Search F News...

Argyle Celebrates Lunar New Year

By Multimedia, News, Photo 7

Braving the cold and the snow, many came out to celebrate this year’s Argyle Lunar New Year Celebration in Uptown. Families, children ,and friends gathered around on the crowded streets to watch over 30 different floats pass by, waving with cheery grins as lion dancers, panda bears and brightly-dressed Ajummas waved back.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also made an appearance, later tweeting: “It was an honor to walk in the annual Argyle Lunar New Year Parade today. Snow and all, there’s no better way to kick off the Year of the Rabbit.”

The parade included appearances from the Vietnamese Association of Illinois, the Hip-Sing Association, the South East Asia Center, McCutcheon Elementary School, Swift Elementary School, Ajummas Rising, Chicago Asian Americans for Environmental Justice, the Hoang Phuc Lion Dance Association , and more. 

The celebration included “Lunar New Year Stories and Crafts” for kids at the Bezazian branch of the Chicago Public Library, and post-parade performances that began with Swift Elementary School students reciting Mandarin words to the crowd. 

The parade began with a 15-second moment of silence to remember those lost to the shooting earlier this year in Monterey Park, California. Although the parade was filled with celebration and happiness, many in the Asian American community will continue to grieve the tragic event.

Read More

Moving Pictures: “M3GAN” Dances On

By Entertainment 7

Still from “M3GAN” (2022).

Blumhouse Pictures latest film, “M3GAN,” dares to ask the question: what if the large lovable white robot of “Big Hero Six” was instead a homicidal, blonde hair, blue-eyed four-foot tall doll? It’s a little bit of “I Robot” meets “Chucky,” “Annabelle” meets “A.I.,” “Ex Machina” with some murderous “Toy Story,” all scored with an acoustic cover of Sia’s “Titanium.” Not nearly as thematically complex as those science fiction films, “M3GAN” is uninterested in questions of M3GAN’s rights, individuality, or agency. What it does do is borrow images from those movies, and then mash them up with the gleeful violence of the toys-gone-wrong genre. And it’s precisely its lack of seriousness that makes “M3GAN” such a good time in cinemas, leaning into tropes, without ever being ashamed of doing so.

Girlboss toy designer Gemma (Allison Williams) is working her hardest to build the toy that will replace all toys, a semi-living doll that will pair with its child owner to supplement or replace the parental figure. The company’s CEO is demanding she put out a prototype ASAP, but before she can finish the project, she is suddenly saddled with the burden of caring for her young niece, Cady (Violet McGraw), who has just lost her parents.

I trust you can already see where this is going, unlike Gemma, who is blind to the obvious perils before her. This is largely a film about Gemma’s mistakes: her Icarus-like pursuit for prestige, her reckless disregard for protocol, and her fumbling care for her grieving niece. Daft protagonists are not new to the horror genre; much of the genre in fact depends on their central characters making bad decisions. But Gemma is particularly flawed in many aspects, scarcely making a likable decision across the film. It’s a good thing she’s being played by Alison Williams, who makes us believe Gemma would make these mistakes, rather than having those errors manifest as recurring plot devices. Her decisions are consistent across the film because this is an emotionally stunted person, with good intentions, but little foresight. We get frustrated with Gemma but we don’t get frustrated with the filmmakers because we can understand Gemma’s conflicting loyalties.

Another staple of the horror genre is the irritating child. Violet McGraw as Cady fulfills this role in spades, full of tantrums and outbursts of rage. But like Gemma, we understand Cady and her actions not just because of her performance but also because of how her character evolves (or devolves) through the film. There isn’t a binary between her stoicism and her screaming. There is a steady incline in her instability, growing as her bond with M3GAN does, an evolution that Gemma in her stumbling parenting, is unable to notice.

And that takes us to M3GAN. Wide-eyed, unblinking M3GAN who runs like a wolf and sings with an internal echo. The production design for M3GAN is fantastic. She is constantly surprising both with her voice, performed by Jenna Davis and with her physicality, performed by Amie Donald. The film absolutely nails the unintended disjunct that occurs when advanced technology tries to replicate human life. There is a deliberate uncanny valley being plumbed through M3GAN that feels very topical. The closest way I can describe the look on M3GAN’s face is the same feeling as watching the dance sequences from Tom Hooper’s “Cats” or the dead eyes of the animals in the 2019 remake of “The Lion King.” The only difference this time being that the discomfort is on purpose.

Not all parts of the film feel as intentional, like one of the film’s subplots about the assistant to the CEO. It’s about as predictable as the rest of the film’s other elements but the difference is that this character is so thin, the transparency feels forced rather than earned. We see what’s coming a mile away, and unlike M3GAN sprinting on all fours through the woods, there’s hardly anything terrifying about it.

The film does also, and I don’t say this lightly, feel a little short. I’m always a fan of shorter movies that are efficient with their stories, especially in the horror genre that can become tired if overstretched. But the film felt like it was lacking one more M3GAN sequence to really bring us over the edge. There are undoubtedly some fun sequences that ramp up in terror. But the finale felt like it was coming too soon, as if the film was saving additional scares for its sequel, which this film attempts to set up. Perhaps in “M2GAN,” we will actually contend with some of the deeper questions presented here. But it’s more likely it’ll be about two, perhaps three, or even a whole fleet of M3GANs wreaking havoc. I certainly won’t mind, as long as they harmonize on “Titanium’s” chorus.

Is M3GAN a m3taphor? Maybe. Maybe she’s a symbol of the ails of iPad parenting, the ubiquity of surveillance in our lives, our constant need for distraction to stave off processing our actual emotions. But none of that symbology really matters when you see her doing a dance from TikTok. In that moment, you’re experiencing one of three things, or perhaps all three at once: you’re either laughing at the ridiculousness of it, frightened by the deadly possibility, or dancing along to a track with a beat you already know.

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

Read More

SAIC Ends Classroom Mask Requirement

By Featured, SAIC 78

Illustration by Shu Yin (Kitty) Lai

BFA senior Marcus Emdanat said the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) hasn’t been able to accommodate most of his needs as a student with a disability. But there’s one thing he appreciated about the school SAIC had kept better masking protocols than other universities. 

“To my knowledge, I haven’t had the virus. And I think that is largely because of the fact that SAIC has kept such good policy,” Emdanat said. “Everyone is protecting each other.”

But on Jan. 3, when he discovered SAIC would remove the mask mandate policy, he felt sad and angry, as it puts him at more risk of getting infected with COVID-19.

“I had thought,” Emdanat told F, “Given how long this school’s mask policies held out, that SAIC would be different; clearly I was wrong. They’re just as indifferent to vulnerable people’s pain and suffering as the rest of the world.” 

Emdanat’s disappointment about the removal of mask mandates is shared by some students, staff, and faculty at SAIC, who are highly disappointed with the recent changes in COVID-19 protocols. Unlike some other U.S. universities, SAIC had taken a firm stance on masking: students, professors, and staff were all required to wear masks on campus. At first everywhere on campus, then, only in instructional spaces.

Then during the winter break, SAIC administration announced: “For the winter term, we will continue to require masks in our instructional spaces. However, at the start of the spring term — on January 26 — individuals may continue to wear masks, though they will no longer be required in any on-campus space except at the Wellness Center.”

