Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Toxic Men in Media: Criticism or Glorification?


Can character critiques be effective when audiences aren't getting the message?.  ♦ 
The original hero is a good guy. He is a clean-cut, handsome leader who knows the difference between right and wrong and faces no internal qualms about fighting for what is indisputably right. He stands for morality, he sees no gray areas, and he does not succumb to temptation. This hero became a predictable messiah figure that viewers soon grew bored with, and thus, the anti-hero has risen to popularity over the last twenty years.

However, the anti-hero is moving from a flawed hero to an irredeemable man who does the bare minimum to occasionally to make us believe that maybe he does care about something, or someone. This type of protagonist began to receive backlash for representing moral depravity and violence against women, but instead of making better characters, creators have moved in the direction of putting forth these male protagonists under the guise of “criticism” of this precise behavior. After many years of watching toxic male protagonists on my screen who are supposedly meant to be self-criticisms, a question must be raised. Does the viewing experience even allow for these characters to function properly? More often than not, it seems that audiences are missing the point of these characters, and are simply enjoying the spectacle of watching horrible men sleep with beautiful women and commit gratuitous acts of manipulation and violence.

The issue here is that authorial intent has almost no bearing on how the viewer interprets what is put before them. Creators may have every intention of portraying that a man is despicable and not to be idolized, but the viewer may never come to this conclusion. This dissonance between the creator and the viewer is expertly articulated in the fifth season of Bojack Horseman. Bojack Horseman is an animated show that features an alcoholic, drug-addicted, emotionally manipulative, Hollywood has-been. He spends the show ruining his own life as well as hurting anyone and everyone who cares about him. Just when the audience begins to sympathize with Bojack, he almost has sex with his friend’s seventeen-year-old daughter, or chokes his girlfriend and co-star in a drug-induced haze. In the fifth season, the character Diane realizes that the television show she is working on, which stars Bojack, centers around a man who has committed horrible crimes, and could be viewers like that character feel exonerated rather than condemned, which was not her intent. As far as I’m concerned, in doing this Bojack Horseman is one of few shows that stars a morally abhorrent male protagonist and explicitly reminds its audience of that fact. The point being that although the character has done good things, he has also done things that are inexcusable, and as viewers we should not overlook either aspect of his character.

Another animated character that has entered the mainstream in the last several years is Rick Sanchez, one of the two protagonists of the television series Rick and Morty. Rick Sanchez is a genius scientist and inventor who takes his grandson, Morty, on inter-dimensional adventures. Rick is also a raging alcoholic who abandoned his wife and daughter and consistently uses others, in most cases his family, only as a means to his own selfish ends. Rick has almost no moral compass, and he uses his intelligence to avoid and excuse any responsibility he has to treat another human being with bare minimum respect. And yet, while there is a consensus among viewers that Rick is not a good person, it seems most viewers hold Rick to the same standards that he holds himself to: that he does not have to be a good person, because he’s too powerful and intelligent to be tied down by such an insignificant responsibility. This is an attitude that is particularly unsavory when we see it translated to men in real life—men who believe they are intrinsically superior to others, and therefore, do not need to treat others with basic respect. Furthermore, Rick is consistently excused for his amoral and apathetic behavior when, once every several episodes, he reluctantly reveals through small, backhanded moments of selflessness that he does care for his grandson. Somehow, the audience takes the scraps of Rick’s emotional reveals and uses these moments to reconcile the countless times he has traumatized and endangered his grandson.

Even before watching The Wolf of Wall Street, the consumer knows that Jordan Belfort’s debauchery catches up to him and causes him to crash and burn. We know that Belfort spent 22 months in prison and lost the glamorous empire he built. We know that we should not want to be like him. But while watching the movie we root for him. We are jealous of his lifestyle and his prowess. He is portrayed as untouchable—as godlike. By the time I entered college I knew countless eighteen-year-old boys who aspired to be Jordan Belfort, the drug addicted, domestic abuser, billionaire fraud. In the final shot of the film, after Belfort has served his quick and cushy time in prison, he is still selling. The camera pans to an audience that avidly watches Jordan Belfort in all his glory, aspiring to achieve what he has. This shot could be interpreted as director Martin Scorsese subtly placing some of the blame on us—the audience, the consumer, and the society that not only allows for Belfort’s debauchery, but also idolizes and strives for it. This final shot supposes that Scorsese expected The Wolf of Wall Street to be misinterpreted.

Even films such as 500 Days of Summer face misinterpretation despite the film rather explicitly showing us that the protagonist, Tom Hansen, was not the victim in his failed relationship, but perhaps that he never took his partner’s desires into consideration. It is clear early on that Tom is never going to regard Summer, his love interest, as a dimensional person, and as the film is shown from his point of view, she never does gain dimension. Summer is merely the girl he has decided is “the one,” and when she does not reciprocate that feeling, Tom becomes persistent, vindictive, and victimizing. This film has faced quite a bit of misinterpretation since its release in 2009. Many viewers have perceived Tom the way he perceives himself in the film: as the victim. The actor who depicted Tom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has even commented on this public response to the movie saying: “I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is.” Why do so many viewers miss the true message: that Tom’s idealism of a girl who does not want a relationship is narcissistic and harmful? Why do we want to side with Tom? Because he is the protagonist, and as viewers and readers we have an inherent tendency to root for the protagonist. This tendency is not unlike to the tendency of humans to see ourselves as the hero rather than recognize our own wrongdoings.

These narratives may operate under the guise of self-criticism, but the effect often falls flat in part due to the viewer experience. As soon as we are presented with a protagonist we will step into his or her shoes, and we will begin to excuse the things they do and sympathize with them. We will believe that these terrible actions aren’t his fault, because Bojack's mother was cruel, or because we would also be tempted by greed and corruption like Jordan, or because every once in while we see evidence that Rick does care about his grandson. As soon as we begin to identify with a character, the element of criticism falls away because the viewer gives this character sympathy, and effectively, exoneration. Can we really call this self-criticism at all if the consumer misses the point?

  • About the Author
    Allie Quinn is an undergraduate student at Miami University in the Creative Writing program.

    Friday, April 26, 2019

    The Heart of the Law: An Interview with Edward Neveril


    One a professional writer and the other a lawyer, a son and father bond over a shared appreciation of words and language.  ♦ 
    At first glance, it might not've seemed to writer Sean Neveril that his and his father's chosen career paths had much in common. Sean is a senior studying Professional Writing at Miami University of Ohio with interests in technical writing, while his father, Ed Neveril, is a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer who currently works for Boeing. But while taking a class his senior year on the broad range of career paths within the fields of writing and editing, Sean began to see just how much of his father's work depends upon writing and communication . . . and, in fact, just how much the two share in terms of professional writing.

    "Lawyers are forced to master the English language," the younger Neveril says, "as using it effectively is a fundamental part of the work that they do." That work can include writing opinions which are subsequently published in United States Courts records databases; writing and reviewing contracts; managing groups of lawyers whose filings have to meet critical editorial and format standards; and much more. It was a light-bulb moment for Neveril, not only in realizing how fundamentally language is at the heart of the legal profession but also in seeing just how closely his and his father's work was related, after all.

