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The Sky Talks: Moving Forward Into Scorpio Season

By Entertainment

Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Finally, Saturn, Pluto, Jupiter, and Mercury all are back in their direct motion. They are looking forward.

Yes, the past months have been difficult while they were in retrograde, but we are ready to move on. These retrogrades asked us not to push forward, but to hold our ground, renew, garden, and review events. We were given the time to investigate, fix mistakes, clarify problems, and fine-tune future plans. We are now ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

On October 10th, Saturn went direct at 6º Aquarius after six months. It means that now we have learned the lessons on what is no longer working in our life, Saturn’s direct motion is our opportunity to implement changes. 

This is a blessing because Saturn constructs. It is the father of karma — if it’s not good yet, Saturn won’t approve it. So our past has been rectified. While in its retrograde motion, the pattern didn’t change, because it was our opportunity to see what needed to be changed. Now that it has started moving forward, we are being reborn. If you did your homework and prepared, Saturn direct will harvest the fruits of your labour. It is rigorous, but it will give you your rewards for your work. You should have learned by now; understood what you want to leave behind and what you want to incorporate into your life. 

Pluto went direct on October 7, after 6 months in retrograde motion. Pluto loves transformation. We can welcome a big transformation that started orbiting by the end of April — it’s about time now that we made a transformation from our core, and we can now run with it. So rest assured that what you learnt during the retrograde period has the power to transform you now that Pluto is going direct.  Pluto is the most intense planet out there; Pluto is like a cooker under pressure. It’s like a volcano waiting to erupt. Since it’s normal to resist the  dramatic changes that Pluto compels with its transits, Pluto has realigned ourselves with the universe and reoriented the deep shifts that were taking place since September. This is an extremely important transit, which suggests that the upcoming lunar cycle is significant and will bring events that will change our lives profoundly.

Jupiter went direct on Oct 18th. It has regained its strength, and its role now functions in full force. While in retrograde it was complicated and confused. It can now freely act on expansion, luck, increase prosperity, advantages, leaps, studies and travels. Everything expands our life. Everything opens.

Mercury entered its direct motion on Oct 18th too. It indicates that systems, machines, electronics, communications, messages, decisions are now well-thought; they will not be held back anymore. Now you can sign contracts. Mercury’s  dexterity and intelligence will allow that.

Things are finally moving forward. Make a commitment. What do you want to leave behind, and what will you transform and push forward? 

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Is MTV Picking Favorites at the Video Music Awards?

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Yajurvi Haritwal.

The MTV Video Music Awards have always been an iconic night of celebrating artists. Many moments from the show’s run in the 2000s are still talked about nowadays —  Beyoncé’s pregnancy reveal in 2011 after her performance of “Love On Top,” Britney Spears’  2001 performance of “I’m a Slave 4 You” with a python, and how could we ever forget Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift in 2009 as she was accepting the award for Best Female Video for “You Belong With Me”?

This year’s VMAs had a few understandable wins, and some questionable ones. Many talented artists were present, and the awards show hosted by Doja Cat definitely had some highlights that are worth mentioning — that random fight between Conor McGregor and Machine Gun Kelly, and Doja Cat herself wearing a blue-and-yellow worm outfit that covered her from head to toe.

The most talked-about moment of the show, however, was Justin Bieber winning Artist of the Year, in which he was up against Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Ariana Grande, Olivia Rodrigo, and Taylor Swift. Five artists that all released amazing music throughout the past year, yet somehow the “Peaches” singer was the one that won. How did this happen?

Don’t get me wrong. Bieber is an amazing artist, and I am not diminishing his success and accomplishments. But let’s be honest, all the other artists nominated in this category deserved more than him this year.

Let’s recap this past year, starting with the winner for Best New Artist and Song of the Year,  Olivia Rodrigo. Her debut album “Sour” opened at number-one when released, with almost every track charting on the top ten of Spotify’s “Top 50 – USA” playlist for a week. She went from being a Disney Channel star to a pop songstress welcoming new fans of all ages in a short period of time. Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” is too catchy to forget as well — like a damn sociopath. No wonder she had the second biggest album sales of 2021, coming after Taylor Swift’s “Evermore.

Speaking of Swift, her eight and ninth albums, “Folklore” and “Evermore,” reached the top of the chart on the Billboard 200 chart twice in 2020. The latter, which was released in December of 2020, has since reached the top of the chart again in June 2021. Needless to say, she dominated the music scene both this year and last year — how is that not enough to win Artist of the Year?. She also has one of the biggest fan bases out of the artists nominated in this category, therefore if this really was based on fan votes, Swift should have won.

Ariana Grande won Artist of the Year back in 2019 during her “thank u, next” era. Although it was a big year for Grande — her sixth studio album “Positions” debuted at number-one on the US Billboard 200 chart — her 2020 album might not have been enough to win this year.

Megan Thee Stallion is probably the artist who grew the most this year. From “WAP” to Ariana Grande’s “34+35” remix, she has had the biggest collaborations and one of the best records of 2020 with her debut album “Good News.” She still has far to go, however, and maybe this year wasn’t quite her year to win this award… because someone outshone her.

Doja Cat, the host of the evening, was the favorite for this award — she was nominated for five awards, was the host, and performed that night. However, she only took home two awards — Best Collaboration for “Kiss Me More” (ft. SZA) and Best Art Direction for “Best Friend,” a music video by Saweetie which featured Doja Cat. She has an enormous amount of online clout, and had her name in the spotlight for the whole year, including on Twitter. She was even “cancelled” after videos of the singer chatting with incels on Tinychat emerged, accusing her of encouraging their misogynist views, laughing at racist remarks, and wishing she was not Black (her father is a South African producer and actor and her mother is a Jewish-American painter). The statement released afterwards — which has since been removed from her Instagram — was not much of an apology; it was mostly excuses as to why she uses chat rooms and at most acknowledging that she should have avoided some crowds. Some of her fans accepted it, and the industry chose to turn a blind eye to this situation — a proof of how her clout worked to her advantage. If the award was really a fan favorite contest, she clearly could’ve won as well.