This critical decision comes when the new contagious subvariant of COVID-19 XBB.1.5 is highly spreading all over America and accounts for more than 43 percent of overall COVID cases in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Meanwhile, many doctors have also warned that influenza could be worse this year.

“It is not a good decision, and it will adversely affect immunocompromised students like me. I live in the dorms, and I no longer feel comfortable with SAIC’s COVID-19 policy there. Now I’m uncomfortable with the policy in classrooms too,” a BFA sophomore student stated, who spoke with F on the condition of anonymity. 

SAIC and its evolving COVID protocols 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading worldwide, SAIC, like many other universities, relied on online methods for teaching. Before resuming its in-person teaching and learning, the school administration, in consultation with the Director of the Institute for Biosecurity at St. Louis University (Dr. Terri Rebmann) introduced the Make Together: A Return to Creating on Campus

Through this plan, the school had set specific health protocols and guidelines that everyone was to follow. All students, faculty, staff, and contract employees had to be vaccinated with the primary COVID-19 vaccine series, and masks were required throughout the campus. Now, none of the SAIC community are required to cover their faces with masks. Neither has the school made the bivalent vaccine mandatory, which the CDC strongly recommends.

“As of the spring semester, masks will be optional everywhere on campus with the exception of the Wellness Center. This change was recommended by Dr. Rebmann in light of the lessening virility of the dominant COVID variants, good hospital capacity, and little evidence of campus transmission in spaces that have been mask-optional this past fall.” Provost Martin Berger told F.

“To inform our decisions,” Berger added, “We’ve continued to consult with Dr. Rebmann and review the latest science and local and national public health guidance. We frequently review our protocols, make adjustments as needed, and communicate those adjustments and our reasoningwith students, faculty, and staff.”

The email announcing the removal of the mask mandate also included a video from Dr. Rebmann. In the video, Dr. Rebmann states “the vast majority” of COVID-19 infections at St. Louis University “occurred from student exposures that happened in social settings outside of the classroom.” Thus, her university has not had a mask mandate in place, and most likely they won’t have it in the future, she said in the video.

In the fall of 2022, at SAIC, 231 students and 65 employees tested positive for COVID-19. However, Provost Berger said the school’s contact tracing showed “little evidence of transmission in conference rooms, offices, hallways, elevators, [and] lounges (where masks were optional in the fall semester).”

Berger said the new policy is in keeping with the medical community’s consensus and supported by science. He adds that students who need accommodation can work with the Disability and Learning Resource Center.

The decision, which impacts the whole SAIC community, apparently was made without consulting student groups, faculty senate, or staff union. According to Provost Martin Berger: The school made this decision based on “exclusive” consultation with health and safety experts only.

Danny Floyd, part-time faculty senator and lecturer in VCS and Sculpture, told F, “The decision was made unilaterally by the Administration. Shared Governance was not consulted in making this decision, and the decision was announced over Winter Break when the Faculty Senate and its committees were not in session.”

Should SAIC implement such a significant change in working conditions for its staff and faculty without consulting them? Floyd, who played an essential role in forming AICWU, the union for non-tenure-track faculty at SAIC, said this decision may constitute an unfair labor practice, as it changed working conditions for its staff and faculty without consulting the union. He told F that AFSCME Council 31, of which AICWU is a member union, has already submitted a demand to bargain over this change.

The effectiveness of masks

In the U.S., mask mandates have been controversial. Some chose not to wear masks for religious reasons, pandemic fatigue or political belief. But, masks can protect people from COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, according to health experts.

Research has proven that masks lessen the probability of infection with the virus. While one-way masking can provide some form of protection to prevent the community transmission of viruses like COVID-19, universal masking is always the most effective method, says Olga Morozova, assistant professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Chicago.

“Masks are most effective when they are used universally,” she told F Newsmagazine. “If someone is infectious and wears a mask, it reduces the amount of viral particles transmitted by that person and limits the area of potential contamination. Oftentimes, infectious people don’t know that they are infectious, either because they are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. This is essentially what makes universal masking effective in transmission reduction.” 

Dr. Rebmann also shares similar views in regard to the effectiveness of masks. Still, she defends the school’s decision to remove the mask mandate arguing that there has been a transition in mitigation measures around COVID in most societies.

“In general, communities and universities have shifted from attempting to prevent all transmission to instead focusing on personal accountability and responsibility and trying to limit severe illness and impacts on the health care system. What all of this means is that, in our current pandemic epidemiology, we as a nation are moving away from universal masking to having individuals choose when they want to wear a mask/respirator,” she said.

One of the significant reasons why the universal mandate on campus was removed is also because of how COVID-19 has evolved and mutated over the years, making it less pathogenic, argues Dr. Rebmann. “For most individuals, infection is very mild,” she claims.

Nevertheless, for some students, getting infected with COVID-19 is the last thing they want in their life. When universal masking at SAIC was required, they felt safe on campus. Now, they are worried about their safety, while attending the classes in person.

“I will say, this mask mandate removal makes me very nervous,” said a BFAAE sophomore, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Just in the past two weeks my grandmother died from COVID, my father is immunocompromised and when I had the virus I almost had to be hospitalized. Knowing how other SAIC students tend to party and constantly socialize, I am very scared to see a large spike in cases.” 

Faculty who spoke with SAIC are also worried, especially non-tenure track faculty.

“We should be considering that many courses taught at the school are by lecturers, who are not offered health insurance by the administration, and who are, of course, paid less than any other faculty members, while teaching most of the bedrock courses here, such as the first year seminars. Their already precarious situation just became more tenuous,” said Patrick Durgin, VCS associate professor-adjunct.

Some students also dissatisfied with the language used by the school around masks.

“Mask policies and the language surrounding them are of utmost importance. I am already affected by ‘Long Covid’ symptoms and would prefer to stay out of the hospital as someone who medically cannot be vaccinated at this time,” said Ceilidh (kale) Birkhahn, a BFA senior student. “The language used to ʻencourageʼ mask wearing frames it as an evil that is becoming less necessary, which informs unsafe behavior and disregard.”

What are other universities doing?

SAIC is not the only university that has dropped its mask mandate. At many other universities like Stanford University, Harvard University, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and DePaul University, masks are optional for students and faculty. Nevertheless, there are universities where universal masking at least in classrooms is still practiced. 

At Rhode Island College of Design, masks are required in classrooms. Similarly, Columbia College Chicago, another private school in Chicago, has also made it compulsory for students and faculty to wear masks in classrooms and other instructional settings. Furthermore, several universities  and schools like UMass Boston and Chelsea Public Schools have re-instituted their mandatory mask protocols for students and staff amid an ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases.

Not everyone wants to wear masks

Although SAIC’s mask removal has irked some students and staff, some people in the SAIC community are relieved.

Tien Thuy Vo, a first-year graduate student in the VCS program, argues that for international students like her whose first language isn’t English, not wearing masks can be really helpful in communicating with teachers and fellow students.

“I prefer not wearing a mask as it helps me to understand verbal communication better in class,” Tien said. “If a person is not wearing a mask, I can see their facial expressions and lips movement and also the sound of the utterance is clearer,” she adds.

