Alone in a Crowd

Written by Amara Hartman.
Part 1 of 2. Read part 2 here.

There are more ways than ever to connect with each other. It’s hard to imagine an era when people awaited the arrival of their correspondence strapped in saddle bags. Longhand letter writing is a charm of a bygone time, and any small sect of people who still try to keep it alive appreciate it for its purity. There aren’t any of the trappings of modern communication. No visible friend counts, gifs, or emojis. Nothing flashy driving the want to stay in touch except suspense and imagination. Even email’s been leveled to one-liners or co-opted by instant messengers like G-chat and Skype. Blogs are popularized by purveyors of trends who want to teach you a lifestyle: how to wrap an infinity scarf or create a refreshing grapefruit spritzer.

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And in the middle of it all stands the behemoth social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat have all morphed from handy tools to actual propellants of our culture. Tweets are regularly featured in the news. Emojis stand in for text within text. We get what the peach and eggplant mean–a far cry from actually having to woo someone into liking you in the first place, much less into your pants.

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With this insane glut, like Augustus Gloop stuffing chocolate in his face, one of the last things anyone would describe an average American as is lonely. It’s a natural conclusion that the more interactions you have, the less you’re alone. In a society of likes, followers, and subscribers, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling stranded in a hollow abyss of loneliness.

Continue reading “Alone in a Crowd”

Nonprofit Work and Women

Most of us have been fattened for the 9-to-5 grind since high school, and herded to the proverbial slaughter through college and then the workforce. Many pursue practical degrees meant to secure a steady paycheck. Business, marketing, or the omnipresent communications degrees are popular. If you chose a more creative path (theater, art, writing), you’ve probably been met with a blank stare. “What kind of jobs are there for that?”

It’s ingrained in our society that success comes to the common working man only through being tethered to the same job for years, putting up with the daily grind, always keeping in mind what you stand to lose if you quit. Some people genuinely thrive in a traditional corporate environment. These jobs can be reliable. They offer structure and security; without them, many of the products we use every day wouldn’t exist.

Friends and I have lamented all the responsibilities we’ve loaded up on ourselves that would be hard or impossible to manage if we quit our jobs tomorrow.

A drawback, though, is that you’re locked into whatever vision the company promotes or where it wants to go. For-profit companies have owners and shareholders, and at the end of the day, any profit is meant to go back in their pockets. You know, the invisible “man” somewhere out there who everyone either hates or has sadly resigned themselves to. The entire thing is meant to be a closed loop. There isn’t a lot of creative wiggle room or many chances for employees to spread their wings besides “moving up the ladder.”

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That’s what he said.

“It was a joke.” That’s his excuse. During a recent episode of Fox & Friends, Bill O’Reilly, the infamous conservative talking head, made a poorly placed comment on the hairstyle of Maxine Waters, a Democratic representative. A recording of her giving a speech against Donald Trump played on screen while O’Reilly reacted live. Instead of keeping his commentary professional,  he decided to let everyone know he hadn’t actually been paying attention because he was distracted by Maxine’s “James Brown wig.” (There’s also a point to be made about black hair and all that AND men diminishing women in general when they say something at our expense and think we’re all going to have a laugh about it, BUT I’ll save that for another time. Dude’s just gone and thrown all his rods in the fire. He stays busy.)

In all honesty, if someone like Dave Chappelle had made that joke, I would have laughed. But even then, Chapelle would have used it to make a larger point about black and American culture. Bill O’Reilly isn’t a comedian, and he doesn’t illustrate any informational points about American culture, except a glaring one: if you talk sense to a fool, he will call you foolish.

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Dave Chappelle. Image via The Gazette Review.

O’Reilly’s apology (and the rest of it he could find in himself to bother with) was nothing more than that age-old shoulder shrug that takes the responsibility off the speaker and makes the butt of the joke seem like they’re over-reacting. We’ve all heard it and have even said it. “It was just a joke!” Sometimes it is. But what makes the difference, I feel, is not just an apology, but changed behavior. To show it’s been understood that no offense was meant and to restore respect. We can’t yet see if this is what O’Reilly will do with Maxine, but we can gather enough information from his past to assume that he’s not sorry, and when he said it was just a joke, that’s all he expects to have to say.

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Maxine Waters. Image via Politico.

On Smash Up, I try to keep the focus away from the gratuitous nature of our current political and social climate. I don’t see it as doing any good to always be up in arms about who said what now or what so-and-so did. People will always be up to something. Kamala Harris said, “I think too many people get distracted from the task at hand with visions of wonder about their future, and it’s misguided and a bad use of current time.” Instead of fixating on a dream of how things could be, get your feet moving toward that vision.

