Every semester in The Daily Californian’s arts & entertainment department, we welcome a new batch of beat reporters. While they will spend the semester reporting on a multitude of different projects and exhibits specific to their expertise, they rarely have the opportunity to focus on their topics on a small scale. So this fall we asked them to start out their time as beats by writing about something little that they love.
— Olivia Jerram
Queer media beat
My favorite thing in the entire world is the phenomenon of Instagram advertisements for queer-themed movies.
Like, I know I’m getting these ads because I yell into my phone that I’m gay all the time, the way one gets ads for Trix after tweeting about Trix or is constantly bombarded with pictures of that one pair of shoes after debating whether to buy the pair on the brand’s website. But for queer-themed movies such as “Love, Simon” or “A Simple Favor,” the captions of their advertisements convey an assumption that the viewer is straight.
There was one “Love, Simon” video ad that was just a clip from the film where Simon says “I’m just like you,” and then he clarifies — “but I’m gay.” The scene makes sense in the context of the film but presents a strange assumption for the audience of an Instagram ad. For “A Simple Favor,” I saw one sponsored ad that quoted Forbes as saying that it’s “worth a babysitter, or making the hubby watch the kids, for a girls night out” which so explicitly and exclusionarily plays into heterosexual tropes that it’s bewildering.
Facebook, the owner of Instagram, claims to have removed sexual orientation-based advertising in February. If true, that means that I’m likely getting these ads because I’ve liked gay things on Facebook or live in a “progressive” area. But what a strange assumption that all liberals — or at least the vast majority seeing these advertisements — are heterosexuals going to queer movie screenings to get “good liberal” credits and not to see themselves on screen.
— Caroline Smith
I started at the Daily Cal writing obituaries, so it could be said I tend toward morbidity. But the fragmented and the lost has always appealed to me, especially in a world where writing and publishing seem less and less supported yet more and more needed. The death of web platforms is much more difficult to feel sympathetic about. The articles are archived, suspended in a digital limbo; on display but from a bygone era, part of us but never fully there.
The internet mourned greatly when Grantland, ESPN’s sports and culture blog, shut down in 2015. It was a little before my time as a writer, but I watched its fall feeling bewildered and excited, like catching ashes after a volcanic eruption. I read article after article and realized what was being missed: a place where writers were supported to pursue stories in their own way, to write beautifully and confidently and to pull no punches.
My two loves are food and literature. I love to experience them, delving into another’s mind or culture, into something someone created to communicate ideas with someone else. Grantland showed me that sports can do that just as well, if not better. The writing is long and languid but incredible, and each article took my breath away. My favorite would have to be this article about sumo wrestling. To say it’s about sumo wrestling may even be an understatement, as the author deals with so many aspects of Japanese culture. The way it introduces the reader into a world different from their own, footnotes appearing like hints or quips that enrich the already engrossing story. It’s so, so, so, so good, and I hope you’ll read it and you’ll feel as I did — like you just found a piece of an ancient ruin, majestic yet fragile, and dream of the larger kingdom that created it.
— Charlie Kruse
“Hamlet” is by far one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays. For me, it’s a rare instance in which all of the praise out there still doesn’t do it justice; it is still better than can be described.
One of my favorite moments in the play is between Hamlet and Ophelia, when he realizes Ophelia is working with Polonius and Claudius to essentially spy on him. Ophelia attempts to give him back the love letters he wrote to her and says, “Their perfume lost, take these again; for to the noble mind. Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. There, my lord.” And Hamlet, catching on to her use of a maxim — which Polonius is known for using — realizes her double nature and responds, “Ha, ha! Are you honest?”
It is hard to imagine being able to catch someone in a lie based solely on their use of words, making this shift unexpected yet apt. This moment — which comes directly after the “To be or not to be” monologue and is therefore easily overlooked — reflects the complex nature that drives this overwhelmingly clever play. Hamlet’s immense intellect is evident, bringing tension to the is-he-mad debate. Ophelia holds her own against Hamlet’s irate mood. And their feelings for each other are especially ambiguous here, which only adds to the level at which this scene invites interpretation.