Justin Bieber, the only male nominee, also had a big year like the other artists in this category. His album “Justice” definitely showed off his now-defined vocals, demonstrating how much he’s grown since his debut, and earning him seven award nominations. Two of his singles made into the Billboard Hot 100 —  “Peaches” (ft. Daniel Caesar and Giveon) reached the top spot, and “Stay” (ft. The Kid LAROI) reached Number One four weeks after its release. But the other artists all had albums and songs that topped the charts for longer than Bieber’s.

If you try to Google how the VMAs winners are chosen you do not get a concrete answer. This year’s voting rules mostly focused on how we, as participants, can “submit our Nominee preferences for all categories during the General Voting Period” on their website. And that was it. Nothing else about voting was mentioned. I re-read the rules three or four times, Googled some more, and found nothing about how this year’s voting occurred.

It clearly follows that MTV would ultimately choose the artist who gives them the most views and money for Artist of the Year. And yet, for some reason, Justin Bieber was the chosen one.

He has not been on their stage since his 2016 meltdown after performing (and getting booed). Was it a deserved win, or was he picked out of favoritism? He has a large fanbase that could have spent hours of their days voting for him, but so did the other artists’ fans.

Having a ‘catchy’ song should not guarantee the title ‘Artist of the Year.’ You almost ask yourself what constitutes a candidate to win such an award. Somebody with a comeback story, or who has favorably been topping the charts this year? It feels like a throwaway giving it to Bieber, who has dropped good singles every now and then instead of a good album consistently like the other nominees this year. Did MTV believe this was a great opportunity for Bieber’s ‘comeback’, or am I simply upset because I truly believe that the other nominees deserved to win more than him this year? I honestly do not have a straight answer. But then again, neither does MTV, when it comes to how they give out their awards. And when the rules are unclear, anyone can get away with anything.

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Auteur Theory: Paul Schrader and The End of the World

By Entertainment

Illustration by Audrey Nguyen.

Auteur Theory is a column in which Aidan Bryant dives deep into the work of some of the most original filmmakers of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

“Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?” was a major quote and theme of Paul Schrader’s 2018 film “First Reformed,” a film about a reverend losing his faith, and dealing with guilt of living in a world that God seems to have abandoned. Schrader, to me, has always dealt with guilt unlike any other filmmaker I’ve seen. His characters are doomed before we even meet them, set upon a path of self destruction from the day they were born. 

William Tell, the protagonist of his newest film “The Card Counter,” breaks new ground in his canon. We’re seeing a new version of the prototypical character of “God’s lonely man” that we see in many of Schrader’s films; one updated for the time we live in. Not in his language, his actions, or even his dress, but in his guilt. 

Let’s look back at the film that brought Schrader into the conversation, “Taxi Driver” — a 70s classic about a lonely, emotionally stunted taxi driver, and his descent into the seedy underbelly of New York City. Travis Bickle is actively imploding from the moment we meet him. He is the product of the environment that birthed him. But we still see him struggle. He is actively trying to do something about what is happening around him, as misguided as that may be. In “Raging Bull,” a look into the rise and fall of a real-life world champion boxer, Jake La Motta is still a star before he ruins it all. His issue is himself, and when those brief moments of clarity come out through moments of ill-thought-out self-sabotage, it’s some of the most painful scenes I’ve ever watched. 

William Tell is not imploding. He is not trying at all. There was no fall from grace. When we first meet Tell, we know little about him. He lives a modest existence traveling town to town, making a living off gambling. Then cracks appear. Tell covers his hotel rooms in white sheets, making every place look the same. We learn he did time in a military prison, but it’s not clear what for. 

Eventually, we find out. Tell served in Iraq, and played a part in what happened at Abu Ghraib, a prison used by the US military that held anyone from petty criminals to those accused of crimes against the US military. At Abu Ghraib, the Army tortured and abused Iraqi prisoners. Dogs were set on them, sexual abuse and humiliation was rampant, and 63 prisoners died — 36 due to a mortar attack on the prison; the only prison to be attacked by mortar during the war. 

When Schrader shows us what Tell did there, it’s filmed like the world is being torn apart. Tell’s quiet existence is in stark contrast to the bright yellow lights of the prison, with deafening music and screams heard at all times. It feels like Hell. William Tell carries this with him every day. And when Cirk, the son of another man imprisoned for what he did at Abu Ghraib, tries to get Tell to torture and kill his commander at the prison, John Gordo, Tell refuses. 

It would be very easy for Schrader to make this a revenge movie. But revenge is satisfying. Tell doesn’t want satisfaction, and he doesn’t deserve it. He is a broken man, haunted by his actions. But, these actions were his alone. He is a product of his choices, and nothing can change that. The only thing he can do now is make as little impact in the world as possible until he dies. Schrader has made a very different kind of film to those usually made concerning veterans, especially recently. The trope of Americans going to another country, destroying it, and coming home to cry is not present here. Tell is adamant that there is no forgiveness for what he has done. Even when he does confront Gordo at his home in the final scene of the film, it is not satisfying. All the brutality and violence happens offscreen. The audience leaves the theater not knowing what to feel. 

Schrader is an old-school filmmaker, entrenched in the work and ideas of Robert Bresson — this is the fourth film Schrader has made that directly references Bresson’s “Pickpocket” — Yasujirō Ozu and Jean Renoir. But the way he makes films has never resonated more than they do now. Being alive today is living in a world that is collapsing, but the chances are that you weren’t even around for what caused the collapse. The guilt Tell carries with him is one that he cannot change. The guilt of what we did in Iraq, in Afghanistan; in countless South American countries, is something that we cannot change. We do not deserve closure. We don’t deserve a happy ending. When there is no forgiveness, what are we supposed to do? 

Personally, I loved “The Card Counter, and I love Schrader’s work in general. As we move into this very strange era of filmmaking where everything has to make you happy, and every character we see must be pure and good, and every villain evil in just the right way, Schrader defies those ideas. His movies make me think about the world around me in a sense beyond myself, they challenge everything. As Schrader himself says, “A good movie starts when you walk out of the theater. It’s like you ring the bell. And this movie is trying to ring the bell, and the bell vibrates inside you.” 

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Loving The Monster: American Horror Story’s “Red Tide” and The Price of Greatness

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Audrey Nguyen.

