Incidental Insights: Embracing Dissent

Incidental Insights: Embracing Dissent

By Allen

I remember my first anxiety attack.

          It was late in the evening, probably around midnight sometime in the spring of 2013. I had been up for hours trying to study for a General Chemistry final, and my brain was refusing to retain any information. I even remember where I was sitting; nestled in the corner of a couch that seated many but was almost exclusively occupied by me most nights as I try to relax. I’m there, eyes throbbing and red with stress. Notes are everywhere because that felt right at the time, like maybe if I could look at it all at once, I could have some sort of Beautiful Mind moment where it all suddenly made sense. I stopped trying to listen to music several hours earlier, so it was dead quiet. This was my first major final of college, an event I knew to expect and prepared to be challenged by, but I didn’t anticipate how my body wanted to react. The knotting sense in my stomach that I can still feel, the scenario playing out in front of me over and over again, all of these sensory moments in time were what was being written to my long-term memory, with no room left for stoichiometry or alkene reactions.

        It was specifically the moment where I realized that I was potentially going to fail a course in my second semester of college that things got serious. I started sweating, my hands were shaking, and I dropped my notes. I picked up the nearest pillow and screamed as loudly as I could into it. Usually, that helps. But then, I couldn’t help but start crying. Crying and screaming, and not the type of crying that comes from passion or strong emotions. I was crying because I realized where I was, and who I had become. No longer was I the “smart when he tries” kid in high school who only did well when he prioritized working over the incomprehensible time-consuming nonsense that occupies one’s free time at that age. I wasn’t the excited freshman being reassured by my orientation leaders that things are going to be fine, you’re going to make it through these four years. Right there, sitting cross-legged in the corner of that big, expansive couch that nobody else sits on anymore. This was just the first of many times where anxiety tried to get in the way of my success.

        That evening taught me a lot about my limits and how I cope with stress. I know how anxiety manifests itself in me whenever it feels like it, I know that I cannot naturally pass any class by simply studying for a few days and skimming material last minute. Most importantly, almost failing a course that important to my future is just how things go. That’s probably the most universal takeaway that most people I ask mention after finishing college. Those four years are often misconstrued as the time where you come to accept your insignificance, but I think that’s misleading. College teaches you that life is hard and you can’t get by on minimum effort alone, sure. But so does dating, so does working, so does everything you do in between classes and studying. It pushes you to the edge of what you think is easy and comfortable, and tantalizes you with what’s beyond it. It makes you re-assess what’s important to you personally, and allows you to construct your own existence and define your own goals.

        The end of high school wasn’t sad for me. I knew what I wanted to go to college for and I knew that I had the support of my family to get through it. I saw so many people use the presumed sadness that they thought everyone was feeling in the summer after high school to bond with others. Misery seeks company, but it doesn’t work when I’m not particularly miserable to be moving on to newer things. I’d listen and say “Yeah, I’m really gonna miss this” to everyone who would ask, but I was lying. The people who matter to you, the ones who text you at 2 am to apologize for not getting back to you, or who say yes to any plans and challenge you to follow through are the people who you can’t escape. That adage has proved itself true time and time again, even as I’ve been certain that friends I knew in high school would fade from my sphere of concern.

        Orientation day, summer 2012. I’m scared because I’m living at home and not at school, and I feel like I’ve stumbled on the first step. It’s almost embarrassing to look back now at how concerned I was that I lived at home in college, like I was somehow robbing myself of a better experience. That’s not to say I liked living at home; the burden of your parents helping you is magnified tenfold, the commute wore me out day after day, and frankly nothing is more isolating and painful than being 18, lonely, and miles and miles away from anyone your age when you need them the most. I’m so happy I stayed at home though! Oh my goodness, no rent, fewer monetary worries, and most importantly, that loneliness actually cultivated a thirst for exciting social experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Now, any conversation with another human being is a blessing to me, and I’ve come to appreciate my family exponentially more because they supported this joy of others. I leap to almost any chance to stay out late or see other people now because I lived at home, and that made freshman year a slog worth living through.