    In the following interview, which took place by phone and over multiple email exchanges, the two discuss the importance of critical thinking and precision of language in both business and the legal profession and discover how much their disciplines have in common. This transcript contains both word-for-word exchanges as well as summarized sections.

    So, I don’t really know what a Chief Counsel of Mergers & Acquisitions does. I know you’re a lawyer, but can you explain what you do, or at least the key aspects of what you do?

    “Mergers & acquisitions” is the term we use in business to describe generally the function of buying and selling businesses or companies, and in some cases, and recently, for me, many cases, creating new ones where we [Boeing] come together with another company to create a new company that we call a joint venture. I’m the lead lawyer at Boeing for that function. My team structures the deal, negotiates the deal and documents the deal. Most of the time, you’ll hear the term “M&A” as a shorthand for mergers & acquisitions.

    What do you mean by structures the deal? I understand the negotiating and documenting, but how would you go about structuring something like that?

    We work with business leaders and specialists like tax experts to decide, for example, what we’re buying and how we’re buying it. For example, let’s say the head of our military aircraft division has identified a company that’s really good at making landing gear that she’d like to buy. We help her figure out whether we should buy the whole company or only a part of it. If only a part of it, what part. And once we know what we want to buy, we need to figure out the best way of doing it. Do we buy the assets out of the company or do we buy the company’s stock. An example, but you get the point.

    That’s not the kind of lawyer you see on TV all the time. I mean, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of a lawyer is one of the characters from My Cousin Vinny.

    Litigators. We call trial lawyers litigators. My Cousin Vinny is actually pretty accurate as far as movie depictions of trials go. The subject matter of the trial is pure comedy of course, but the process in terms of how the lawyers conduct themselves . . . like when and how they ask questions as opposed to making the typical grandiose speeches we always see the lawyers making at trials. I just love the prosecutor in that movie.

    How did you decide you wanted to be a mergers & acquisitions lawyer instead of a litigator? Did being a litigator not appeal to you?

    I started off as a litigator. Law school is very slanted toward litigation. Maybe that’s because they teach you the law by having you read and analyze cases, which are the legal opinions written by judges to resolve disputes.

    Why did you leave litigation?

    The answer to that question is probably a bit too much for this interview, but it didn’t have anything to do with writing. Mostly, I liked the volitional aspect of negotiation more than the compulsory nature of litigation. People involved in litigation are mostly unhappy. They always feel like they’ve been forced into it. M&A is a process more about finding a way to make everyone happy, or at least happy enough.

    Did you become a lawyer because of a love of writing?

    Not at all. I hated writing growing up. It was my least favorite subject. I was a pure math and science guy. I was lousy at writing. Never knew what to say. I’d read sometimes what my friends would write and be amazed at how much they had to say that was interesting. I had nothing.

    If you were so bad at writing, why would you decide to become a lawyer? Isn’t writing a big part of being a lawyer?

    Absolutely. But legal writing came more naturally to me. In law school, we were taught how to write for litigation, which is all about persuasion through logic, and logic is the foundation of math and science. You’d get a set of facts and some laws or rules. Then you’d get some cases that showed how different judges over time applied those laws to facts that were in some ways similar to, and in some ways different from, your set of facts. The memos we’d write had to apply the law to the facts and argue why it was more logical and persuasive to focus on certain similarities or differences than others. You’d write the memo one way, and then your professor would make you turn around and write the memo coming out the other way. You had to be able to see both sides of it. Maybe that’s what pushed me to find the content for my writing. To defend your position, you had to identify and analyze every angle. A miss was an opportunity for the other side to exploit your position. Critical thinking opened up a whole new world for me as a writer.

    You always get on me about not being precise enough in my writing. Did you also learn that in law school?

    For sure. Law school professors would jump all over you for misuse of words. Accurately communicating your message is critical in legal writing. And it goes beyond your message. Word choice is at the heart of law. I remember my very first day of class at law school when my contracts professor wrote on the chalkboard the simple phrase “No Vehicles Allowed in the Park.” He baited all of us new students into agreeing openly that this was a very clear law. Then he started asking whether it prohibited bicycles, or skateboards, or matchbox cars, or even a painting of a car. I was totally hooked. Completely fascinated. I started thinking about every word I used or read or heard. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

    How do you apply your legal writing skills in mergers & acquisitions, or how does your acquired attention to word choice influence your current work?

    In a lot of ways. M&A deals are memorialized in written contracts. Writing and negotiating contracts for the massive and complex transactions that we do requires absolute mastery of the English language. Both sides come to the negotiation with a team of well-seasoned lawyers completely focused on using words to get their clients an advantage. The placement of a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. You have to be on your toes.

    Would you say that your work as an M&A lawyer is similar to a copyeditor?

    I’m not sure I know everything a copyeditor does, but I’d say yes to your question insofar as good copyeditors carefully review written work to ensure proper usage of the English language. Of course, it may depend a bit on what kind of writing the copyeditor is editing. I could see there being a big difference in how he approaches the editing of a medical text book versus a fictional murder mystery. It seems a little harder to say what’s exactly right or wrong in the latter case.

    Do you think taking more English classes in college would better prepare you for being a lawyer?

    I’m not sure. One of my colleagues said just the other day that she thought the most important thing you could do in college was to become well-educated in a broad sense. To learn how to be a critical thinker. To develop a thirst for learning. She didn’t think it was right to look at college like it was trade school. That resonated with me. How about you? Now that you’ve had a taste what it’s like to work at a business, how do you see your English classes helping you?

    I believe my experience—my training in professional writing courses—has allowed me to more effectively communicate with others in a business environment, to form a voice that I believe represents me in the way that I would like to be presented. And from my experience as an engineering intern at an electrical construction company in Chicago, I gained insight into how a business functions, how effective communication is the most critical function of a proper business.

    I wouldn’t say I disagree with what your colleague had to say about a college education, but I do believe that college English classes, especially the ones that I’ve taken through Miami, have taught me valuable information that will greatly influence my professional career.

    Good points. Being a lawyer, I have to ask you about the legal writing class you took last year. I think you said you liked it a lot, but I don’t remember asking you why. Am I remembering this correctly? If so, what did you like about it so much?

    Like you said earlier, legal writing has a lot to do with applying rules and other proceedings to a current issue. I would have to say that my favorite part of a legal writing class is the process of being a detective, in a sense. There was a sense of gratification I felt whenever I was able to build a case, either to prosecute or to defend someone. I was able to understand how one uses language in a legal setting to cause immediate change as well as, in some cases, influence legislation. Is this not similar to something that you have either felt in your past, or even still feel?

    Sure. I think most everyone likes to feel that he or she is making a difference in the world, whether that’s in the community or the workplace.

    Lawyers do that primarily through language.

  • About the Author
    Sean Neveril is a senior Professional Writing major at Miami University. He is interested in more technical writing and applying his skillets to many different career paths. Sean's ideal day would consist of waking up early, driving into the Rocky Mountains, and fly fishing until dusk. Living in Chicago, Sean believes this will remain a dream until later in life.

