BAHA'IS IN IRAN

BY RICHARD HALL

ILLUSTRATION BY SARAH VALENZUELA

   The news has been rife with talk of the middle east for as long as I can remember. Today when it’s not Trump or Kim Kardashian getting robbed, it’s ISIS or, more recently, the Iran Deal.  Iran has finally agreed to dismantle its nuclear arsenal or at least chill with the “death to America” rhetoric. In the eyes of Americans and many in the west, this is an accomplishment. However, for Iran’s largest religious minority, the Baha’i Faith, and others such as Christians, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, and Jews, these lofty headlines are far from substantial. As the media praises Iran for its so called “soaring heights” in humanitarian reform, the Baha’is in particular see a different side to these claims of western media, and the claims of the Ayatollah.

    Iran Press Watch paints a different picture of the Iranian government’s supposed westernization of the country. Members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran are under constant threat of imprisonment for minor and even trumped up crimes. There are many accounts of imprisonment for crimes such as congregating and praying with one another. Baha’i owned shops and businesses are routinely shut down. Prospective Baha’i college students are denied access to universities unless they denounce their faith on paper. Holy sites are routinely destroyed such as the homes of the Faith’s Prophets, Baha’u’llah and The Bab. And despite all the violence we aren’t even allowed to bury our dead as Baha’i graveyards are constantly dug up and defiled. In one such incident the historic graveyard in Shiraz was paved over with concrete, and atop it was placed a cultural center which includes a library, gym, restaurants, and a Mosque. This abhorrent act was carried out by Iran’s revolutionary guard, a volunteer militia group that reportedly receives orders from the Ayatollah himself.

    As a Baha’i myself, I have strong feelings towards the treatment of my brothers and sisters of the Faith. The Baha’i faith is a religion that promotes unity of all people regardless of their race, gender, or faith. We hold the prophets of all major religions, including Krishna, Zoroaster, Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammad, to the same exalted station as our prophets The Bab and Baha’u’llah. We also read the Bible and Quran alongside our own scriptures. Many people in government figures and even prominent Imams of the Islamic Faith have spoken out against the unfair treatment of Baha’is in Iran. However, their voices are lost to the tempest of petty political squabbles and celebrity gossip because that’s what people want to see on the news apparently. No nation has the right to call itself modern when such barbarism is permitted and institutionalized within its borders.

“A man who does great good and talks not of it is on his way to perfection. The man who has accomplished a small good and magnify it in his speech is worth very little”.

-Abdul Baha

To learn more about the teachings and history of the Faith, Baha’i.org offers a more detailed description.


PRESCRIPTION IDENTITY

BY GAVIN QUINN

ILLUSTRATION BY BRITTANY FUCIK

    When making a list of controversial and sensitive topics that are prevalent today, I wouldn’t expect zodiac signs to be anywhere near the top of that list; four-fifths of the way down, maybe, but definitely not a hot and trending topic. To my surprise, when I pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the changing astrological signs, the room dissembled into chaos. This was some serious Lord of the Flies type regression, all over what a little ideogram meant to everybody present.

    Debating whether or not the signs changed isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the conversation sparked at the prospect of alteration. Why does this matter so much to so many people? The concept of your personality being tied to the constellation you were born under seems inherently ridiculous, yet thousands of people ascribe their identities to these star signs.

    Part of the reason zodiac horoscopes seem to just get us is the generality with which they speak. Looking over my description for a Libra, I’m supposed to be cooperative and social, with a passion for harmony and a vengeance for violence. That sounds great on the surface, and tempting as it may be to agree with it and move on, consider how many other people embody those traits without being born between September and October. When making bold generalizations about millions of people, it’s easy to hit the mark some of the time.

    Even when a horoscope’s description of you doesn’t feel in line with your personality, it’s still easy to fall into the mentality that your horoscope makes up a piece of who you are. Part of this is due to the style of writing most zodiac descriptions employ: “As a Virgo, you can be stubborn at times but are also extremely loyal and kind.” After learning that you’re a Virgo, it’s remarkably easy to read that sentence and take it as a prescription to your identity. Maybe you have a casual interest in reading books, but after learning a Virgo’s favorite activity is reading you have a faux-realization that reading is actually your favorite pastime as well.