        Sophomore year exists in this strange but beautiful place between the exciting frontier that is freshmen year, and the comfort in a pattern that comes with being more than halfway done with undergrad. The only course I remember from this time was Organic Chemistry, and even that is only because it is infamously a challenging subject. What most non-medical students don’t understand about Orgo is that it’s difficult not because there is so much material, but because it doesn’t work like any other class. You’re telling me I need to make flashcards, take notes in class, AND develop a study plan that I can stick to, and this is all for one course? Needless to say, I retook Orgo the following summer.

        Difficult science courses are not what I remember most about sophomore year, though. I already knew chemistry was hard from that aforementioned anxiety attack, so this was not the year-defining, soul-crushing experience for me that it was for my peers; It was just another one of those. The moment that defines that year is when I came to accept the invigorating nature of rejection. I asked three different people out on dates my sophomore year, a feat that was beyond even a pipe dream to High School Allen. I hesitate to even call it a feat, because that gives off the message that the process of asking another individual out on a date is somehow impressive or worthy of merit. Sure, it seems scary because everything on the periphery of a daily routine is scary. Ordering a different flavor of coffee is scary in a way. Taking a different route home can be scary. Hell, skipping a class (which I coincidentally did for the first time that year, and am glad I did) is scary. But once you get past that fear that the other person will say no to you, it’s just a matter of following through. If you think about it, why are people afraid of asking each other out on dates? Everyone spends boring classes eyeing attractive people in the classroom, imagining a relationship (be it romantic or sexual, but usually the latter) with whoever catches their eye. If you can keep in mind that these other human beings are just as sexually wound-up and existentially bored as you are, then asking someone else out feels like nothing.

Next, junior year. Late 2013/early 2014 is such a haze for me, in part because of that comfort that comes from a routine. Naturally, the most successful year for me academically was also my least memorable. Just to give a decent sample size of my experiences, highlights of junior year that immediately jump to mind are: reading comic books in Boston Common, late-night Biochemistry group study Skype calls, visiting a classmate’s apartment in Southie to film a group video project, getting to put on a suit for a fake talk show, and the numerous long hikes through Blue Hills with some buddies. Junior year is when you start to see the end, mysterious as it may be.

        We arrive in the present, as I’m writing this a few days before graduating. Senior year was definitely a good time, I can say that for certain. By this point, the friends that I cared about stuck around, and we developed our own corner of the school as an inclusive, friendly space where we met new people and bonded over shared experiences. The student lounge became a place for us to exist between life events. It occupied the interludes in the narrative, somewhere adjacent to exam week and vacation time, where you don’t necessarily want to go home, but you’re fresh off of a challenging test. Everyone that came to the student lounge was coming from something, going somewhere, or trying to avoid going somewhere. In a way, the lounge was like friendships, always there but ready to get out of the way when it needed to. Classes were light enough by this point that our eyes were to the future. The two month period in there where I hurriedly applied to dental schools was certainly hectic, and I still remember both times I asked for letters of recommendation and was denied. Being face to face with someone who couldn’t possibly be bothered with your feeble request to take hours out of their time to help you is not only humbling, but almost gratifying in that it prepares you for so much more denial. Finishing applications, learning to not regret the resources I never utilized or the people I never spoke to, senior year felt like an outward admittance that yes, I did do this.

        As I begin what will hopefully be a productive year of working and learning while I re-apply to dental school, I spend most of my time thinking back to what I’ve done. I met some incredible people, developed social and academic skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and most importantly, I learned to value myself. I know now that waiting for motivation is fruitless, and success comes from consistency and effort, not some unfathomable sense that you’re inspired to work. That first anxiety attack was my first glimpse at how scary getting older can be, and prompted a lot of late night thoughts about my anxiety and how I would slowly learn to live with it. Sit down, open up your textbook, and learn. College was the first time that I came to value learning for my own personal growth and mental health. I worried for a while that not having assigned work would lead to me not reading anymore, which has happened to plenty of people that I know. It’s times like that where I remember the greatest lesson of the last four years: inspiration, productivity, and fulfillment all come exclusively from feeling challenged and rebuffed by information. Accepting, processing, and adapting that information into something that defines you is how we keep from becoming ignorant and close-minded, and seeking those challenging opinions and facts out is something to live for.

