by Jenny Bolario
Jonny Goldstein via Flickr
People tell me to speak up all the time. At school, in restaurants, even in the car with my mom. My classmates sometimes ask me if I’m okay. And I am! I’m probably just daydreaming about my next meal, or how cute my crush looks.
I embrace my quiet side. It gives me some peace and solitude in this crazy world. It’s my own time for reflection and imagination. But when I need to, I can morph into beast mode.
At a leadership activity, we divided into two groups. On the left, people who enjoy public speaking, and to the right, people who didn’t. I went with the public speakers. Someone shouted, “Bianca, you’re on the wrong side!”
A counselor said, “You don’t know, she could be in student leadership.” I squeezed out, “well, I am.”
I just finished my position as media director for a student union, where I was shouting “one mic” at open forums and directing jumpy, tired students around our workshops. I enjoyed using my “loud” voice all the time.
I’m a naturally quiet person, but I’m still strong, and I see myself as a leader.
04/23/2017 - 8:00am Read more
by Henry Jenkins
This is the third in a series of posts showcasing outstanding work of students who participated in my PhD seminar in the fall focused on theories and histories of the debates around medium specificity. Mina Kaneko is a PhD candidate in Comparative Media and Culture (in the Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture program) at USC. She works on contemporary Japanese and Anglophone comics, literature, and cinema.
Framing Dreams and the Technological Uncanny
by Mina Kaneko
From Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, by Winsor McCay.
In his essay “Re-newing Old Technologies,” Tom Gunning writes about the extreme pleasures and anxieties we feel when we encounter new technologies, which present us not only with “convenient devices,” but transform the ways we perceive and interact with the world (51). At the same time, inevitably, we grow used to them, adjusting our habits to accommodate them into our lives until they become everyday banalities. Gunning uses Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s analysis of the railway as an example of this interaction between novelty and habituation, describing how early train commuters were both consumed by “a gnawing fear of death through accident” and thrilled by the “novelty of traversing space at un-heard of speeds” (46). Such strong reactions seemed to subside when new cultural practices were introduced—reading on the train, for example—and train travel became second nature. However, Schivelbusch and Gunning suggest that those initial feelings of awe and fear were “camouflaged but not eliminated,” and buried deep into the unconscious (46). The moment the train breaks down, or any other such trigger, the “repressed material returns with a vengeance”—a phenomenon Gunning, evoking Freud, calls “the technological uncanny.”
Schivelbusch’s example may be about Western urbanization and industrialization at the turn of the twentieth century, but Gunning points out that it resonates today in our so-called Information Age, in which we’ve seen a similar proliferation of new technologies; he writes that “the two ends of the Twentieth Century hail each other like long lost twins” (51). With this in mind, I’ve decided to look at two bodies of work that allude in some way to the idea of the “technological uncanny”: the first being Winsor McCay’s comic strips Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1904-1913) and Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1914), and the second Satoshi Kon’s anime Paprika (2006). Though each is distinctive, they seem to be in conversation with one another in interesting ways (many thanks to Henry for giving me the idea to compare the two side by side!)—if not as twins, then perhaps as cousins, from opposite ends of the century and from across the globe (U.S. and Japan, respectively).
These works use the subject of dreams as a space to explore fascinations and horrors about technologically advancing societies while also self-consciously reflecting on their own processes of mediation. In them, comics and anime seem to offer a symbolic language apt for representing fantastical, surreal worlds and helps provide critical distance by which to think about technological change. What’s particularly striking is that both McCay and Kon share a preoccupation with the “frame” (as in the comics frame, or the frame of the screen), which they frequently play with to call attention to mediation. First, I’ll take a look at McCay’s work, in which the frame is used to contain and order dreams in which anxieties about technology appear, and which he often deconstructs as a tool for reflexivity. Then, I’ll look at Kon’s Paprika, in which dreams are a kind of metaphor for media itself; the film uses ideas of “immediacy” and “the frame” as tropes to express ambivalence about a media-saturated world. While there are a number of subjects I’d like to explore further—such as the cultural contexts and time periods in which these texts are born—this is an early draft and the beginnings of a larger project I hope to develop. I’ll start primarily with a close-reading of the texts themselves to begin to speculate about some of the connections between dreams, comics, anime, and technology.
Winsor McCay’s Dream of the Rarebit Fiend & Little Nemo in Slumberland
Let’s start by looking at Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, which appears to allude directly to the idea of the technological uncanny described by Gunning. Rarebit Fiend was a weekly comic strip first published in 1904 in the New York Evening Telegram, a kind of evening counter-part to the New York Herald. After that, in 1911, McCay moved to media company Hearst, where he published an adaptation in the New York American before returning to the Herald in 1913, when Rarebit Fiend had a brief revival. While the subject of the strip changed from week to week, it had one recurring theme: someone eats a Welsh rarebit before bed, and consequently has an outrageous dream. Often, these dreams are terrifying and bizarre, reflecting the dreamer’s anxieties—in the last panel, the dreamer consistently awakes, blaming their indulgent bedtime snack for their fitful sleep.