    That’s also not to say that zodiacs are the sole source of identity afflictions people may encounter. Popular personality tests such as the Meyers-Briggs and Enneagram quizzes base their entire conceit around developing a personality for someone’s perception of self in one moment of time. For example, I’m currently an ENFJ and Type Two Helper, but both of these have changed more times than my major. Right before sitting down to write this, I decided to take the enneagram quiz again, only to find that my personality was now split between types two, five, and seven.  

    Self-identity is such a fickle thing, and finding a reaffirming source like a star sign or personality test makes it so simple to hold on to that one result and cradle it as your end-all answer for selfhood. The great news is that people’s personalities are meant to be dynamic! It’s okay for your shifting worldviews to be reflected in the way you act, it’s part of growth and aspiring to become a better you. Maybe you identify with being an Aries and INTP one year, but it’s more than understandable for you to be something else two years from then. We all have aspects of every star sign in us; it’s these changes we go through that end up composing the beautiful, dynamic self-determination that is identity.


HOW TO GET BETTER AT THRIFTING IN FIVE STEPS

BY SARAH DUNAVANT

So you’re scrolling through your favorite fashion and DIY blogs, envious as they brag about all the cute things they claim to have found at Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other local thrift shops. They show off their like-new jewelry and purses, the high waisted jeans that fit them like a glove, and sundresses that could be straight out of a Vogue summer issue. You picture your dingy local Thrift Town, with its stained t-shirts and full rack of maternity dresses. You remember the times you’ve walked out of that shop emotionally drained and holding nothing but a couple oversized men’s sweaters. In the summer.

As frustrating as it can be, thrifting is a great option for broke college students who long for more new clothes than their near-empty bank accounts can get us at retail prices. So the question is: How the hell do I get a Pinterest-worthy wardrobe from dirty thrift stores?

If you live in a big city or college town – particularly Austin – you’re already at an advantage. Living in a young, cool area means that the things donated to your local shops are more often coming from people who are young and cool. But that doesn’t mean very much if you’re intimidated by the stores themselves, so here are five easy ways to become a better thrift shopper.

1.       Be okay with leaving empty handed.

You won’t always find something. Even to an experienced thrifter, sometimes shops really don’t have anything good. That’s not USUALLY the case, especially in Austin, but it definitely happens. One of the worst things you can do is buy something you don’t love just to avoid leaving the store empty handed.

2.       UTILIZE THE DRESSING ROOMS.

For the first few years after I started thrifting, I only ever bought big sweaters and flannels and I never used dressing rooms. I knew that shit would fit me. But now I leave thrift stores with cute dresses and shorts and blouses and it’s all because I realized the amazing power of the dressing room. This is how you thrift: you pick up anything that appeals slightly to you and might fit you. You go to the dressing room with full arms. And you try it all on. Because nothing looks the same on a hanger as it does on your body, and you never know what you’ll look good in.

3.       Don’t be afraid of ANY section.

A lot of people avoid the shoe section, pant section, and accessory section of thrift stores. They think only shirts and jackets can be bought used for some reason. But I’m here to tell you that a lot of those girls with mom jeans really did buy them thrift stores, and I really did personally find Timberland boots for $10 once, and the purse I use daily really was $3.  Don’t avoid the sections that seem less fruitful. A lot of the time, checking those sections will pay off.

4.       Buy some strong scissors and cut your clothes up!

Last week, I went thrift shopping with my girlfriend. I bought this ankle-length cotton dress that was a little baggy on me. She didn’t believe I could make it work. But that night, I pulled out my scissors, cut it to make it shorter, and now it’s one of my favorite garments. She thinks I look really cute in it. So BE CREATIVE! Buy ugly flared pants and make them cute cutoffs, buy dresses that are too big and get them tailored. Don’t be afraid of alterations.

5.       Bring friends!

Buying new stuff alone is fun, but like most things, it’s way more fun with friends. Plus, your friends are good people to bounce alteration ideas off of and they’re likely to be honest about how you look in the garments you try on. Make it an outing! That way, you’ll have fun whether you find nothing or your new favorite pants.