    Thursday, April 25, 2019

    Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship: The Wisdom of the Quotidian


    You might not think a 220-year-old novel wherein seemingly "nothing remarkable happens" could be relevant to a modern college-aged readership. You'd be wrong.  ♦ 
    Have you ever awoken from a deep sleep, as though you were coming into existence from a state of non-being? You do not know where you are—maybe in your childhood home or in a cabin at camp—perhaps you do not even know who you are for the moment.

    This state of affairs—the perplexity of being confronted with existence itself while being equipped only with bewilderment—corresponds to a great degree with the confusion that many young people, especially students in college or young adults, encounter with respect to their futures. Many of us stare into the abyss of questions: what am I doing, where am I going, and why?

    And yet this abyss of questions, daunting though it may be, contains within it the potential for an interpretation of reality: the potential for meaning. Just as an author weaves an overarching narrative from seemingly disconnected events, developments, and characters, so too can we realize a narrative in our own lives, which at times may be blissfully light, catatonically onerous, or maybe just plain boring. This task of realizing the significance of each passing moment is fraught with difficulty: it requires also registering each moment in relation to the whole of everything else that has been experienced.

    In the bildungsroman, we see reflected this endeavor to understand and to interpret what we experience in its most quintessential form. We observe the development of a youthful protagonist into maturity, during which he ascribes certain meanings to his experience and seeks to understand his place in the world. It is an essentially universal quest, a process in which we all participate, and the stronghold from which we sally forward to ascribe meaning to other phenomena.

    No doubt, this process continues throughout the course of life, even after young adulthood. But it’s in that transition between childhood and maturity that the burden of this seeking carries the most gravitas. The bildungsroman therefore takes the weighty task of representing this hesitating, hopeful leap into experience and maturity.

    Despite grappling with the evidently important subjects of individual maturation and development, the start of the genre of the bildungsroman, Goethe’s masterpiece, might not fit so well with contemporary notions of what is important or entertaining.

    In fact, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship might appear, after a perfunctory reading, not obviously engaged with salient existential questions, but instead, rambling, bumbling, and—worst of all—trivial. However, a more thorough, assiduous reading might contrarily confer a sense of wonder at its seemingly boundless wisdom and relevance.

    Wilhelm, the protagonist, is bombarded with an endless succession of quotidian experiences; he converses, traverses, rehearses, splurges, curses, utters poetic verses, and, as is characteristic of youth, his friend group disperses. Just as we encounter countless banal experiences in day-to-day life, so does Wilhelm. Throughout hundreds of pages, the reader of Goethe’s masterpiece is asked to settle for occurrences that are deceptively commonplace and seemingly meaningless; one moment Wilhelm is dithering about in an idyll town by a serenely flowing river, splurging away his wealth capriciously and getting drunk in high-spirits, the next he is traveling with a troupe engaging in petty banter, and later he makes the acquaintanceship of nobility, regaling his noble and idealistic ideas in high-flown discourse.

    Wilhelm is the prototype of the youth who enters the wide-world naïve and idealistic, meeting the vicissitudes of reality with a grandiosity of vision. He is met with disappointment and disillusionment, but he journeys doggedly and courageously forward through chaos.

    Much as is the case in our lives, Wilhelm must balance his passions and inclinations with the pressures of his family. For Wilhelm, his desire to be an actor is countervailed by the influence of a highly practical father who wants him to become a businessman. The supposedly pointless experiences Wilhelm undergoes along with his desires and inner constitution conspire fatefully. While the end may not be in view to Wilhelm, it is certainly there—its realization however requires Wilhelm’s conscientious, active, and faithful participation.

    Perhaps the best parts of Goethe’s work are the jewels of wisdom scattered about the quotidian rough. Consider Goethe’s reflection on the interaction between poetic, idealistic Wilhelm and his close friend, the ever-pragmatic Werner: “ . . . one could have said that their desire to discover each other through their conversations was only increased by the impossibility of making themselves mutually understood . . . [They were] never able to understand why the one could not reduce the other to his way of thinking.”

    Or consider Goethe’s poetic rendering of Wilhelm’s sorry state after his being reminded of his alienation from the comforts of women: “He could not perceive clearly that there was an irresistible yearning which nature had imposed on him as a law of his being, and that this was being stimulated, but only half satisfied, and ultimately frustrated by circumstance.”

    Or—my personal favorite—consider Wilhelm’s reflection after a night of carousing (something that many college-aged people can relate to) and reading literature (perhaps not so relatable): “Next morning he opened his eyes and gloomily surveyed the mess and destruction of the previous evening, he felt thoroughly depressed at the sad results which a stimulating, spirited, and well-intentioned work of literature had produced.”

    The very act of reading Wilhelm’s development, and his continuous struggle to resolve the meaning of the concatenation of experiences he undergoes, is edifying: it is a call for reflection on the course of one’s own development. This reflection may be tiresome and laborious to the modern reader, but the end result is realization as profound as that of waking up from seeming nothingness. An attentive reading of Goethe’s magnum opus is rewarding in the same way that the conscientious engagement with life that it conveys is, but one must keep in mind that both are only rewarding by virtue of their arduousness.

    And especially for readers that are on the verge of an unknown future, particularly young adults, Goethe will reward with the wisdom of the poet: he will show, through the particular story of one youth first published in 1795, a universal experience that is relevant to all those who are developing as individuals and seek to understand their purpose. Nevertheless, the reader is left with the task that only he or she can do sufficiently: namely, the task of reflecting on and interpreting his or her own story.

    As Goethe says, “The rude man is content if he sees but something going on; the man of more refinement must be made to feel; the man entirely refined, desires to reflect.”

  • About the Author
    Elijah Donohue is a junior with majors in Philosophy and Professional Writing at Miami University. During his free time, he likes to read literature and philosophy. He particularly enjoys reading German Idealism, especially Schopenhauer, as well as Eastern philosophy. He’s a befuddled and sometimes melancholy figure who can be found bedraggled and brooding or blathering aimlessly.

    Thursday, April 18, 2019

    The Feminine Between: Fanfiction as a Gendered Space


    Fanfiction is not only a proponent for creative culture, but could also be the outlet that young women need.  ♦ 
    The rise of the internet as an entertainment platform has enabled content creators of all kinds to profit from their works in ways that were unprecedented only a few decades ago. For example, the rise of streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, has catapulted our favorite TV shows and movies from a commercial-heavy DVR to the zero-commercial, zero-hassle bliss of binge-watching on almost any screen. As more of this type of easy-access content appears, fans of this content will multiply. But, inevitably, those fans will reach a point when they can simply binge no more. And where does one go to consume his or her favorite content when the canon runs out?

    The fandom, of course.

    Where else, besides within a fandom, could you find fanart of your favorite characters from The Walking Dead opening a bakery together? Where else could you engage in lengthy discourse about what exactly happened in Season 4, Episode 1 of Supernatural? Where else could you read a 300,000-word story entirely based on that one scene that would have been so much better if it had gone just a little bit differently? Fandoms are where you go when you don’t want the content to end, or you wish it ended differently, or you think you could’ve done it better yourself. Therefore, the people who are attracted most to fandoms are those who feel as if their voices are not represented within modern media: namely, young women.