In “Loving the Monster,” Sidne K. Gard explores the definitions, creation, and fascination with monsters in pop culture. 

If you were offered a drug that traded you unlimited creativity for your humanity, would you take it? Would you quite literally kill for your art? This is the question at the heart of “Red Tide,” season 10 of “American Horror Story.” Rather than witches or ghosts or other supernatural beings portrayed in seasons past, this time the monster the narrative puts in our midst is one more mundane, yet more nuanced. Simply put, the monster and the writer are one and the same. 

“American Horror Story” has officially entered its tenth season. The show is widely recognized for its anthology format and well-known cast — Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and Evan Peters, to name a few.  Though the seasons are loosely set in the same world, each offers its own unique premise and title. Season 10 is billed as a “Double Feature,” telling a different story in the first and secondhalves of the season. The first half of this double feature is “Red Tide,” a psychological, horror-based look at writing and the artistic process. The first episode introduces us to Harry Gardner, a failed television screenwriter played by Finn Wittrock, his young daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and his pregnant wife (Lily Rabe), arriving at a winter vacation home in tiny, eerie Provincetown, Massachusetts. In true “American Horror Story” fashion, things go quickly awry for the family, and it’s not long before the bodies start dropping. 

Harry is given a black pill by Austin (Evan Peters), a famous playwright and actor. Once Harry takes the pill, he becomes incredibly prolific and his writing becomes truly beautiful, but he is simultaneously overcome with apathy for anything that isn’t his artistic endeavours. Even more worrisome is the intense bloodlust the black pill brings. Although allowing him to push his writing to heights never before achieved, the pills are turning him into a vampiric artist as he now needs to drink human blood for the sake of artistic creation. 

When Harry confronts Austin about the pills, we learn something rather interesting about their effects — the pills only work for those who have true talent. Anyone who is a “hack” and takes the pills is overcome with rage and envy. They become pale, bald creatures stuck somewhere between a vampire and a zombie, doomed to a life on the edges, stalking the town and attacking unsuspecting victims. This is the central premise that haunts the season and virtually all of the characters in it — is it worth taking these pills and thus risking your life on whether you have true talent, and is it worth killing for your art to be truly great? In the world of “Red Tide,” talent is a binary. Either you have it or don’t. The questions the characters face boils down to if they believe they have true talent and not what makes true talent. The show is more interested in the desire and repercussions of talent than exploring what makes someone talented.  Over the six episodes of “Red Tide,” we see the Gardner family struggle with  the bargain the pills present, and ultimately it destroys all three of them. 

Every character we see takes one of these black pills, and ends up a monster — one of the “pale people” or a vampire artist willing to kill their newborns, their competition, and the people they love. There are no ghosts or supernatural creatures this season. The only monsters are the artists, both those with talent and those who ache for it. In “Red Tide,” in order to truly reach artistic fame and potential, all one has to do is decide if the price of admission is worth it, and that price of admission is becoming a monster. 

Both pop culture and I share a fascination with monsters. Modern media is filled with monsters, from horror movie slashers to teen heartthrob werewolves to grouchy trash-can dwelling puppets. Truthfully, I find myself connected more to the monster in a story than the humans they love, terrorize, or coexist with. But a monster must have meaning. For example, Frankenstein is a discussion on the nature of creation. There are many ways to read into the narrative and to interpret the monster. 

In analyzing monsters, we can come understand the monster and in some cases seek to love the monster. The monsters of “Red Tide” are incredibly human. They are artists, writers, musicians, and actors. They want to be adored, to be held up as amazing and influential. They will kill whoever they have to, drink as much blood as they need to, and risk their mental capacity for the chance to be a so-called true artist. These creatures, to me at least, feel both much easier to relate to than many of the ghosts and witches in “American Horror Story,” and yet much more unsettling. Whether talented or not, the characters of “Red Tide” are all ultimately consumed by their own art. 

The final voice over of “Red Tide,” shown over a sequence of zombie-apocalypse-esque mayhem, ends with a message to the audience. “Those who achieve greatness only do so because they are fucked up enough to push through the pain and failure to reach your potential. At least with these pills, the world can find out if you’re any good. To be told we are talented — isn’t that all we ever want?” As a young artist and writer, I can’t deny that there have been times when I’ve been willing to give anything to ensure my words will be remembered. I think most of us at SAIC feel the same. Is it so crazy to think some of us would become monsters for their art? 

As artists, we all have inner monsters; inner demons. We could easily succumb to our art, but we should not fear the artistic monster. We must learn to accept our monsters and in doing so, come to love them.  

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In Los Angeles, A Museum Union At Work

By Arts & Culture

Illustration by Ketaki Kulkarni.

What happens when a museum staff successfully forms a union? And when that union is recognized by management? For one example, we can look at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) union in Los Angeles. In 2019, the union made waves for its unusually fast turnaround from announcement to recognition by management. It is one of only two museum unions (the other being for the Museum of Tolerance) in Los Angeles, a city known for its world-class art institutions. 

“Before the pandemic we were focused on improving a number of issues: low wages, lack of transparency, top-down decision-making, part-time and/or precarious work, [and] health and safety concerns,” a former employee who wished to remain anonymous told F. “We are still negotiating our contract, but I would say that the union has given MOCA’s workers increased visibility and a platform to discuss workplace issues.”

Employees first publicly stated their intention to unionize with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on Nov. 22, 2019. According to the former employee, members of various departments from across the museum discussed unionizing months before going public. Of MOCA’s approximately 185 pre-pandemic employees, 120 planned to unionize.

“When we did go public, we received a lot of support on social media,” the former employee said. “MOCA was concerned with its public image, and was most likely [influenced] in their decision to recognize the union by this display of public support.”

The public pressure and attention may have caused management to accept union demands faster than other organizations. No stranger to bad press — the museum has had a revolving door of directors and other high profile exits — MOCA understood that it could minimize the damage by resolving the issue quickly. 

The former employee also attributed some of their success to the union’s collaborative approach, bringing in workers from education, exhibitions, retail, visitor engagement, and communications.

