Personification of Storms

The naming of storms has been discussed in a few posts thus far in relation to “female-named” storms perceived as being less threatening and dangerous compared to more “masculine-named” storms. These perceptions are due to the stereotypes created around the gender binary, as Helen mentioned in her post. She states, “As a result, people do not evacuate and there is a higher death rate because of it.”

In society, I believe naming is a crucial indicator of identity. But the questions that I still ask in my head are “Do names serve as a way of proposing an identity or does the identity come first and then the name?”

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Mark Spitz is Unstuck in Time: A Comparison of PTSD in Zone One and Slaughterhouse-Five

After reading Zone One and thinking about the themes in the book, I realized what grounded me amidst the complex timeline of the narratives was my experience not only in consuming zombie media like I mentioned in my last post, but also in reading war novels. For example, I read Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Johnny Got His Gun for a war novels class I took in freshman year.

Something I will highlight in this blog post, however, is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five because it mirrors the narrative of Zone One in many ways. I think, like any author and their work, Whitehead had a very important point in having this complicated narrative. One objective was to reflect the characters having Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, or PASD. This correlation of narrative to character is also true true of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

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New Orleans Bounce: A Circus-Atlantic Performance

New Orleans is traditionally considered the home of the genre of bounce music. The city is designated as both the genre’s origin point and its continuing center. To some degree, this is true. Artists considered at the foundation of bounce music all hail from New Orleans. Bounce music maintains its prominence in the region through concerts and festivals. However, treating the genre as an entirely autochthonous product overlooks the rich network of places and identities that have shaped the musical form as we know it today. Continue reading “New Orleans Bounce: A Circus-Atlantic Performance”

How To Teach Colson Whitehead in College Classrooms

This semester, I’ve read novels by Colson Whitehead in two of my classes. The experiences were different since in this class I read the novel as a student, becoming aware of plot twists at the same time as everyone else, but I also read Whitehead for a class that I’m TAing for. For that class, I had read the novel (The Underground Railroad) before the students and I helped plan discussion questions and was pretty involved in deciding what we were going to focus on in class.

Depending on who you ask about the merits of an English major, sometimes I feel the need to defend teaching contemporary novels in the classroom. So I’m writing this post in an attempt to both reflect on my experiences with Whitehead in college classes and in anticipation of anyone who might think these novels don’t “fit” with their idea of an English literature/college writing class. I thought it might be fun to switch up the structure of how I usually post and include a list and flex my educational mindset a bit. Continue reading “How To Teach Colson Whitehead in College Classrooms”

Code noir, Casting a Shadow on People’s Memories

After Dr. DeFrantz’s discussion on how Code noir influenced some dance forms, I started thinking about the lasting effect slave codes left on society. Reiterating what Dr. DeFrantz touched on in the discussion, the codes specifically targeted enslaved African peoples in the French colonies in the eighteenth century. It placed restrictions on enslaved people’s religious practices, marriages and relationships, when they could meet together, and how they could be treated, among other aspects. As Dr. DeFrantz highlighted, these codes separated people into categories based on color, influencing how the rules affected them and how they were viewed in society. Code noir essentially went out of effect in 1803 when the U.S. took possession of Louisiana, eventually being replaced by the American slavery system many people are more familiar with.

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On Boats and Containment

I have been trying to write this post for a while now, but only recently did Professor McCoy provide me with the lens to critically think about what I am attempting to discuss in this post- containment.

I grew up on boats, yet I am terribly afraid of drowning. Starting at age four, my father and I went on canoe camping trips every year in the Adirondacks. I started sailing with him at age six, and at age ten, I learned to sail on my own. My family vacations always include water, usually going to the Thousand Islands or the Adirondacks and bringing a few of our eleven and a half boats (my dad is currently building one) with us. To add insult to injury, I was a competitive swimmer in high school. What I am trying to say is that I have absolutely no reason to be afraid of drowning. Continue reading “On Boats and Containment”

Big Freedia and Queer Erasure

When Dr. DeFrantz guest lectured our class on Friday, I was ecstatic to learn more about dance. As a die-hard theater kid who was called “allergic to moving with any sense of purpose” by my high school theater teacher, I was excited to be included in a dancer’s environment in any capacity. Before the class started, I saw Dr. DeFrantz pull up Beyonce’s “Formation” video and I saw the room buzz with anticipation and speculation.