    Within online fandom spaces, young women can find an escape from a reality in which their voices are not valued. Indeed, many creators within fandoms rejoice in the fact that their audience is limited to other women who have common interests to theirs. According to Beth Weeks, a fanfiction author with an online following more than 25,000 strong, this is part of the appeal: “I’m not interested in men reading my work or men’s perspective of my work. I’m always writing for my 16-year-old self.” Writing in this milieu has since helped her within more professional contexts. “I can say that one of the strengths I had when I came to the MFA was that I was acutely aware of writing for an audience.”

    That being said, the limits of a fandom’s audience can also be detrimental to an aspiring author because of one key factor: “Fanfic is so much of a community thing. We’re writing to contribute to a greater lexicon, and the whole purpose of it is to showcase our genre. Original work is kind of in a vacuum. You inevitably derive your work from other people, but you can’t admit that,” confessed Weeks. And, indeed, one of the most challenging facets of being in an MFA program for Weeks was “Writing what I wanted to write, not what other people wanted to read.”

    Furthermore, writing within a fandom can be challenging for reasons one might not expect. While the audience and community are one of the best parts about the genre, they can also be incredibly overwhelming. According to Weeks, “The place of a fanfic writer is a completely unique circumstance. The place of a popular fanfic writer is the strangest place to be, because we’re not allowed to talk about our popularity, we’re not allowed to acknowledge any kind of fame, and we’re not allowed to complain about it.” This is because, according to fandom logic, receiving attention and acclaim from an overwhelming audience is better than not receiving any at all. However, this is not a struggle felt by authors of original texts.

    Weeks elaborated on this point, “If you’re a popular author of an original text, you don’t have to reply to your Amazon reviews. You don’t have to keep an open Ask Box, you don’t have to reply to your Twitter mentions. But fanfic authors have to constantly engage. In some cases, fanfic authors have larger followings than original authors, and, in many cases, they do. And yet, we are tasked with the unpaid labor of constant engagement because we are reader-writers of the same lexicon. And so, we have to engage as fans of a greater text, even though we’re in this between space of also being creators, but we have to do all of the work of being a consumer in addition to a creator.”

    And yet it is within that “between space” that aspiring female authors are able to dramatically influence culture at a micro-level that can become macro. One example of this occurred when Supernatural paid tribute to its fans with its 200th episode entitled “Fan Fiction.” Filmed in the form of a musical and performed by a young female cast, the television show celebrated the fanbase that insured its popularity. On a more individual level, writing fanfiction is what put best-selling authors E.L. James and Anna Todd on the map. However, while there still are inherent issues with catering to a large audience without a PR team to support and guide an aspiring author, by contributing to fandom content, a young woman can feel empowered and learn skills that can positively impact her future writing. Regardless of how this space is interpreted in the public eye, fandoms represent massive online platforms in which young women have the power to reshape mainstream content into any form they desire.

    And even though in today’s culture fanfiction is still not taken nearly as seriously as canonical writing, the canon can only go so far. But the fandom? Well, that goes on forever.

  • About the Author
    Mary Seaman is a Creative Writing and History double major who has been a fanfiction connoisseur since 2012. She is currently attending Miami University as a third-year senior.

    Sexes, Hexes, and the Rise of Witchcraft in Popular Media


    What was once a feared practice is now one of the largest rising obsessions in today's culture.  ♦ 
    Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…”

    These words are familiar to many in the millennial generation, having Shakespeare parroted back to them during their time spent in school. The ideas of witchcraft, magick, and peering beyond the veil have been following the millennial generation around for most of their lives. Popular books, movies, and television shows all include some aspect of witchcraft, and the magickal genre has only grown with the generation. Early childhood experiences from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Roald Dahl’s Witches to more mature shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and American Horror Story: Coven have only served to cultivate the consumer. Even recent movies like Suspiria and The Love Witch have helped pique the interest of watchers, turning Muggles ever-towards more witchy-themed endeavors.

    In the past few decades, themes of witchcraft have grown to permeate media, fashion, pop culture, and most definitely literature. But what does this mean for book culture? With the sudden rise of paganism and Wicca in the millennial generation, it means demand. Constant demand for more literature, more style, more stuff! In a way, witchcraft has become less of an eclectic practice and more of a stylized genre. Some may even argue that witchcraft is becoming a brand. Clothing stores, large makeup brands, and places frequented by alternatively-dressed kids are now selling easy start-up kits for spellcraft, alchemy, and other forms of popular witchery. The days of having to use secret websites or shipping items from out-of-state are over. No longer does the word “witch” refer to a girl wearing all black. Anyone can start on their magickal journey, as long as they have a spell book.

    The rise of witchcraft in media has led to the complete explosion of the modern spell book, (via physical copies, digital, or online resources), helping to grow the magickal generation. While paganism has been around since the dawn of time and the term “Wicca” was coined in the 1950’s, the acceptance of witchcraft did not truly take off until the 2010’s. Some of the most popular spell books have been published by the author Arin Murphy-Hiscock. She has been publishing magickal guides since the early 2000’s, but became a formally recognized top author in 2017 when her book, The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More, became both an Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller. Similar guides and other “how-to” spell books have also become an increasingly common part of the millennial athenaeum.

    Another large component for an increased demand in spell books is the stereotypical millennial mindset. Societal values such as feminism, acceptance, queer visibility, money issues, environmental concerns, self-care, racial equality, rebellion, and opposition to the status quo all drive the millennial need to find solutions outside of themselves. One event in particular that calls to the popularity of witchcraft in this current age is the prevalence of “social hexing.” For example, hexes, curses, and otherwise negative forms of magick are cautioned against in the Wiccan tradition in the form of The Wiccan Rede and The Three-Fold Law, also known as “The Law of Return.” The Wiccan Rede is summarized by most traditional practitioners as, “These Eight words the Rede fulfill: "An’ Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.” The Three-Fold Law states whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times. Magick, as according to traditional media, is meant to be used for good and the lessening of “bad.” For example, the foundations of the magickal laws were explored in the film called The Craft, as well as appearing in most traditional texts of paganism. However, the casual practitioners or “magickal trenders” don’t necessarily take these foundational forms of occultism/paganism/Wicca to heart, which could partially explain the implementation of these public hex events. Supporters of these movements believe that these events show support and visibility for people who feel like they have been marginalized by various sections of society.

    Described as Brooklyn’s “premiere occult bookshop and spiritual community space,” Catland Books is the supposed originator of the art of the “public” or “community hex” as a form of magickal activism. In June of 2017, Catland Books hosted a premier event to hex Donald Trump. After the immense popularity of the first event, Catland Books has hosted many more, hexing or binding politician Brett Kavanaugh and the entirety of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Each occurrence is marketed as a community event and is meant to bring people together and foster a sense of visibility and community for groups who feel as though they remain unheard.

    From socially taboo to comfortably mainstream, witchcraft has inundated the media in ways that have brought people together. With its continual popularity, it’s clear that magick isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As long as these industries continue to capitalize on the human desire for escape, there will always be the need for the color black and for some form of commercially available magick.