THAT STUPID FEELING

BY SEAN CUBILLAS

In our darkest hours, we find it hard to trust ourselves.  We become doubtful of what we can do and what is possible.  When presented with our shortcomings and limitations, a lot of people come to the conclusion that they are “stupid.”  This is to say that when a teacher calls upon a student, they find themselves without an answer, or when someone enters that awkward conversation about something they don’t know and they feel excluded.  Stupid, as defined by society, is to be ignorant or nonsensical given a situation.  They lack the components that make a person “smart.”  Well, what is “smart”?  What makes a person “stupid”?  It is arguable that everyone has potential genius within them.  This is evident in the afterthought of shortcomings, when a person is presented an intense clarity of what went wrong and why.  They realize what they were missing, but because of the competitive culture that we live in, some come to think that it is too late.  The answer itself was so relatively close to them that, rather than thinking they “could have”, they believe they “should have.”  Breaking this mental barrier has been proven to allow the individual a great capacity to learn.  This is to say, anyone and everyone can become “smart” if they’re given the chance.  If we live under this pretense that anyone and everyone has, within reason, potential, that stupidity is not just a matter of the lack of opportunity, then what is “stupidity”? 

What limits the individual’s potential is the emotional and irrational self.  Manfred Spitzer, writer of the article, The Brain is Always Learning as It Cannot Function Any Other Way, claims that the problem with society in “learning” is that people value self-realization over self-actualization.  A person, in this case, can consider they so smart and talented, yet have no practiced skills; they create this illusionary belief that they can pass a test or play any instrument.  This is nothing more than the self-entitled human ego convincing us to look at reality idealistically.

“It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.”

-Jon Krakauer, (Into the Wild, Page 155)

In the event that these beliefs become crushed, that they didn’t pass the test, or they were terrible on the piano, the individual becomes disillusioned.  What they thought they knew, their basic beliefs and life itself, become distorted, leaving them intimidated by the seemingly overwhelming external world.  The reason a person may fail to learn and make themselves “stupid” is when they make the decision that the world inside their head is better than the outside world, and they simply move on without any self-vindication.  In a society that likes the idea of making dreams come true, there is this idealism that keeps people simply dreaming.

Given that modern culture is centered on easily accessible technology and reassuring social media, a self-realizing culture is evident and, perhaps, may be stifling society of the values displayed above.  Another issue with “stupidity” is its ability to make people second guess themselves, and in this world where a vast library of information is at everyone’s fingertips, it’s easy to second guess.  In Spitzer’s article, he states that the human mind is always consuming information, no matter what.  It is physically impossible for a person to not learn through repetition, experience, or some other means.  Rather than learn holistically, with their “heart, mind, and hands,” modern society tends to depend on digital media to provide them observations, only consuming a virtual, demonstrated knowledge.  When a person looks at the world as superficially as people now have been allotted, they’ll tend to only remember the more vocal parts.  Ignorance nowadays is spewed by the generalizations and quotations people derive from social media and pageant worthy news.  “Stupidity” in this case is not only a fear or intimidation of inadequacy but also the murky clarity of arrogance.  What’s worse is that such stupidity, provided the volume and plurality, and is cultivating the Orwellian nightmare that society may one day think 2+2=5, just because someone or something told us so.

Stupidity is the act of actualizing knowledge and self-potential.  It is the act of letting negativity cloud judgement.  It is the act of letting too much positivity force judgement.  To tie back to earlier remarks, anyone and everyone can become “smart,” but it is an act of progression, not a state of being.  No one is “smart.”  They’re only human enough to know how bad it is to be “stupid.”  Such a concept is lost in a society that tends to look at itself in the mirror and is able to see anything.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs does say that people should first self-realize before they self-actualize, but it does place an emphasis that both must be taken together to create a whole individual.  “Stupidity” itself is cultivated by the ignorance of society, the convenience of chance, and the arrogance of the self.  To conquer deception, one must conquer their perceptions, learn and understand so as not to become vulnerable by ineptitude and superficiality.  We cannot escape these shortcomings, but we can learn to survive what they do to us.  We can learn to still trust ourselves.  It is this actualized trust that keeps people from truly becoming stupid.