But I decided to go ahead with this one, because O’Reilly and others like him are, to me, the machinery that keeps patriarchy and prejudice running. The words he chooses or doesn’t choose–his exaggerations, lying, and excuses are the grease that keeps us ill at ease. He’s given himself over to the fame that comes from being a shock jock. However you feel about O’Reilly, you can’t deny he’s a prominent public figure; he didn’t get that way by twiddling his thumbs while everyone else was saying, “Gee, that O’Reilly guy might be interesting…”

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Bill O’Reilly. Image via cached Gawker.

In his book, “The O’Reilly Factor,” he shirks personal responsibility because he’s just “telling the truth.” He writes, “The reader might be wondering whether I’m conservative, liberal, libertarian, or exactly what […] See, I don’t want to fit any of those labels, because I believe that the truth doesn’t have labels. When I see corruption, I try to expose it. When I see exploitation, I try to fight it. That’s my political position.” Even if he does hang up his coat at the end of each night and sigh, “When is the world gonna get it?” He still chooses to wake up every day and continue the side show. He’s active in his own image. So, with that in mind, I decided to do some digging into how he got to this place. My hope is that with this knowledge, we can be less distracted by the juggling and fire blowing.

(And he and I have the same birthday, which just insults the name of good Virgos everywhere. At least Beyonce is also a Virgo too, so she compensates for all our wrongs.)

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You know who.

Continue reading “That’s what he said.”

Gone girls.

Fourteen girls disappeared in DC over 24 hours. At least that’s what recent a viral Instagram post claimed. A square of pixels shows young girls of color, a couple are smiling, but most have calm faces like any of us look on a regular day. Black faces. Latina faces. Human faces. Of course it caught like wildfire. Social media isn’t in the business of pacing itself. And under the assumption that these girls were abruptly abducted, it shouldn’t pace itself. One child gone missing is one too many.

“An Instagram post claiming 14 girls had disappeared in D.C. over a 24-hour period went viral across social media Thursday.” – NBC Washington

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Image via Slate.com.

The number and time frame was insane, yet I wondered if there was a kernel of truth to it. Minority breaking news suffers from two extremes: there’s either not enough of it, or it’s sensationalized. And I don’t take soundbites seriously. American culture is driven by clickbait. The catchier or crazier the headline, the faster it spreads. “12 Ways to Save Money” versus “The Benefits of Spending Less Than You Earn.” Same topics, but the 12-step quickie is going to get the most clicks. A closer look at information is ignored because it can be long and tedious. Most people don’t read as it is–they’re not going to read a lengthy article online. But I try to.

Continue reading “Gone girls.”

The best fighter is never angry.

*Quote from Lao Tzu.

All my ideas come to me while I get ready for work. Brushing my teeth, a word or phrase will pop into my head, and I fight to hang on to it while I gargle and spit, then rush to my phone for a haphazard reminder of my early morning insight–for better or for worse. This morning, the word was “anger.” More specifically, how anger is not sustainable.

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We’ve all been there.

Smash Up Magazine began, in part, as a response to the political and social discord of the recent election. Not necessarily as an expression only of anger, but as a tool to engage, specifically using the tools I can provide through the lens of being a woman (feminism). But a lot of expressions around the election are still trying to stoke that initial anger that ignited rallies, protests, and obvious displays of outrage. In that light, I wondered: how long can that last? What is it about pure anger that cannot survive long-term? Don’t get me wrong–I recognize anger as an effective fight or flight response in getting a fire lit under our asses. But fires die. The group breaks up and goes home to make dinner, watch a movie, go to bed. Pretty soon it’s just you and Uncle Lou who shows up for every fire, and some warm cans of PBR, griping about ‘nam, which you probably weren’t even alive for.

Let’s look at the word “anger,” from Merriam Webster (it’s been around since 1882; I think it’s got a few years on us): “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” Ok, let’s look at “antagonism:” “actively expressed opposition or hostility.” Perfect. It’s not hard to find examples of this in our news feeds. Everywhere around the globe someone is hostile or thinks someone else is hostile, and therein is also hostile: North Korea, Russia, Obama, Trump, George W. Bush, Paul Ryan, Kellyanne Conway, war, poverty, the 1%, the 99%. On top of politics, we have our usual buffet of problems: poverty, race, jobs, money, the environment, murder, rape, and goddammit you probably lost your car keys too. It’s a crying shame we can’t take our physical heads off and let them rest. There’s no end! It’s angering!

Continue reading “The best fighter is never angry.”