  • About the Author
    Tess Bellamy is a senior Professional Writing major with a penchant for horror stories. She enjoys reading books in Spanish, Elvish, and Runic variants. She spends most of her time with her partner, Sebastian, and their pets, Pudgy (dog), Artemis (cat), Lady Emberine (spider), and Fyre (snake). She dreams of one day writing spooky cookbooks that anyone could enjoy.

    Betwixt and Between: An Interview with Dr. Jeb Card


    In a new book, a professor of anthropology takes on weird history and our cultural, conspiratorial fascination with it.  ♦ 
    Be honest: when you think of archaeology—more specifically, the search for lost civilizations, or the unveiling of hidden histories—you probably don’t think of an academic study first. More likely, you think of Indiana Jones raiding a temple for supernatural artifacts, or a History channel special on ancient aliens, or any number of YouTube channels you might’ve come across from pseudo-archaeologists who claim to unveil the “truth” about history “they” don’t want you to know. But why is it that archaeology, as a field of study, seems to particularly attract interest in the weird? And what does the attraction tell us not only about archaeology but about ourselves?

    These are the questions Dr. Jeb Card, an anthropology professor at Miami University of Ohio and self-described “weird-shit-ologist,” explores in his book Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past (University of New Mexico Press, 2018), which “guides the reader through haunted museums, mysterious hieroglyphic inscriptions, [and] fragments of a lost continent that never existed” while also examining the question of “how and why archaeology continues to mystify.” Dr. Card has taught at Miami University since 2011 and, before that, at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Tulane University, where he earned his PhD in anthropology in 2007. While being an effective instructor, scientist, and mentor for numerous students in research, Dr. Card has also succeeded as an author (his previous book, Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, was published in 2016), has been both co-host and guest on numerous podcasts on weird archaeology, and has done extensive research and study of Central America and other areas.

    Who were some of your biggest inspirations while writing your book Spooky Archaeology?

    Spooky is about archaeology but is not a [textbook]; it is more of a history. From the academy, [professor of political science Michael Barkun] wrote a book called A Culture of Conspiracy, which is really a major light for me in how to approach what I sometimes call “weird-shit-ology.” He argues that rejected or stigmatized knowledge—once it is stigmatized—is kind of put in the same bin, trash bin, or gutter and is all mixed together, which makes sense if you look at everything from conspiracy theory to paranormal thought to radical political extremism [and] how they all overlap. Adrian Mayer, who is a historian who looks at the ancient world from sort of a scientific perspective, is also an influence. A weird one is actually Leonard Nimoy because of In Search Of…, which sort of inspired me as a kid, but I also critique things like it in the book.

    What were some of the challenges you faced along the way when writing a book in such a distinct genre?

    Everything I have ever done, academically speaking, has felt betwixt and between. I wanted to do Maya archaeology, and from the beginning I kind of screwed it up. You would think it would involve inscriptions and texts and whatnot, but the person who pokes around in the dirt is often not the person reading and interpreting these [ . . . ]. I gave up on this approach in grad school, so I then [did] historical archaeology in early Spanish colonial Central America.

    This stuff, in Spooky, is betwixt and between squared.

    There is no professorship of “weird-shit-ology.” It is important, and in the last three years people are beginning to understand . . . but there is still a lot of fumbling around, and that’s actually been one of the biggest fights I’ve been increasingly dealing with.

    I’ve been in this for a long time, and for much of that time when I talk about [why people believe in conspiracy and pseudoscience], the sometimes-literally-said, often-implied response from many of my colleagues would be, “Why are you studying that? That only happens to people in trailers in Arkansas.” There is a huge class element, and that is why it has been ignored. Then the last three years all these sociology, anthropology, and especially psychology papers have come out [but] these don’t really have anything to do with the field. However, because they are coming from other theoretical bases, they are more likely to get listened to.

    You have appeared on several podcasts and have written a number of articles and scientific papers; do you prefer speaking in ways like a podcast or presentation to spread knowledge or do you prefer using your writing? Do you feel that one of these methods is superior for spreading knowledge?

    I am decent at performing, so I enjoy speaking. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best way. There are multiple approaches, and I think there is a value to the big blast and some value to getting out there on social media and trying to get people to see things. I think this is the least important, though, because I don’t think that we can win that fight. If you are trying to make your voice heard where everyone else is doing the same but doesn’t care about citation or something being true six months from now, but you do, you are inherently handicapped. I think there is a limited value here.

    I think public speaking, including podcasts, very much [has] a value. I also think putting what we have out there on the record is really important. The absolute least useful thing you can do, and often is frankly negative, is getting into real-time fights or debates with people. It never goes well, because you are handicapping everything that scholarly work is good at: looking into hundreds of resources, doing the research, actually knowing the answers rather than having a small set of stock answers that you go back to because they work well on a crowd.

    I strongly disagree with arguing over Twitter or something like that because it isn’t for the audience which many people think; I care more about convincing people [ . . . ]. We need to tell our own stories, and sometimes that needs to be in long form or sometimes it needs to be in speaking. What we can’t do is react. We can’t sit back, think people will listen to us, and then be shocked and answer in reaction.

    What challenges did you face in the writing and publication processes of your book?

    The actual writing and publishing process went fairly easily. Copyediting was fine, and there were fights of course—whether to use Maya or Mayan, which I lost. It’s supposed to be Maya, but if you read my book it is not. The bigger problems have been that there are issues in print publishing, in no small part due to the Amazon effect and things like that. I published with an academic press tied to a state university system which has had its funding cut, [and] which is symptomatic of the larger funding cuts to the state university systems throughout the US. Spooky was available in hardcover for $75, which is a ridiculous price but by no means the most expensive book I’ve worked on. It is now available in paperback for $39.95, and I would rather it be $29, but I can live with $39. Part of that is because the press has lost state support, not because they are bad or good but because we have decided as a society not to do these kinds of things [ . . . ]. The people there are overworked and understaffed, which have been the largest problems.

    The reason I didn’t go the CreateSpace route is because this book was peer reviewed and people liked it; some of them even put their names on it, which I’ve never had before. The problem there was not peer review or creation, but that the publishing industry is being hammered.

    People have read and reviewed this book, and if there was a giant red flag, they would have pointed it out. Maybe that isn’t the future, but I am glad I went with an academic press and I am glad with my publishing choices.

    From a young age you have been exposed to history in numerous ways; have you always known what you wanted to do in life? Did you have any interest in writing when you were younger?

    I haven’t been back to Gettysburg since the late 1990s, but I did the math once and between 1976 and the mid ‘90s I figured out that I had spent approximately sixty days there, and my father had spent about 700 days there, but now it is probably closer to 1000. Archaeology had emerged on my radar in high school, but I always wanted to be a “scientist” of sorts. Writing seems to inherently be a part of that. I don’t know if I wanted to write for a larger audience, which wasn’t on my agenda for most of college. When I began to study the Celtic Milieu [the range of Celtic archaeologies and influence] as a topic of anthropological science, I probably began to want to spread my ideas to a larger audience. Writing a book like Spooky probably started around 2006 when I started blogging, which I did up until I got this job in 2011 [and] it began to enter my mind that if I already am writing this stuff in a blog, I might as well be putting it into an article or a book.