SPRAY PAINTED REFLECTIONS

BY BETSY MCKINNEY

Graffiti Park is a cultural haven brimming with urbanity, nestled behind South Lamar. I retreat here to further explore and hypothesize its unique people and art. Its mammoth concrete slabs are fixed on a heavily inclined slope, containing countless pieces of self-expression brought to us through the medium of spray paint: and consequently, a light, but satisfying, headache. This is an important zenith of the Austin-scene. It is a landscape of fun, of scenery, of an emotion-laden experience with a can, a colorful wall, and the corners of our creativity.

To me, this relationship is worth exploring as I witness others—and myself—interact with our castle environment.

The people, pictures, and a strange array of possibilities turned time ephemeral. Though I have climbed these layers of colored concrete a dozen times before, I just now ask myself: “Is this feeling of prospect always so present in the heart of the spray-paint artist?” I answer yes, not because I myself have created on the mural, but as just a witness, I feel overcome by the feeling of possibility.

This feeling of wonder persists as my time during these first two visits was chiefly spent observing the oddities and personalities of people. I first-handedly noticed their focus, attention unmoving, single-mindedly gliding across their canvas. This is a life-style: a scattering of children and teenagers sketch happy phrases, the curl of the “y” in “I LOVE YOU” left incomplete to traverse another level of rock. But the castle walls of the spray-paint artist is a sacred space, perhaps their means of crafting their own physical sense of this world.

I imagine the spray-paint artist decorates the walls of this public display with the walls of his mind. May I learn to communicate with such un-departed authenticity.

These feelings of assuredness gives me the confidence to exhibit my own artistic style, of seeing this kingdom of artifacts as more than a scribbled, crowded wall. I bend, grabbing the inside of my foot, extend my leg to Dancer pose as fulfillment melts into my psyche, traces my open heart. I laugh at my un-stretched muscles, my wavering balance, the stumble forward. I thank the castle for its fortitude, for decorating itself with just about everything except a status-quo.

How exhilarating it is to exist in a center of humor and identity-exploration! I would like to think that time-to-time the spray-paint artist laughs at an oversight in detail, and celebrates it inside this colorful environment of searching. 


REASONING BEHIND ADMIRATION

BY SEAN CUBILLAS

“… Superman is just this perfect human pop-culture distillation of a really basic idea.  He’s a good guy.  He loves us.  He will not stop in defending us.  How beautiful is that?  He’s like a sci-fi Jesus.  He’ll never let you down…  We made a little paper universe where all of the above is true.”-Grant Morrison

What is admiration?  Beyond materialism, dignity, and love itself, admiration is man’s strongest guiding force.  Admiration occurs when one is presented with an idea beyond immediate comprehension, a figure powerful yet so specific and tangible, that the dichotomy of reason collapses.  It’s an endless “aha” moment when a person tries on glasses for the first time and experiences this untold clarity before them.  Within the same token, one may read a book and find themselves inspired by its themes and ideas that their political, social, and personal views have now become reshaped.  Look towards the cult following of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, which inspired early Americans of the virtues of independence or J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which defined youths to take a new look at conformity.  From the smallest event may arise a paradigm shift, which can change a person forever. It is a reaction derived from subconscious introspection and man’s insecure need for sanctuary, a helm of reason.

  
Here, lies the power of admiration.  By definition, it is without reason.  It is a reaction to unexplained events.  But man, a creature so curious and active, will try to create reason where reason does not exist. Sigmund Freud defines that man’s “drive” acts accordingly towards their preferences in stimuli, where love, hunger, and sex are sought to create pleasure or negative experiences are used to embrace the idea of mortality and allow one to take risks or act passionately.  If we assume that admiration is derived from events with unexplained outcomes, then Freud’s explanation of drive is man’s rationalization of events to a more human form where feelings of admiration act as a catalyst towards actions to be interpreted by love and death.  From this comes man’s actions and expressions toward the world.  In the world of art and media, this resolve of admiration culminates in the form of stories, characters, and various icons used to symbolize those interpretations.


