Think Tank: My Year of Reading Books by Women

In 2016, I had two crystallizing experiences about the kinds of books I read.

Crystallizing Experience #1:

I have had a Barnes and Noble edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray that I bought in high school for no reason I can remember and never got around to finishing. I recall trying to get through the first two chapters but getting bored, so it got shelved indefinitely. In 2016, I wanted to economize my 50-book goal as much as possible by reading the to-read books I already had, so I introduced Dorian into the rotation back in July.

As I was slogging through it, I realized that 15-year-old Zoë had the right idea about the book’s dullness. I’m sure at the time people thought this novel was interesting, but it doesn’t hold up today. It’s a story written by a white and privileged man about a white and privileged man, with a philosophical message about art (that it only exists to be beautiful) that I’m not sure I agree with. I did not like the gender dynamics throughout the plot, and the symbol of “whiteness” that kept coming up did not sit well with me.

At the same time, I thought about the books that I’d read as a student and in my post-grad life. In middle and high school, the book selections were often the “classics,” which was a designation I didn’t think about or challenge. In college, I was extremely lucky that my literature program’s texts came from a diverse group of professors who drew from a diverse group of authors, and that the class discussions were designed to make us students look past the surface level. Since graduating, I’ve kept working on expanding my literary knowledge: reading more from the authors I’d grown to love, the novels that the literary part of my Twitter timeline couldn’t stop talking about and theory texts and nonfiction books. This desire — to always seek out something new-to-me to read — is one of the things I like most about myself.

When I finished The Picture of Dorian Gray, I felt like I had wasted my time reading something that was supposed to be a gem in the English canon’s jewelry box. I hated that I felt that way, and it struck me as an opportunity to revisit and reconsider my choices in literature. I’m sorry that it had to be Oscar Wilde to get me to come to this conclusion, but it had to happen eventually.

Crystallizing Experience #2:

In an incredible essay, Rebecca Traister said exactly what I felt in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections: “We have gotten a clear view of how deeply this country is invested in keeping women and people of color on the sidelines.” I thought that there was no way the American people way would elect a candidate that boasted he could grab women by the pussy, but I was deeply, deeply wrong. This national decision made me want to not only be a better woman, informed about her body’s physical and political properties, but to seek refuge in art made by women. I don’t think I’m the only one who felt this way.

Both of these experiences helped me come to the conclusion that I want and need to spend more quality time reading books written by women and people who identify as such. I consider myself an ardent, but woefully under-informed feminist, and that is unacceptable. I want and need to cultivate my thoughts on feminism and intersectionality to be able to fully participate in discussions. Most importantly, I want and need to spend my money on art and initiatives made by women who entirely deserve the support. I owe it to myself to do it.

Since I’m a big advocate of setting annual achievable goals, I decided to make this my 2017 goal — to read 50 novels and nonfiction books written only by women. Throughout the year, I’ll chronicle what I read like I did in 2016.  My only expectation is to expand on my thoughts around what it means to be a woman in the world. This project isn’t anti-white or misandrist. But it is a desire to appreciate exceptional artists in a purposeful way, and challenge myself to continually consider my world view. This is the moment I need to act upon it. Will you join me?





Think Tank: About Last Week

"Abuse of power comes as no surprise," by Jenny Holzer. H/T Call Your Girlfriend.
“Abuse of power comes as no surprise,” by Jenny Holzer. H/T Call Your Girlfriend.

You know, there’s only one real way I’ll ever really be able to describe last week, Nov. 7-11, 2016. That week was a total dumpster fire, so vast in its width and depth that we can still see the orange glow of flames deep below the bags of trash on the surface. It’s like we threw the world into the dumpster, gathered up every highly flammable thing we possibly could, put it all in the biggest black bags we could find, doused the whole thing in gallons and gallons of gasoline and lit it with a blowtorch.

Depending on how you feel about the presidential election results in the United States, you may find that metaphor to be an understatement or an over-exaggeration. And that’s fine — I don’t really need your opinion to legitimize the way I feel about it. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my family and friends, and every day the shock of the results wears off a little bit. But I’m still sad, and I’m still angry, and I’m still worried. I’ve thought about writing this post for days, but wondered what contribution my opinion would make to the noise and if I could even effectively articulate it.