When Dr. DeFrantz brought up Big Freedia, I immediately recalled this article by Myles Johnson in which he ponders why Big Freedia’s voice is used so freely when her image is completely absent. Beyonce’s live performances of “Formation” usually begin with Freedia’s voice breaking the silence with “Bitch, I’m back by popular demand!” and/or “I did not come to play with you hoes!” More recently, Drake’s song “Nice For What” samples Freedia challenging the listener with “I wanna know who motherfucking representin’ in here tonight!” This video features admired women of Hollywood, like Rashida Jones, Letitia Wright, and Tracey Ellis Ross represented between cuts of Drake dancing and performing to the song. Instead of Freedia herself, the video features exclusively cisgender women.

“Formation” and “Nice For What” both mention New Orleans explicitly and use Big Freedia’s voice as an homage to their cultural influences, however, her body is not included in the visual representation of these allusions to her home city. While I don’t at all proclaim to pass judgment on these artists, I write here to elevate Johnson’s concerns that abstracting Big Freedia’s words from her personage and queer identity contributes to what he considers popular music “seemingly mak[ing] a phantom or ghost out of a living person.”

Just as Miley Cyrus is often mistakenly credited for elevating twerking as an art form, a fact that Freedia herself took issue with, now we must examine the consequences of obscuring queer contributions to mainstream art. I am confident that I am not the most appropriate or skilled person to take on this topic, but ignoring its pertinence feels like being complicit in Big Freedia’s erasure. Her face and name are largely unknown, but her words, when presented by cisgender performers, are met with ecstatic cheers by millions.

Freedia has spoken frequently about the balance between large platforms and proper credit.  “We’re steady moving forward to get the bounce culture even further out there and, as you can see, other artists are recognizing our music and our talent down here in New Orleans . . . I’ve worked tremendously hard to make things happen for New Orleans culture. I just want us to get the proper recognition and the proper credit that we deserve,” she said in an interview with Fader.  Hopefully, Big Freedia, who has worked for decades in the industry to improve public perception of twerking and bounce music, will get the recognition she deserves. I argue that “hopefully” starts with us and our duty to attribute credit as ethical consumers of New Orleanian culture. 

In Memory of the Cakewalk

During Dr. Defrantz’s discussion of dance, I took a concerted interest in the historical discussion of the quadrille and its parodic descendant, the cakewalk. The discussion of the two dances was one of cultural preservation through the performance of memory, and the ways in which this performance evolved over the past 150 years was a great point of interest. The idea that a dance was able to start as a parody of an upper class performance, but then attain enough cultural capital to become an accepted form of performance by the people who were originally lampooned by the dance.  It has me thinking about how memories and can evolve as they move further and further away, temporally, from their point of inception.

Roach qualifies such displays as tools which helped the slaves to “continue to assert their interdependent traditions” (63), but I feel that this also extends to the dances performed by the upper class people of New Orleans. As Dr. Defrantz said, these were dances which originated in the courts of the French upper class, and were then imported to America by French colonizers and kept alive by the Francophones and Francophiles of the colonies and eventual nation of America. In this regard, the performers of the dance were themselves asserting their interdependent traditions, so they were performing their memories just as much as the slaves they owned were.

This commonality problematizes the divisions that existed between the two classes of people, divisions which were enforced by society. With this division being purely immaterial and ethereal, this renders the separation nil, revealing the supposedly distinct groups as what Roach refers to as “imagined communities” (63).  Roach then purports that these communities are “organized by spirit-world memories” which then differentiate the community through their hallowed rites and rituals (63). Roach addresses these rites in the context of funerals, but I argue that dance is equally receptive to this lens of cultural analysis of New Orleans, as the dances preserve the culture’s memories in the same way that the funeral preserves those of the deceased.

It is this preservation of culture that I believe guided the progression of the cakewalk from obscure parody to a place in general culture. The cakewalk stems from the structures of the quadrille, and its artistic intent and meaning are informed by this cultural allusion. However, due to its place as a cultural article, the cakewalk also took on the ability to grow out of the shadow of its progenitor, which it did as its own mechanics, the over-exaggerated movements, the energy of those moves, and the rhythm of movements, evolved as more time passed. These evolutions in the dance’s mechanics allowed it to form a niche in the grand scheme of American culture. It was assimilated and stripped of its original meaning the course of broader acceptance in the same way that the name “Angola” was when the prison was named after the former slave plantation.

Memory of the original context of the cakewalk was cleansed by the passage of time, and this cleansing allowed it to be more accepted by the future descendants of those slaves and slaveowners. As with everything in America, the cakewalk found its place, because, in the words of Roach, “That’s the way it’s done” (63).