Cover of the Dover edition of collected Rarebit Fiend comics, depicting a man trapped in cheese.
As several scholars have noted, many of the dreams in Rarebit Fiend reflect the stresses of an increasingly industrialized and overworked society. In Poetics of Slumberland: Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit, Scott Bukatman says the strip is about a middle-class “queasiness about the modern world” (51). Similarly, Katherine Roeder, in her book Wide Awake in Slumberland: Fantasy, Mass Culture, and Modernism in the Art of Winsor McCay, writes that the strip “investigated the impact of modern life on the individual psyche,”focusing in particular “on the nervous strain caused by the intense stimulation of the metropolis,” and the “increasing threat of bodily peril caused by newer, faster, and more dangerous forms of transportation” (161-162). Indeed, while some strips are more whimsical and less direct in their concerns (in one, a woman is eaten by her alligator purse, which has turned into an actual alligator; in another, a woman ponders the mysterious ingredients of “hot dogs” and is subsequently chased by a pack of dogs) the “nervous strain” brought about by urban life and the “threat of bodily peril” by new modes of transportation figure prominently in the weekly strip. Automobiles and trains are frequently out of control, inciting death or at least, severing limbs; new medicines are excessively effective as to become ineffective, as is the case with a hair-growth elixir that causes a bald man to become a mass of fur and the subject of a public spectacle; bodies are rife with ailments both physical and emotional, as seemingly small injuries (a corn on the foot, uneven leg lengths) stretch and overwhelm to the point of incapacitation. As Bukatman notes, “for the rarebit dreamers…sleep offers no respite from the day’s demands; they can only struggle on” (57).
Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion, 1878 . Source: Library of Congress
In these comics, McCay often relies on a “fixed perspective” and a generally uniform frame size, which Bukatman says recalls chronophotography like that of Eadward Muybridge in the late 1800s (50). He also suggests that the ordered, repeated, sequential framing evokes the “mechanization of the Fordist assembly line”—a uniformity McCay “resists” by “replacing orderly process with a comedic progression toward chaos and/or death” (Bukatman 23). In other words, McCay uses the evenly spaced time intervals represented by the consistent boxes to map the sequential progress of chaos (or devolvement), something that is further accentuated by the static point of view—thus, we witness clearly “the change that occurs from one panel to the next, as objects and people variously grow and shrink, morph and transmogrify” (Bukatman 50).
For example, in one strip from June 28, 1905, a rarebit dreamer drives with friends, and discovers that all four car tires have deflated; seeking another friend’s help, they replace the tire rubber with cheesy rarebits (fig. 1).
Fig. 1. From Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay.
As they journey onward, their car spins increasingly out of control, as the cheese in the tires lose their shape, frame by frame. The size of each panel is consistent, marking regular intervals of the cars progression towards breakdown, a “gradual, if accelerating, metamorphosis” (Bukatman 62). Furthermore, because we view the car from a fixed side-view, we witness the radically “transmogrifying” cheese, which becomes an amorphous and stringy mess that overtakes the penultimate panel; the commuters scream, “Help! Save us! Oh, save us! Help! Oh!” The juxtaposition of the ordered, “Fordist” nature of the frame and the surreal invasion of the cheese represents “orderly process” being replaced with “a comedic progression toward chaos.”
In a more gruesome encounter with transportation from October 26, 1904, an elderly man tries to cross Broadway (fig. 2).Fig. 2. From Dream of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay.
He is first run over by a horse-drawn carriage, losing his arm; then, he is run over by a water wagon, a trolley, and finally, an automobile, each time severing another part of his body. In the final panel, we see that this is an anxiety dream of the man’s wife, who says to her sleeping husband beside her, “Oh! There you are. I’m glad he’s home from New York. I’ll eat no more rabbits, Oh!” Like the previous strip above, this narrative utilizes the uniform grid to map a “progression towards death,” juxtaposing its chaos within the “orderly process” that confines it. Each frame captures a different moment of the man’s mutilation, which we view from the side of the road where he stands. At the same time, this comic maps a sequence of technological advancements in transportation: the horse-drawn carriage, the water wagon, the trolley, and the automobile, an order which Roeder says is intentional and serves as a kind of “mini-history” of urban transit (175). Thus, the frames also serve to show a historical progression, with each new mode of transportation contributing more and more to the demise of the dream’s poor protagonist.
The lack of movement in the frames seems to symbolize the way the dreams in Rarebit Fiend are grounded in the mundane, for the chaos that ensues takes place in everyday settings. As Bukatman notes, in contrast to Little Nemo, there is “no ‘consistent unreal world,’ no Slumberland on the other side of the journey, no place but the place of the quotidian, newly deformed” (Bukatman 60). Indeed, as we see in the strips above, many of the dreams occur in worlds that seem to mirror the dreamers’ reality, with the fantastical and surreal imposed onto the real. There is no “consistent unreal world” of marvelous characters and imaginative dreamscapes—and the comedic tragedies that occur, occur in the most mundane of moments, such as a drive in the city, or crossing Broadway.