           

 

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Incidental Insights: Why I Hate Happiness

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By James

Happiness is the most boring emotion. If you can take nothing else away from this article, know that happiness is boring. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that it’s a bad thing, just boring. My favorite books, movies, and even songs, are all tinged by dark characteristics. For example, my favorite movie, Adaptation, features a heartbreaking killing. The next movie,Being John Malkovich, features the loss of free will, and the slow but eventual onset, as a man spends his days trapped in someone else’s head. In fact, scrolling through my list of my twenty favorite movies, it is almost impossible to find a movie that isn’t in some way depressing. The only comedies on the list are Hot Fuzz, Dr. Strangelove, Death at a Funeral, andLock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. As it turns out, even my taste in comedies is dark. My musical predilections are similarly peppered with grim titles. My favorite album is calledHunger and Thirst, and contains such lighthearted songs as “White Liars”, “The Sickness Unto Death”, and “Happy People”, which oddly enough is not that happy. I would not consider myself a very dark person. Sure, sometimes I brood, and occasionally I stay up at night, convincing myself I am a vampire, but who doesn’t? The problem then resides in the material rather than my tastes.

I don’t search for depressing films. I really don’t. Of the movies that I watch, only around fifteen percent try to evoke sadness. And even if a film contains death, it doesn’t necessarily make me cry out with ecstasy. The book Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card contains a major character death part of the way through, yet I didn’t find the book particularly entertaining. The movie Sweeny Todd had more blood than Dracula in a room full of polycythemia verics (for the record I had to look that one up).  Therefore, it isn’t the drama created by death itself. The only thing that I can think of that could explain my appetite for sorrow is the fact that sorrow is far more interesting than happiness.

Bear with me for a moment here, because the argument that I’m going to make would sound appropriate for the bassist in a grunge band. Which I definitely am not. One of the deeply imprinted social constructs is the pursuit of happiness. We are driven towards happiness through a biological imperative. Happiness is food, sex, and sleep. It’s only through abstract thought that we can find happiness in looking at art, and listening to music. The happiness that we get from movies are similar abstractions. You are happy because the imaginary woman that you knew for an hour and a half found her imaginary love who she knew for a few days. You are happy that an imaginary character managed to escape from the alien beasts, while learning about the value of friendship. Nothing in this is particularly natural, as a great depth of abstraction is required to identify with a person that you don’t know in a place that might be imagined. However, due to the residual drive towards happiness, abstractions still tend towards happiness, driving people to like happy media rather than sad.

Now for the question: Why is happiness boring? Well, what I said before is something of misdirection. Happiness itself is not boring in its own way. What has gotten boring however is the overuse of happiness in media. The gut reaction of most producers seems to make things happier. Books get adapted with fewer hard choices and more romance. The movie adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel Dear John allowed the two protagonists to be together. The reason was purely economic. Producers didn’t want the movie to tank, and made the calculated risk that a happy ending fixes everything.  The evisceration of the source material is expected, but the overuse leads to an immunity from real danger. Take Transformers. Sure, we were all sad when Optimus Prime died in the third movie. But did you really think for one second that his death and sacrifice would mean anything? The note of finality leads to a level of pride. A permanent sacrifice is noble. A temporary sacrifice is an inconvenience. Comics, of course, are the worst offenders, with a Superman that refuse to die for longer than a few months. But the happiness felt at the return of a character feels cheapened by the knowledge that death is impermanent, as lowering the stakes removes any drama. Nowadays,the easiest way to show that you are counter culture is therefore to make a movie sad. I’m not talking about romantic tragedies, with idealized deaths and an almost Victorian penchant for drama, but the gut wrenching tragedies wrought by the horrible realization that one man’s death may not mean a lot. We need the break from happiness, and from ultimately the repetition of the same emotion: static happiness, because while happiness is all well and good, we need a little sorrow once in a while.

