Jim Crow and Georgia Voting Laws

Fridays in middle school were usually pleasant. Even though Friday was testing day, it was also famous for being something more delightful–movie day.

I remember being excited for my social studies class. The history topic of the week was about Civil Rights, and we were promised a movie. As our teacher was loading the VHS tape, I was expecting to watch something about Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King.

But before she started the tape, she warned us that what we were about to watch may have troubling or disturbing content. Being a fan of World War II documentaries during that time, I thought myself prepared for what I was about to see. 

I could not have been more wrong.

I was not prepared for fire hoses throwing innocent protestors on concrete. I was not prepared for hounds being let loose on black bystanders. I was not prepared for black boots and thick batons falling and rising over the unconscious bodies of black men and women.

I could not understand the countless photos of black men hanging from trees. I could not understand the faces of the people that surrounded them–their smiles, their joy, their satisfaction. I could not understand crowds draped in white cloaks, encircling a burning cross under a black night sky.

I could not comprehend the fate of a black boy, around the same age that I was at the time, being beaten, tortured, and thrown into a river with bricks tied to his feet for daring to interact with a passing white girl. 

Jim Crow is a name that should weigh heavily on the mind of our Nation. It represents one of the darkest periods of America’s history. 

But when reflecting on past tragedies–such as Jim Crow–in contemporary times, we have the habit of viewing those periods through a contemporary lens. The media often attempts to draw allegories between our Nation’s dark past and our current social issues.  But there is a danger to this: this tendency can lead to a trivialization of those tragedies. 

This tendency can be seen in the media’s portrayal of the new Georgia voting laws. 

At first, I knew nothing of the bill outside the media’s portrayal of it. According to them, the bill was a blatant attempt at voter suppression, specifically towards black voters. But then our President compared the Georgia bill to Jim Crow in a press conference. He even suggested that the bill was worse than the Jim Crow laws. 

When I first heard his statements, I just assumed it to be an exaggerated gaffe. But then the media stood behind his statements.

Perplexed, I looked up information on the Georgia voting laws.

Updated requirements for voter ID, limitations on voting drop boxes, and limits on Sunday early voting appeared to be the most controversial changes. 

The premise behind the media’s Jim Crow comparisons is that these changes would disproportionately suppress black voters. 

The media claims that the new voter ID requirements are harsh. But the requirements do not change. The law just adds slightly more measures in checking voter ID at the polling stations. The media also claims that limits on Sunday early voting suppress the votes of black worshippers. But this section of the bill was later edited to expand early voting days on Sunday. The media claims that the new voting drop box rules negatively impact the voting numbers of metropolitan areas, which have a high number of black voters. But this is a stretch, and it is completely unlike the violent voter suppression strategies of Jim Crow.

I have grown skeptical of media narratives that connect contemporary issues to humanity’s darkest moments. This is because the media has become too hyperbolic in how they represent the past and the present. 

We should reflect on the reality of Jim Crow with vigilance and reverence. We should be vigilant in our value of equality and our inalienable rights. We should be vigilant when overcoming humanity’s propensity for hatred and fear. But we should also have reverence for the black individuals who suffered during this period, and how their sacrifices paved a way for our society today. 

Although the media has remained vigilant in its reflection of Jim Crow, it has struggled to adopt a reverence.

For example, the claims about the Georgia bill trivialize the reality of Jim Crow. The enforcement of voter ID does not harken back to days when black people were barred from entering buses. Limitations on voting drop boxes are not reminiscent of a time in which black populated areas were the targets of racial riots, burnings, and lynchings. Sunday early voting rules are not similar to practices in which black voters were discouraged from entering polling booths through violence and murder. 

The media has a tendency to use tragedies such as Jim Crow as a platform to launch political discussion. By tying political opinions to infamous tragic events, they are able to grab the attention of a larger audience. Although this strategy is effective, it does have a consequence–it essentially trivializes the reality of those tragedies to conform with their political views. 

