harmony. The trope of expansive description and fantastic worldbuilding can be overcome so long as the audience finds their fantasy characters realistic.



    Battle of the Excessive Battles


    The final trope that fantasy is most guilty of is requiring physical force to be one of the go-to tools in a protagonist’s toolkit. With fantasy narratives so often consisting of adventuring out into unknown and unfamiliar lands, there will be plenty of individuals who wish bodily harm upon the inexperienced traveler. Assertion of oneself through combat is the easiest way to represent conflict in a manner that is both plot-advancing as well as entertaining. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones television series is packed with flashy action sequences that make audiences knuckles grow white with fear of their favorite character meeting a gruesome end. Though diplomacy is an important factor of the narrative, steel and fire are just as relied upon to see things through. But violence is often overused as an easy way to create tension on the page or on the screen, and sometimes it seems to simply exist for its own sake rather than for the sake of story.
       The notion of having a pacifist fantasy protagonist, then, seems absurd given how much of the genre revolves around medieval combat. Yet Toby Fox’s roleplaying video game Undertale centers itself on that exact concept. The player actively decides on how they wish to handle the monsters that attack them as they make their way out of the underground kingdom they accidentally fell into. Players that choose to kill the opposing monsters will notice that the narrative changes based on how many monsters they’ve killed and who those monsters were in the monster society they travel through. But the unique aspect of this fantasy tale is that the player can choose to be a pacifist and never kill a single monster in the entire game. This distinct approach of non-violence is directly addressed by the characters in the game as bizarre and unusual, but the reward for this unique playstyle is an equally unique narrative ending based around pacifism. Because of this unprecedented take on the classic fantasy adventure narrative, Undertale was one of the most popular games in its release year of 2015. Praise over the writing’s self-awareness of violence as the easy answer gives legitimacy to the fact that physical combat is understood as one of fantasy’s most common traits. The standard approach of swords as problem-solvers rather than problems themselves is undermined by Undertale and demonstrates that epic quests don’t require epic proportions of destruction.
       Fantasy as a whole contains many traits that give it the flavor and feeling consumers seek in it, but when these traits become standard practice the freshness of the genre begins to spoil. More recent works have begun to step past these conventions across new platforms and media, allowing a wider audience to connect to the adventurers and have a character-driven grasp on the world they operate in. And it’s when these pervasive patterns are finally broken that truly unique fantasy tales can be told in this modern age.
  • About the Author
    William Kaleb Yi is a senior Creative Writing major at Miami University. He is currently employed at the West Chester (OH) Barnes & Noble as a Bookseller. His career goal is to become a self-sufficient fantasy author utilizing a blend of modern humor, classic adventure, and Christian undertones.
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    Always Connected: How Technology Transformed the Local Library

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    Photo credit: Jasmine Pinkney

    Wonder what the library of the future looks like? There’s one right down the road from you.  ♦ 
    It used to be that libraries were known as places that housed a multitude of physical objects: books, magazines, cassettes, videos, encyclopedias, and more. Nowadays patrons can check out everything from before, plus even more physical media and devices, including video games and gaming systems, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, books on tape, tablets, laptops, and recording equipment. And while in the library itself, they can also have access to computers and other equipment available to all for free, which is of particular importance to students and patrons who do not own a personal computer or have internet access. Still, ever since we've moved into the era of technology and settled into this new era of our lives, things have been adjusting to what we, as a society, want to see in the future, and the good old-fashioned library has had to adapt to that future, too.
      Not only have libraries adjusted the paraphernalia they collect and share with their communities—as evidenced by the sheer volume of different forms of media you can now access through them—they’ve also adjusted their online personalities and the ways users can interact with them and their holdings. Gone are the days when you could only access materials by venturing to the physical space during regular business hours; you can now digitally pay fines, renew books and DVDs, request books, and even check out audiobooks and e-books with immediate access through any number of devices. But as digital books have slowly started to take over the literary world, and as our consumption of media has increasingly gone over to a digital or streaming model, one has to consider how this change has altered the nature of the library—is this change a good thing, a bad thing, or simply the way of the future?
       According to Robyn Case, a librarian at Wright Memorial Public Library in Oakwood, Ohio, the transformation of the library through its digital holdings has been nothing but positive. "Plenty of people who can't benefit from the [physical] library use the digital library,” Case says with a smile. “We have a lot of older participants that can't always make their way to the library, [and] they use the digital library to get their books and everyone is happy."
       Case and other librarians at Wright Memorial are very proud of the advancement of having an online database for their library and the accessibility it offers their patrons. And their patrons seem to appreciate the offerings, too: there has been a 20% increase in the digital use of their online library, as well as an increase in the number of audiobook and eBook checkouts, just in the past two years.
       That doesn't mean that personal, physical visits have decreased; they in fact increased by approximately 10,500 patrons in 2016, even though physical copies are becoming less popular for this particular library. Some people, it seems, still like to sit in the library, pick out a book to read, check it out, and take it home the traditional way. And while the number of young adults aged 17-21 has decreased, the number of adults coming in has stayed pretty steady for the past three years. Since kids usually come in with parents, that number has stayed pretty consistent as well. During the school year, Wright Memorial also offers after-school programs which attract a lot of attention, considering one of the two elementary schools in the area is just a playground away from the building. That program from 2015 to 2016 has actually doubled the number of participants it has in the system.
       Libraries aren't being taken down by Amazon or anyone else on the internet that sells digital books and media. Libraries, including Wright Memorial, are doing just fine with their library visits, even as they expand their holdings to cater to those patrons who enjoy the accessibility of reading or listening to their new book within minutes, without leaving the comfort of their home.
  • About the Author
    Jasmine Pinkney is a sophomore Professional and Creative Writing double major from Dayton, Ohio. She enjoys writing random lyrics and poems in her journal, swimming and hanging out with her swim team, and babysitting her three toddler nephews.
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