Panel Discussion: Reading Between the Lies

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By Allen

I’ve been trying to branch out more with comics in the last few months now that I have a commute again, which has led to me reading a weird amalgamation of stories that I’ve meant to for years like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, cult classics like Lone Wolf And Cub, and indie outings like the fantastic Alex And Ada. If there’s any quality that connects these disparate stories, it’s a disconnect between what is implied and what is in the panels.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman  can best be described as Justice League starring characters from all across literature through the lens of Alan Moore. It’s easily his second most well-known work after Watchmen, and it shares his fondness for creating universes through implication of a broader world than what is seen. In Watchmen, every scene is filled with grunge and darkness that permeated late-80s postmodern art and media. Even when the story shows something like a dead dog or a man committing suicide with cyanide, the world around these scenes breathes with life and realism. This is much more apparent in League of Extraordinary Gentleman. At least in the first volume, it feels like almost half of the story is establishing shots and splash pages. And even though these scenes show the scale and scope of the novel’s many settings, they are drawn in such a way that each splash page tells a story. In one, the heroes sneak through a street of the homeless and ill, masking their faces so as to avoid detection. But what’s more interesting is what isn’t shown; the children of these homeless people, how they got there, and where our heroes came from. In this way, the establishing shots become about not what is, but what isn’t seen. These little details fill in the background of the world, and use a single page or two to tell an elegant, broad story.

If League tells its story through gaps and false framing of scenes, then Lone Wolf and Cub depicts the repetitiveness of violence exclusively using its context clues and the assumptions that the reader brings. The 1970s Japanese samurai story about a samurai assassin and his precocious baby son relies heavily on the classic “Exposition, fight scene, moral, repeat” formula for most of the early-goings. With every battle that Ogami Ittō gets into, the swipes and slashes of swords are represented by the same five or six frames of gore and mutilation. It’s a weirdly gruesome type of scene in a mostly slow, measured comic. However, since it’s almost the same series of frames every time, one would think the artist got lazy and didn’t want to draw new fights. However, this seemed to me like a deliberate choice. Even though the fighters and setting are always different, the battle itself is relatively the same. It’s the context from earlier scenes and past reader experience that envigorate these fights. When Ogami Ittō fights female samurai warriors, it looks the same as when he fights the bulky bodyguard character or vile bandits. However, when one realizes that these women are being treated as equals in Shogun-era Japan (at least in combat), the narrative is reframed to almost be about feminism and the way that these women use their weapons as much as their bodies to fight. And, like a good horror film, the implication of violence between frames is much more horrifying and brutal than what is ever shown.

There’s something almost false and deceiving about the way that comic book art is used to tell stories. Half a hand in one frame can represent an entire body, and word bubbles symbolize speech and action. But even the writing can hint at a greater world than what is shown in each panel. Alex and Ada, a new comic from the Luna Brothers (writer and artist combo that did indie horror masterpiece Girls) focuses on the relationship between 20-something Alex and his synthetic android Ada. For such a small-scale story, the implications of the universe around these characters is massive and detailed. The first example of this is a news report recounting a classic “supposedly subservient robots turn sentient and kill their masters” factory incident. The specific details of this story, like who created the androids and how they gained sentience are slowly explained to the reader and Alex through the story. As the world around him unravels, so does the pace of the story. Early issues spend a lot of time explaining this strange future, but as it grows more comfortable with its universe, Alex and Ada uses subtle, unspoken drama and pathos for world building. Nobody sits down and explains the virtual reality Internet that people browse;it is simply shown as is. This suggests that the world has been the way it is for years, and nobody within it needs to function as a reader stand-in.

Scott McCloud spends an entire chapter of his famous graphic art book Understanding Comics on the idea of storytelling happening off the panels. This is not only a well-known technique discussed in comics, but a staple of classic works in the medium. However, not many people view the panels themselves as a selectively permeable veil; See this, ignore this. Like a cell membrane, the art hides what needs to stay out, and shows what needs to be seen. But sometimes, it’s the stuff that doesn’t make it in that develops the world the best.