Tragedies such as Jim Crow or the Holocaust should not be diminished or trivialized in order to support a political opinion. Rather, those events should stand on their own, allowing us to form political views that reflect the lessons learned from those tragic periods. 

The media should be wary of hyperbole, and we should be concerned with how history is represented in the media. 

Hope Planted

Stand, did you stand, through the fire and bright flame,

yet your walls still fair and tame,

will you stay, will you stay?

Rise, did you rise, from the ash that pyres made,

blades of green that never fade,

will you grow, will you grow?

Sound, did you sound, when the ramparts did give way,

heart and cannon did not sway,

will you guard, will you guard?

Sprout, did you sprout, where a solemn hope did form,

bearing strength in stirring storm,

will you bloom, will you bloom?

Values Over Figures

We should always be critical and wary of our political figures, and always hold them accountable to upholding our American values.

In early September of 1774, delegates from the American colonies met together to react to the Coercive Acts implemented by the British. Now known as the First Continental Congress, those delegates discussed how they would address the humiliating taxes and restrictions imposed by the British.

They knew that in order to enact change, they would have to engage in open rebellion. Because he admired his military experience and reputation, John Adams nominated George Washington to lead the Continental Army.

With sweeping assent from the whole delegation, George Washington addressed the First Congress in an acceptance speech. While outlying his fervor in leading the colonies to freedom, his speech also had a profound plea: “But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.”

A president has many roles. As supreme commander, there is a duty to conduct military affairs in a moral and just manner. As leader of the free world, there is an oath to uphold our inalienable rights. And as a figurehead to their political party, there is an obligation to represent the values of their party.

But in respecting the significance of those positions and roles, we must be wary of elevating the person above this paramount office.

It is a vice we have indulged in throughout our history. We tend to attribute political and cultural accomplishments to a single figure. We say Churchill saved England during World War II while sidelining the efforts of British parliament. When we say Reagan revitalized the American economy, we glance over the emergence of new economic theories that made it possible. 

We do this because it is more simple to attribute cultural and political occurrences to one entity. Politics can be quite complex, as well as uncertain. By attributing culture and politics to a single figure, we are given a form of permanence and certainty—that as long as that figure is active, so too will be the political and cultural phenomenon of their day. 

But doing this leads to the danger of elevation. Especially in regards to the presidency, one should never “become” their office. To do so implies that one’s value is equal to what that office represents. And in doing so, the figure gets the opportunity to rise above their office, and thus gets the power to redefine what that office represents and stands for. 

In a constitutional republic, this can never bode well. When a figure becomes elevated above the law of the land, their intentions—whether good or ill—inherently undermine the value of the Constitution. In this, our fragile republic can also be undermined, whether by the will of the figure or by the followers that support them. 

Instead, the figure should place themself below their office, and hold themself accountable to preserving and representing the platform that they have been honored with. They should not define themself by the position that they are given, or consider their worth equal to the worth of the office that they hold. 

Rather, they should strive to make themself worthy of holding that office, pushing themself to uphold the values, duties, and oaths that come with their position.

In other words, no one should be above the values that they hold, especially in the matter of the presidency. But the president, or any other influential political figure, does not have to be alone in holding themselves accountable. 

We are citizens, and constituents, and voters. In those capacities, we have the power to enable and empower figures in our society. But we also have the capacity to hold those same figures accountable, and criticize or limit them when they stray from the values of their office. In other words, political figures should not become the worth of our values. 

As we enter a new presidency, we must be mindful of our power to enable political figures, as well as our responsibility to disavow political figures. We should always be critical and wary of our political figures, and always hold them accountable to upholding our American values. 

A Review of the Scottish Play

From October 2 – October 11 and October 16 – October 25, the Classic Theatre of San Antonio performed Macbeth, directed by Joe Groscinski. This performance took on one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays–a tale of fatal ambition, mistrust, and ironic fate.