Rarebit Fiend evokes the technological uncanny by contrasting these banalities of everyday life with the fantastical visions of peril that emerge only when the sleeper is dreaming. Using the dreaming state as a space in which fears manifest themselves, McCay seems to play with the Freudian concept that understanding dreams is the “royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (604). (It should be noted however, that whatever Freudian themes seem to be at play in McCay’s work, The Interpretation of Dreams was not translated into English until 1913, and The Uncanny still later, I believe in 1925; from what I know, McCay was likely not to have read or been aware of Freud’s work.)
It is in dreams that “gnawing fear[s] of death through accident” appear, “return[ing] with a vengeance” to the sleeping middle-class American worker, showing that such emotions have only been “camouflaged, but not eliminated” in waking life. The dreamers return to the normalcy of consciousness with relief, grateful for the reality in which such fears “lapse[d] into oblivion,” and instead bread and cheese are cause for blame (Schivelbusch qtd. in Gunning 46). The juxtaposition of a constant frame and “fixed perspective,” which signal the Fordist order and repetition, and the transmogrified embodiments of anxiety depicted within them, visually reinforce the negotiation between novelty (here, primarily terror) and habituation.
Cover of Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays! Vol. 1 by Sunday Press Books.
A similar treatment of anxieties about technology and transportation can be seen in Little Nemo, though the dream world presented is an entirely different one. While initially inspired by Rarebit Fiend, Little Nemo is primarily a departure in that it was designed, in McCay’s words, “to please the little folk” (ix). It too appeared as a weekly comic strip in the New York Herald, but in its Sunday color supplement from 1905-1914, printed on a full-size newspaper sheet that measured approximately 16 by 21 inches (Like Rarebit Fiend, an adaptation was published in the New York American until 1913, and experienced a brief revival in the Herald, from 1924 until 1927). Little Nemo charts the dreams of a young boy as he finds himself in various adventures in enchanted lands; the strip is sometimes fearful, often delightful, and, like Rarebit Fiend, consistently ends with Little Nemo waking to reality.
Unlike the “mundane” spaces of each rarebit dreamer’s lives, Slumberland is presented as fictional realm outside of reality, or a “consistent unreal world,” with recurring characters and developing stories. In this way, Bukatman writes that Little Nemo offers “immersion” rather than “resistance,” in which “the malleability of space, world, and body dominates the strip, investing the solidity of objects with plasmatic possibility” (23). In Rarebit Fiend, elasticity marks the absurd—tires made of uncontrollable cheese, a corn in the foot growing larger than the body—and dramatizes situations of stress in an otherwise “realistic” setting. In Little Nemo, however, it is the dream world itself that is elastic—fluid shapes and vibrant colors create a magical world in which anything is possible, which we view through the eyes of a child. Furthermore, as bed legs stretch and grow (fig. 3), so often do the comic frames containing the image,
Fig. 3. From Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay
giving the impression that the boundaries that cordon off that other world are just as fluid as the land depicted, as though perhaps they could continue to grow large enough for us to step into. The frame that expands and transforms presents itself like a window through which to peer into the other side (a metaphor which articulated by many scholars and a theme that is also taken up in Paprika). Slumberland, like Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, is a place of enchantment and mystery, and McCay invites us to enter (see fig. 4).
Fig. 4. From Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay.
At the same time, however, there remain similar expressions of wariness about the industrial age as those we see in Rarebit Fiend, and they employ a remarkably similar use of the uniform frame as we see in the former. While they may not be cause for gruesome deaths, the automobiles and railways in Little Nemo similarly frequently malfunction or spin out of control. Take this strip from September 6, 1908, in which Nemo’s companion Flip calls upon him to a take a ride in his passenger train (see fig. 5). In the following panels, Flip manages to run through the picket fence lining Nemo’s family’s home, back up straight into a brick building, topple over a horse-drawn carriage, as well as a trolley, and ultimately crashes into a river. In the final panel, Nemo wakes up thrown from his bed onto the floor.
Fig. 5. From Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay.