It’s taking me awhile to sort through all my feelings about my nationality and how the people of this country think about the concept of me, and I recognize my privilege as a white, heterosexual woman in that process. There are millions of people in this country whose lives have always been in much more danger, and this turn in our country’s history has made those lives even more precarious.

I’m extremely nervous about how the president-elect, his administration and the Republican-owned Congress will dismantle the progressive legislature and initiative in this country. But I’m more upset about something else. The vitriolic rhetoric of his campaign made ignorant white people think it’s okay to do and say hateful things about minority groups under the guise of making the country great again. America has never been great for everyone, with a history steeped in inequality and violence. From the very beginning, minority groups have been denied their rights and fought to their literal deaths for just the tiniest sliver of the so-called American dream. Relatedly, one of the things that has stuck with me the most from this election is this passage from a New Yorker article about Trump supporters (emphasis mine):

In the broadest sense, the Trump supporter might be best understood as a guy who wakes up one day in a lively, crowded house full of people, from a dream in which he was the only one living there, and then mistakes the dream for the past: a better time, manageable and orderly, during which privilege and respect came to him naturally, and he had the whole place to himself.

And for the white people who didn’t vote for him or didn’t vote at all, we’re still complicit in that behavior. I feel guilty about living in a liberal bubble, and not truly realizing how ubiquitous white supremacy really is in other parts of the country. I feel guilty about not making an active effort to canvass for my candidate. I feel guilty about not calling out the people I know who supported a racist, sexist and xenophobic candidate. I used to think I was a pretty informed person, but this election has made me realize I have so much more learning and work to do.

That’s more than just wearing a safety pin on my clothing, or getting caught up in this endless cycle of shared Facebook posts — which, by the way, is really just “performative” activism. I want to be a better advocate for the causes I believe in, and a better ally to marginalized groups whose lives are in incredible danger. I need to be more diligent at calling out racism, sexism and homophobia when I hear and see it. I must remember that social progress is a 24/7, 365 kind of deal beyond the markers of an election cycle.

So what do we do now?

All of us can stay informed about political issues, and pay more attention to our local and state elections. We should donate to the causes we believe in, whether that’s in the form of money or time. We must refuse the normalization of our president-elect’s language and past behavior, as well as the normalization of his supporters’ language and behavior. We need to make more space for people of color, the LGBTQ community and women in the political and cultural spheres, and treat their perspectives with dignity and respect. We have to support the dying investigative journalism industry that does such important work. And we will continue to make art for the voiceless, the disenfranchised and the past generations of people who fought for equality. You know this is an arts and culture blog, and I believe with my whole heart that art and the humanities will be our solace for the next few years.

And more than anything, we need to make sure that we’re also doing the support work in our private lives, and channeling our feelings into something productive. As someone who works in higher education, I now realize that it’s more important than ever to dutifully serve the students at my institution, and make them feel welcome and empowered.

It’s been absolutely incredible to see the visceral reactions people are having to the election results, and I hope we don’t lose the momentum or the power of those emotions. The future is scary and uncomfortable, but I am ready for the responsibility.

Toni Morrison, in a reflection after the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush, said:

I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”… There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

It’s time to get to work, and it’s time to put out that dumpster fire.


Think Tank: The Future of Vine and the Internet

(This is still my favorite Vine.)

A few months ago, I wrote about Vine, the joy it brought to my life and its cultural significance — focused around its announcement that you could start posting longer videos. Vine is and was a gem of the Internet, and I am still floored by how six seconds of looping video can be so mesmerizing and hilarious in a way that speaks much deeper than traditional comedy ever could

When I first found out that Twitter, Vine’s parent company, was shutting the social network, I was pretty upset about it. My family can attest to that — I walked around the house saying “What am I gonna do without Vine?” for at least three or four days. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m actually really concerned about what Vine’s shutdown suggests about the future of the Internet.

It brings up important questions about the Internet’s permanence. 

The first thing we need to lay out is our understanding and expectation of how these social media networks fit in with our lives. It’s hard to think about a big company, like Facebook for example, ever leaving our cultural stratosphere. The pull is too strong, and billions of people use their products every day. But everything has some kind of expiration date, whether it’s brought on by a decline in usage or a pivot in company direction. The audience’s wants and needs is the most important component for longevity, but in theory the company can ignore the audience and discontinue their product. Vine showed that that was possible.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, et al. are really only interested in one thing — monetizing their platform. They first get people to join under the guise that it’s easier to stay connected to people and informed about things they’re interested in, but after awhile the company has to figure out how make their platform profitable and grow their audience. Vine has had this problem from the very beginning. Six second looping video is pretty cool, but the platform did not offer monetization and had a hard time gaining larger user numbers.