The stage lights up, a grim glow of green cascading across the platform. It has a ghastly hue, blending with the darkness of the outside theater. I adjust myself in the lawn chair, arms crossed, staring at each end of the green-tinted stage, a loud sense of foreboding filling the empty silence. 

I wait but a few moments, all but the timid sounds of the evening road defying the solemn silence. Suddenly, the theater erupts with noise. Foreign shouts fill the room, the metallic clash of swords and claymores jolting the audience. Actors and actresses rush out from either side of the stage, dressed in Old Scottish warrior garb. The dreadful silence moments before is dispensed, replaced by fury and war.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the noises fade. The soldiers swiftly leave the stage. The theater once again embraces a nothingness, as I wait with fevered anticipation for the first act to begin. 

From October 2 – October 11 and October 16 – October 25, the Classic Theatre of San Antonio performed Macbeth, directed by Joe Groscinski. This performance took on one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays–a tale of fatal ambition, mistrust, and ironic fate.

The play begins with three witches (Emily Huber, Alyx Gonales, Kayce Roye) discussing their plans to meet Macbeth (John Stillwaggon). After a battle with Norwegians, Macbeth and Banquo (Christina Casella) are confronted by the three witches, who tell Macbeth a prophecy of him becoming King of Scotland. He tells this to Lady Macbeth (Carolyn Dellinger) in the form of a letter. Lady Macbeth scoffs at the indecisive tone of the letter, hardening her own heart and ambition.

Lady Macbeth incites Macbeth to ruthlessly act on the prophecy, as they both plan a series of murders to gain the throne, such as the murder of King Duncan, his friend Banquo, and Macduff’s (Zach Lewis) wife and kids.

Sometime after his reign, Malcolm (Hunter Wulff), Macduff, Siward (John Manzke) and English soldiers march to confront Macbeth in Dunsinane. Shortly before the confrontation, Lady Macbeth kills herself, leaving Macbeth in a stupor before the battle. The forces clash, with Macbeth’s army being defeated, and Macduff killing Macbeth. The performance ends with Malcolm being hailed as King of Scotland. 

There is no doubt that Macbeth being performed in the month of Halloween was intentional, and the phenomenal portrayal of the three witches confirms my suspicions. Although I would hesitate to call this adaptation scary as a whole, it did frame the story’s themes of fate and ambition in a spectacularly grim way. This framing can be seen in John Stillwaggon’s profound portrayal of Macbeth.

Stillwaggon’s first appearance comes beside Christina Casella’s Banquo. Here, Banquo’s portrayal serves as a perfect foil, arrogant and haughty, to Stillwaggon’s mirthful yet reserved demeanor. But in their encounter with the three witches, I notice another trait within Stillwaggon’s portrayal: his innocence. 

His interactions are hesitant and wary, his speech and mannerisms filled with reluctance. Stillwaggon bears the mantle of an innocent hero skeptical to the allures of power.

And slowly, he tears this mantle down.

The gradual change from Stillwaggon’s noble portrayal of Macbeth to a murderous tyrant starts with his exchanges with Carolyn Dellinger’s Lady Macbeth. Dellinger’s first scene with Macbeth’s letter is admirable. The mocking tone she adopts when reading his letter compliments her visible contempt for Macbeth’s indecisiveness. Dellinger’s interplay with Stillwaggon is exceptional. She becomes a furious muse, the allure in her tone and speech descending them both into mad ambition. 

Stillwaggon displays the state of Macbeth’s mind to the audience, from his need to appease his wife, to the cascading madness that is accompanied with killing King Duncan. His portrayals of Macbeth’s emotions are so raw and genuine, that I could not help but briefly pardon the mad tyrant he would become. 

But Stillwaggon’s ebbing flow of happiness and guilt, remorse and pride, resolve and fear, is stopped upon news of Lady Macbeth’s death. From there, Macbeth’s famous “Tomorrow soliloquy” is recited.