For people with hearing disabilities, masks can also pose a significant challenge. As some people with hearing disabilities need to read lips to understand what people are saying, seeing the face of the other person becomes essential.

“From a disability perspective, I have tinnitus, so it’s very difficult to hear students who are masked. I also see a big drop in students connecting with each other, since they cannot read each others’ full expressions or even recognize each other outside of class. The mask has become a barrier to instruction and building community,” said a faculty member, who chose to remain anonymous. 

What’s next?

We can only speculate how the decision to lift the mask mandate will impact the SAIC community. Currently, the local risk in Chicago according to the CDC, is medium. The school administration said it is ready to change the COVID protocols if an emergency arises.

“Of course, the evolving nature of the virus may require that we shift course as the academic year continues. If that happens, we will communicate any updates to everyone via email,” Provost Martin Berger told F Newsmagazine.

SAIC hasn’t explained its plan for a spike in infections, and it has recommended but not required the bivalent vaccines.

Many in the SAIC community hope the conversation around masking policy will continue.

Ankit Khadgi (MAVCS 2024) is a Nepali queer storyteller based in Chicago. He hates people who eat momo with ketchup and mayonnaise and drink Chai Tea.

Read More

Moving Pictures: “The Stranger” in a Strange Land (Australia)

By Entertainment, Series 48

“The Stranger” (2022). Image courtesy of IMDB.

Closing a cold case takes tenacity, persistence, and oftentimes, an uneasy duality. The work stays in the office and the investigator’s persona is locked in a box after hours. All the while the criminal spends their days living a life purporting innocence, shirking and concealing their guilt. But for the case to close, sometimes those polar identities need to collide. The detective neglects their personal life and  forgets their actual self, to force the criminal into revealing the truth. But what becomes of both of them in the process? And after? Who remains standing when the billowing smoke clears?

Writer-director Tom Wright’s “The Stranger” is an examination of this very phenomenon, based on a real unsolved crime in Australia in the early 2000s. To try and solve the case, the Australian police conducted a massive operation of intel-gathering, reconnaissance, and subterfuge. But that took them to a dark place, especially for its lead investigators, trapped in the psychological depths of the criminal they pursued.

The film stars Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris as two unexpected companions, entering a criminal underworld, spiraling around each other as the past unfurls around them. You’ll note that I’m being incredibly vague in my description of this film’s plot. That’s because “The Stranger” is such a tightly engineered thriller, that any attempt on my part to summarize it will pale in comparison. This is a surprisingly cerebral film told achronologically, jumping around time and space, constantly withholding information from its audience until the taut strings of its plot are just on the verge of snapping. It’s a harrowing experience that sucks you into its depths as you attempt to unravel its two characters and the lies they tell.

What elevates “The Stranger” and its chilling story beyond feeling like an extended episode of a BBC crime drama is Tom Wright’s direction. Every scene is tense, eerie, and psychologically immersive. Every shadow is deliberate, every gaunt white light chilling. We are never sure what will happen next, and we are fraught with instability. This is all enhanced by the film’s strong editing choices, sometimes unexpectedly cutting between words or during a languid image, like the film’s favorite motif of wisping black smoke. We become wrapped up in the frenetic and fractured psyche of its protagonist, unable to tell what is real, to see outside of the dark cloud, to determine what is a dream, what is a waking nightmare.

Edgerton and Harris are excellent opposite each other with this unique take on cat and mouse. This isn’t the mutual respect of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s “Heat,” nor the hot and cold of Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey in David Fincher’s “Se7en.” This is a portrait of loneliness, of a hollow gruffness, of a bearded band-aid over a yawning chasm. Edgerton is stoic and sullen, his veneer obvious to the audience though perhaps not to his character. Harris on the other hand is completely unknowable to us. He is inscrutable and indecipherable, not in his quietness but in his loudness. He fluctuates between subtle extremes, as impossible as that may sound. It makes perfect sense if you consider the range of Harris’ career. It’s a wonderful performance from him, embodying so much of what makes him imminently watchable across genres, like in last year’s “Spencer” and “The Green Knight.” He imbues his character here with such a complex psychology, a sprawling network of insecurities, and diagnoses that defy diagnosis.

As I’ve already said, this is a difficult film to describe. So much of it is about its twists, about the slow and considered doling out of disturbing details. But that does not mean the film is cheap or only interesting on a first viewing because of morbid curiosity. It’s a film that is more rewarding on a rewatch to see how Wright is playing the audience like a fiddle. In that way, it is similar to David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler,” or Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners,” all taut and haunting thrillers that know just how to twist the knife. “The Stranger” is a welcome addition to the intelligent crime thriller that goes beyond simply being about solving the case. It’s about chasing trails of fading smoke for a decade-old crime, pursuing brazenly, and improvising on the fly to close that painful chapter for the families, the investigators, and perhaps the criminals too.

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

Read More

To Mask or Not to Mask — That is Not the Question

By Featured, SAIC 200

Everybody’s Doing It!” is a one-panel editorial cartoon. At the top of the cartoon, a logo representing SAIC is jumping off a cliff, throwing behind itself a mask onto a larger pile of masks on the cliff. SAIC is jumping into the water below, where we see four other colleges swimming, represented by their logos: Saint Louis University, DePaul University, Roosevelt University, and University of Chicago. The waterhole the colleges are swimming in is a sickly green color, dozens of virus particles swimming around them. The colleges seem not to notice and cheer on SAIC as it joins them down below.

“Everyone’s Doing It!” Editorial Cartoon by Teddie Bernard.

Over the course of the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAIC administration required  masks, vaccinations, and the first booster shot. But as the pandemic continues on to 2023, more decisions have to be made.

In many ways, because of the pandemic, the SAIC administration had to do what the Disability Learning Resource Center (DLRC) strives to do everyday: “Support a universally accessible educational community that fosters full participation of every member.”

On January 3, 2023, SAIC sent out an email announcing as of January 26 (the start of the Spring Semester), face masks are no longer required anywhere on campus except for the Wellness Center.

There were other decisions SAIC could have taken in announcing masks are no longer required in classrooms. But the way they went about making this announcement was not transparent about whose voices mattered in making this decision and what will happen if SAIC’s COVID cases rise (beyond a single sentence saying masks could be reinstated “if the need arises”). At the time of writing this, the SAIC Make Together website is only partially up to date.

This email was sent during our Winter break, a time when students are often not checking their email; it was not emailed to parents; and it was obviously sent out after spring registration, giving students no time to decide on what classes to take to limit exposure in light of this decision (e.g. online courses, size the classroom, etc). Oddly, the Winter term classes, which began the week following this announcement, still required masks in the classrooms.

Along with this email was a link to an unlisted YouTube video of Dr. Terri Rebmann, the public health expert from St. Louis University who has been reviewing and informing SAIC’s COVID-19 protocols. This video was very concerning on a number of levels.

Dr. Rebmann begins the video by informing students that COVID-19 cases, particularly two strains of the Omicron variant, are on the rise, as well this year seeing “the worst flu outbreak that we have seen in the past decade. […] It is particularly harsh this year, and it is causing healthcare surges across the United States.”