But anyway, archiving the platform also costs money in the longterm. The Vine team at Twitter has said that while they’re shutting down the mobile app, the desktop version of Vine will still be available. In their press release on Medium, they said, “We’ll be keeping the website online because we think it’s important to still be able to watch all the incredible Vines that have been made. You will be notified before we make any changes to the app or website.”

I immediately have several questions. They didn’t specify an amount of time that they’d keep, so does that mean the desktop website will eventually come down? Will there be a searchable archive in perpetuity, and will access always be free?

What I’m most concerned about in this turn of events is whether or not Vine’s shutdown will set off a trend of this Internet erasure. Beyond being an entertainment depository, the Internet serves as a digital archive of information that everyone has the right to access — for scholarly purposes or otherwise. To all of a sudden say that the content, which was a cultural barometer for the millennial age group with unfathomable reach, won’t be available anymore because it costs too much isn’t fair. It’s like losing the library of Alexandria all over again, except that this time it’s in a dumpster fire.

You might be thinking, “Zoe, you’re reaching.” But I don’t feel all that bad about making that comparison. Let’s look at the “what are those” Vine, for example — “What are those” became a signifier that Vine users could understand and assign meaning to. They created variations that are pretty funny. It became a facet of a culture and several subcultures (see black youth culture) that will eventually be dissected and analyzed, in the same way people today recognize and trace the trajectory of “To be or not to be” from Hamlet.

The best case scenario, and I don’t know how feasible it would be, is that Twitter gives the database to the Library of Congress so that the Vines are recorded and accounted for. I read a headline this afternoon that suggested Twitter was open to selling Vine, but as far as I’m concerned the cultural damage has already been done.

This complicates the relationship between technology and art.

The art that lives on the Internet derives a lot of its context from its digital medium. You can interpret a carefully composed Instagram shot differently than you would a painted portrait hanging in a museum. You could use different analytical criteria for a poem written on Tumblr than what you’d use for a long epic published in a book, and a 140-character tweet may have different layers of nuance than a print story in the New York Times would. It’s what makes the Internet so interesting and wonderful — it’s the primary form of record in today’s world, and it helps us derive meaning from our daily lives.

But when you think about how much power technology has over our lives — what it can giveth, it can taketh away — it’s kind of scary that we’ve come to rely on it for our most intimate confessions and artistic expressions. What would we do if it all just evaporated?

The Vine shutdown also makes me reconsider both how I use the Internet as a creative outlet, and how I feel about Internet culture. I had never really thought about what it would mean for a part of the Internet to be nonexistent or inaccessible, and how that would affect its future shaping. Now when I look at a piece of Internet art, I’m hyperaware of its level of permanence and more appreciative of the fact that for now, our culture still has it to admire and understand.

Let’s have a conversation about this in the comments. What do you think?

Think Tank: 23 Favorite Quotes

Today is my 23rd birthday, otherwise known as the beginning of my Jordan year. (As far as I know, everyone still likes me.) I’ve talked about it on the blog before, but I love to take holidays and life milestones as an opportunity to reflect on how beautiful my life really is — even during the trying times — and to think about what makes me Zoë. As the last hurrah of a great day (bagels + ice cream + margaritas), I’ll share 23 of my favorite quotes that inspire me throughout the year, every single day.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
Anne Lamott

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.
Henri Matisse

Someone will always be prettier. Someone will always be smarter. Someone will always be younger. But they will never be you.
Kanye West

There is not enough time for hating yourself. Too many things to make. Go.
Tavi Gevinson

You are allowed to be alive. You are allowed to be somebody different. And you are allowed to not say good-bye to anybody or explain a single thing to anyone, ever.
Augusten Burroughs

The ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language.
Joan Didion

Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.
Orson Welles

Good artists copy, great artists steal.
Pablo Picasso

I must have flowers, always and always.
Claude Monet

I’m a woman phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.
Maya Angelou

I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I always knew the woman I wanted to be.
Diane Von Furstenberg

You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?”
George Bernard Shaw

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Ira Glass

If it is right, it happens — the main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
John Steinbeck

Where your talents and the needs of the world cross there in lies your vocation.