    That said, the history of Spooky is pretty important here. It emerges from two blog posts in October 2011; one was about what I am now calling the Paranormal Unified Field Theory—Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist, made it clear to me that many of my thoughts and ideas [about fringe conspiracy and weird archaeology] cohered together; that post is a major part of what I’ve been up to. The other post was why is archaeology seen as spooky and haunted. There are several reasons which you can find in the book, like museums being seen as haunted and whatnot.

    I went to the 2012 American Anthropological Society meetings, and I decided since it was 2012 and the Maya calendar [doomsday prediction] and all that . . . what would be a better time to put in a paper like this in a professional setting? So I put in "Spooky Archaeology: Understanding the Past," which is a version of the blog post. An acquisitions editor told me he saw a book in this paper, but I didn’t jump on it right away. By the end of 2013, I had emailed him and he informed me that he was still interested.

    The book eventually becomes something else but starts off with some of the ideas in that paper that I end up building on.

    Scholarship requires looking at hundreds of objects and resources, not just a few blog posts. There is this hunger for content, but there has to be something backing it up, and many projects in the public face lack these. There is a temptation to work off the minimum you know and just wing the rest, and that way lies problems.

    I had a professor, Dan Heelin, who when [he] would do oral examinations he would say, “Jeb, are you sure about that?” when you would give answers, to politely say you are wrong. His whole point, however, was that you are going to be presenting your information in front of an audience and you damn well better know what you are talking about, because if you don’t people are going to catch you out. Know what you are talking about; don’t make things up.

    Over time, what being a writer meant became clearer to me. It is a lot of work, a lot of editing, and a lot of getting this right. If you realize that, you say “Yes please, yes I want to go to the library for six months and know all the things” and have 175,000 words that you then have to carve up to 110,000 and you judicially throw things out and rework it, and rework it, and rework it until my audience actually gets it and it’s not just in my head. I’m not just saying what I want on the page; I am actually communicating with the audience. Once you realize that is writing and you still want to do it, then you are writing. But that takes time to get to, and if you are constantly doing it on a deadline, it is hard. When I was finally starting to get things together in the last chapters of my dissertation, I knew I wanted to do it again. When people actually [said] things like “That’s good” and “I get what you’re going for,” that’s when I realized I wanted to write again.

  • About the Author
    Tom Becker is a senior Zoology major at Miami University. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies as well as the NBA, playing video games, and hiking and resting in his hammock with his two dogs Buddy and Zeus. Currently, he is reading the series A Song of Ice and Fire and hopes to read Dune next.

    Thursday, April 11, 2019

    The YA Heroine: Why Empowered Women Empower Women


    Lately, female characters in YA fantasy have been making their impact on modern culture . . . but are their steps worth following in?  ♦ 
    It’s an ordinary day when you enter a bookstore and pick up a novel with a female protagonist. The genre is YA fantasy, occasionally science fiction. As you begin reading the inside of the jacket cover, you reflect on your recent cravings for these heroine-driven plots. They’re appealing, dynamic, and you’ve noticed a rising interest invested in strong female characters, both in film and in literature. And while discrimination against any book is not in your nature, the one in your hand is extremely attractive, so you go ahead and give the book a chance.
      The first three chapters are great. The author obviously seems to know what they’re doing...and then it happens again. Your wonderful female protagonist changes before your very eyes: she becomes a man. Without any warning, she starts dressing like one, acting like one, stomping on male hearts with her stiletto boots, and crushing any telltale signs that might depict her as weak. You realize that none of this would be a problem for you if this transformation was only a small part of who she was, one dimension of many. Instead, it envelopes the entirety of who she is as a character, and it just doesn’t sit right.
       This example reflects a glaring issue concerning the development of female characters in YA fantasy. The stereotypes between highly feminine and completely masculinized heroines have made little progress in dissolving. On one side of the spectrum, the character may render the portrait of romanticized grace and beauty and swoon at the very notion of conflict, and thus she’ll be seen as a soft, useless character. On the other hand, she might be a complete carbon-copy of a man: all swagger and violence, unable (or unwilling) to have a love interest because it would chip away at her façade, and thus is often seen as a real heroine for her “strength.” These are just simple depictions of the stereotypes, but they portray the common prejudices against vulnerable female characters. In the end, making her strong (via masculinity) just won’t cut it, because despite that strength, she’s underdeveloped, unrelatable, and ultimately disempowered.
       To better understand how to dismantle this stereotype, it’s important to understand first the difference between having a “strong” heroine and an “empowered” one. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "strong" is defined as “having or marked by great physical power,” “not mild or weak,” and “not easily injured or disturbed,” all definitions, you’ll note, that seem to be coded not just along traditional gender lines but stereotypically-male ones. This male-centric conception of “strength” is clearly seen in the “strong heroine,” the one who stomps on hearts and is successful by denying (or hiding) her femininity, and the one who is most represented in YA fantasy. In multiple YA novels, this type of heroine easily gets caught up in the physicality of her character but lacks the ability to truly feel or empathize. For example, 18-year-old Eona, the protagonist in Alison Goodman’s novel, Eon, cultivates her ability to use Dragon Magic to become a Dragoneye, but she parades as a boy for many years to do it. Under the guise of a male name and a male appearance, Eona’s true identity, when revealed, forces her to walk the bridge between man and woman. Replicating her as more of a man is the simplest formula for coding her as “strong”—but it’s the most dangerous for her dimensionality as a female character.
       The "empowered" heroine, however, could be the remedy for this. The term “empowered” refers to “[giving] someone the authority or power to do something; to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.” Heroines are meant to represent real females, whether in fiction or not. Therefore, they shouldn’t just be physically represented, but psychologically “real” as well. They shouldn’t simply surpass the hardships in their story with ease but instead should reserve the ability to perceive, struggle, and learn from these hardships as well.
       So, why won’t “strong” cut it?

    “Strong” heroines appear as one-dimensional archetypes, often of physical strength, but just because she has a sword in hand doesn’t mean she is more progressive.
    “Strong” heroines lack multiple dynamics, particularly in terms of what it would mean to be a woman (and not just a hero) within the fictional world.
    “Strong” heroines are granted no sense of vulnerability and often portray women who do not struggle, which is an unrealistic characteristic.