“I think the fact that we were able to make the union cross-departmental made the union drive successful,” the former employee said. “The issues we were raising were not specific to one department, but shared by many workers (and not just workers at MOCA, but at museums throughout Los Angeles).”

Then, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit MOCA. The museum laid off all 97 of its part-time workers and furloughed nearly all of its full-time employees in response to a dramatic drop in income caused by prolonged closure (to date, some have returned with the museum’s reopening while others have opted not to come back). The union pivoted in response to the pandemic. They established a mutual aid fund which AFSCME contributed to and moved negotiations to Zoom.

“It’s been difficult to organize online, and to organize after many people who were once involved in the union no longer work at MOCA,” the employee said.

MOCA union’s interests expand beyond itself. According to the former employee, the union hopes to be a resource for other workers who want to unionize. Part of this initiative includes a MOCA union archive with the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA), where the union compiles mementos of their effort.

“I would encourage other museum workers to reach out if they have any questions or want any advice about unionizing,” the former employee said. “In my experience, many people do not know much about unionizing, or have inherited anti-union sentiments that are pervasive in our culture. It’s important to listen to people’s concerns and speak to their interests, rather than alienate people.”

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El Machete Illustrated – Doing Things Different

By Comics

El Machete Illustrated by Eric J Garcia.

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Who is AICWU?

By and Featured, News

An illustration of silhouetted figured standing as a crowd. Some hold blank signs and banners. Their shadow extends tall behind them and forms the word "WU."

Illustration by Yajurvi Haritwal.

On Sept. 8, 2021, Tracey Abman shouted to a crowd of roughly 200 people: “We’re going to march together to win your voice! We’re going to do this! We’re going to march to victory!”

Abman is the Associate Director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, the Illinois chapter of one of the nation’s largest unions. In early 2020, Art Institute workers reached out to AFSCME with plans to form a union.

As the subtitle for every story that begins in 2020 goes: then the pandemic hit. The doors at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) shut, and the campuses went quiet.

On Aug. 3, 2021, the Instagram account @aic_wu posted a five-slide announcement that began: “Today we announce the formation of the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United.” Sixty AIC staff members signed a public letter and posted it to the The Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU) website. SAIC administration swiftly responded with an email firmly positioning themselves against union form- ation at the school.

On Aug. 10, another public letter appeared on the AICWU website. SAIC staff had officially joined the effort.

What’s a WU?

The Art Institute of Chicago Workers United, or AICWU (pronounced: A-I-C-Wu), is the banner under which two bargaining units are attempting to form.

In total, the AICWU would represent roughly 600 staff members: 300 from the AIC and 300 from SAIC. Members hold non-supervisory roles: academic advisers, administrative assistants, technicians, librarians, custodians, mailroom workers, etc. Specific definitions around who the union represents — questions like, what exactly is a supervisory role? — are determined by the National Labor Relations Board.

What can WU do for you?

SAIC’s public letter calls for administration to address a lack of transparency around layoffs, compensation, and advancement. It also demands safe working conditions, equity in pay and benefits, and advancements on the anti-racism measures that the Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) recommended last year.

Martin Berger, the dean of faculty and vice president of academic affairs, likens the union rhetoric to a political campaign. “No one could object to ‘fairer wages and benefits’ or ‘safe working conditions,’” Berger told F, “but no one has provided any evidence that our wages and benefits are unfair or working conditions unsafe, and we don’t believe that they are.”

An Aug. 18 email from the administration listed specific initiatives that SAIC has taken in response to worker complaints, emphasizing a willingness to collaborate with staff on issues. Among the improvements: increased hourly rates, tuition remission, retroactive pay adjustments in response to a pay equity study, and ongoing reviews of job descriptions.

When Berger says that he has yet to hear specific demands from the organizers, he isn’t lying. He probably hasn’t, but isn’t that exactly the point?

“For the provost to say he is unaware of worker discontent with low pay, benefits, overwork and inequitable treatment is an admission that senior leadership is out of touch with the struggles we face,” a representative from the AICWU told F.

At the Sept. 9 rally, Robyn Besana, a disability specialist at SAIC and a member of the ARC, recounted her experience sending anti-racist recommendations to the administration only to have them diluted and stripped of their rhetorical power before being shared school-wide.

“Isn’t it strange,” Besana recalled one of her co-workers pointing out, “that as an anti-racism committee, ‘anti-racism’ — the word — only appeared a couple of times in the recommendation. The word ‘diversity’ showed up a lot more often.” Besana continued, “Diversity, while still important, is nowhere near the same as dismantling the systematic causes that uphold racism. Diversity looks like hiring workers of color; anti-racism looks like identifying why retention of these workers at our school is so low.”

For many people, the pandemic year catalyzed growing discomfort. “The layoffs … opened up a lot of wounds,” Myia Brown, assistant director of CAPX tells F, “but also brought to our attention how much power we don’t have in our own employment circumstances.”

Most non-union workplaces in America practice at-will employment. This means an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any (legal) reason. In 2020, the Art Institute laid off 76 employees between April and June, and furloughed 109 in January. The School of the Art Institute laid off 77 employees and cut 26 contract positions.

Union contracts can offer protection against firing without “just cause,” as New Yorker employees demanded and won in June 2021. Contracts can also offer protection during layoffs such as severance pay, advance notice, the right to be recalled, and continued health insurance. Of course, none of this is guaranteed with a union, but it is guaranteed to not happen without one.

Administration agrees that they were forced to make many quick and consequential decisions during the pandemic. “I want to be clear about the financial impact the pandemic has had on SAIC,” President Elissa Tenny told F. “Since closing our campus in March 2020, we’ve faced significant financial challenges — at one point, SAIC had a shortfall of around $20 million, a massive sum for a nonprofit institution.”

Tenny emphasized that unlike other institutions of higher education, SAIC fought to keep their staff and student workers employed through the end of the semester when the pandemic hit: “Our financial state

was very uncertain, as was the pandemic itself, but to help protect the vast majority of our staff from additional hardship, we only reduced pay for the highest paid employees.” Tenny continued, “Those employees took
a 10%-15% pay cut that lasted eight months; I took a 20% pay reduction that lasted 10 months. This year, I’ve prioritized pay increases for all staff.”