Superheroes are the perfect examples of this effect in media.  Grant Morrison in his novel, Supergods, has expressed the relationship between the fantasy and idealism of comics with the virtues and wants of man.  Superheroes symbolize man’s greatest themes of hope and courage.  Superman represents the want of man to maintain the ideal good and the hope that things will always be alright.  Batman represents that through loss, if one maintains the will and courage, greatness and even change may appear.  With their flashy costumes, incredible powers, and fantastical stories, superheroes arrive in the mind of the reader as icons of personal strength and virtue.  The very basis of admiration is that anything is now possible, because the impossible has been conceived, and that is very true of the grand world of comics and superheroes.  It’s true of all fiction, history, religions, and even small events, such as getting glasses.  The admiration that arises from any moment may be used to strengthen and inspire action to the next.


"I AM A PERSON, AND I AM A PERSON IN RECOVERY"

BY BETSY MCKINNEY

“We are entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.”

My favorite dress is a galaxy:

It’s cotton and short, and flicked with pinky constellations.

And today, my pride was a galaxy:

It allowed a hesitant perch on the couch of a routine Al-Anon meeting, a brew of chronic affirmations of support and community and this time--the alcoholics. They gathered in the nearby room for their meeting.

They seemed sulking and dangerous, my uneasiness predetermining their capability to heal.

But today, recovery was a symphony:

A low melody of sad male voices thumped to The Lord’s Prayer in the adjoining room; a shy, subtle descant of a pinched female voice clucked about Letting Go and Letting God. The tempered businessman plucked at the rubber band holding together his weathered copy of Courage to Change.

the tiny, pitiful room lilted with hope, and my galaxy seemed so minute, it could seep into a keyhole.

This is the feat of recovery today: overcoming predispositions of shame and stigma through their voices, unveiling hope, identifying bursts of light to create a galaxy of constellations.

And our attitude of recovery could be the reason someone decides to reclaim their life free of alcohol and drugs.

Connor Smith attributes stigma as why he did not begin his journey to recovery when he was initially searching for solutions--being told his inability to change was a “willpower” problem, fearing the label of “junkie” as he entered the professional world. He has been clean and sober three years and nine months and today is the Assistant Director of Recovery and Bystander Intervention at UT Tyler.

Recovery does not have a face, only a message: Connor wants others to know it has allowed him to be hopeful after years of feeling hopeless; Maddie Sheffer, a freshman at St. Edward’s University, says that through recovery, her unmanageable life could become serene. For them, and everyone I encountered the night I became aware of my galaxy, their journey to recovery looked different: but their progress from pain to hopefulness is representative of the possibility of positive change in everyone’s lives.

A group of unconventional, maybe even intimidating people taught me recovery is a song--exposing my own defects of character, sung by people broken from disease and asking for understanding.


THE WEEKND, LANA DEL REY CONTENT ROOTED IN CURIOUS TREND

BY GABRIELLE WILKOSZ

Better known by his stage name, The Weeknd, Abel Tesfaye has distinguished himself as an artist with catchy, distorted beats and along with actor/rapper/Nicki-Minaj-fan-club-President Drake, is considered by many to be Canada’s apology for Celine Dion and her consequent 30 year career of belting sad French songs.

However the fact of the matter remains, while trip-hop artist Tesfaye's song The Hills spends a second week at No. 1 becoming the best-selling and most-heard song in the U.S, the methods by which Tesfaye and other popular artists push boundaries to distinguish themselves has been following a remarkably dark trend: running women over with a big, fat truck of misogyny, calling it ‘trendy’ and then backing up and running over women again.

Putting aside Tesfaye’s endorsement of serious drug use, an element of the artist’s work that’s perhaps more problematic than expressing a love for the hard stuff is Tesfaye’s repeated desecration of the women he encounters in his songs, objectifying, ignoring, and poetically disenfranchising them. Yet he does this with such tact and precision that when held against the bumbling sexist lyrics of 90s rappers like Ice Cube and the more comedic Biz Markie, Tesfaye is almost undetectable in his deconstruction of the female psyche. Almost.