       Empowered heroines are much more realistic. They give young women the chance to explore their own strengths and weaknesses in real life. These heroines appear empowered because they own their sexuality and use it to their advantage, rather than being sexualized by those surrounding them. The “empowered” female can still be tough and stern yet show vulnerability and emotion without worry of losing her “macho” persona. She embodies both the strength of a young woman while also coping with real difficulties. She alone mends the gap between the extreme expectations of her character.
       One prime example of this type of character is Celaena Sardothien, the popular heroine of the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. An 18-year-old assassin, Celaena is sassy, kick-ass, and uses her wit and talents to put men down. However, despite dangerous aspects, she has an obsession for clothes and books and maintains two love interests without batting an eyelash. Celaena’s existence is a representation of a deeply multidimensional character. Even with a sword in hand, she still experiences moments of vulnerability and does not shy away from them.
       Katniss Everdeen, a fan favorite from The Hunger Games series, retains many similar aspects. Despite her deadly skill with a bow and arrow, Katniss experiences many emotions throughout her trials: fear, anger, revulsion, and love. She does not conform; she does not bend. With a fierce desire to protect her family and survive, she faces many desires and consequences and faces them alone. Despite being a physically powerful heroine, she embraces her weaknesses and uses them to defeat her enemies by the end. She claims the rights to her life and becomes a role model for other characters to do the same.
       In the bookstore, locating fantasy books with empowered heroines can be a tricky business. Nevertheless, they’re there – hidden nuggets of gold to find, if you know how to get past the bedrock. And when you do, you’ll notice your heroine’s strengths and her weaknesses. You’ll be able to explore her triggers and her curiosities, her deepest desires and her more obvious ones. You’ll cheer her on when she has a sword in hand and when she fights for what she wants with fierce wit, but only because she is developing into her own story, discarding the remnants of the masculine shell she’d once been cowering in.

  • About the Author
    Grace Nehls is a junior at Miami University in Ohio, majoring in Creative Writing and double-minoring in Anthropology and Management. In addition to her studies, Grace is an active member on Miami University’s Happy Captive Magazine, and a content contributor to Spoon University. In her free time, she can be found reading YA fantasy and enjoying great food. After graduation she would like to move to Florida and dive head-first into a professional writing career.

    Writes of Passage: How Children’s Classics Risk Getting Lost in the Cloud


    Can classic children’s literature survive as just another digital file on a machine?  ♦ 
    When I took a nannying position last summer, fresh out of my spring semester Children’s Literature class, I felt invincible; I had an arsenal of renewed whimsy, and I was ready to connect with the next generation, as books so often enable. I knew, too, that you “write up” for children, not down, and that children’s books served as mirrors and windows–a means of reflection and exploration all at once. Most importantly, or so I thought, I had my own childhood interactions with books to go off of, with beloveds such as Tuck Everlasting, Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince just to name a few. A little dated, I knew, but all of these had proven to withstand the test of time, as they’d already weathered a generation (or two or three) before making their way to me. At twenty years old, I thought that my own childhood reading experiences were still more than relevant.

    I was mistaken.

    What I didn’t account for, perhaps naively, was that the 6- and 9-year-olds staring up at me in wonder on my first morning there had been born into a technological world that I hadn’t encountered until I was a teenager. Their parents, bless them, still mandated reading time, which was a required thirty minutes, but on their list of activities, reading was in competition with a limited screen time of an hour. Furthermore, this screen time didn’t include television, the list informed me; it was in regards to the iPad only.

    I was flabbergasted.

    An iPad? At six years old?

    The parents were in no way at fault; when the kids had playdates while I watched them, every single friend they had over had the same interests—those interests being, of course, apps. When I could wrangle the kids for story time, they loved what I picked for them, but they had never heard of Charlotte’s Web before my introducing it to them. The reason for this, I soon realized, was a symptom of the digitalization of books, which has changed not just children’s reading habits but their relationship to these and other books: in this new age of technology, access, and instant gratification, the classics of children’s literature are not only in competition with the newer books on the market but with every Fruit-Ninja-Angry-Bird phenomena app creators can crank out. A well-loved, dog-eared, physical children’s book has a certain presence on a shelf and in the imagination, but when the classics go digital, they’re just data. They become invisible. (What, then, will become of Wilbur? Of Madame Zeroni? There are lives at stake, people!)

    As for the home I’d come to think of as my sample for this small investigation, I didn’t see a single one of the books from my Children’s Lit reading list in the house, and the children confirmed that maybe one or two of the titles I mentioned to them graced the shelves of their reading corners at school. Towards the heavens, I lamented; what’s a reading corner without The Giving Tree and the guarantee of contracting head lice or a respiratory infection?

    When their parents found out what I was reading to them, they were delighted, and each immediately offered several anecdotes relating to their own experiences surrounding E. B. White’s masterful telling of the unlikely friendship between a spider and a pig, but they’d never thought to pass the book on to their children, not in physical form, and as a result their children had never come in contact with the book at all. It supported the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that I fear is beginning to consume such long-beloved titles, which risks flinging these books into oblivion. Recent studies analyzing the significance of having actual, tangible books in the home on children’s literacy and development have only solidified my suspicions that print in the home has a worth that digital can’t match.

    This is not a condemnation of modern youth, nor is it a rallying cry for those who are anti-progress to unite; there is nothing wrong with adding in the new, so long as we don’t lose the old. The call to action then is this: preserve print! Because if we fall prey to the convenience of The Cloud, we might lose entirely the romanticism of turning a page with a child on your lap (preferably your own). Shiny things are new and fun; moving colors on a screen are mesmerizing; these truths I grant you, and perhaps some stories have grown too dated for the future generations to relate to. (Cue: “Mommy, what’s a drive-in theater?”) But for many of us, it would be no small loss for “Stay Gold, Ponyboy,” “Some Pig,” and “Let the wild rumpus start!” to die off with us after our time has passed.

    But all hope is not lost: according to EducationWeek.Org, 65 percent of children in 2015 said they will always prefer reading print books as opposed to e-readers, while 60 percent of children still like to read for fun. However, in a study conducted by Scholastic, it was also proven that there is indeed a direct correlation between how many books a child has in their home and a love of reading. Meaning, if we want to save the classics (and the soon-to-be classics) that we felt we were a part of, it’s on us as future parents and teachers to make them accessible by lining the shelves of our future homes with these time capsules of pages.

    And if you’re unsure of where to even start your library of the classics, you might begin with this List of Children’s Books to Save the (Literary) World!

    The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
    Every child should experience the joy of Silverstein's whimsical illustrations as they were meant to be seen: on pages between their fingers. Additionally, every child should experience the sheer terror of encountering a disconcertingly close-up of Shel Silverstein on the back cover. I had to bury those books in my shelves at night to make sure I didn’t accidentally make eye contact with the author in the wee hours, and I am a better, stronger woman for it.

    Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
    The little light-blue book that has been enjoyed for literal generations demands shelf-space; to simply download it would be an injustice. To not encounter it at all, a crime. The last few chapters should bear the wrinkled pages that come from dried tears. Small creases from dog-ears counting the nights you had to stop because you or your audience was falling asleep are merit badges of readership. The nostalgia of this classic is a romantic experience on its own, and anything less than complete immersion deprives you of the achingly innocent friendship Charlotte teaches us at any age.

    Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
    While I grant that there is probably not a child alive who isn’t at least somewhat familiar with Harry Potter, these are books with heirloom potential. I know my own beloved collector’s trunk, with the seven books bearing their original cover art and many scuffs from my destination reading endeavors, is the only way I want my children to experience the Wizarding World when it comes their time, and these large volumes are an experience in themselves that an e-book simply cannot replicate.