Incidental Insights: Monkeys,Typewriters, and Pokemon

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By Allen
It’s easy to define pop culture fans as hard to please, uncooperative, and fickle. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds online to find an article or forum post filled to the brim with outrage over some minor casting change or game DLC plans. However, 2014 has been shaping up to take the Internet’s hive mind mentality and meld it into some of the most unique experiences we’ve seen. Specifically, the TwitchPlaysPokemon stream and Pivot’s new show HitRecord on TV exemplify this new shift towards collaborative content creation.
The existence of TwitchPlaysPokemon is somewhat of an anomaly. As with many viral sensations, it gained popularity through word of mouth and sheer prevalence in colleges and social networks. Essentially, TPP is a 24-hour livestream of an emulated copy of Pokemon Red being played by the Twitch livestreaming service’s chat window. Every input is entered as it arrives, and the company’s new 20+ second delay on chat commands reaching streams has turned this simple social experiment into a beautiful blend of everything the collective Internet can do given the time and resources. The stream itself is not particularly fun to watch, with the chat guiding Red the trainer into incomprehensible circles and basically every wall around. At face value, there is no inherent worth to watching a stream where approximately 60% of people are trying to make progress, and 40% are trying to ruin the game as much as possible. However, the moment I realized that this project was worth watching was when I realized that they were making serious progress. Just like the old saying about monkeys and typewriters, if you throw enough idiots at a simple game like Pokemon, they will eventually bumble their way to success.
Plenty has been written about TwitchPlaysPokemon, with many comparing its “Democracy/Anarchy” voting system to real life political theory. Originally, the game was always played in Anarchy, meaning that every command is accepted by the game. After enough people complained that no progress was being made, Democracy was voted into play. This meant that every ten seconds, the most voted for command is accepted. Although this lead to plenty of progress (and the eventual finishing of the game), many were disheartened by how boring it made the whole experience. In Anarchy mode, Red’s highest level Pokemon, a Charmeleon named “ABBBBBBK” or “Abby” was released into the wild when the chat guided Red to a PC. Memes surfaced around this time, as well as when they chose the dreaded Helix Fossil at Mt. Moon, which was hence referred to as Lord Helix due to their constant futile selecting of it during battles. They (notice I now refer to the chat as a collective “They”) caught Zapdos with a Master Ball in Anarchy, they jumped off of ledges constantly to impede progress, and so many of their greatest achievements occurred in Anarchy mode. This mode to me represented TwitchPlaysPokemon at its most pure; an unfiltered, unmonitored stream of people contributing to a common goal. This could only be achieved in 2014, with Twitch’s prevalence in not only the new generation of consoles, but in PCs everywhere. It may be frustrating to watch sometime, but like the audience in The Truman Show, we just can’t get enough of it.
Similarly, cable television is finally starting to blend in with this collaborative Internet hive mind. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his deceased brother Daniel started the “open source production company” HitRecord back in 2010. The website allows people from all over the world to contribute audio, visuals, art, and all other types of media to collaborative film projects. Those who simply knew the actor for his roles in 500 Days of Summer and Looper were surprised to see that this side project of his had been optioned for a television series. Broadcast on the new independent channel Pivot, the first season was structured very similarly to the science podcast Radiolab. Each episode was centered on a one-word theme, and each of the films presented were created by the HitRecord community, and introduced or performed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his many friends in the acting business. It was a beautiful season of television to watch grow over time, and the production values of each short film were short of Hollywood professional work. But HitRecord on TV could not exist at a better time than now, when smartphones now allow people to record and edit videos with minimal experience or equipment required. In one particular film for example, in the episode “Re: Money” Levitt and co. reenact a user-submitted story about a relative who tried stealing her family’s fortune, with graphics, music, and script also created by users. By putting this power in the people, beautiful work was created.
Although one is run by basically anyone with a computer and the other by anyone willing to record and submit content, these two new projects represent a huge shift in how we consume and create content online. Had TwitchPlaysPokemon been sponsored or managed by a large corporation, it would never have become the delightful experiment run by thousands that it is today. And if the community of HitRecord weren’t so talented and well-managed, their new show would not exist. I’m not suggesting that putting the power in the hands of the users is how we solve Internet negativity, but it is certainly contributing to a future of togetherness and cohesive vision.

Incidental Insights: Piloting Your Worst Nightmare

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By Allen

I’ve been thinking about fear a lot lately. Whether it’s things that scare me personally, or just tropes that apply to all facets of pop culture, horror is an integral aspect of the media we consume. While not a fan of horror games myself (I can’t stomach taking control of someone who is walking into a horror movie situation by my hand), I do like to indulge in a few horror films around Halloween. The origins of this tradition came from a fairly dark place in my life, and I think it’s the same dark place in everyone that explains the popularity of a genre focused on scaring people to their very core.

A few years ago, my grandfather passed away from old age. Although I had only spent a few weeks spending time with him, I felt like I lost a part of my own mother as well. The lessons that he imparted on her trickle down to me even today, and his presence was sorely felt hundreds of miles away from his home in Syria. For a while, I didn’t know how to cope with this loss. I first heard the news on the way to school, my mom barely able to tell me while holding back tears. And I, being the self-centered high school student that I was, couldn’t figure out how to feel. I still remember sitting at my grandparents’s house, telling them both that no, I didn’t want to eat or drink anything.