There is a vast difference between President Tenny’s temporary paycut and getting laid off; Tenny was still left with an annual salary of roughly half a million dollars. It is worth noting that President Tenny does not determine her own salary, that’s the job of the Board of Trustees. This isn’t a point about managerial salaries as much as it is a rhetorical conundrum.

The trouble with arguing talking points is that no one speaks at the same scale. The administration looks at the overall revenue the institution brings
in. They determine the pay for a “grade” of workers; they speak in the millions. Staff, on the other hand, focus on individual anecdotes of discontent and job insecurity. They speak to whether a mailroom worker will have a job next week; they speak in the ones.

As for the individual, Berger warns that union participation may make it difficult for workers to negotiate with their supervisors. “With a union,
the School would be legally required to exclusively negotiate with the union over [terms and conditions],”

Berger told F. “As you can imagine, the union contract applies to everyone in the bargaining unit. Union agreements don’t make allowances for individuals’ specific preferences.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Abman of Council 31 says. “They are imagining some 1950s union. This contract is imagined and put together by workers at this moment in time.” The union could write flexibility directly into the contract, Abman points out.

Katie Bourgeois, a mailroom worker in the Sharp building, finds the “you give up your voice” message disquieting. “They [management] want you to be able to come to them individually because it’s so much easier to shut down an individual making asks,” Bourgeois says. “It’s significantly more powerful to come together as a group and set strong boundaries for the kind of workplace you want to see.”

“We love this place”

“I came to SAIC as provost 11 years ago,” Tenny says. “What was so inspiring then — and it’s true today — is how deeply our school is woven into the arts and cultural fabric of our city and beyond. Our students, staff, and faculty truly shape the future of art and design, and you can see it in so many ways just walking downtown and around campus. I don’t think that will change, no matter what.”

Bourgeois and Brown both agree that they feel an affinity for their co-workers, but ironically, they developed this affection through organizing the union. “I feel closer to more people in different departments than I have ever in all of my time both working at the school and attending as a student,” says Bourgeois.

Brown echoes the sentiment: “We love this place and that’s why we’re doing this as well,” she says. “It’s not because we want SAIC to not be here … we just want the conditions to be better. If they can’t respect that, then I shouldn’t work here.”

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“Ache of Erosion” Sweeps You Away

By Arts & Culture

image of 8 swatched in various colors and textures.

Close-up from “Ache of Erosion” courtesy of the artist.

At SITE 280 Gallery’s new solo exhibition “Ache of Erosion,” SAIC MFA candidate, Elisabeth Heying, reveals a firm command of her medium. With steadfast regularity a bulwark of expertly crafted paintings greets you in pleasant realism. The subject of these works are the often overlooked, crumbling intersections between the natural world and the human-made one.  Stained cement, slimy algae, and crumbling rocks are painted matter of factly, and the “magic” of illusion is sometimes foregone for a more literally solid technique, like globs of actual painting material. But upon closer inspection, the earthy subject matter reveals itself to be open to metaphysical flight. And this relatively small number of paintings, tucked away in SITE’s cave-like gallery, offers a rich array of painting techniques and mediums; one far more varied and knowledgeable than most solo shows, anywhere. 

Photo of a cluster of works from "Ache of Erosion" at SITE Gallery.

Image from “Ache of Erosion” courtesy of the artist.

Each material seems chosen to perform an aspect of the work that it embodies best. Poetic interludes of small, jewel-like egg tempera landscapes warmly glint with the internal light that only this medium can impart. Oil reveals its richness and texture in an elegant painting of a grimy wall and pipe. Two paintings of erosion blanket, a common landscaping tool, reveal themselves to really be made of erosion blanket and sand, while across the room, acrylic cheekily masquerades as chain link in its endless verisimilitude. Finally, a drawing of stones, arranged in blocks by a retaining wall, floats inches from the wall. Graphite as a material is very vulnerable to erasure and combined with its floating paper substrate, this drawing’s medium enforces the idea that our firm grip on reality may be less solid than we thought. Heying opens the door to a world where materials are not just means to an end, but instead are the key in themselves.

Try standing in front of the painting “Grout and Fault Lines.” A Fruit Loops colored sample of a stone wall, bathed in dramatic lighting, hangs in front of you. Three pipes halo your head, fish eyeing out from your line of vision. You slowly notice the sediment in the pipes glistening in high gloss, and a sense of gravity starts to weigh upon you. There is no sky or ground in this painting, but its full-length mirror proportions, and those tell-tale drips from the pipe, make you feel your own body relentlessly being dragged down towards the earth.

Image of "Grout and Fault Lines" by Elizabeth Heying.

“Grout and Fault Lines,” courtesy of the artist.

And yet, these oh-so-solid paintings of dirt, water, stone, cement, and sand are all images of an ever changing cosmos captured in motion.  In “Ground Swatch #7,” a tiny imprint of a bird foot is frozen in cement. The clogged confusion of a flood in “Currents Afoot (Halted) II” suggests that time might not flow cleanly in one line from past to future, but that it might catch and swirl at varying speeds and sluggishness. While the exposed perlite (both a painting medium, and a landscaping additive) in “Constructed Diversion (Slip Through My Fingers) II” serves as a reminder of the half-futile, half-valiant effort it takes to remain centered in a world of mysteriously contradictory forces.

“Ache of Erosion” asks us to take a closer look at the crumbling walls, loose dirt, or pools of water that act as the filler to our everyday world. It shows us that these overlooked elements are quiet reminders of the constant back and forth pulling, sucking, pushing, and rushing of time that eventually wears everything down. In the end though, the pleasure, focus, and material knowledge in painting that Heying demonstrates is a touchstone that reveals her value for curiosity, rigor, and warmth of feeling in the face of such deep existential quarry.

“Ache of Erosion is open at SITE 280 Gallery now through Oct. 16 2021. Open to all SAIC faculty, students and staff Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sat 11 a.m -3 p.m., and by appointment to the general public.

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Dev Hynes: Time Will (Hopefully) Tell

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Ketaki Kulkarni.