In a strip from November 29, 1908, Flip causes another such ruckus when he takes Nemo for a ride in his new automobile. Here, Flip shows off his car’s tricks: first by driving up a staircase, then up the side of a tall building, eventually driving back down the building and plunging into a river, again careless of the various objects and monuments he runs over. As he does, Nemo pleads him to stop, saying, “Let’s go back home, Flip, come! This is too dangerous for me!” to which Flip merely brushes him off and encourages him to embrace the adventure. Interestingly, both strips employ the “chronophotographic” model of movement, mapping the progression of chaos by showing the incremental differences contained in the constant frame. It also uses a fixed perspective, consistently positioning the viewer to the side of the car or in front of the approaching train. This is a departure from the elastic windows that stretch and grow with the expanding berries or the moving chair — but rather, reflect the “fixity of the dreamer” and that same Fordist repetition (Bukatman 60). This preoccupation is expressed more explicitly in another strip, where Nemo, Flip, and Imp take “a bath” on Mars; after asking a Martian how one keeps clean on his planet, the three are fed through a “cleaning machine” in which they are flattened by large cleaning rollers that Tim Blackmore, in his essay “McCay’s McChanical Muse,” says resemble the cylinders of the printing press. Flip says, “It’s the first time I was ever dry cleaned like a carpet and the last!” while Nemo exclaims, “Oh! We’re being ironed out like a shirt front Oh! I’m mad now!!!” Nemo and Flip liken themselves to a mass-produced commodity created in a factory, through which they emerge flattened, and are subsequently hung and dried on a clothesline. McCay uses the fictional fantastical world of Nemo—and Mars—to introduce an alien (or alienating) and dehumanizing mechanical process, while visually alluding to the technological mechanism with which the comic itself is mass-produced.
Perhaps one of the most pleasurable, if not most significant, aspects of McCay’s comics lie in such instances of self-reflexivity. In both Rarebit Fiend and Little Nemo, characters will refer to their own existence as a comic strip, or otherwise to the author himself. For example, in one Rarebit Fiend comic, a man dreams he is a “pen and ink drawing,” calling attention to an ink splotch above his right knee—as the comic progresses, he becomes covered in more and more ink stains, and the man continues to comment on the way he is “not drawn carefully.” Similarly, in an episode of Little Nemo from 1909, Nemo and Flip walk through the countryside, which is drawn as a minimalist, black and white line drawing distinctive from the aesthetics of their own bodies—Nemo says, “I’m going home before I change into a bad drawing” (see fig.6). In these, McCay calls direct attention to the “strongly stylized, hand-drawn quality” that Silke Horstkotte says characterizes many cartoons in his essay “Zooming in and Out: Panels, Frames, Sequences.” By introducing different aesthetic styles and explicitly naming “incomplete”
Fig. 6. From Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay.
or “badly drawn” figures, McCay exposes the ways in which these figures are indeed drawn by the subjective hand of a specific artist.
Additionally, McCay often experiments with the collapse or breakdown of the frame as a way to direct attention to its own mediation. For example, in another Rarebit Fiend strip, a count attempts to court a young woman, only to be met with rejection; upon discovering she is in love with the cartoonist “Silas” (McCay’s penname for Rarebit Fiend), the man begins to rip apart the comic in which they exist as an act of defiance, until in the end, there is only a pile of “shredded comic” before the dreamer wakes (see fig. 7). Similarly, in a Little Nemo strip from November 8, 1908, Flip invites Nemo into his uncle’s bakery (see fig. 8). As Nemo, Flip, and Imp attempt to take some baked goods, the ink in each pastry begins to disappear, leaving behind the paper beneath it. Slowly, each pastry disappears one by one, until the background is merely the inkless paper; soon the floor disappears, and Flip and Imp fall out of the frame, until only Nemo is left—as Nemo tries to hold on, the frame around him beings to fold, collapsing around him in a heap. He exclaims, “Look what the artist has done to me oh!”
Fig. 7. From Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, by Winsor McCay.
Fig. 8. From Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay.
As Greg M. Smith points out in “Comics in the Intersecting Histories of the Window, the Frame, and the Panel,” the “frame” in comics is neither bound by a physical frame (in the case of the painting) or by a mechanical apparatus (as in the case of TV or cinema) –rather, it is a hand-drawn construction for organizing a story (231). McCay’s decision to deconstruct the frame further reminds us of his own subjectivity—that the dreams, characters, and objects we see are fictional constructions, where even the window through which we observe them can easily be removed or altered. Such self-reflexivity reminds us of the specific medium with which McCay is working and highlights the way comics themselves require no technological apparatus except pen and paper. In her book Disaster Drawn, Hillary Chute describes drawing and comics as a kind of “counter-inscription” to other highly technologically reliant forms of inscription or mediation, and I think the term particularly apt here. Rather than “emphasizing a story-level similar to the actual world,” as Horstkotte says, comics “serv[e] to highlight the discursive qualities of the narrative representation” (33). By collapsing the frame and erasing the characters on which we rely to read his images, we are forced to see the materiality behind that illusory, imaginative world for what it is: Nemo and our dreamers are but ink on paper. At the same time, McCay acknowledges that the newspaper comic strip itself was transformed by the new technology of the rotary presses in the late 1800s that allowed for mass production and distribution; by removing the ink from the Little Nemo strip above, for example, he makes visible the “direct, palpable relationship between the newly mechanized press and the art form of the comic strip” (Blackmore 17). In a time when cinema and photography were popularizing art forms with a certain sensational quality (such as films like the Lumière brothers’ 1985 Arrival of a Train that wow’ed viewers with its “closeness” to reality), McCay’s use of the medium can indeed be thought of as a kind of counter-inscription to photographic recording of physical, existing objects. While photographs and films are themselves merely representations, comics’ discursive qualities dismiss themselves of this evidentiary expectation to begin with. As much as McCay enchants and entices us in some moments, he also frequently deliberately distances us to reveal the construction of his own representations, a reflexivity and call for critical awareness that goes hand-in-hand with the cautionary, if humorous, wariness of technology depicted in his comics.