In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.
Vincent van Gogh

The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.
Junot Diaz

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.
Auguste Rodin

Body like the mountain, Heart like the ocean, Mind like the sky.

I am still learning.

Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.
Nora Ephron

You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman

Think Tank: Vine Culture, Longer Vines and Why You Should Care

So Zoë, tell me about Vine. When did you first hear about it? 

I first started using Vine in 2015 on a whim, long after the social media network had emerged. I don’t remember what prompted me to download the app on my trusty iPhone 5, but it was probably curiosity — I wanted to see what people could do with only seven seconds. To this day, I have never uploaded a single original Vine. I’ve only ever used the app to watch Vines, save my favorite ones to find again later and share a select few. The easiest way for me to decompress after a tough day is to watch Vines for 15 minutes.

What do you like about it so much? 

Two things. First of all, Vines can be incredibly funny. I would rather scroll through Vine for an hour than watch most sitcoms, or a extremely popular comedy movie. Here are a few of my favorite Vines that always make me laugh. Everyday people who aren’t necessarily aspiring to be comedians or actors are able to distill deeply funny things into a matter of seconds, and make ideas or experiences universally relatable. There’s an entire meme system within Vine that has dripped into other digital corners, and it’s emerged as a eternal spring of Internet culture. It is also extremely hard to find Vines in the app if you haven’t saved them, since a lot of people don’t hashtag or caption their Vines. This adds to the ephemeral aspect of the medium, and how trends can come and go.

I don’t care for the users who have tried to monetize their content or segue Vine into a career, because 99 percent of their Vines aren’t funny to me — they try way too hard, and the emotions are contrived in a way that screams “commercial.” Here are some good examples. However, these creators are insanely popular with young teenage girls, which has helped catapult events like Vidcon into mainstream interest. This is the second reason why I like Vine as a social media network. Vine is a gold mine for sociological analysis on race, gender and communication, because it tells us a lot about what young audiences are looking for in their media consumption and whose ideas they find entertaining. Millennials would rather hear from themselves than old white people asking what the deal is with some old people aspect of life.*

What have you observed about Vine culture?

One important thing to note about Vine is that there are several types of content creators. There are people who come up with completely original content, whether that’s skits or jokes. There are people who do it to showcase their dance or musical talent, favorite sports team or a particular aesthetic. There are people who post videos that aren’t meant to be funny but are, or catch moments of animals being derpy. There are people who happen to take video of funny things happening in the world, or grab and repost content from elsewhere, and sometimes they make clip compilations of their favorite celebrities or lipsync. And then there are people who layer on music or other memes to add new levels of meaning. These types of Vines and content creators often overlap and intersect in interesting and creative ways. The only way to really understand this is to just download the app and scroll through the Popular Now or On The Rise feeds.

Viners have created their own discourse specific to their app community. Once you spend some time on the app, you’ll pick up on the nuances and how they add to the stories and jokes. For example, a user will often switch their positions on camera to visually say that they’re supposed to be two different people, even if it’s the same person on camera, to make a more complicated story and funnier bit. Sometimes they’ll change their clothes or put something on to heighten the comedy. Viners will also borrow other Viner’s jokes and recycle the audio / credit in the caption with the abbreviation “IB” (Inspired By) and the Viner it came from, to add more layers of humor and meaning and create a sort of in-joke or meme. This also suggests that Viners value giving credit where credit is due, which I think partly stems from the fact that when outsiders use Viner content as marketing concepts the creators, which are often black teenagers, rarely see compensation. To operate within the 7-second limit and the nature of the free app, users come up with highly creative ways to tell jokes within stories. This becomes its own set of social practices.  And again, I think there’s a lot for academics to analyze here, especially if they’re interested in documenting the Internet.

Why is that important?

The social constructs of rules and conventions that these Viners have brought in from our own culture and the ones they’ve made themselves help the people within and outside of the community understand how it works. Discourses often overlap in many ways — for example, a user can post both clip compilations of their favorite actress and original skits on their account, and would be operating underneath the general Vine creator-audience relationship expectations and the discourses of these distinct genres.

There’s an ongoing debate about what deserves to be archived from the Internet, and if we didn’t archive Vines, for example, we’d lose a lot of valuable anthropological and sociological information to help us understand how our relationship with the Internet evolved. For example, consider the “What are those?” Vine, which achieved peak meme status. It’s more than just teenagers fooling around on the web.