At only 35, Devonté “Dev” Hynes has quite the resume behind him – sixteen composer credits, four albums, a feature on Paul McCartney’s “McCartney III,” and a Grammy nomination for Best Chamber Music. He’s worked with artists such as A$AP Rocky, FKA Twigs, HAIM, and Florence Welch. Hynes, also known as Blood Orange, constantly has his songs featured on TV dramas such as HBO’s “Euphoria” and “We Are Who We Are” (which Hynes scored, guest starred in, as a character at the forefront of the main character’s life). Hynes also collaborates often with Gia Coppola, having soundtracked her two films: “Palo Alto” (2014) and “Mainstream” (2021).

In most cases, songs with Dev Hynes’ name attached to them feel cinematic on their own. There’s a plot; characters; a conflict of sorts. If you listen intently, you can visualize a scene. This could be where the appeal of tying sound to substance comes in. On the merits of his music, you would think that his work and his name would be at the forefront of indie subculture. Instead, his name is synonymous with “the guy who played bass for Harry Styles at the Grammys.”

How does someone with this much influence in the worlds of both film and music, with myriad connections in both areas, get continuously overlooked by the median demographic?

The London musician has been on the scene for close to twenty years, and his genre of work is now becoming classed as the often overused (and, quite honestly, misused) niche of “coming of age.” This type of art has seemed to dominate the industry in the past decade, inspiring a new wave of filmmakers and storytellers. Within the past five or six years, I have noticed a rise in what growing up is perceived to look like through cinema. Wide shots of messy bedrooms, smoking on rooftops, dolly pans of gardens and women running across the street in joy. There have been many musicians, artists, and filmmakers who have created a following off of this. Like Noah Baumbach and Olivia Wilde, whose mise-en-scene often refers back to these tropes. In recent years, the lines between aesthetic and narrative have become extremely blurred.

A24 Studios, arguably one of the biggest influences in recent independent cinema, has featured several Blood Orange tracks in a handful of their productions -including an ironic name drop in Trey Edward Shults’ 2019 film “Waves,” where a character confuses Animal Collective for the band in question. “Champagne Coast,” the tenth track off of Blood Orange’s 2011 album “Coastal Grooves,” has played over the beginning of “Palo Alto,” and in the middle of the third episode of “Euphoria.” It’s clear that his music has a hold on these particular stories – half of the scenes with his music playing over would not be deemed “relatable” or “Oscar-worthy” if it weren’t for him.

Hynes’ success is due to, and notwithstanding, the fact that he has created music for and with other artists in the industry with more recognition than him. And in the world of film scores and soundtracks, it only takes one song to move pop culture – so much so that you cannot distinguish one from the other (see “Black Sheep” from Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs The World,” “Sing” from Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting,” and any song off of Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette”). Many people, particularly cinephiles, beg for a song that encapsulates the longing, bittersweet melodrama of growing up, and when they finally get one, they have no clue what to do with it. “Champagne Coast” has appeared in some of the most highly reviewed and analyzed projects in the past ten years, but is only recognized by a handful of film critics and writers.

But are film columnists to blame for the lack of acknowledgement to these artists? While critics and members of media organizations hold a lot of power over what is considered modern and organic, it is the audience that takes predominant judgement over what is deemed “on trend” in the era of consumption.

The demographic of these films – mostly young, American people with some interest in art – make their appreciation for this style of art on different corners of the internet. Discourse mostly takes precedence on text-heavy outlets like Twitter and Letterboxd reviews, while more visual-heavy criticism takes place on Tumblr, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Youtube (which can also fit into the text space, many people write carefully researched essays discussing films, then create a 20-30 minute long visual to go along with their narration).

As the online population of film enthusiasts expands, a renaissance of overlooked independent films have made the rounds in these edits, including “Palo Alto” and “Mainstream.” I’ve noticed that many songs, films, and artists of the (distant and recent) past have had their work trending through social media, whether it’s in the form of a TikTok, or even remade for newer generations. Despite the plethora of content coming in waves today, there is a craving for finding the new in the old. However, if your content is hard to access, or borderline unavailable, it is not likely that you’ll hear or see any of these pieces talked about online or word of mouth. The nicher, the harder. Hynes’ original soundtracks and his work under the names Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange are available on every streaming platform, but the films and TV series on which his work shines through are either housed on pay-per-view subscription platforms, or shown in one-room theaters for two weeks. Most independent or art house films are made from a very limited budget, which can make distribution especially difficult. Big name festivals like Sundance or TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) allow exposure of these films exclusively to buyers, but a film being bought out by a studio or distribution company is not for certain.

Though Hynes’ and his affiliated acts are very prolific in both industries, his lack of endorsement by the industry and audiences alike can be blamed on the lack of accessibility to his work, which is either viciously gatekept, or largely unavailable to a wider audience. In a time where Pinterest boards are filled with stills of indie dramedies, and Instagram stories novelize infographics shouting “SUPPORT THE ARTISTS!!!,” and media is rooted up from previous decades for the sheer nostalgia value, credit never seems to be given where it is a decade overdue. While his work may not physically manifest in your library, Dev Hynes undoubtedly is the backbone of your cinematic adolescence. It’s a pity he isn’t treated as such.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

By Featured, News

Parade of silhouettes holding signs with union acronyms, from back to front: FOTL, ARU, KOL, IWW, CIO, SEIU, CTU, and AICWU.

Illustration by Audrey Nguyen

On Sept. 9, anyone walking by the Art Institute of Chicago would have heard: “Get up, get down, Chicago is a union town!” as the voices of some 200 people synthesized to boost unionization efforts by the Art Institute of Chicago Workers United (AICWU), a coalition of workers at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) and School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

Historically, some of the most consequential labor battles occurred here in Chicago during the 19th century, resulting in May Day, Labor Day, and the eight-hour workday. These advances mark a
rich and complicated labor history haunted by racial and gender inequality, anti-union efforts, and anti-communist rhetoric. Still it is these battles that make the present possible.

On May 1, 1886, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) called a national strike to advocate for an eight-hour workday. The effort was centered in Chicago, where an estimated 30,000-40,000 workers staged walkouts throughout the city. The movement culminated on May 4 at Haymarket Square, when a rally turned tragic.