“Oedipus and the Sphinx ” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/21.134.1/ Accessed 13 Nov. 2016.
Baudrillard, Jean, and Sheila Faria. Glaser. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: U of
Michigan, 2014. Print.
Blackmore, Tim. “McCay’s McChanical Muse: Engineering Comic-Strip Dreams.” The
Journal of Popular Culture 32.1 (1998): 15-38.
Booker, Marvin Keith. Comics through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas. Santa
Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood, 2014, pp 234.
Bolter, Jay David & Richard Grusin. “Remediation.” Configurations, vol. 4 no. 3, 1996,
Bukatman, Scott. The Poetics of Slumberland: Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit. Berkeley: U of California, 2012. Print.
Chute, Hillary L. Disaster Drawn Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form. Cambridge: Belknap-Harvard UP, 2016. Print.
Friedberg, Anne. “The Virtual Window.” Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of
Transition, edited by David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins, MIT Press, 2003, pp. 337-354.
Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. The Interpretation of Dreams.
New York: Basic, 2010. Print.
Gunning, Tom. “The Art of Succession: Reading, Writing, and Watching Comics.” Comics & Media, edited by Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda, University of Chicago Press, 2014, pp. 36-51.
– – -. “Re-newing Old Technologies.” Rethinking Media Change: The
Aesthetics of Transition, edited by David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins, MIT Press, 2003, pp. 39-60.
Horstkotte, Silke. “Zooming In and Out: Panels, Frames, Sequences, and the Building Of Graphic Storyworlds.” From Comic Strips to Graphic Novels: Contributions to the Theory and History of Graphic Narrative, edited by Daniel Stein and Jan-Noel Thon, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2013.
LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota, 2009. Print.
McCay, Winsor. Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Saturdays. West Carrollton, OH: Checker Book Group, 2007. Print.
– – -. Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. N.p.: Dover Publications, 1973. Print. Dover Humor.
– – -. Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. Vol. 1. West Carrollton, OH: Checker Book Group, 2007. Print.
– – -. Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. Vol. 2. West Carrollton, OH: Checker Book Group, 2007. Print.
Ndalianis, Angela. “Architectures of the Senses: Neo-Baroque Entertainment Spectacles.” Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, edited by David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins, MIT Press, 2003, pp. 355-374.
Paprika. Dir. Satoshi Kon. By Satoshi Kon, Seishi Minakami, Brian Beacock, Doug Erholtz, and Michael Forest. Sony Pictures Classics, 2007.
Roeder, Katherine. Wide Awake in Slumberland: Fantasy, Mass Culture, and Modernism in the Art of Winsor McCay. 1st ed. Mississippi: U of Mississippi, 2014. Print. Great Comics Artists Ser.
Smith, Greg M. “Comics in the Intersecting Histories of the Window, the Frame, and the Panel.” From Comic Strips to Graphic Novels: Contributions to the Theory and History of Graphic Narrative, edited by Daniel Stein and Jan-Noel Thon. Walter de Gruyter, 2013, pp. 219-240.
Thorburn, David, and Henry Jenkins. “Introduction: Toward an Aesthetics of Transition.” Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003, pp. 1-16.
04/20/2017 - 8:56am Read more
by Teresa Chin
Danielle Olson. Photo via Twitter
Danielle Olson is getting her PhD in electrical engineering and computer science the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT. She’s also a black female activist, which in the worlds of tech and academia make her something of a unicorn. So what is it like being a minority of a minority at one of the most elite schools in the country?
Let’s start with the bathrooms.
“MIT was a college campus predominantly for white males,” Olson says. One of the ways this plays out is that when nature calls, she either has to go to the top floor or bottom floor to use the restroom — there is no restroom on the main floor for women.
But the battle for belonging in a STEM-related academic world started way before Olsen got to MIT. “Traditional images that I had about what a computer scientist looked or acted like was someone [who] didn’t look or act like me,” Olson said. “If you were to ask me what is engineering when I was in third grade, I would’ve only thought of people in yellow card hats, maybe making bridges and blueprints …my preconceived notion of [a scientist was] Bill Nye the science guy.”
As a non scientist-guy, she didn’t think she would fit into the world of STEM. That is, until a school counselor encouraged her to sign up for a program called “Girls Explore & Engineering.”
“This was a entire experience in which I was paired with a mentor who was also another woman of color who was in engineering,” she said “I was able to immerse myself in different hands-on experiments and projects. And that really was my catalyst for me getting excited about engineering.”