Tell me about the moment where you noticed that Vines could be longer.

One day earlier this week, I hopped onto Vine after a particularly tough day at work. As I scrolled through, I saw a black bubble in the bottom right hand corner of the Vines that showed a much longer video duration.

At the same time, Vine was premiering Camp Unplug, a collection of skits made by Vine stars under the backdrop of a summer camp. Some of these videos went way past 7 seconds, which allowed for more elaborate storytelling and joke delivery. Later in the week, I found an article that reported on Vine’s move to offer original television episodes. I also noticed that the song in some of the Camp Unplug videos had its official video debut on Vine, in all of its 4-minute glory. This unveiling was obviously very strategic, and Vine decided to do a whole campaign using what their users find funniest to show how cool the new update was.

As someone who doesn’t use Vine, why should I care? 

There are a couple of things going on. Television networks who are struggling to compete with services like Netflix are going to start moving in on Vine, and I can imagine that one day they’ll have a channel devoted to full-length television episodes. We’ll have yet another thing competing for our attention. I would rather pay Vine a monthly fee to make sure that the people who are funny and thought-provoking are compensated for their work, but there have been problems with that in other similar situations.

I can also see this going down the road of users having to pay for in-app programming, and I’m not cool with that. Arguably, it could be good for the users who are on there right now — people come for the tv show and stay for the skits. If Vine is dominated by content backed with millions of dollars in production values, people who just have their iPhone will stop using the app, and Vine will just become a shitty repository for millennial-branded content. That would still be an interesting point in the Internet narrative and tell us a lot about our media consumption, but it would be a huge waste of money, time and energy when what people are putting on there now is better. I understand that Vine is a business and it has to be lucrative, but eventually it could push people out: if there’s nothing but big media power plays, why try to compete for attention? 

You should care because even if you’re not a Vine user, you’re complicit in this transaction. Our insatiability for content and having it available 24/7 has pushed media outlets and upstarts to go to the Internet and use any avenue possible to make money. This has also sparked a redefinition of what it means to be a social network, or an entertainment network, and how the original purpose will inevitably change. Traditional advertisements don’t work anymore, so production and marketing teams have to think of more insidious options. People are the worst, and we can never have nice things.

You can say that the people who don’t like it can go find somewhere else to post their videos. That’s entirely true. But eventually everything and everyone is going to monetize everything, and that brings up important questions about what we consider art in today’s world. If you ask me, Vines are an art form, and we should be protecting it for all of the best artistic and cultural reasons.

What do you think about Vine and commercialization on the Internet? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

*This is absolutely not a knock on Jerry Seinfeld.

Think Tank: Facebook’s Expansion of the Like

If you use Facebook, you have probably noticed that in the last few days there has been a significant change to your News Feed that a lot of people are talking about. In addition to just plain old Liking a post, you can now react in varying degrees of emotion:

What a range.
What a range.

The impetus for this change is that users have always complained about how limited the Facebook Like is when it comes to posts that aren’t happy announcements or accomplishments. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve maybe commented “dislike” or some variation on someone’s post to register that you’re not really Liking the post, or you’ve seen other people do this. Now, Facebook provides an expanded range of reactions to help signify exactly how you feel about your friend’s posts.

When I found out about the expansion and saw it roll on my News Feed, I thought about how I use Facebook and how it has shaped my Internet identity. I’m somewhere between an active participant and lurker. I post a fair amount: links to these blog posts, statuses where I try to seem funny, interesting articles I can’t wait to share, YouTube music videos and some of my Instagram photos. I don’t really make personal announcements, and I don’t post anything to get my friend’s sympathy — if I’m having a terrible day or something bad happens, I do not mention it on Facebook.

For the interacting part of Facebook, I’m also the same kind of user. For my closest friends and even people I don’t see regularly but really like, I like about 90 percent of their posts and leave birthday messages. For former classmates and coworkers, I’ll like the accomplishment statuses or photos of cool things they’re doing. And for people I haven’t interacted with face-to-face in years, a like from me on anything is rare — the same goes for posts from pages I’ve subscribed to. When it comes to my Facebook friends, I both want to keep up with how things are going and also have the option to virtually observe. Even though I don’t Like a lot of content that comes across my social media feeds, that doesn’t mean I didn’t see it or that it didn’t impact me in some way.