On a stage, this moment can be played so many different ways, leaving a director significant wiggle room for their own visions of the characters. The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is quite scarce within the play’s actual text; it is arguably the element that requires the most filling in by directors and actors. Their level of intimacy and the legitimacy of their feelings can be played genuinely or insincerely, portrayed as passionate or fading. And this scene leaves room for the chosen interpretation of this tumultuous relationship to come to its fitting capstone, all while acting as a vital transitional scene for the play as a whole. Brilliant in its subtly, this scene, to me, is a direct look into Shakespeare’s mastery.
— Nikki Munoz
One thing among all performances remains constant: an announcement before the show to silence your cell phone and unwrap any candies now. This is a joke that has never failed to land. Across all audiences of all regions, religions and socioeconomic conditions — a giggle bubbles throughout the audience whenever this warning is issued. Reading the line verbatim, I too would be reluctant to call it a joke, most obviously for the reason that no part of the declarative statement is funny, and yet the undercurrent of laughter persists during every performance.
For a while I was resistant to this banal drivel, turning angrily to the preteen next to me and groaning “It’s not funny! Why do they always laugh?”
Now in my advancing years, every time I hear the warning over the loudspeaker I giggle with excitement at the show that is about to begin, feeling relief at the uninterrupted two hours of entertainment awaiting me. But more than anything, I laugh at those around me who are completely unaware of the part they play in the ever-changing lore of theater traditions. And maybe, just maybe, they are laughing at me, too.
— Kate Tinney
Culture and diversity beat
The all-too-white landscape of television in its heralded “golden age” has gradually incorporated a variety of narratives centered on people of color. While it has yet to be recognized on a major awards platform, one of the most creative and insightful shows tackling race today is Netflix’s “Dear White People.”
A show that examines student race relations at its fictional Ivy League Winchester University, “Dear White People” invited the visionary director of “Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins, to direct the fifth episode of its first season — and “Chapter V” still stands as the show’s greatest and most fearless episode to date. Centered around one of the show’s principal characters, the rational, driven Reggie Green, “Chapter V” seems a lot like any other episode of “Dear White People” at first — with a blend of cultural commentary, snappy one-liners and sexual tension carrying us through Reggie’s anxieties over the university’s brewing racial tensions.
But then there’s the climax — after Reggie’s friends take him out to a party to get him to ease up, a complaint gone wrong brings him face to face — and gunpoint — with a white police officer. The moment is at once tragic, shocking and terrifying, but it’s the aftermath that registers the biggest gut-punch. In the final seconds of the episode, we watch as Reggie, huddled against the wall and clearly shaken by the encounter, gradually breaks down into tears as the camera slowly and silently inches towards him. It’s excruciating and immersive, and it forces us to rethink the emotional and political weight of the moment and its significance to both the character and the show.
— Anagha Komaragiri
It’s funny to think that we as a society venerate those who have somehow managed to control the dead skin cells growing out of the top of our scalp. For a long time, my hair was an annoyance, an uncontrollable force that could not be reckoned with. Whether it was the hours spent after the shower combing out all of the tangles or the aching headaches I got from keeping my hair in a ponytail for too long, my hair didn’t feel like a part of me — it felt like a nuisance.
My hair was the bane, or mane, of my existence.
One day, my mom and I got into an argument about my self-care when it came to my frizzy tresses, and she showed me a video. It was Blake Lively talking about how her hair was so thick she would use horse shears to cut it. It was then that I realized that everyone, even those as beautiful and seemingly perfect as Blake Lively, is self-conscious about something. Insecurity is unavoidable.
But the thing about fashion is it encourages stepping outside the bounds of that insecurity. It took a while, but eventually I learned to embrace my hair just like Blake Lively did. And as much as I used to fight it and may even still get annoyed by it, my hair is part of my everyday look and is one of my greatest accessories. It’s funny, but these dead skin cells growing out of my scalp have actually never made me feel more alive.
— Samantha Banchik
Comic books beat
Far more than featuring splashy superhero scuffles (although I live for those, too) contemporary comics are breaking all sorts of boundaries. Ambitious, sprawling stories such as “Berlin,” Jason Lutes’ decades-in-the-making account of the rise of Nazism, populate comic store shelves. At the same time, titles such as “Barrier,” a sci-fi adventure told in a multiplicity of untranslated languages, leverage the comic book medium to articulate arguments about immigration and what it means to empathize with another. Comics have even become a space for activism — the anthology book “Love is Love” was released in the aftermath of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, and it raised $165,000 in sales, which were donated to victims. Truly, there’s never been a more exciting time to read comics.