Danielle recently spoke to a team of young journalists and coders at Youth Radio’s headquarters in Oakland. Here are some highlights of that conversation:
Computers and technical devices actually reproduce discrimination and human bias. According to Olson, there is not much of diversity in engineering, which means there is not as many perspectives being processed in technical devices. For example, Polaroid made their cameras only considering how lighter skin tones would show up on film. Even more basic technology like the detectors to activate water and soap to wash hands might not detect darker skin tones because they weren’t designed with people of color in mind.
It’s OK to fail. “I actually got a D in my first mechanical engineering class my freshman year,” Olson said. After that, she was discouraged but decided to switch her major to computer science, which she actually loved. Danielle has gone through failures and confusions, only to find her passion along the way doing something she loves. “I think it’s really important to not only share my successes but also my failures,” Olson said, “because I think that it’s really important to remember that the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” Olson says failure was actually was a turning point that helped her really fall in love with the field that she is in today.
You can be an engineer and an activist. Olson says she’s passionate about social change, and that being an engineer actually plays into that. “I think evolving as humans involves not only technological innovation, but cultural innovation,” she says. “So if you think about all of the issues that we face as people in our communities today, we need to think about the ways that we could give voice to those that are not being well served by policies.” Olson says engineers could really create the world that we want to live in, and that it’s up to us to really collaborate with other people and other perspectives in order to catalyze change for those who need it.For example, engineers could create software or social media platforms to allow Black Lives Matter activists to connect, or help create Wi-Fi for poor urban areas.
Engineering and STEM don’t have to be boring. Olson has helped develop a couple of games and apps to help social issues in fun, innovative ways. One of the projects that she has worked on was a virtual reality game to help stop the cycle of violence. Here you can ask any personal question to people who are in combat to get a taste of both sides of the conflict. “I actually went through the experience myself, and what was the most shocking to me that kind of raised the hairs on my skin, was the reality of looking into the eye of this person that you’ve never met before,” Olson said. “The media of virtual reality really blends itself to really feeling more connected to the ‘other’.” Danielle has done a lots of things to help improve her community, and promote equality through her engineering skills
04/19/2017 - 4:54pm Read more
by Teresa Chin
This commentary was produced as part of Youth Radio’s introductory journalism class. The author asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.
In fourth grade I lost my dad to gun violence.
When I woke up that morning, it felt like just another day. Little did I know that my life would change forever. It was spring break, and I didn’t have school, but I got dressed and ate breakfast like normal. My mom told me that I was going to my cousin’s house for her birthday. I had a odd feeling when I was there that I couldn’t shake. I don’t remember the specifics but I knew I was getting picked up early, and it wasn’t by my mom.
When I got home, it was like a old black and white silent film. Everyone was at my house crying screaming and falling out. My mom couldn’t even talk. I was so confused. My grandmother sat me down in her room to tell me that there was an incident. My father had been shot, and had passed away.
The tears ran instantly and I couldn’t keep my composure. In that moment, it seemed like, things would go downhill for me, but eventually, I found a way to cope with the situation. Family friends and therapy helped.
According to Pew Research, black people suffer a disproportionate share of U.S. gun homicide deaths. There are so many mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters affected by these deaths, just like my dad’s death affected me. We need to put a end to killing and hurting each other, no matter what our skin color. It was our ancestors who fought for us to have the right of equality, when we are put in prisons.
There are more prisons in California than there are colleges. The way I see it, that sends the message that society doesn’t want us to strive for excellence or that we can’t do it. That’s the message the government is sending the youth in our community. Young people learn more from each other–good, bad or indifferent–rather than from adults worth modeling. I think my father died because a teenager was modeling the bad life choices he saw around him.
We have the voice and power to change this. So why not take advantage of the social media, the resources, our education and the passion we have today to stand with each other and not against each other?
04/19/2017 - 2:33pm Read more
by Henry Jenkins
Today, I present a second project representing the work of the spectacular students in the USC Media Arts and Practices Program. In this case, Noa P. Kaplan applied her media manipulation skills to do an imaginative critique/remix/compression of Westworld, last fall’s cult media phenomenon. Think of this as a contribution to the growing movement within media studies to produce video essays.
Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose
by Noa P. Kaplan
In the first episode of Westworld, Dr. Ford attributes Peter Abernathy’s obscure and threatening language to “…Shakespeare, John Donne, Gertrude Stein. I admit the last one [Stein] is a bit of an anachronism, but I couldn’t resist.” Why not? Only vaguely familiar with Stein’s role as an art collector and tastemaker in early twentieth century Paris, and slightly less familiar with her hermetic writing practice, I took it upon myself to read up on the historical figure in parallel with the Westworld series. Each newly released episode seemed to play off of her literary tactics—reappropriation, repetition, the continuous present. Episode four, Dissonance Theory, underlines how central her discordant style is to the series: “Stein’s own compositional idiom is not different in principle from jazz polyrhythms, or two times going at once…Stein, of course, has long been associated with cognitive dissonance in literary circles…” If all of this was not enough to convince me that Stein is more than a fleeting reference, her professional and social rosters sealed my certainty.