When watching the video, one naturally starts thinking about what is going to be said next. It is easy to think she will next say SAIC will require mandatory masking, bivalent booster shots, flu vaccines, and new testing protocols for both flu and COVID-19.

But … that isn’t what happened. Instead, we are told that for the “majority of individuals on campus, you should have only very mild illness” and that health care has become an “individual responsibility.” But what about the people in our SAIC community who are at risk? What about faculty, staff, and students who are disabled, immunocompromised, living in households with high risk individuals, or over the age of 65? When we focus on a majority, who is being left out of the narrative?

In the video Dr. Rebmann said, “At this point in the pandemic almost all universities — in fact I don’t know of a single university that continues to have a mask mandate at this time.” However, with a simple Google search, anyone can find out otherwise. Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Art have continued to require masks; San Jose State and Massachusetts College of  Art and Design, among others, have reinstated their mask policy this Spring because of the growing surge of both the flu and COVID; and many universities such as University of Washington, Rhode Island School of Design, and DePaul University strongly recommend masks as opposed to SAIC’s position of supporting individual choice. SAIC also no longer will provide masks at the security desks of campus buildings.

Dr. Rebmann recommends getting the bivalent booster and tells the views that it is important to do so, but she does not mention anything about the fact that bivalent booster vaccinations nor flu vaccinations are not required for students.

There are many schools that don’t require masks but do require the bivalent booster, including Ivy Leagues like Harvard and Yale as well art schools such as California Institute of the Arts, and Laguna College of Art and Design.

Other universities also give faculty the option to require students to wear masks in their classrooms, such as Harvard, Santa Clara University, Seton Hall University, and, according to faculty we’ve spoken to, Tulane University.

Finally, there are the schools whose masking mandate functions on a sliding scale. We see this at  Rhode Island College, and, right around the corner from us, our neighbors, Columbia College Chicago. These schools operate with three different levels of protocol, requiring masks when cases at the school exceed a set number and/or when the towns and cities in which they are located have a high surge of cases.

There are universities that understand public health is a community concern, not an individual responsibility. It is not an all-or-nothing game. Masks do not have to be mandatory across an entire school in order to keep the school community safe. But there have to be accommodations and vaccinations in place to protect the entire community, not just the able-bodied majority.

This is not about the political debate over masks. We need to focus instead on asking questions of our administration. We need to understand if the administration is keeping faculty, staff, and students safe — both those who are more at risk and those who are of the “majority.”

The classroom dynamic at SAIC fosters an environment where we are each individuals, with voices and artistic expressions that deeply matter while at the same time we are a community of ideas and constructive feedback. If SAIC is to be a community that truly cares for its individuals, it cannot make decisions like this without open opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to weigh in, especially those in our community who are most affected by these decisions.

The student body, along with faculty and staff, need clarity and transparency from the SAIC administration about COVID-19 policies and why these are the policies they have  put in place. Out of 3,571 students, 231 tested positive this Fall for COVID-19. In light of the new policy, we can be left to wonder if the rate of positive cases will rise. The School of Visual Art sums it up best: “We need the entire [community] to participate in all strategies in order to keep COVID-19 and severe disease at bay.”

Read More

Moving Pictures: “Matilda the Musical” and Growing Up

By Entertainment, Featured, Series 74

A small girl in a blue dress sitts on a set of carpeted stairs. She's looking over her shoulder sadly.

Alisha Weir in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” (2022).

“Roahl Dahl’s Matilda The Musical,” is a film adaptation of the West End stage production, “Roald Dahl’s Matilda,” which itself is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. In case you’re confused, that’s two steps removed from the classic work of children’s literature about a precocious unwanted child, forced into a school run by the tyrannical Mrs. Trunchbull. This is not related to the other movie version of “Matilda” from 1996, directed, produced, and starring Danny Devito (not as Matilda).

“Matilda the Musical” returns back to the source of the original novel, rather than being a musical adaptation of the 1996 film. In that way, this new film is a cousin of Tim Burton’s Netflix television series “Wednesday” that returns to the Addams Family’s roots in 1938 as cartoon panels in the New Yorker, eschewing the other movie adaptations of the source material. “Wednesday” and “Matilda the Musical” both also similar in that they are macabre adaptations of stories that were not afraid to horrify children, to scare them with grimness, to shock, frighten and unnerve them, and ultimately, treat them like adults. That’s part of what makes Roahl Dahl’s initial story so endearing: it is a bleak story that recognizes children can be a little bleak too. But in that darkness, there can be pockets of affirmation, of triumph, of unrepentant joy, that is only felt sharper because of the shadows cast.

“Matilda the Musical” firmly understands the draw of its source material; It is for children who are now adults and children who want to be adults. Not adults like Matilda’s unloving parents, or the dreadful Mrs. Trunchbull, but adults with kindness, adults that have retained their optimism in a cruel world. Adults like Ms. Honey played in this adaptation by Lashana Lynch. These kids like Matilda, Amanda, Nigel, Hortensia, Lavender, and Bruce the oh-so-lovable Bruce, want to be adults that still love life, and that choose possibility over pessimism. As they sing in “When I Grow Up,” the most affecting of the film songs in my opinion, the audience knows that when these children are adults, they will be “strong enough to carry all the heavy things you have to haul when you’re a grown up.” It’s a slightly dour thing to think of as an adult, considering the heavy things I’ve accumulated since childhood. But it’s also in some ways inspiring — An opportunity to revisit that naive, hopeful way of looking at adulthood. It’s this dual edge that makes every song in “Matilda the Musical” so captivating.

Tim Minchin’s original lyrics from the stage production are just as evocative on the screen as I imagine them to be on the stage. Or perhaps, they are even more so if you watch this film with subtitles. That may seem sinful to some at first, but the layering of Minchin’s wordplay makes it more than worth it. There are subtler moments in Minchin’s lyrics that speak to both children and former children with their lyrics. But then there are also more audacious, bold examples like the camouflaged alphabet in “School Song” that on its own makes it clear why Minchin was nominated for a Tony. Minchin fires on all cylinders in every last chorus, verse, and bridge to create these effervescent and vibrant numbers.

These songs are then performed by some of the most talented child performers I’ve ever seen. There are over 200 children in this film’s massive ensemble who came together in eclectic and incredible numbers, with performances so good that you have to wonder if any labor laws were violated. Alisha Weir is terrific as the film’s titular character, capturing both Matilda’s intelligence and vindictiveness, central aspects of the character across all adaptations. She is, of course, constantly foiled by Mrs. Trunchbull, played by Emma Thompson in heavy makeup and platform shoes, giving her best musical villain. She is sneering, grunting, hollering, all the things you can expect from a belting over-the-top musical bad guy.