A crowd had gathered in what is today’s Fulton Market District in response to the police attack that killed striking workers the day before. Despite the circumstances, the crowd remained peaceful. When a battalion of 180 policemen arrived and called for immediate dispersal, the speaker of the crowd refused. All of a sudden, a bomb exploded in front of the advancing police. Eight officers died and 60 were wounded; an undetermined number in the crowd suffered from injury or fatality.

Eight men were rounded up and stood trial. All were tried as accessories to murder and found guilty, despite the unknown identity of the bomber to this day. The trial is now considered a gross miscarriage of justice.

In the aftermath of the Haymarket affair, labor unions were largely suppressed. Media blamed the riot on communist and anarchist leaders, and many labor unions disassociated themselves from radical-leftism, instead choosing to embrace liberalism.

International Worker’s Day, celebrated on the first of May, was established by the Second International, a federation of European socialist labor parties, to commemorate the Haymarket Affair. Because the day is associated with traditional spring festivals in Europe, it is also referred to as May Day or Labour Day. May 1 continues to stand as an important date for contemporary workers. Recently, frontline workers and renters used the day to go on strike during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the United States, it is more common to celebrate Labor Day on Sept. 1. The federal holiday owes its existence to striking workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago, where hundreds were laid off during the nation’s economic recession; those remaining had their wages cut. In response, workers walked out of their jobs and boycotted with the help of the American Railway Union (ARU), halting railways in 27 states.

On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making Labor Day a holiday for federal workers. The next day, workers attending a speech by Eugene V. Debs in Blue Island, Illinois, set fire to nearby buildings and derailed a locomotive. The government called for an injunction to break the strike. On July 3, Cleveland ordered troops to squash the movement, inciting more violence and concluding with the deaths of at least 30 workers.

The 20th century had its own set of monumental union moments centered in Chicago. In 1905 the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had its founding convention in Chicago. The IWW pioneered “industrial unionism” as opposed to the craft-specific unionism preceding it, and was revolutionary in its attempt to organize all workers regardless of race or gender.

In the 1930s, Chicago became central to the nationwide industrial workers’ movements because of its role as a major manufacturing city. During this time, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was formed. They prioritized Black, Mexican, and women workers for mobilization, successfully advancing conditions in the meatpacking, steel, and garment industries. The CIO was instrumental in creating the middle class and created the basis for contemporary unions.

Today, the rise of social movements has led to radicalization and growth within labor activism. Coalitions of Chicago workers continue to lead the fight for workers’ rights, bringing attention not only to wage gaps, layoffs, and unsafe conditions but also the racial and gender dynamics that inform these inequalities.

Alongside Chicago’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been instrumental in Chicago’s progressive movement, aiding in the election of six socialists to City Council. The CTU continues to threaten resistance, claiming that students and teachers were not provided safe schooling and working conditions amid the pandemic. In a press release from Sept. 1, 2021, the CTU states: “180 schools have no full-time nurse this fall, even as COVID continues to disproportionately hammer Chicago’s Black and brown communities, whose students make up 90% of CPS schoolchildren.”

On Sept. 23, 2021, dozens of workers staged a walkout at the El Milagro tortilla factory for similar reasons; at least 85 El Milagro workers have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Now, at our front door, workers of AICWU are calling for better conditions at one of the country’s foremost cultural centers. Their mission is to advocate for transparent, safe, and equitable working conditions by dismantling the institution’s colonialist and racist origins and centering BIPOC experiences. In doing so, AICWU attempts to add its acronym to the long list of Chicago unions fighting for a better workplace.

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Oh, The Horror!: Terrifyingly Terrible Musicals That Couldn’t (And Maybe Shouldn’t) Hit Broadway

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Anna Cai.

Oh, The Horror! is a column in which Paul Marx (BFA 2024) subjects his readers to extreme tests of mental endurance (and sometimes hand-eye coordination if the vibe is right), for a shared love of dark humor, campy horror movies, and a misplaced lust for things that go bump in the night. To quote the great statesman Abraham Lincoln, “Reader beware, you’re in for a scare!”

Something I love to do when I feel like traversing the astral plane — more commonly known as “not paying attention” or “zoning out” — is to imagine horror movies as big flashy Broadway musicals. I mean, come on! The image of someone having their entrails forcibly removed by a masked serial killer while line dancers in the background do high kicks in black unitards adorned with bedazzled blood splatters is pretty comedic. The stark contrast between the content and the presentation is the slam dunk of absurdity I live and die for, even if I have to manufacture it myself. So, I’ve compiled a list of a few horror movies that I think would be funny as stage musicals. Now, I do not go into the creation of these aiming for quality; I go into these looking for ways to expose and augment the campiness and ridiculousness of the original films. 

Note: There will be spoilers for the movies ahead, so read at your own risk.

 

“The Birds”

To make a long story short, Alfred Hitchcock made this movie based on a story of the same title that’s about a town that gets attacked by — you guessed it — the local bird population. It’s bloody, has lots of screaming, and is filled to the brim with a sense of fear and dread, just like my last marriage. Tippi Hedren plays Melanie, a champagne socialite who falls for a random guy and hangs out with him in his town while they get besieged by birds that suddenly want to kill people. Talk about romance, am I right?

In my mind’s eye, the birds would all be played by people in full-body seagull costumes. Think “The Lion King” but worse, because it’s seagulls, and seagulls are horrible sky rats. Now imagine these people in seagull costumes circling the main actress while on roller skates — because how else are you supposed to show flying on stage? It’s always roller skates, baby! 

The centerpiece of the musical would be the iconic scene in which an old lady just starts grabbing at her face and yelling about how Melanie brought all the evil birds with her when she came to town. In fact, she has her own song, and yes I wrote a section of it:

Why are they doing this?

What do you know?

She’s evil I tell you,

and she’s got to go!

She’s evil! Evil!!!!”

But the accompanying music would be dreamy and romantic, to offset the whole being pecked to death thing. Think “The Sound of Music,” but with the occasional jarring atonal violin to keep the audience on their toes.

Last but not least, what would a stage adaptation of a movie be without a somewhat bizarre twist? Mine would be that Melanie did summon the birds, because her family had a curse placed upon them that should they leave their home for love, the forces of nature would tear the foreign town apart. Then, in the final act of the musical, Melanie and her irrelevant boy toy would be desperately trying to go back to her hometown that’s literally across the bay. Wouldn’t that be ironic? I’m cackling as I type this.