Growing up in California, Stein was influenced by the Feminist thinker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman; at Radcliffe, she studied under William James. Stein received scathing reviews after she contributed artworks from her collection and accompanying criticism to the controversial 1913 Armory show in New York, but Teddy Roosevelt publicly defended the exhibition: “The exhibitors are quite right as to the need of showing to our people in this manner the art forces which of late have been at work in Europe, forces which cannot be ignored.” The editor, Ford Madox Ford, facilitated the serialization of Stein’s The Making of Americans for his publication, The Transatlantic Review: “Miss Stein’s work will better bear division than the story of Mr. Coppard and, fortunately, Miss Stein kindly allows us to divide her up, which is more than many authors will.” Four frequent attendees of her Parisian salon were Elsie de Wolfe, Thérèse Bonney, D.H. Lawrence, and Arnold Rönnebeck, a modernist sculptor, best known for his abstract figure, Grief. Finally, one of Stein’s dearest friends, Bernard Faÿ, was a Vichy official who offered her immunity during WWII so that she could live safely in France despite being Jewish and openly homosexual. Her mentors, publishers, interviewers and friends are the namesakes of other Westworld characters as well, with the exception of Dolores, Maeve, Clementine, and Armistice. I could not locate these four in Stein’s inner circle.
Why do the female cyborgs defy the pattern? To get a clearer picture of these four mysterious characters I began an obsessive process of de-interlacing their narratives. I captured and recut each character’s story arc so that I could watch each uninterrupted. But their names were still denied clear parentage, neither anchored in Stein’s biography nor explained within the science fiction series, just floating in a contextual void, as if arbitrary. All I had were their names, so I used them as starting points, queries to unearth their historical and cultural backstories.
The first installment focuses on Dolores. Of the ten hours that make up the first season, three are devoted to Dolores, more than any other character. In order to identify behavioral patterns and thematic trends, I sped up the aggregated footage, condensing it to ten minutes in length. Superimposed on this timelapse are my findings, two times going at once. The result is a polyrhythmic pseudo-cyborg perspective, evolved from the gunslinger’s reductive computer vision used in the original 1973 feature film. The resulting juxtapositions produce more explosive significance than I could possibly articulate in words.
Noa P. Kaplan is a visual artist based in Los Angeles, California. She received her BA from Yale University and her MFA from the Design Media Arts Department at UCLA. She is currently working towards a PhD in Media Arts + Practice at USC. Kaplan’s artwork examines the impact of technology on production processes, material structure, and scale. She also has a deep interest in collaborative curation and fabrication. She has worked on visual and scholarly projects with several museums including Yale University Art Gallery, MassMOCA, Getty Center, and the Hammer Museum.
04/18/2017 - 9:55am Read more
At MIT's Day of Action, Nathan Freitas of Guardian Project led a workshop on mobile security for activists, focusing on various secure messaging apps available today, touching on their benefits and risks for different kinds of activities and communities.
Common messaging apps (and their secure setting)
Conversations (default, can also interface with other secure XMPP apps like ChatSecure and Zom)
Facebook Messenger (secret conversations setting)
iMessage (only for messages to another iPhone/iMessage users, i.e. "blue" messages)
All of these apps transfer messages over the internet via your data plan. SMS messages are never encrypted and can additionally be seen by your telephone company, which is particularly insecure because metadata from phone companies can be acquired without a warrant. Instead, internet-based messaging apps can be secured using "end to end" encryption with their secure settings. This means that messages are encrypted and then conveyed over encrypted connections (HTTPS/TLS) between phones and servers.
It's important to understand what each service knows about its users and what it stores. This may include:
When you are connected to the internet
Your phone number for user identity purposes (thus, they can look up your name at the phone company)
Your network of friends, IF you uploaded your contact book
Because of end to end encryption, these companies generally don't have access to your messages unless you are using them on an insecure setting like green messages on iMessage (actually sent by SMS) or non-secret Facebook Messengers messages. Because of this companies under subpoena can only provide metadata, not the messages themselves.
Some apps have less metadata than others. WhatsApp keeps a lot of metadata for analysis/advertising purposes. Apple is opaque about what data it keeps from iMessage but it has a good record of fighting government subpoenas. Signal deletes most metadata after it completes a transmission, only retaining when you last connected to their servers. Conversations is not tied to a phone number and can interchange with other servers using the same messaging protocol—including running your own if you want complete control over security.
Disappearing messages is feature available on some services like Signal and Facebook Messenger that will actually delete messages after a set period of time, so that they can't be accessed by others or downloaded if you phone is confiscated. Additional security features on WhatsApp are also available to make it more like Signal such as asking that it notify you when someone's identity changes and disallowing cloud back up of your messages.