This is a musical, and some camp must be expected, tolerated, embraced. It’s actually when the musical is at its most measured that I found myself the most disinterested. This was largely during Matilda’s imagined love story of the escapologist and the acrobat. This is not something in the original novel and was added to the plot of the stage musical. But importantly the movie adaptation of the musical, presumably due to issues of timing, chooses to skip a number of these songs from the escapologist and the acrobat, as well as two songs from Matilda’s parents. This makes the circus sections of the film noticeably dryer than the rest of the film, bereft of that same lyricism and layering, and makes Matilda’s parents feel flatter than their stage counterparts. The film tries to compensate by going as far as it can with the visuals in the circus tent, but it’s not enough to make these scenes as entrancing as the rest of the film. I found myself waiting for these sequences to end, something that I did not experience during any other part of the film. This was certainly not the case during the film’s most impressive number “Revolting Children,” a magnificent achievement in songwriting, choreography, and the overall concept of children.

Most people already know their stance on musicals. Musicals are either too earnest or right up your alley. Movie musicals are not exempt from this same polarization. But if you like musicals, and aren’t opposed to watching them on a screen instead of a stage, “Matilda the Musical” is a terrific example. It takes a very different approach to recent movie musicals like “In The Heights” or the Spielberg version of “West Side Story” which delve into the cinema of it, to use filmic language to tell their story. Instead, it leans into the spectacle of the stage, recreating that same awe one feels when watching performers operate at their peak. But in this case, those performers are children, just at the start of their careers, ready to show the world what they can do, whether it be when they’ve grown up or if it’s right now.

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

Read More

Moving Pictures: “Empire of Light,” Not Too Bright

By Entertainment, Series 72

Fireworks exploding over a city as two people in the bottom righthand corner look on.

Still from “Empire of Light” (2022), featuring Olivia Coleman and Michael Ward.

The cinema is a trick. The projectionist runs reels of film, at just a fast enough rate to trick us into connecting disparate images together, creating the illusion of motion in our minds. What were two static images becomes one continuous movement. What was once static, inert, now exposed to light, becomes dynamic. We build the bridge between the pictures, filling in the blanks left behind. The question is whether Sam Mendes, writer-director of “Empire of Light,” can successfully trick us into ignoring the gaps.

“Empire of Light” is Mendes’ tribute to the power of cinema and cinemas, much like Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” from only slightly earlier this year. Unlike the country-crossing and time-jumping saga of “The Fabelmans,” “Empire of Light” is located entirely within the coastal town of Margate in the 1980s.

Olivia Colman plays the film’s lead, Hilary, an assistant manager at the Empire, a local cinema. She’s later joined by Stephen, played by Michael Ward, a new hire, and one of the few black men in this town that is polluted by skinheads and more casual racists. Rounding out the rest of the Empire’s staff is Colin Firth as Donald Ellis, the Empire’s vindictive and glory-seeking manager; Tobey Jones as Norman, the reticent projectionist; and several other cashiers, cleaners, and ushers.

The film oscillates between larger societal ideas about prejudice and abuses of power, and more personal themes about the power of cinema. The ideas aren’t actually connected through the film’s plot, but it doesn’t feel like Mendes cares if they are either. Those ideas pop up in bursts but are largely relegated to the sidelines when put beside the relationship between Stephen and Hilary. Their friendship is the focal point of the film, defying conventional labels, as the two close the gap despite the many differences between them.

Olivia Colman as per usual is a powerhouse as Hilary, who loves her job but refuses to sneak a peek at the films. Colman has proven herself to be absolutely singular in her ability to layer the complexity of characters simply behind her eyes. She’s smiling, but her eyes betray an emptiness, a searching, a yearning, which she cannot seem to fill. Michael Ward as Stephen is also searching, though for him it is the vastness of the future rather than the emptiness of the present that he has to contend with. Ward is terrific as Stephen, who he brings a lightness and humor to, despite the character’s constant awareness of his otherness.

Both actors are marvelous in their roles, making their relationship feel believable and complex. But it often feels like the script demands too much of them as individuals, to carry their arcs. Hillary’s issues with her mental health in particular feel like scenes more driven towards winning an Oscar, rather than to affect the plot or deepen the film’s themes.

And there are many themes: human connection, racism, violence, sex, Thatcherism, Blackness, and probably the most engaging of the bunch within the movie, is film itself. It’s fitting that a movie about movies looks as good as this one with Roger Deakins’ crisp cinematography, catching the traces of light in every frame, whether it is a fading cigarette or a beam of light through a dusty curtain. We’re constantly reminded that all of this is only possible because of the light.

These majestic visuals are backed up by the cutting soundtrack from Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. Their music adds a peculiar eeriness to the small town and  a melancholy that pervades Hillary and Stephen’s lives. I found myself eager to revisit many tracks, mesmerized by the mood they invoked.

The problem is that its technically marvelous cinematography, its stellar performances, and its evocative soundtrack do not serve the film’s core. Because outside of its two central characters, that core is left largely missing. And the only reason we feel something is  missing is because the film has such a scattershot approach to its many themes. Mendes’ screenplay has us moving from moment to moment without much clear focus, jumping from topic to topic with surprising bursts of violence and mania. It would all be fine if the film’s scope was narrower and concerned with the reel spinning in the projectionist’s booth, which seems to me as Mendes’ primary interest. The remaining themes in the film’s wide array of interests prevent us from approaching any of them in deeper ways.

I personally was very gripped by the film’s fascination with film, especially with the character of Norman (Tobey Jones), the projectionist who treats his booth like a shrine, adorned with posters of movie stars from yesteryears, juxtaposed with Hilary’s own stubbornness to ever watch a film herself. This culminates in a moment that is a worthy tribute to the physical space and tangible value of the cinema. Yet when the movie kept going after that point, it almost felt like Mendes was trying to prove he had other thoughts on his mind too, like we were walking out on a date with him after he detailed the contents of his Criterion collection.

By the film’s end, I was moved by its story and its characters. But after ruminating on it for some time, I realized how much of the film was filled up by my own love for the cinema. To me, the cinema  is a special place that exists outside of time, one deserving of reverence and awe. So I understand Mendes’ impulse to write an entire film about a cinema, to unpack its power and ability to connect people. What I don’t understand is Mendes’ decision to attempt to tackle racism, mental health, and sexual abuse all within this same film, without adequately giving time to any of them. If anything, trying to cover so much ground undercuts the film’s central relationship, obscuring the people with the constructs that oppress them. It’s as if the reels are spinning but frames are missing from the strip. I managed to fill those spaces with my own love for the cinema. But without that, “Empire of Light” is more its flickering dark frames than it is beams of light.

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him. Find more of his writing at www.myleyantay.com.

Read More

The Sky Talks: Capricorn Season, The Karma King

By Entertainment, Featured 89

Illustration by Shijing Li and Jade Sheng.

Capricorn season is potentially one of the most complicated cycles of the year. Capricorn is an earth sign, and its heaviness can pull you down. Capricorn season always falls at the beginning of the year, because Capricorn energy is all about planning. It’s always this time of the year that we think about what we want, what are our plans for the year, and what we want to make.

As there are no  coincidences in the cosmos, the beginning of the year is when we have a clearer understanding of what we want to change and where we want to go. We must have a vision.

I invited my colleague Kabbalistic Astrologer Batsheva Shouster to speak about the month of Capricorn:

“In Kabbalah, the month of Capricorn is considered to be one of the hardest months of the year. There is no spiritual protection. There is no spiritual filter. Meaning there is no distance between cause and effect.