This all goes to say that I operate in a particular way within Facebook’s structure — as do you — and the choices that I make and Faceboook makes for me shape my Internet identity. I don’t think I’ll use these reactions (much in the same way I have yet to abandon the Instagram square photo format), but I can’t prevent my friends from using them to interact with my posts. It’s become part of the social construct and discourse that is Facebook, and it’s now pretty much inescapable unless Facebook decides to pull it. What you post or the way you utilize the Like and commenting systems are actions also say something about who you are on the Internet, and by extension who you are in real life. These expanded reactions now impact this shaping, regardless of whether or not you decide to use them. 

The most important thing that this Like expansion magnifies is that it is a form of social currency that validates our feelings and experiences and makes us feel that they are real. Think about when you post something on Facebook — you might expect your close friends to Like it, and you’re surprised when someone you haven’t talked to in awhile hits that thumbs up or leaves a comment. You may even feel obligated to return the favors as a way to maintain relationships. If someone you’re close with doesn’t like your status or leave a comment on your photo, you at least wonder why and may jump to conclusions that are probably not good. Facebook has made and facilitates these social constructions that have affected the way we live our everyday lives, and it is rooted in the Like.

This article hits the nail on the head of what these Likes mean: “The more “liked” a post or tweet is, the more present it becomes, and since online we are little more than the sum of our posts, the more real we feel ourselves becoming.” The acknowledgement of our posts makes us feel that we are legitimate and that we can feel things that mean something, even though it’s all happening in a virtual space. I think the leaders at Facebook are hyperaware of how their service is changing the way we live our everyday lives, and do things like this expansion in order to cement the social media network as a cultural behemoth. If it didn’t happen on Facebook, it might not have really happened at all.

What do you think about any or all of this? Let’s talk about it in the comments.





Think Tank: Concert Tickets and the Price of Art

I have been a big fan of the Arctic Monkeys since I was 12 years old. I listen to all of the music, attend their concerts when they come to Los Angeles and read any articles or interviews about them. I love their discography for many reasons, but I will always tie memories and feelings about my youth to their music. Think about the band that you loved during your adolescence, and you’ll know exactly how I feel about the Arctic Monkeys.

When I found out that frontman Alex Turner’s side project, The Last Shadow Puppets, was going to release a new album and go on tour, I decided that I was going to buy a ticket and go to the LA show. The new single, “Bad Habits,” was really catchy and I wanted to experience the band live. I found out there was a ticket presale — Thursday at 9 a.m. — so I marked the time down on my calendar and waited. At 8:50 a.m. on Thursday morning, I opened the link to the ticket website, entered my presale code and filled out all of my information. So far, so good.

At five minutes before the official opening, the website took me into the virtual waiting room where I could purchase my tickets. At 9 a.m., my web browser refreshed to show me where there were available seats — except that there were none. 

I was really surprised that the show sold out within the first minute, and I thought that maybe the presale had only released a finite amount of tickets. The venue, the theatre at the Ace Hotel, is also not that big. I thought I’d try again during the general sale, but I didn’t have any luck in that round either.

I was immediately curious about why this show — one where the band is really not that well known compared to Turner’s main project — sold out so quickly, because I’d never had this much trouble buying tickets for a concert. I quickly cruised through Stub Hub to see if there were any tickets for sale, and there were — marked up astronomically high. (The most expensive ticket for this show in the regular sale was about $50 excluding fees, but Stub Hub’s resale prices were between $115 and $250 a piece.)

This experience made me think about, for the first time, the commercial aspect of being a fan. This resale practice for concerts and sporting events is commonplace, and these resellers make money off of capitalizing on the fan’s desire to go to events. The profit never makes it back to the musicians, athletes or the staff that put on these events. Something like Stub Hub is legalized ticket scalping for the people who buy eight or 10 tickets to resell immediately, and I don’t know why we as a society have allowed it.

General ticket prices these days are insane, which I have to believe is linked to both a Coachella and a streaming music effect. The first Coachella ticket was only $50 per day in 1999, but weekend tickets for the 2016 festival are going for close to $500. Not only have the headliners gotten bigger, but so has the festival’s cultural pull. I’m not the first person to make this observation, but many people go to these shows and festivals just to say that they were there. This demand for tickets drives overall prices up (#capitalism), which makes going to these events a serious economic decision. Plus, people aren’t buying physical albums like they used to and are turning to Spotify where they can listen to just about anything for a small monthly fee. This kind of cultural shift has a trickle down effect in how artistic industries approach business, whether that’s music or film or television. Adele and Taylor Swift have made headlines for removing their catalogs or being highly selective about streaming services, and while neither woman seems to be hurting for money, they’ve certainly made a statement about the cultural value of what they make.