Anyone with access to metrolyrics.com can see for themselves Tesfaye, or at least the stage presence he sings as, has little interest in finding sexual partners on his level. Rather, Tesfaye’s person as The Weeknd capitalizes on lording over women before telling them they should have known better than to get involved with him. In The Hills, Tesfaye sings threateningly to a female sexual partner, “I just fucked two bitches 'fore I saw you/And you gon' have to do it at my tempo.” Tesfaye prides himself in only valuing this woman as a resource for casual sex, but also makes his intensions of controlling her in the bedroom clear. As far as he is concerned, she’s just going to have to deal with it.

 This is not the only time Tesfaye’s interactions with women unfold in a clearly unhealthy manner. The Weeknd’s latest album Beauty Before the Madness is riddled time and time again with motifs of abuse, female denigration and the double-edged sword of female sexual freedom. In all of its addictive yet bizarre glory, by this time Tesfaye's music and his sexually backwards lyrics are no longer the one-time magic formula of a one-hit-wonder, but rather his recipe for “gangster falls in love with the trashed beauty queen” pop success.

In September Forbes’  Nick Messitte noted the “curious streak” behind The Weeknd's chart-topping, attributing the success of Tesfaye’s depressed pop vibrato to a certain predictable behavior of music listeners. Messitte argues Tesfaye’s I Can’t Feel My Face mirrors predecessors such as Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lorde’s Royals.The Weekend now follows the same trend of satisfying listeners’ once-in-a-blue-moon cry for atypical pop seeped in genre and subject matter. However, instead of Kobain’s angsty nonsensical poetry or Lorde’s abstract, glittering commentary on European classism, Tesfaye chooses women as an artistic target upon which to throw sexually-charged darts. Unfortunately,he’s not the only one to pick up on the trendiness of this female subordination motif in music. Females, notably pop-noir queen Lana Del Rey, has been getting in on the anti-women sentiment too.

For artist Lana Del Rey’s pop noir to openly push self-deprecating verses is nothing new. When comparing her work in previous albums, chiefly Born to Die, Paradise and later Ultraviolence, Del Rey takes artistic license in sensationalizing aspects of female helplessness, neediness, addiction, and relapse. But with the release of her latest album Honeymoon, this time it’s different. This time it’s worse. Del Rey’s glassy, velvet vocals are cushioned by more hopelessly dark instrumental accompaniment than ever before, leaving Del Rey in drug or abusive relationship relapse and liking it. So as Del Rey relaxedly romanticizes these situations setting back women 30 years, should we as listeners analyze the implications of her psychologically troubled lyricism or should we instead ignore the behavior and enjoy the art, most of which to many of us feels hauntingly relatable?

Like Tesfaye, Del Rey also casually if not thematically puts women down in a tragic way. Incident after incident the 1960s Baroque pop artist’s anti-feminist sentiment seeps in. Del Rey is unable to function without men or drugs comparing them in the song Religion to guess what? Religion. In Del Rey and Tesfaye’s world women are unable to live without men making young women nothing more than sexualized children who go on occasional drug binges. Here women are social, financial dependents of men, not their equals.

There’s no hard-lined answer to what casual listeners, music connoisseurs or die-hard fans should make of these graphic slights to women in music. On one hand, the nature of art, especially the art of song, should not be limited or restrained. If artists like The Weeknd and Del Rey are truly expressing their negative sentiment towards womankind through song, art exceptionalism suggests we acknowledge the artists’ claims, before privately accepting or denying them. But another part of me, the humanist part of me, calls B.S. And you should too.

As an educated society the nature of understanding and proliferating social justice for people groups, i.e. women, should not be compartmentalized nor restrained to just one part of our lives. When we apply justice in allotments instead of extending justice for women to all areas of life, we’re left with a lack of expectations for what is immoral vs. moral.

 Ultimately, Del Rey and Tesfaye know better. I have to laugh when I think of Tesfaye’s Canadian upbringing and how he grew up with a culture so unlike the culture of many prevalent American hiphop artists. Where Ice Cube as I mentioned earlier, grew up in radically oppressed ghetto with little precedent or notion of female equality in society, Tesfaye received universalized healthcare, was educated in a country with substantially better schooling and a reportedly slimmer gender gap, yet he goes on to say equally profound things about women.