 

“Mommie Dearest”

I feel like I’m the only person who’s seen this movie sometimes — I swear no one my age knows what I’m talking about when I talk about beating children with hangers. Now, this movie isn’t technically horror, but I think of it as such because of how much intense and terrifying violence occurs throughout the movie. “Mommie Dearest” is a semi-autobiographical film about the actress Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina. Joan was notoriously difficult to work with on set and known to verbally and physically assault her assistants and abuse her children. The “gaslight gatekeep girlboss” blueprint, truly.

With such a snappy boastful villain like Joan, of course, this show is going to be centered around jazz music. Now, I know that no producer would make this show in good faith because child abuse is such a delicate subject. However, in the theatre of my mind, this musical would feature original songs such as “No Wire Hangers (Ever)”, and “I Will Always Beat You,” which gets a reprise in the show’s final act from Christina as Christina and her brother finally grow fed up with their abusive mother and agree to kill her.

Yes, in this adaptation the abused children get revenge by killing their adopted mother. Call me crazy, but that sounds like a happy ending to me; sometimes murder is the right answer. In the original, Joan dies of natural causes, and, in a final act of motherly bitchiness, she leaves her children nothing in the will. That sucks complete ass. Revenge is a dish best served laced with cyanide. I want to see those two kids do a tap routine on the stairs while singing out “I will always beat you/ cheat you and mistreat you/ dirt in your teeth to make you learn how to chew/ nobody said life is fair.” Their horrible mother grasping for their heels, right before they kick her down the stairs. The curtains close while Christian and Christina do the charleston at each other and their mother dies at the foot of the steps. A happy ending to end all happy endings in my opinion.

 

“Hellraiser”

Hellraiser is extremely iconic for its star villain Pinhead alone. An extremely pale man(?) — Cenobite — with pins sticking out of his face dressed in black vinyl looking for a good time involving whips, chains, and flaying flesh sounds like an ideal Saturday night to me, but maybe I’m an outlier here. If you’re being picky and want to know what the movie’s actually about, the story follows Frank Cotton, his wife Julia, and their daughter Kirsty, and also the revived corpse of Frank’s brother Larry. Julia has the hots for the ooey-gooey reanimated corpse, who steals the life force from other guys so he can get his flesh back on. Honestly, the plot is secondary to the wicked gore and practical effects that made this movie the absolute gem it is. So what better style of music to go with this heavy torture and BDSM pain and pleasure-filled romp through interdimensional hell than disco?

I can’t explain why this works, but it just does. I think it’s the inherently queer vibes of disco and BDSM rampant throughout the film that compels me to imagine Pinhead made of pins, sparkling like a disco ball. I want the sultry tones of a choir with a funky beat to be played over a man getting his skin removed:

Pleasure and pain

Baby make it rain

String me up with interdimensional chains!

I also envision the Cenobites with horrible jet-black porn staches and aviator sunglasses. The ultimate leather daddies? Absolutely, sign me up.

I’m making the executive decision to lean into the queer undertones and make them overtones now. My twist is that someone in the family is gay, and the Cenobites are there to help them come to terms with their sexuality, hence the BDSM and the whole coming out of a puzzle box from hell thing — emphasis on coming out. That’s right, this musical is now about internalized homophobia, headed up by an original song that I can already see winning multiple Emmys, “We Have Such Sights to Show You,” the Cenobites go into excruciating detail about the pleasures (anal sex) and pains (anal sex) of being an interdimensional queer to Kirsty and Larry.

In the final act of the musical, Larry comes to terms with his sexuality and sheds the skin suit of other people to join the Cenobites in their infernal disco at the further reaches of human experience. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. Take that, “Brokeback Mountain!”

 

“Hereditary”

Take a shot every time you hear “Hereditary” is one of the best horror movies of the decade — you’d be passed out cold in no time, but it’s true. “Hereditary” focuses on the Graham family and the recent passing of their eccentric grandmother, and the complete shitshow that follows soon after. Between the Graham daughter Charlie (who contains the neutered version of the demon Paimon, who can only come to full power in a male body), and the now-dead matriarch being revealed as a satanic cult leader, it’s a wild ride filled with dread you’ll be feeling for a while after, especially in the neck region — hint hint.

My spin on this family drama nightmare would be to turn it into a black comedy. To add to this, Charlie will be giving her internal monologue throughout the whole thing, even after her gruesome decapitation. An ideal musical score to go along with “Hereditary: The Musical” would be a 70’s Scooby-Doo type sound — I really want to lean into the sleuthing and discoveries everyone makes throughout the film while juxtaposing the soundtrack with the content — the content being finding your family members’ decapitated bodies posed around a satanic altar. 

Going directly into the songs for this show, the image of Annie opening the show by giving her mother’s eulogy that morphs into talking about how weird she was won’t leave my head:

My mother was private,

and by private I mean quiet,

and by quiet I mean odd,

and when I say odd I really mean kooky,

not kooky as in spooky, what I mean is strange,

and when I say strange, I mean to say deranged,

there, I said it! She was deranged,

and said all our fates had been arranged—

She was… eccentric.

For the grand finale of the show, the culmination of the cult’s efforts to rehouse the demon Paimon in a vulnerable male vessel will end the full ensemble singing their praises of one of the kings of hell:

Hail Paimon!

He knows it all!

Hail Paimon!

We looked to the Northwest and heard his call!

The stage then rises up in tiers; Peter is bathed in red light only showing his silhouette, and finally, the spotlight hits him, dressed in full sleazy car dealer drag. I’m talking bedazzled pinstripe suit, 301 eyelashes; the works. I am a firm believer in the classic gay shyster demon trope, and I would just love to see this horrible flashy man shimmy down the tiered stage while showing off his secret knowledge that varies between horrible stage magic and revealing the exact date of someone’s death, all in the same performance. What a wonderful way to end a wonderful play. *insert tongue pop here.*

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El Machete Illustrated – My Body

By Comics

El Machete Illustrated by Eric J Garcia.

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