What should I use? Consider these questions as activists:
Are we going to be talking about breaking the law and possibly creating a record of that conversation? (then it should be secured)
What level of sophistication do people have with their phones and what services are they already using? (e.g. if everyone is on WhatsApp already then use WhatsApp)
Need a good middle ground solution? Signal is easy to install and use and very secure, and great if people have aversions to Facebook (who owns WhatsApp).
More General Security Recommendations
Use a password manager: Nathan uses Lastpass for things he needs to share and KeePass for things he doesn't. These can also be used to take secure notes.
Use a phone that gets security updates and always install them: iPhones, Google, Samsung
Use a Chromebook as your activist computer: disposable at low cost and helps you isolate data from your normal life from your activist activities.
What about Slack?Slack is not end to end encrypted and retains messages on their side. Nathan recommends Moxtra and Semaphor as more secure options for enterprise.
04/18/2017 - 8:45am Read more
by Noah Nelson
Earlier this month saw the latest “Employment Situation” report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s what you and I know better as “the jobs report,” and while plenty of people have hot takes on the overall number most are–as usual–ignoring the youth numbers.
From the latest report: “the jobless rates for… teenagers (13.7 percent)…showed little or no change” when compared to the previous month. That previous month was Feb 2017, when the rate for teens 13 to 19 was 15.0%. According to the BLS, a change of less than 1.6% is not considered statistically significant. (The overall unemployment rate is down to 4.5%.)
Where things get interesting is when we start to put the numbers into context– namely the context of the past few years. A 13.7% rate compares favorably with March 2016 rate of 15.9%, and really looks great compared to previous years.
Here’s the breakdown:
13.7% March 2017
15.9% March 2016
17.6% March 2015
20.9% March 2014
That’s a steady decline in the jobless rate over the past three years for teenagers, a sign that prospects were looking up for those youth who wanted a job in an economy that was recovering from the 2008 recession. Backing that up are more facts from the BLS: teenage employment has been on the rise these past few years, a trend they say began in 2013.
Over the last year, however, the employment rate has changed little. In March of this year the employment-population ratio for teenagers was at 30.9%, which when compared to the March 2016 rate of 29.6% isn’t a statistically significant change as the BLS calculates things.
So these are the two stats to watch for watch for teenagers: the unemployment rate and the employment-population ratio. What we should all be looking for are swings of 1.6% or more, and we should be watching both stats equally. That’s what makes the past few years so interesting: while the unemployment rates can fluctuate and seem like there is a lot of action, the employment-population ratio tells a slightly more stable tale: with little change in either the teen (1.3% up) or overall (0.2%) rate.
TL;DR: Teens are doing better, but don’t stop socking away cash for a rainy day quite yet. (You’re allowed to do a little dance, however.)
04/17/2017 - 5:01pm Read more
by Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner’s 2009 book Five Minds for the Future describes five specific dispositions that will be important for people to master in the future. These five capacities are:
the disciplined mind,
the synthesizing mind,
the creating mind,
the respectful mind, and
the ethical mind.
In the fourth edition of the Spanish-language periodical Plurilingüismo e Innovación Educativa, Gardner participated in an English-language interview about these five minds and their integration.
Click here to read a PDF of the full piece.
04/17/2017 - 11:39am Read more
by Jenny Bolario
Photo Credit: George A. Spiva Center for the Arts via Flickr
My mom is Chinese, with black hair and tan skin. My dad is white, with light eyes and skin the color of office paper. I, on the other hand, am an awkward midway point: dark skin, but not super dark; black hair, but not super black.
It used to be that I never thought about my mixed-race. But as I’ve gotten older, and now that I attend a predominantly white suburban school, race is constantly on my mind.
Recently, my classmates and I participated in a survey calculating our privilege, as a part of a diversity awareness workshop.
One question asked whether bandaids match my skin color. Are band aids supposed to, I wondered?
I looked around my English class and saw blond hair and pale skin.
At the end of the quiz, my white classmates had racked up scores suggesting they have three times as much privilege as I do.
I’m not white. I’m also not not-white. So it’s fuzzy figuring out exactly what privileges I benefit from.
04/16/2017 - 8:00am Read more
by Youth Radio Raw
DESCRIPTION:I like the song when i was down by omb peezy because he talks about his struggle, how came up and had people come to him when he got rich but wasn’t there when he was broke . One of his verses is “Back then me and my brothers was struggling now me and my dawgs eating and girls on us“. this verse talks about how when you are down nobody cares about you but when you have money then everybody wants to be your friend. PROS/CONS: This song is good because he is saying and or telling people to be careful on who we trust. What i like about this song is that he is lyrical person.RECOMMENDATION: I recommend this song for teenager that has a someone that they care about a lot that died or that relates to what he is rapping about.
OUTRO: I’m mekailan for “(Primetime)” on Youth Radio Raw. For this review and more, visit www.YouthRadio.org Primetime
04/14/2017 - 7:36pm Read more