This leads me to Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ “Saga,” which is easily today’s best ongoing series. It follows Alana and Marko, soldiers on opposite sides of a never-ending intergalactic war. The catch — they’ve had a daughter together, and now they’re on the run from bounty hunters, a prince with a TV for a head, centaur cowboys and a whole lot more. “Saga” is hilarious, inclusive, as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming and just plain weird. Case in point, a fan-favorite secondary character is an axe-wielding, anthropomorphic seal whose loyal steed is a giant walrus — and yet, the series manages to discuss issues such as reproductive rights, religion and drug use with nuance and insight. “Saga” is the best that an innovative medium has to offer, and if I haven’t convinced you to pick it up, Tessa Thompson’s recommendation should do the trick.
— Harrison Tunggal
There’s one thing often overlooked that has gotten better in the era of peak TV — television intros. Gone are the days of ‘80s-esque cheesy music with each character turning to face the camera in a forced smile, the actor’s name shown along the bottom of the shot. Don’t get me wrong — the “Full House” intro is a classic, but a smiling Bob Saget would never be chosen over an advanced computer graphic montage of kingdoms being built on a digital map à la “Game of Thrones.” Each year, the Emmy categories for outstanding main title design and outstanding main theme music get more competitive as the intros get more creative — at this point, it’s its own art form.
It’s amazing how much you can understand the tone of a show by just watching its title sequence. The epic music and sweeping kingdoms of “Game of Thrones” get you in the mood for some medieval fantasy action. Every season of “American Horror Story” has a unique intro that will make your skin crawl. And If there was ever a melody that captured Amy Poehler’s essence, it would be the “Parks and Recreation” theme song.
The best title sequences have their music ingrained in you so it is instantly recognizable. Three notes into “The Office” theme song and you’re already humming along. The “Broad City” intro will get you dancing and counting down, “Four and three and two and one.” And who doesn’t know where Will Smith was born and raised in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”?
But we almost never recognize the achievements of these television intros because their Emmys are given during the unaired Creative Arts Emmys. In addition, with Netflix and other streaming services now offering a “Skip Intro” button, it’s harder to appreciate the efforts of these creative graphic design and music composition teams. As much as I love TV show titles, even I have to use that button sometimes.
But the next time you start a show or rewatch your favorite one, take a moment to really watch the title sequence and appreciate its supporting role in the golden age of television.
— Julie Lim
People are always surprised when I tell them my favorite Kanye West song is “Late,” the hidden track off of his sophomore album Late Registration. Kanye is a legendary artist with an endless catalogue of masterful songs such as “Runaway,” “New Slaves,” “All Falls Down,” “Heartless” and more. Most Kanye-related conversations I find myself in center around these more well-known songs.
But “Late” shows Kanye at his most comfortable — there is no ambitious experimentation, no forward-thinking compositional structure, and no genre-bending instrumentation. The song’s lush yet barebones jazzy beat provides the perfect backing for the candid bars he spits about his resolution to drop out of art school to pursue music full-time.
From the gorgeous violin-led intro to the thumping bassline to the hypnotically catchy looping soul sample to Kanye’s trademark confident delivery to his “Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha” interpolation throughout, the song just fires on all cylinders. Its lyrics aren’t amazingly intricate, but Kanye has never needed bars to carry his music.
Nevertheless, the straightforward lines here provide so many quotables — “Now I’m in the shop class or the basket weavin’ / With all the rest of the motherfuckers underachievin’ ” still makes me laugh every time. If you know me, you also know that I unapologetically relate to the line ”Yo, I’ll be there in five minutes, five hours later? / I’ll be there in five minutes.” And the closer, “I know it’s late and I took all year but / You can stop complainin’ ’cause I’m finally here,” never fails to inspire me.
“Late” succinctly and perfectly sums up Kanye’s success in 2005 — the timeless quality of this song and other songs from this Kanye era are a testament to his unmatched genius — a genius that continues to show 13 years later.