I am most concerned with and interested in how our society commodifies art, and how things like concerts, films or exhibits have become more about the business than the significance of a culturally-shared experience. Think about it: the average movie ticket is close to $10, and you can easily spend $20 for admission to a museum and a special exhibit. This is a different conversation for a different day, but the price of art is also tied to accessibility, class structure and racial and gender representation. And while life continues to get more and more expensive and more and more complicated, we have to decide where to draw the line between compensating the artist and making the art available to all.

Look — I will pay for a copy of an album. I will buy the merchandise. I will pay for a concert ticket. I am 100 percent for the people involved in the art getting paid what they deserve for contributing to our culture, and I truly want to be able to support the artists I love. What I am not for, however, is this business that hikes up prices and shuts people out of seeing something that is deeply meaningful to them. At what point do we value profit over artistic experiences?

What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Think Tank: “Treat Yo Self”

In the “Pawnee Rangers” episode of the fourth season of “Parks and Recreation,” Tom Haverford explains to the audience that he and Donna Meagle set aside a day every year in which all they do is pamper themselves. They splurge on clothes, fragrances, massages, mimosas and fine leather goods. “Three words for you,” Tom tells Donna. “Treat. Yo. Self.”

This is a side storyline in the episode, but out of all of the incredible plots and jokes “Parks and Recreation” came up with in seventh seasons, “treat yo self” is the one thing that I see on a near-daily basis. A Google search for “treat yo self” will give you 4 million results, and the actress who plays Donna, Retta, said in a recent interview that she hears the phrase at least 10 times a day. There are tens of pages on Etsy of joke-related t-shirts, prints, mugs and more. I see it on my social media feeds when people decide to publicly justify their splurges, and it’s a standard response in my friend groups when we’re waffling on whether or not to buy or do something we think is nicer than normal. Recently one of my friends posted a Snapchat of some caloric food with the phrase as a caption, which got me thinking about how pervasive the mantra is. I realized that as a phenomenon there’s more going on than just a funny joke.

It’s a thing a lot of people (especially millennials) know about, probably because of Netflix.

I’ve written about Netflix before and how streaming is changing our cultural experiences, so it’s unsurprising to me that something that’s actually pretty funny is a well-known thing. All seven seasons of “Parks and Recreaction” are on Netflix, so millions of people can watch and revisit them whenever they want. Because it’s available whenever and wherever, the jokes stretch much farther in the cultural psyche than if the show was only broadcasted live once or just put on expensive DVDs. People that discover “Parks and Recreation” through binge watching on Netflix get fresh takes of “treat yo self” and are let in on the joke, while fans of the show who rewatch “Pawnee Rangers” get to revisit the joke and file it away in their brains. And when I say it to myself, it’s an in-joke that somehow helps me justify buying a new sweater or expensive coffee from my favorite spot.

From one angle, something like “treat yo self” is a cultural shibboleth that’s made possible by something like Netflix. If you like “Parks and Recreation” and drop the “treat yo self” joke to someone and they get it, you know that you probably have similar cultural interests. Knowing what my friend meant in her Snapchat by “treat yo self” enhanced its meaning for me — in some way she wanted to justify why she was eating badly without a special occasion — and shared with me that she also watches the show. The widespread availability of the art makes this possible.

It’s resonant because of the economic conditions young people currently live in. 

If you watch the clip above, Tom clearly says that this is an annual thing — something he and Donna say is “the best day of the year.” From a broad view, it seems that people aren’t really paying attention to the joke, or that they just want to seem funny to people who would know it.

But the more I think about it, especially since I also use the joke differently, the more I realized it’s a facet of its role as a cultural shibboleth. I know so many people my age who are very worried about their financial situations and whether or not they’ll ever be able to make money, so anything that seems extra gets the “treat yo self” justification and a few laughs. Both Tom and Donna have secure, full-time government jobs, and can afford to set aside one day to buy things they don’t really need. Considering these details of the show are important in understanding the impact of the joke on its audience, in that the context that Tom and Donna find themselves in is something that a lot of people are striving towards. Comedy is a method many people use to feel better about their current conditions, and I think that’s what happening here in a broader way for the millennial set. I’ll be very interested to see if in the next decade “treat yo self” will still have the same meaning amongst members of my age group.