    The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
    In my experience, this book lends itself to one or more re-readings, as the classic tale of friendship, classism, and sacrifice has something new to offer for every age. I myself have read it nearly ten times now, as all it takes is a boring afternoon to nudge me into its familiar pages. The satisfaction of having that one copy that shows the loving wear from such afternoons is a must-have on any childhood shelf.

    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
    I didn’t encounter this book until much later in life than its intended audience, but I fell in love immediately. I discovered it when a friend lent me his copy from childhood, so I at least got to experience it with a dose of secondhand nostalgia. This one, being as old as it is published in 1943, has many editions and iconic illustrations. It is a fun find in an old bookstore, and it is a beautiful new endeavor hot off the press.

    These are just a start, of course. Whatever titles would be on your list of classics, don't doom them to a download folder hidden away on your tablet. Try to imagine them as part of your home, in some tucked-away book corner in all their full-color, cracked-spine glory, and then see if a little of that childhood excitement doesn't come rushing right back.

  • About the Author
    Madysen George is an English Literature major who's honestly just hoping for the best. When she isn't spouting off crotchety things about how the times are changing, she is probably reading, writing, or spending an absurd amount of time with her friends who never fail to make her laugh.

    Exploring the Possibilities of Multimedia in Publishing


    How much could literary publishing actually learn from a shooter video game with no narrative? Well, it turns out, a lot more than you would think.  ♦ 

    Overwatch and the Use of Multimedia

    With the rising trend of book-to-movie adaptations becoming more prevalent, it’s easy to wonder how this might affect book sales. There is evidence that suggests these big features increase book sales; however, there are also many instances where the movie can take the place of the book. Comic book sales still continue their decline despite the plethora of superhero movies hitting our screens. I have asked friends whether they actually read books such as The Hunger Games before or after they saw the movie, and many say they hadn’t read it at all, thus there is truly a larger audience these movies aren’t providing their novel counterpart. So, the question becomes: How can publishers use other forms of media such as feature films to draw people to their novels instead of replacing them? Rather than making movies as replicates of the books, perhaps they should try coming up with narratives that complement the story in the novel, bringing purpose back to the book itself.

    That’s what Overwatch did in promoting their video game. When Overwatch was first announced, Blizzard Entertainment staggered the release of animated shorts showing their heroes in action. By the time the game was released, people were already fans of the characters they would soon play as. They transformed their simple hero-shooter video game into a multimedia platform catering to the interests of several demographics. By telling unique and integrated stories in the form of animated shorts, comics, art, and professional eSports, Overwatch was able to attract attention from those who might not have otherwise been interested in a competitive shooter. It’s impossible to consume just one form of the media without losing out on the whole mythos and world-building created by the Overwatch team across every form. If you’re going to read the comics, you’re bound to get sucked into both the animated shorts and the game itself to see more action and stories from your favorite heroes.

    This strategy also allowed for a platform saturated with representation. Our heroes are from all over the globe with different races, creeds, sexualities, and religions. The very face of the Overwatch brand, Tracer, is canonically lesbian. Everyone is able to find a character that they identify with; whether it be a gay Brit, a Japanese cyborg, or an Egyptian pararescue soldier. The sense of community born from the representation in all these different forms has allowed the foundation of the Overwatch platform to reach its current strength. The wide breadth and sheer quantity of media that Overwatch supplies its fan base allows each member of its diverse cast to receive the attention they are due -- each fan who identifies with any particular character is able to enjoy a satisfying amount of content surrounding them. There isn’t some African side character or bisexual friend-of-a-friend attempting to satisfy a diverse fan base, but rather a crowd of characters, each with their own spotlight. Because this diversity crosses many forms of media, everything feels new. By engaging with the audience in a variety of ways, the community can get excited about each character individually rather than getting bogged down in the vast world-building and character development within any singular platform.

    Exploring Multimedia with The Hunger Games

    How can this multifaceted media platform strategy be applied to literary publishing? How might novels benefit from a similar model of animated shorts or comic books that incorporate the mythos of their story without stepping on the toes of the already established narrative? How can this allow for a greater sense of community and for greater representation in the worlds that these authors create? Perhaps a hypothetical situation using The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins can help. We all know and love the story of Katniss Everdeen, whether we read the books, saw the movies, or both. But what would happen if the movies didn’t follow Katniss’s story at all?

    In my fantasy marketing extravaganza, I would re-create the feature film of The Hunger Games to focus on the experience of Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor, in the Games. Viewers would still be able to experience the post-apocalyptic Capitol and understand the dynamics of the society, but they would also be granted access to a whole new perspective on the world. Perhaps there could be a cameo of Katniss’s parents at a young age, which fans could get excited about. Through an end credit scene at the end of the movie, there would be an advertisement to see more of the world of The Hunger Games through the books. This way, those who didn’t know about the books may be intrigued to learn more about the world, and those who have read them are able to get a deeper backstory on Haymitch and enjoy the expansion of their beloved universe.

    I would also make a comic book series following Finnick and Annie’s love story, who become friends of Katniss later on in the book series. This would allow for the exploration of their relationship and could dive into Annie’s descent into insanity. At the back of each issue, there would be an advertisement for the book, leading those who enjoy the comic medium to explore the world they’ve come to love in the form of the novel.

    Finally, I would make an animated short series, allowing brand-new characters to take the spotlight. These would be set in the era between Haymitch’s and Katniss’s Hunger Games, and focus on the stories of other children who experienced the Games. Each volume of animated shorts, which would last about 7-10 episodes, would follow characters from several different districts with unique relationships. This would allow for a better understanding of the different districts and their distinct social identities. The volumes would also reference beloved characters from the novel, comics, and feature film to bring a cohesiveness to the multimedia platform. The end of each short would include shout-outs to these other forms to draw attention to the various ways in which fans can explore the universe.

    What Does It Mean?

    After this exploration, we can ask what this strategy does for the world of The Hunger Games. This comprehensive multimedia marketing strategy gives people who enjoy a variety of media an inroad into the world and entices greater exploration through other forms that fans may not be as accustomed to. The references to other forms and their direct advertisements help persuade followers to explore these other mediums and bring in more foot traffic to bookstores as they pursue more stories within the world they have come to know and love.

    This strategy has the potential to be a fix for the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe failed to fully prevent the decline of the comic book industry. If there were shout-outs at the end of the films referencing specific comic books that fans should explore, this could draw more people into comic stores, searching for more exploration into the Universe. Books and comics can find their purpose once again in this multimedia-centered world if other forms are able to complement their narratives rather than copy them.

    I understand that this strategy is a difficult task to undertake without an entire company supporting you financially and creatively, but it is something to be considered as a way to draw more people towards the novel itself. The greater diversity in both form and characters allows for an increased sense of community to be built around the universe, enticing fans to entrench themselves in the world the author has built. We already see this strategy forming in the world of literature, and I’m excited to see how it will evolve in the community as publishers rethink their marketing to reach a greater number of people and get fans back into bookstores.

  • About the Author
    Hannah Robertson is a senior at Miami University, double majoring in Biology and Creative Writing. She will be attending North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in the fall. Hannah spends her time volunteering with Alpha Phi Omega and writing short stories. She enjoys all things media, though Marvel superheroes hold a special place in her heart.