I may be oversimplifying Tesfaye’s life experience, but we as youth immersed in the vogue of political-correctness need to decide what we’re about. Are we about directing our parents to news sources rooted in unbiased reporting so that all viewpoints are represented? Or are we about letting the meaning behind Del Rey and Tesfaye’s songs slide ‘just this once’?


21ST CENTURY ROMANCE

BY RACHEL JANNEY

In 1989, a beloved actor of mine, Robin Williams, starred in what I believe to be one of his top performances as Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society.  Now, this movie is a far cry from a heart throbbing chick flick, but in one of his iconic scenes, he says “...poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” That single word, romance, fills me with visions of drive-in movie theaters, ice-skating at Christmas time, and candle-lit dinners. Yet these ideas of romance are outdated, and dare I say cliché in today’s world.  This makes me wonder, how did we get here?  What happened to the concept of romance?

Prior to the 21st century, the media depicted romance as sentimental, and often relied on the miracle of serendipity.  The star-crossed lovers on the silver screen met by fate, although to them (and to us) it seemed as just a random run-in on any regular old day.  As the movie progresses we saw their feelings for each other develop and witnessed several romantic gestures.  However corny, dorky, or cheesy these gestures may appear to us, it held great sentimental value to our culture at the time.

Means of communication was much different 20 years ago. Cell phones were in their infancy, and the Internet was not teeming with social media websites. To compensate for this lack of social media, words and feelings were expressed through love letters or calling someone on a landline, making our messages more personal, more romantic. Why?  Writing letters was an art.  Words were carefully chosen and meticulously woven into fluent sentences so whoever was receiving your letter couldn’t tell just how much effort you put into it.  Misspelling a word was a nightmare because now they would view you as a fool who didn’t know how to spell.  Letters may be written and rewritten, constantly editing, erasing, and scribbling over grammatical errors or awkward sentences.  Calling someone was a test of courage.  The dial tone sounded like snickering laughter that taunted us with each ring.  Anxiety coursed through our veins as we asked ourselves “what would we say if they didn’t pick up?” or better yet, “what if they did pick up?”

So why deal with all this trouble? Why not sit down at a computer and type out a profile on a dating website and avoid this whole mess?  Our culture was different then. Online dating, at the time, seemed strange, unnatural, and above all unromantic.  Novels, movies, and even popular TV series depicted online dating as a bad thing, and often portrayed the people on sites as creepy, criminal, or tragically desperate.  This negative connotation of online dating in the media was then transferred to the public, and it wouldn’t be until the spur of social media that online dating became a social norm.

The 21st century marks the beginning of the end for romance, as we know it. Within the last 15 years, we endured waves of technological genius. Not only has technology become portable- from cell phones and laptops to smartphones and tablets- but more people are using these devices.  This combination of mobility and accessibility has caused a domino effect, and soon our culture began to revolve around social media.  Companies also adapted to our internet-connected culture and created websites, online advertisements, and social media pages (Facebook and Twitter to name a few) to reach a broader audience. However, retail companies are not the only ones who have adjusted to our cultural shift. Remember those online dating websites that got such a bad rap?  This is the turning point in their existence.

Our culture became so focused around the Internet and impersonal communications; everyone is emailing, tweeting, texting, snapchatting; that to meet a romantic partner online became less unusual.  This shift of perspective allowed an incredible variety of matchmaking companies to spawn into our society. eHarmony and Match.com are two of the most popular, as they appeal to a broad, general clientele. There are others, however, that target specific ethnicities, religious groups, or ages.  So what does all this have to do with romance?

Some would argue that technology is killing romance.  This is a bit of an exaggeration.  Romance still exists. People still buy flowers and chocolates for anniversaries. Couples are having date nights and doing small acts of random kindness to show that they care.  Instead of pulling stunts found in 1980s chick-flicks, perhaps they are writing “I love you” on a post it note, packing their lunch, or even taking care of some mindless chore so their partner doesn’t have to stress about it after a long day at work.  Romance hasn’t disappeared; it has simply evolved to suit our culture.  So perhaps not as many love notes are being written, or work is too demanding to take a vacation to the beach and watch the sunset together.  Perhaps online dating has replaced the ideal of serendipity because the latter was simply too out of touch with our rapidly evolving culture.