What do you think about “treat yo self”? Let’s talk about it in the comments.




Think Tank: The Case for New Year’s Goals

I like the sentiment of making New Year’s resolutions in anticipation of having a wonderful year. The weird in between weeks of one year to the next is a great time to look back and see how to improve your life. I admire people who want to learn new languages, travel more, save money or lose weight in the next 365 days. But at the same time, I also find New Year’s resolutions to be a weird cultural practice.They are something we all continue to do year after year, but most of us are only ever hopeful that we might fulfill them. If you can even remember the resolutions you made last year, I’ll be very impressed.

If you know me personally or you’ve read this blog for even just a moment, you know that I am all about making myself better every day — whether that’s culturally, physically or however I choose to do so. What I am not about, however, is telling myself vague resolutions that “I’m going to eat better,” “I’m going to exercise more” and etcetera because that approach does not work. You say you’re going to lose weight, but never sign up for fitness classes. You say you want to save money, but you keep buying $4 lattes or eating takeout. Telling yourself you’re going to do something without any kind of plan sets you up for failure. If there’s anything I learned in 2015, it was that.

So this is my case to stop making New Year’s resolutions, and start making New Year’s goals. I’m going to set concrete goals for myself that I know I am capable of accomplishing, and make a very simple plan of how I’m going to go about meeting them. The best part about making New Year’s goals will be that setting something simple and achievable will make you feel better and help you make it part of your daily routine. If you want to save money, for example, make goals to brew coffee at home during the weekdays or save all the $5 bills you come across. If you want to eat healthier, make goals to eat salads on Tuesdays or read the nutritional labels on everything you buy. Just the linguistic switch from “resolution” to “goal” is better in itself. Using the word “goal” means you’re actually working towards something to make the change.

I’m ready for 2016, and excited to see what fortune it’ll bring to me at this transitional point in my life. The goals I’ve outlined for myself make me even more excited. Here are my New Year’s goals for 2016.

I’m going to find a permanent job.

How I’m going to do it: My job is set to end in February, so I’m going to look again for a job as an editorial assistant, assistant editor or junior copy editor. My goal is to apply to three jobs a week.

I’m going to go back to yoga.

How I’m going to do it: I am going to find a studio that I like / is reasonably priced and go to a class at least once a week. I miss yoga a lot, and I regret not sticking with it.

I’m going to teach myself how to code.

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to use free resources like Codeacademy to teach myself basic HTML and CSS, which I know will be a good professional skill to have. I’m going to set benchmarks for myself, and make cheatsheets to refer to. I’ve tried to teach myself in the past, but I haven’t been organized enough nor have I really had the time.

I’m going to learn how to make drinks.

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to sign up for a class offered by my city’s community services office. I’m not a big drinker, but I want to know how to make the classics and how to order them.

I’m going to read 50 books. 

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to use Goodreads to make a solid to-read list, and I’ll also use the app to mark my progress. I read 41 in 2015, and I want to up my intake just a smidge.

I’m going to get better at my lettering. 

How I’m going to do it: I’m going to carve out a time on Sundays to letter one quote or word, and take photos to watch my progress. I want to let go of my perfectionism when it comes to my calligraphy and lettering and be happy with what I make, which I think will be a byproduct of practicing.

What are your New Year’s goals? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Think Tank: Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Despite the history and commercialization (which are complete downers I’m not going to talk about tonight), I think Thanksgiving is a moment that Americans need and need to share. Beyond the food, the thing I love about Thanksgiving is that it’s an opportunity to look closer at your life and realize why it’s worth living. Life can be tough, and everyone has days where it seems like everything is ugly and unfair. But this holiday is an annual moment where we gather with the people who mean the most to us and talk/think about what makes our lives full, and that makes me happy. I try to wake up every day of year and be thankful that I’m Zoë. I’m exactly where I want to be at this point in my life, surrounded by people I love. Last year I wrote a post about what I’m thankful for, and it all still stands. I do, however, have a few additions. I’m thankful for:

My English degree, and the fact that I was allowed to get one.

Having work to do, in all aspects of my life. 

Oscar Isaac. 

Living at home.


Access to whatever I want to read.

Art supplies.

The New Yorker.

Having no student debt. 

A bright future. 

Have a wonderful holiday.