— Justin Sidhu
I love the feeling of finding yourself at a live show. Yes, it sounds pretentious and vague, but when I go to a concert, the connection with the artist is what draws me and my bank account to want to experience that closeness again and again. As a person who thrives best when I have a concert to look forward to, being a student in the Bay Area has spoiled me.
Just recently, I was able to walk down the street to see The Story So Far, one of my all-time favorite bands, play a small show at Amoeba Music. The intimacy of seeing an artist you admire perform in the corner of a record store to a crowd of probably no more than 300 people makes you feel like you’re sharing a unique moment, one that could never be recreated.
At this point in my life, I have seen The Story So Far live four times, all in extremely different settings. I could point out to you exactly how Parker Cannon stands when he sings and the fact that they basically only sing “Clairvoyant” to make fans cry.
Each time I see this band (and many others) live is a new experience that I become nostalgic about later. Sure, the cliche people often strive for is to “lose yourself” in a crowd of people, but I’ll take embracing that connection over losing myself any day.
— Skylar De Paul
Anyone who knows me knows that I am easily afraid, especially of sudden movements and dark rooms, which explains why I despise horror movies. I am not entirely sure why I watched a movie about a spider that turns into a witch and kidnaps little children from parks when I was 4 years old, but that day, I was scarred forever. That day, I renounced spiders, parks and scary movies.
Last semester, I was somehow coerced into watching “A Quiet Place” with my friends. The walk from Unit 1 to Landmark Shattuck Cinemas wasn’t nearly long enough for me to brace myself, but, as I started watching the movie, I realized I didn’t need to.
“A Quiet Place” consumed me in a way I always imagined a great film would. I found myself holding my breath, clenching my fists, clutching my friend’s arm first out of anxiety, then out of relief, and having my mind blown. It made me feel what John Krasinski and Emily Blunt felt for their children, it made me feel responsible for figuring out how to kill a monster. It made me shield my stomach as I watched Emily Blunt deliver her own child and it connected me to every character on-screen in an almost tangible way.
Everyone loves John Krasinski as Jim Halpert on “The Office,” but John Krasinski as a director? It’s a dream come true, and one that I will never stop advocating for. To me, “A Quiet Place” redefined the very definition of a thriller. Maybe it even made me like horror movies a little bit more.
— Anoushka Agrawal
Video game beat
It’s often said that video games allow you to live out your wildest fantasies — it was precisely this aspect of player engagement that drove me to video games in the first place. Yet even as I grinded away at game after game as a child, I was acutely aware of an unsavory fact — the art I was consuming was not made for me.
It’s no secret that video games as a genre have historically leaned toward the straight, white male as
not only a model protagonist but also as a target consumer. As a young woman of color who was attempting to wedge my way into the world of video games, I was desperate to find a game with a strong female protagonist. I was looking for a character who resembled me, who could prove that I too belonged in the domain of gaming. My search was unfruitful until I stumbled across what quickly became my favorite video game of all time: “Fallout 4.”
I came across “Fallout 4” months after the action-adventure RPG’s release in 2015, although I didn’t have many expectations for the latest installment of Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic shooter series at all. I was prepared to grind through quest after quest in order to level up my character and find the best gear in the Wasteland, just as I did with every other RPG I had played thus far. But what I actually found buried in the depths of this game was so much more.
When I started the game, I was immediately astonished by the level of unparalleled character customization that was possible in “Fallout 4” — I was suddenly able to construct a female survivor who looked, thought and acted like me. I spent hours tweaking my very first Sole Survivor, settling on a curvy young woman with dark brown skin characterized by discoloration and scarring — I built a protagonist who represented me.
Several years and hundreds of hours later, I am proud of the time I have spent building up my Sole Survivor’s Intelligence, Charisma and Stealth skills out in the Wasteland, taking down enemies and staking my claim within the Commonwealth along the way. Even now when I start up “Fallout 4” for the apparent millionth time, hearing the game’s intro music still gives me chills, drawing me back in for hours of gameplay at a time.
— Manisha Ummadi
Contact The Daily Californian’s arts & entertainment staff at [email protected].