Online dating isn’t a bad thing.  In fact they may prove convenient for some who have social anxieties or simply do not have enough time to mingle at bars or clubs after work.  The majority of these websites were designed with the intentions of helping us find a lasting relationship.  There are some that may seem a bit superficial (I’m looking at you, Tinder), but if the legitimate websites bring love to nearly a third of our population, who am I to say they are wrong?


HILLARY CLINTON: SUPER POLITICIAN OR JUST POLITICIAN?

BY GABRIELLE WILKOSZ

When I sit down with Hillary Clinton in my dreams I see her big, bulging arm muscles, her sly smirk and her shameless Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves haircut.

I say, “Hillary. Baby. Are you up for the challenge of saving the world?”

She says, “No comment.”

To assert the road to the election of 2016 being bumpy for Clinton would be an understatement. The former Secretary of State has not only had to overcome the most suspiciously-timed email controversy known to man, but has also made the unpopular habit of holding her piece instead of taking a stance on really, anything. Since she announced her candidacy in April of this year, the political arena knows little of Clinton besides how powerful she is and how good she is at remaining hush-hush to keep that power. But her silence, just like Kevin Costner’s ratty Civil War vest in Dances With Wolves, is wearing thin.

Despite her status as the presumptive Democratic front-runner in the 2016 presidential race, Clinton’s remarkable resources as a candidate seem somehow lacking as Republican nominee and T.V. personality Donald Trump trails closely behind. A recent CNN poll shows Clinton narrowly tops Trump in Florida, 46% to 42%, while Clinton and Trump run about evenly in Ohio (43% Clinton to 42% Trump).

Still, the neck and neck poll approximations don’t account for all factors. In 2014, Clinton’s Ready for Hillary super PAC raised $9 million not including speculative future donors. Yet none of this compares to the $2.5 billion total Clinton is expected to spend in a period of roughly 19 months. By this measure, Clinton’s campaign is more than twice the record amount that was spent to re-elect President Obama in 2012, and about $700 million more than the total spent for both Romney and Obama in that election.

But these are just economic footholds. Clinton’s reputation is well-earned from her experience as the only first lady to become a U.S. senator to her work under the Obama Administration as Secretary of State, and even her honors as Forbes 2nd most powerful woman in the world (the first of course being Clinton’s doppelgänger, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel).

So why then are many of us with the Clinton campaign ‘just not feeling it’? The answer is best illustrated not by comparing Clinton with her Republican adversary, Trump, but by evaluating Clinton with her same-party competition Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

When turning to the numbers, the candidate who repeatedly says he’s held liberal positions on economic issues and civil rights for decades leads by a majority in New Hampshire and is within single digits of Clinton in the state of Iowa. Both of Clinton’s competitors in the media limelight have one thing in common: their ability to tell it as they view it. No doubt Sanders tucks himself into bed for a night of hippy Woodstock dreams, joining in on the Washington moratorium against the Vietnam War, while Trump dreams of making high stake overseas Nerf gun deals. Regardless of their quirky personalities and how they may or may not appeal to the general public, Trump and Sanders make clear what they can do for the people and why. Clinton on the other hand, in all her prestige and glory, says very little.

Ultimately, despite Clinton’s expanse of high profile supporters (sadly this excludes Ben and Jerry of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, who decidedly are siding with Sanders) and her overqualified work experience resume, it remains to be seen if Clinton can direct the same prowess she has at making a political career for herself and deliver an effective message to voters. If Clinton wants to win the ticket she must distinguish herself from the mythological figure she’s become, by communicating a clear message of who she is and what her goals are.                        

Voters want to know if Clinton is the super politician she’s rumored as, or if she is the get-it-done woman who we want to kiss our babies and shake hands with. The answers to this question and others are as elusive as Clinton herself. Honestly, only time will tell.