I always likened the soliloquy to a descent–the first lines filled with frustration and fury, and the last words dying out with disheartened purpose.

But in Stillwaggon’s soliloquy, he presents a tone of disheartened purpose from the very first line. His delivery of each line is desolate and morose, every word like an echo, drawing from the broken will of a hollowed man. In this scene, I cannot feel any sorrow for Macbeth. I feel nothing, as I see not a soul in despair, but a man so hardened and consumed by his fate, he has no soul at all. 

Stillwaggon’s portrayal of Macbeth is profound, from his first appearance to his very end.

Besides the phenomenal acting from the cast, there are many other captivating things about the performance. The battle scenes are well done, with entertaining swordplay and excellent choreography. The appearances of the witches are exceptionally theatrical, with ghastly lighting, chilling sound effects, and their grim attire serving them well. Lastly, the costume and set design is remarkable, allowing the audience to engage with the historic backdrop of the play. 

Overall, I see the performance as a traditional adaptation of Macbeth. However, the individual performances of the cast members are uniquely remarkable, and to certain aspects, revolutionizing. 

The Decline of the Modern Presidential Debate

Ultimately, the civil witticism that once underlaid presidential debates was brought to an end.

Leading up to the end of October in 1984, Kansas City had gained notable news coverage. The much anticipated event had finally come: the first presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. Reagan had endured an arduous, yet fruitful four years in office previously. Now Mondale, the former vice president under Jimmy Carter, challenged him to the office in the heart of Missouri. 

During the debate, the moderator gave the floor to Henry Trewhitt, a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. Trewhitt proceeded to highlight how Reagan, at that time, was the oldest president to ever assume the Oval Office. He then asked, with questionable subtly, whether Reagan would be able to handle the rigors of office.

Reagan, adopting his trademark smooth and rustic charm, swiftly responded: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

The auditorium erupted in laughter and applause as Reagan coolly took a sip from a glass of water. Even Mondale could not help his wide smile.

The response, of course, was not an insult to his opponent. Although Mondale was younger, he was still fifty-six, hardly the age one would describe as “youthful”. Rather, Reagan’s comment was a witty yet subtle rebuke to Trewhitt and other critics’ opinions over his age.

Presidential debates should be about how each candidate addresses political issues that have a strong bearing on the public mind. Impoverishment and economic reform, infrastructure and taxes, climate change and environmental guidelines – their solutions to these issues are what make presidential debates important to the nation. 

But we must admit that on occasion, we indulge in witty soundbites or clever jokes. Instances like these lighten up the debate with chuckles or grins, a brief solace from the difficult issues at hand. In other words, such witty comments work best when they are both subtle and apt.

“Subtle” and “apt” are among the last words I would use to describe our most recent presidential debate. 

Jarring and chaotic would be more fitting. Our last “presidential” debate was not so presidential. Rather than being the pinnacle of political debate in America, it was more reminiscent of a verbal boxing match between two spiteful rivals.

The moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, did his best to steer the debate by bringing up relevant topics and issues in America. But he could hardly control the conversation with the number of interruptions, insults, and off-topic rebuttals that came from both candidates. 

Instead of focusing mainly on important political issues, the candidates seemed adamant on creating those “witty retorts” – or rather, outright insults.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was focused on discrediting President Donald Trump in the eyes of the American public. At one point, he turned forward and spoke directly to the camera: “you know you don’t trust him,” he said, in an unsubtle attempt to appeal to the viewers. Towards the end of the debate, Biden made a bold claim of stating that the current presidency has left America “weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided, and more violent” without any preface.

Of course, Trump was not wholly innocent in this divisive exchange. He took to commenting on Biden’s intelligence, stating “there is nothing smart about you, Joe,” then proceeding to claim that he graduated bottom of his class. Trump also made a bold assertion near the end of the debate, stating how Biden had absolutely no support from law enforcement.