 

Although it is a heavy month, it offers tremendous growth. Usually, growth does not come easy. It comes with the process of transformation and change, so when it’s hard, it doesn’t mean it is not good. It just means that there is an effort of the mind that needs to be done. It means we have to pay more attention to what we say and what we think and what our actions are.

 

Capricorn is an earth sign. It does not relate too much to emotions, even though they have it from the inside. Capricorns usually think that it’s not sufficient or practical to have emotions, but their journey is to acknowledge their emotions, to feel, and not to be controlled by their emotion, but to accept and respect emotions  as part of who they are, and respect their emotion.

 

Capricorns, usually, are born old, and they get younger later in life. This is because Capricorn is controlled by Saturn.

Saturn is considered to be the lord of karma,  a malefic planet. Saturn is a planet that is the furthest away from the sun of  the seven lower planets. Its nature is cold and dry.  People who have a strong Saturn controlling their astrological chart can be prone to depression, and sometimes they can be overly pessimistic.

 

But according to Kabbalah, Saturn is a teacher; it is also the planet that can support our spiritual growth. It can be a channel to great blessings in our life.

 

It is said in the Book of Formation, the book that is related to Abraham the patriarch who lived 5000 years ago, that Saturn is the planet that is in charge of wisdom and redemption. Redemption means I overcome my personal obstacles, my limitations, and the voices that are keeping me down and preventing me from  growing to truly succeed. Redemption is when I have access to my blessings, to my personal power to my personal divinity.

 

Wherever Saturn uses our chart, that’s where it shows us the process of growth we need to embrace.

 

This month our challenge is in our mind and in our nervous system. As Mars is in Gemini retrograde and makes some hard aspects to Mercury, the ruler of Gemini, to Venus and to the Sun. It is almost like our nervous system is being attacked.

 

Saturn itself is in Aquarius. Aquarius is also traditionally ruled by Saturn (but its modern ruler ship is Uranus).

 

So both malefic planets are in air sign: air is our communication, mind, respiratory system, all kinds of tubes in our body, the blood, and so on.

 

The way to nourish ourselves is to take care of what we can take care of.

 

In this month, it is good to get massage, to nourish the bones (ruled by Capricorn), eat healthy food, warm food, and do not go on crazy diets that can drain your mind.

 

This month is a great opportunity for each one of us to open access to our blessings so do not be afraid of challenges because they can be a door for great things in your life.

 

With love,

Batsheva Shouster”

 

In addition to being a visual artist, Diana Motta is also a Kabbalistic astrologer. She spent fourteen years immersed in kabbalah studies and graduated at the renowned Academy of Kabbalistic Astrology. She works as a professional astrologer with personalized chart reading services and as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar Brazil. You can follow her instagram profile for more astrology tips at @dika_astra_eng.

 

Read More

LGBTIQA+ Health Center Union Protests Layoffs 

By Featured, News 137

Howard Brown Health Center workers went on a strike for three days to protest the layoffs of the employees. Photo: Ankit Khadgi

When Julian Modugno, an event planner at the Howard Brown Health Center, was laid off, he wasn’t shocked. 

For the past few months, Modugno knew his position at the Health Center wasn’t secure. In November, Howard Brown management projected a $12 million shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, claiming the staff reduction was necessary. 

So when the layoffs finally arrived on Dec. 30, the news didn’t surprise Modugno who worked in the Center’s fundraising department. “I was expecting them to do this,” he said. The administration has laid off all kinds of people: those supporting the unionization of staff, those on the bargaining committee, and those who are not even supporting unionization. They are coming for anybody they want.”

For three days, from Jan. 3 to Jan. 5, Modugno participated in a strike organized by Howard Brown Health Workers United (HBHWU) – a union recently formed by the non-nursing staff members of Howard Brown Health Center. More than 400 staff gathered around the 11 locations in the North and South Side, where they protested the layoffs of 60 staff, citing it as an unfair labor practice. 

Howard Brown staff joined a nationwide upsurge in the labor movement, which has seen a dramatic rise in unionization and strike activity since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Health care employees in particular – who were frontline workers during the pandemic – have been organizing against unsafe working conditions and understaffing, most recently the strike of 7,000 nurses in New York City. Their complaints of burnout, understaffing and unsafe working conditions were shared by Howard Brown workers, which impelled both nurses and the striking non-nursing staff to unionize.

The downsizing at Howard Brown Health Center poses a serious problem for the already vulnerable queer population – especially people of color– who often struggle to find a safe space where one’s health needs can be met. Furthermore, in a climate where there’s a constant attack on LGBTIQA+ health-affirming services along with the rise of queerphobic sentiments, the layoffs of staff at the health center have raised concerns among queer folks.

The disputed history of the Health Center

Established in 1974, Howard Brown Health Center is one of America’s significant health centers dedicated to queer people. At the Health Center, patients can seek various health services, including therapy, sexual and reproductive health services, psychiatric help, gender-affirming care, etc., for an affordable cost.

On its website, the center claims that it serves more than 40,000 people annually, including homeless queer people for whom it acts as a safe haven. However, the Center has also been in the news for misuse of federal research funds and a history of mismanagement..

Between 2005 to 2010, the center misspent the research funds granted by the federal government. Instead of using the grant research money for an HIV/AIDS study, it was found that the center used them for operating costs. The Center – whose future was in jeopardy because of this scandal – agreed to return $715,000 to the federal government, two years after the news of the misspending broke out.

Although things did slowly get better for the Health Center, the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 severely affected the staff and their well-being. Employees who spoke to F Newsmagazine shared that during the pandemic staff of the center risked their lives by exposing themselves to COVID-19. But instead of acknowledging the staff’s labor and contribution, Modugno claims that the management remained apathetic to them.

“Our CEO got a 33 percent raise during the pandemic,” Modugno said. “However our frontline workers who literally risked their lives weren’t paid fairly. The pandemic showed a lot of staff that management will literally work you to death and that they won’t even give you a pay bump for it.” 

Cynthia McDonald, a community health worker who worked as the Ryan White Part D Medical Case Manager at the South Side clinics of the Health Center, told F Newsmagazine that many of her colleagues at the health center struggled to work with inadequate support throughout the pandemic.

“It seemed like from 2020 to 2022, I was getting a lot of goodbye emails, including from people who have been at Howard Brown for a long time,” says McDonald, who also was laid off the same day as Modugno. “Even during the height of Covid, the health workers were never really prioritized. They never got hazard pay, and PPE was sparse. It got a bit better once the Health Center received federal dollars for Covid, but the Executive Leadership Team gave themselves raises during that time,” she adds.

Data released by ProPublica, an investigative news organization, shows that the President and CEO of the Health Center, David Ernesto Munar, received a $100,000 raise during the coronavirus pandemic. This irked staff members, who told F Newsmagazine that they constantly struggle to even get a minimum raise whereas the top administrators received as much as a two-fold increase in a span of five years.

“There’s no way to get a raise at Howard Brown without getting a promotion,” said Modugno. The center is understaffed, and the staff is paid low. We don’t think that’s fair.”  