It was around this time of year when I heard the news, and my first instinct that weekend was to watch a movie. I believe it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula that was free on some digital download service, and I decided that it would do as background noise as I thought about other things. For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s basically a chintzy, very bizarre retelling of the classic vampire story, but with a much greater emphasis on the opulence and sexuality of its titular villain. It’s not an amazing film, but now I associate it with all of the emotions that come with losing a family member. The best horror films are the ones that strike a particular, deeply personal nerve with the viewer, which is why I find it difficult to recommend films of the genre to other people. Scenes, settings, and even specific kills all resonate with people differently, and I think that the best way to dive into the horror genre is to try a little bit of everything. Although it’s not a great film from a critical point of view, the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left has stuck with me for a while because it dealt with sexual assault and parental nurturing in a really visceral, disturbing way. Replace the girl who is killed in the first act with my sister, and replace the parents with mine, and you basically have a recurring nightmare of mine. The thought that kind people could be brought to the brink of madness by the loss of a child is one of the scariest things I can imagine, and although there are objectively “better” horror films, these two came at just the right time for me to be disturbed by them.

As I said earlier, I have less experience with games in the horror genre. The genre as a whole is too intense for me, and I don’t need that much pressure when sitting back and playing a game. However, I won’t deny that there are some genuinely amazing things being done with the genre in the last few years. Amnesia: The Dark Descent scared me enough to delete it off of my hard drive after 15 minutes of play time, and even Gone Home plays with your expectations of a haunted mansion in some clever ways. However, the most interesting advancement in horror video games to me is the Oculus Rift. The Kickstarter-funded VR headset already has several first person demos available that showcase its ability to trap the player in a constructed universe. I can get through games like Dead Space, where the player has the ability to stop in a safe zone, and fight back with an arsenal of weapons. But as soon as the game occupies my entire point of view, and I can’t look away, that’s the point where I will never be brave enough to play games. It’s so easy to pause and look away, just to catch your breath or get away from whatever monster is chasing the protagonist. Just thinking about it makes me sick. I think this fear of being too engrossed in a scary experience comes from a genuine fear of responsibility in me. It’s easy to say that the characters in a film are dumb and deserve to die, but putting me at the wheel of an avatar’s fate requires a commitment and level of authority that I just don’t have. As I said at the beginning of this article, it’s to each their own when it comes to horror. Play a few games yourself, watch some scary movies with friends, and decide for yourself how invested you’re willing to be when the blood starts spraying, and the other line just won’t pick up the phone.

Incidental Insights: The Benefits of Life

Passionate PitsBy James

As I waited in a line that went down three blocks, I started to dread the main attraction. The first band had already started to play, and even from outside the building, I could tell that it was loud. As we reached the front door, the possibility of escape was cut down by the dread of another long line. I was in for the duration of the concert. The room was already packed, a quarter mile track filled with both fans and apathetic observers. The concert stage was set, and the only thing missing was the band. After a half hour wait, tension was at an all-time low and high. While everyone had gotten sick of the nervous agitation that comes before a performance, the waiting made the concert even more anticipated. Finally, with a muffled explosion of a roar accompanying their entrance, Passion Pit took the stage. And I had no idea who they were.

When I heard that Passion Pit was coming to Case Western, my first reaction was to look up who they were. After listening to their top hits on Spotify, I felt confident that I knew what type of band they were. To me, they represented the “indie” brand of popular radio that seems to be so prevalent. I expected little and, in return, believed there to be little to find. Then the music started to play. The music wasn’t fantastic. It had all been done before, and by better artists. When the music started to play, my opinion had not changed. In fact, I still believe their music is trite and somewhat uninteresting. During the middle of the second or third song, one of my friends was lifted into the crowd for some crowd surfing. Then things started to get crazy. The energy of the crowd just went through the roof. The better part of a thousand kids started to pulse, jumping up and down, waving hands and screaming like lunatics. As I stared at the rolling crowds, I thought about how stupid everyone looked. Then I noticed that I was jumping too.

In some ways, being in a live audience is like joining a mob. Every action is fickle and prone to a sort of adrenaline high. The performance becomes an outlet for energy, a catharsis for all agitation. Halfway into a song that I didn’t know, I caught myself shouting along with lyrics that I couldn’t remember. The energy of the crowd was captivating and raw, an unprocessed emotional force that swept everyone along.