The birth of Howard Brown Health Workers United

Last year in August, non-nursing staff at Howard Brown Health Center decided to form their union. Photo Courtesy: HBHCW

In 2019, the registered nursing staff at Howard Brown Health Center formed a union and joined hands with the Illinois Nurses Association. Until last year, the non-nursing workers at the health center didn’t have a formal union. But what they regarded as management’s lack of concern during the pandemic impelled them to form a union that could speak for them. In August 2022, Howard Brown Health Workers United was officially formed by the non-nursing staff who also picked the Illinois Nurses Association as their representative. 

We seek to form a union because we recognize that we cannot take care of the patients we serve if we ourselves are not taken care of. We seek to protect the unique culture and vision that has made Howard Brown such a special and influential place of change and healing in Chicago,” reads a statement released by (HBHWU).

After winning union recognition, members of the collective started negotiating their first contracts in early November. The rumors of mass layoffs had already spread, troubling the workers as their livelihood was at risk. So, in a bid to save jobs, the union began negotiations with the administration and organized a protest rally on Dec. 3.

“In most of the negotiations, they have been very insulting towards us,” said Modugno. Whenever we submit proposals, the administration refuses to respond. They say they are ready to work with the union, but their action says otherwise.”

Even the bargaining happened in bad faith, recalls McDonald. On the first day of negotiation, the administration gave a list of positions that they wanted to let go of. But instead of firing the staff, according to union members, the administration suggested the workers do voluntary separations. 

Still, on Dec. 30, around 60 employees without prior information or advance notice were laid off from their jobs. On that day, each of them received an email – which wasn’t even addressed to them by name – stating that their position at the Center was compromised because of the financial challenges, and they couldn’t work anymore from Jan 3 onwards.

McDonald, who has been working with the Health Center for almost four years, shares that she went through a series of emotions when she found out about the layoff. “I was shocked, angry, hurt, scared, and depressed. I also felt really fearful for our patients because they rely on services like in power, behavioral health, and my position for resources that help their very lives. Management has just ignored that and has no proper plan to continue to offer these services that our patients rely on,” she says.

During the three-day strike, many current workers who weren’t laid off joined the picket line in the rain.

“This week we came together as a union and a community to show our management that we are bigger than them, stronger than them, and more compassionate than them. This has been an incredible and transformative experience for all of us and has given me the strength for the fight we still have ahead of us, both to win our colleagues’ jobs back and to win the best contract we possibly can,” Andrea Villanueva, a care specialist who has been working at Howard Brown for two and half years said.

Meanwhile, the layoffs and the strike have also received attention from members of the City Council. Alders Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward) Daniel La Spata (1st Ward), Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), Janette Taylor (20th Ward), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), Matt Martin (47th Ward) and Maria Hadden (49th Ward) showed their concern by signing a letter to the Chicago Department of Public Health. In the letter, they asked the Department to respond to the unfolding crisis and made inquiries about funding the health center receives from the department.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union, United Working Families, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) were joined in the picket line. 

What is the union demanding? 

The HBHWU stress that their first priority is to reinstate all those employees who were laid off on Dec. 30. Furthermore, the union’s goal is also to make the Center reflect on their work environment. Union members told F that they are dissatisfied with the current working conditions at the health center and are demanding changes that will make them feel valued for their labor.

“What I would like to see is more equitable services in all the clinics, a clinic on the South Side with space to work without heating, ventilation, and air conditioning issues, power outages, and brown water. I also want some respect from the leadership team and management towards their workers and patients. I want Howard Brown Health Center to actually live up to its mission statement,” McDonald wrote in an email.

How is the administration reacting?

Publicly, the administration has stated that they are ready to work with the union. In a statement released on Dec. 7, President Munar expressed that the center will be compassionate towards the staff and the union members and will bargain in good faith.

“We are working collaboratively with leaders across the agency and our union to advance compassionate plans for departing employees and continuity plans to reset teams for success in meeting patient needs. In all cases where changes may impact union members, Howard Brown will bargain with the union first and in good faith,” reads their statement.

The union alleges the Health Center has committed 19 violations of federal labor law.

“Working conditions are often unsustainable. There is severe understaffing leading to most people being extremely overworked, especially on the south side. Patients have to wait months for appointments for even simple needs. It’s a mess,” shares Villanueva.

 In an email response to Windy City Times, President Munar denies the union’s allegations 

“Howard Brown Health is confident that no labor laws were violated. We have not been contacted by the assigned agent of the National Labor Relations Board regarding alleged charges filed by the union. Our decision to move forward with a workforce reduction is legal and critical to address the real challenge of the unexpected revenue shortfall. Our commitment to our patients now and in the future requires us to act swiftly to stabilize the agency’s budget to provide health care services to our diverse communities,” he told Windy City Times. 

Wren O’Kelley, Communication Manager at Howard Brown Health Center also told F Newsmagazine, that the downsizing of staff happened legally and was needed to solve the upcoming budgetary crisis, the Health Center is suffering from.

“As far as compensation, every single employee that separated from Howard Brown as part of the workforce reduction received a severance package,” she wrote in an email to F Newsmagazine

 “When faced with the need for layoffs, cuts were made strategically to ensure that we would be able to maintain the standard and breadth of care that we’re known for. Part of this process has been understanding many places where processes have been redundant or inefficient in a way that has negatively affected our ability to deliver services. So although we may have a smaller teams, we’re taking this opportunity to reassess and reorganize how we do what we do so that we’re able to maintain and even exceed the vital care we offer to the community,” she added.

For the union members, they say that their fight against the Health Center has just started. Although there’s no guarantee that the laid-off staff will get their jobs back, union members are still hopeful that their collective effort will lead to improvements.
“Our future plans are to continue to meet with management at bargaining and also file a push for the unfair labor practices to be adjudicated. Our hope is that through this process, we can win back the jobs of everyone illegally laid off and win a fair contract,” McDonald wrote in an email.

Ankit Khadgi (MAVCS 2024) is a Nepali queer storyteller based in Chicago. He hates people who eat momo with ketchup and mayonnaise and drink Chai Tea.

Read More

Everyone’s Doing It!

By Comics, Featured, Featured Comics 83

Transcript: "Everybody's Doing It!" is a one-panel editorial cartoon. At the top of the cartoon, a logo representing SAIC is jumping off a cliff, throwing behind itself a mask onto a larger pile of masks on the cliff. SAIC is jumping into the water below, where we see four other colleges swimming, represented by their logos: Saint Louis University, DePaul University, Roosevelt University, and University of Chicago. The waterhole the colleges are swimming in is a sickly green color, dozens of virus particles swimming around them. The colleges seem not to notice and cheer on SAIC as it joins them down below. 

“Everybody’s Doing It!” by Teddie Bernard.

Transcript: “Everybody’s Doing It!” is a one-panel editorial cartoon. At the top of the cartoon, a logo representing SAIC is jumping off a cliff, throwing behind itself a mask onto a larger pile of masks on the cliff. SAIC is jumping into the water below, where we see four other colleges swimming, represented by their logos: Saint Louis University, DePaul University, Roosevelt University, and University of Chicago. The waterhole the colleges are swimming in is a sickly green color, dozens of virus particles swimming around them. The colleges seem not to notice and cheer on SAIC as it joins them down below.