In a way, that is the real power of concerts. The music is immaterial in the face of the fact that the entire audience is united in their love of music and noise, in the primordial sense of unification of a group. It does not matter that the audience is enjoying an event; it is the energy that makes a concert so special. From the obnoxious drunkards to the unlikely revelers, it is hard to find a place that is quite as diverse as a college concert. And so, an hour and a half later, I walked out with my ears ringing, my voice hoarse, and a happy grin on my face.

Incidental Insights: The Practicality of Insanity

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By Allen

It’s 10 in the morning, and the sun is now sitting comfortably outside of your bedroom window. You’re hunched over a wooden table, agonizing over a few diagrams in a dusty old textbook. Hours melt away in seconds, and people come in and out of the room like ghosts, only to be greeted and sent away. If this scene sounds familiar, you also have studied for exams before. In all the greatest works of art, there is a mad human being at the center. In any work, creativity stems from obsession, be it with the craft, or a dream, or even just an idea. These seeds are what fuel the creators of our favorite pieces of pop culture, and we the consumer give back to them by also obsessing over these works. No matter how many times I’ve seen Almost Famous, I know that Cameron Crowe has thought about and written about it more. It’s his baby, and works like that show a craft and care that so many people fail to realize is happening in dorm rooms and homes everywhere.

As a premed student, I do a lot of studying. From the very beginning of a semester, I’m already predicting what will be on the first exam. And as soon as that one is over, I’m thinking about the next one. When I leave the lecture hall to discuss that test, it’s hard to take the conversation away from work. Whether it’s the triumphant feeling of success or the agony of failure, it feels too good to share that with others. When we leave those halls and go home to our families, it’s hard to convince them how much this work has consumed us. It becomes a part of your very being, it worms its way into your quotidian thoughts and conversations, and it always feels like you could do better. If I just crammed the night before, I could have gotten #11 for sure. Next time, I say. Next time, I’ll be ready. There’s always a next time.

I’ve started to notice that are quite a few similarities between this aspect of school and the pop culture world. I doubt that Leonardo Da Vinci received drafts of his work back with low grades on them, but he definitely sat in a room alone, gazing at Mona Lisa, looking for some crack in the paint or coloring error in her hair. What we see on the big screen at a movie theater or on our TVs at home isn’t just the results put in front of us to view and control; it’s the combined effort of thousands of hours of thought, trial and error, fear, and acceptance. It’s why I find director’s commentary so fascinating, if only to hear them say how long a single scene took to shoot. Some would argue that it removes some of the inherent magic in film when one knows how it’s made, but, on the contrary, it enhances the feeling of accomplishment and wonder in each frame. When I was younger, the games I played and films I watched were simply what was on the screen and nothing else. Now, when I see something like the intro of God of War III or the car scene in Children of Men, all I can think is “Wow, that must have been expensive.”

In a way, committing yourself to one piece of work is a form of obsession. To envelop yourself in its flaws and rough edges, to work day after day to iron one corner over, just to present it to an audience that you will never meet all of. At face value, it seems pointless. However, some of the greatest achievements in pop culture were products of one passionate person who was willing to see them through to the end. Even when there isn’t something to present in the end, the road there can be paved with hardship, unparalleled creativity, and invaluable experiences for everyone involved. One of the perfect examples of this is 2002’s Lost in La Mancha, which details Terry Gilliam’s attempt to make a film based on Don Quixote. Although it is, at times, incredibly depressing to watch such a clever vision fall apart so quickly, it also shows how devoted Gilliam was to his vision. At the end of the film, with most of his actors either sick or out of commission, he doesn’t throw out the entire idea. Instead, he states with resolution that he WILL make the film someday, and it WILL stay true to his vision. This uncompromising determination is inspiring to a student like me, since it doesn’t always feel like there’s a bottom to this mountain that defines my career of choice. Knowing that someone, against the advice of so many, refuses to quit or change what he started out to do, and what had completely engulfed his life for years, is invigorating. And like the titular monster slayer of Gilliam’s failed project, I will keep my nose to the ground, with the knowledge that I’ll be able to help at least one person at the end of this wonderfully insane road.