See More

Awkward Horror: A New Genre of Horror Film

By Entertainment, Featured 120

Illustration by Ketaki Kulkarni.

Browse the horror streaming service Shudder or comb the depths of Wikipedia, and you’ll find “horror” is really an umbrella term covering dozens of specific, well-studied subgenres. At its best, horror holds a mirror to society, and subgenres arise or adapt to reflect contemporary fears. So, while homicidal maniacs are hardly an invention of the 20th century, suburban slasher films emerged in the late 1970s/1980s to exploit Reagan-era worry that a rise in urban crime would soon affect “real Americans.” Likewise, the bloodsuckers of vampire fiction have at different times symbolized immigrants, colonizers, queer sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and a myriad of other concerns prevalent in radically different ideological camps.

But what scares us now? Fears of death and disease remain universal, but for the growing mass of anxious adults spending less and less time with friends, terror rises from increasingly pedestrian circumstances. As our public lives and interactions continue to “go virtual,” formerly routine social scenarios become voyages into the unknown. Given enough isolation and atomization, a simple exchange with a cashier resembles a Lovecraftian encounter with some eldritch god: paralyzing, as indescribable dread floods the failing mind.

That’s where awkward horror comes in. Founded on fraught social scenarios, the as-of-yet unnoticed subgenre I’m calling “awkward horror” typically involves characters in a strange environment, either meeting new people or getting to know someone better. The core danger is almost always human in these stories, but unlike a lot of slasher or home invasion movies, the unassuming villains of awkward horror aren’t an apparent threat when introduced. When those villains’ sadistic intentions are made clear, though, awkward horror affirms the worst fears of characters and audience members. In awkward horror, the discomfort or embarrassment common in these mostly innocuous exchanges balloons into agony and terrific acts of violence.

Though it’s a new designation, awkward horror overlaps with certain identified subgenres, and plenty of horror classics use awkwardness to their advantage. For example, “folk horror” necessarily involves folkloric elements, but the subgenre often succeeds when rational protagonists come up against humans’ unfounded belief in paganistic traditions. Director Robin Hardy’s classic folk horror film “The Wicker Man” (1973) takes this approach, as does Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” (2019). And when “Midsommar’s” protagonists Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) travel with Christian’s friends to rural Hälsingland, Sweden, the ever-awkward clash of cultures amplifies some equally awkward dynamics: Dani and Christian’s failing relationship, as well as petty competition among graduate students.  Propelled as much by pagan practices as by characters’ failures to communicate and cooperate, “Midsommar” illustrates the perils of disconnectedness through headstrong individuals who are no match for the unified Hårga cultists.

Although “Midsommar’s” fish-out-of-water framing resembles that of Jordan Peele’s debut film “Get Out” (2017), the latter horror hit is sometimes filed under “social horror.” A demeaning, catch-all term for movies “with something to say,” the concept of social horror implies the insufficient scariness of such films while also dismissing a trove of rich and layered stories as vapid torture porn. So, rather than exiling a Black filmmaker’s Black-led work to the Sunken Place of social horror, “Get Out” is best understood as operating at one extreme end of awkwardness. Awkward horror revels in the uneasiness that comes with some introductions or staying in a stranger’s home, and “Get Out” augments both with the differently privileged cultural divides that leave Black Americans feeling like foreigners in their own country. Get Outuniquely skewers the kinder, gentler racism of white liberals, but as a racially amplified work of awkward horror, its allegorical elements and grotesque turns stem from a situation that’s familiar for many viewers of color: meeting a white partner’s parents for the first time.

Yet where a lifetime of Blackness primes “Get Out’s” protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to question the Armitage family’s intentions, inbuilt cautiousness doesn’t exist to aid the “heroes” of director Christian Talfdrup’s new movie “Speak No Evil” (2022). When the film’s Danish stars Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) befriend a Dutch couple while vacationing in Tuscany, the latter pair is lively and a little eccentric, but there’s no guessing at the bottomless depravity of Patrick (Fedja van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders).

It’s understandable that Bjørn and Louise take their daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) to spend a weekend with the couple and their son Abel (Marius Damslev) in rural Holland, but what unfolds is the purest example of awkward horror to date. There are no dungeons or “Saw”-like contraptions awaiting the Danes; instead, Patrick and Karin’s crude behaviors accumulate beyond several breaking points. Shortly after the Danes’ arrival, Patrick feigns ignorance of Louise’s vegetarianism, and he pressures his guest to eat boar. Later incidents of drunk driving, loud music, and aggressive parenting are unsettling, but any dissent from Bjørn or Louise is met with backhanded apologies that trigger debilitating guilt. Bjørn and Louise’s failure to forego niceness proves disastrous for their family, making “Speak No Evil’s” overarching message a nightmarish truth for those too anxious to make a scene: politeness is meaningless in the face of barbarism.

A sentiment that’s critical in every work of awkward horror, this underlying theme of “Speak No Evil” is also clear in “Get Out” and “Midsommar.” Far from affirming the Sartre-derived horror trope that “hell is other people,” though, these and other works of awkward horror only acknowledge the reality that some extraordinarily cruel people exist and can’t be swayed with niceness. In the cases of “Speak No Evil,” “Get Out,” and “Midsommar,” the antidote for wickedness is the same: togetherness, whether it’s through familial love, Black solidarity, or lasting friendship. A modern and refreshingly progressive horror subgenre, awkward horror recognizes isolation as a dangerous weakness and proposes human connection as our only defense against the powerful forces that mean to do us harm.

Read More

House

By Comics, Featured, Featured Comics 143

Transcript:  A vauge-figure walks throughout the house-shaped-comic. Panel 1: The figure rummages through a box in the attic space, under a crescent moon. Panel 2: The figure walks across the attic Panel 3+4 : the figure descends a ladder from the attic to the second-floor landing. Panel 5+ 6 : the figure walks through the hall towards a grand staircase Panel 7 : the figure descends the stars to the first floor Panel 8 : the figure passes a decorative side-table and wall space filled with several portraits and a large vase. Panel 9: the figure reaches a door at the end of the hall and slowly opens it. Panel 10: the figure enters a room, dark and empty save for a large canopy bed in the center, where a woman rests. Panel 11: the figure gently hands over an amulet to the woman. The woman is old and weak. She thanks the figure; “Thank you, Dear”

House by Alex Sensiba.

Transcript:  A vauge-figure walks throughout the house-shaped-comic.
Panel 1: The figure rummages through a box in the attic space, under a crescent moon.
Panel 2: The figure walks across the attic
Panel 3+4 : the figure descends a ladder from the attic to the second-floor landing.
Panel 5+ 6 : the figure walks through the hall towards a grand staircase
Panel 7 : the figure descends the stars to the first floor
Panel 8 : the figure passes a decorative side-table and wall space filled with several
portraits and a large vase.
Panel 9: the figure reaches a door at the end of the hall and slowly opens it.
Panel 10: the figure enters a room, dark and empty save for a large canopy bed in the center, where a
woman rests.
Panel 11: the figure gently hands over an amulet to the woman. The woman is old and weak. She
thanks the figure; “Thank you, Dear”

See More