Those were but a few examples of how courtesy and decorum slowly dissolved throughout the debate. After the event, initial reactions from pundits were centered less on how the candidates responded to the moderator’s prompts, but more about how the pair got at each other’s throats. 

Ultimately, the civil witticism that once underlaid presidential debates was brought to an end on that night.

But can we actually be surprised?

As a whole, we have already made up our minds. We have already decided our views on these issues, already affirmed our position on their solutions. But we have also closed off our minds to the ideas and opinions of the other side.

The presidential debate stage represents the most popular political opinions and ideas in our nation. These candidates represent the ideas of millions, and to see them debate each other is a symbolic embodiment of having the opposite political opinions we share challenge themselves on a physical stage. 

Of course, we are not obligated to accept the differing political views of the other side. But we should be expected to approach them with at least an open mind. 

But current discourse has seen a worrying decline of tolerance for opposing views, and the effects of this could be seen in our last presidential debate. Rather than being a podium for civil and sincere discourse, the debate was more like a rowdy sports stadium, with loud fans trying to drown out each other with jeers and heckles from either side, with little intent of watching the game. 

The presidential debate should be more than a series of jeers and heckles. It should be less about which candidate has the more amusing soundbites, or the better insults. Instead, keep the witticism sharp and subtle, and focus more on the issues that Americans sincerely care about. 

Keep the Classic Canon

Our society has been privileged with such a large array of contemporary literature, so much that our value of the classics has become lessened.

The first day of a humanities class at a university is quite special compared to other courses. Sure, all courses share common occurrences: meeting both old and new classmates, marking your territory in an unassigned seat, enduring the recycled classroom icebreakers led by the professor. But in a humanities class, there’s really only one thing occupying the minds of students: that lengthy syllabus.

Whether it is Homer’s Odyssey or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the freshmen of the class stare in terror at the vast amount of classical literature they will have to read for a whole semester. Some students will bury their heads in their hands, realizing they have not escaped highschool English class yet. Others will clutch their debit cards, pondering the small fortune they will have to spend to get all those books. But some will continue to glare at the syllabus, asking a question that the whole class might be subconsciously thinking: “Why these books?”

Why discuss the political themes of Hamlet when we can just read Game of Thrones? Odysseus’ journey far, far away from Ithaca?

After all, we live in an age where all types of literature are made available to us. Surely, the themes and content of those classical works can be found in more contemporary works? Why discuss the political themes of Hamlet when we can just read Game of Thrones? Odysseus’ journey far, far away from Ithaca? Why not just watch Star Wars? Why read Beowulf when we can learn about kinship from comic books?

Our society has been privileged with such a large array of contemporary literature, so much that our value of the classics has become lessened. In fact, there has been a growing movement in universities to reject the notion of a curriculum altogether, instead recommending works outside the canon. In doing so, there is a belief that students will be exposed to more ideas and thus adapt a more critical mind.

However, there is also another argument made by this movement. They believe that the value of literature, specifically classical literature, is inherently political. That the worth of classical literature is solely determined by Western cultural and historical tradition. In other words, without cultural approval, literature has no value at all.

This, of course, is a very narrow-minded way to view classical literature. If literature is solely regarded in a political way, then this contemporist argument would hold some merit. However, literature offers so much more insight than politics. 

Poetry can bring tangibility and emotion to unspoken experiences. Prose can capture the best aspects of a culture. 

But relevant to our society, classical canon exposes the foundational, fundamental, and universal trappings of Western civilization.

The literature of the humanities shows us what it means to be human. Sure, battle, adventure, and romance are themes to get excited about. But the humanities uses those themes to show profound aspects of not only our human nature, but our culture as a whole. That is exactly what the classical canon does.

Beowulf idealizes the concept of loyalty and familial bonds in our society. Hamlet shows us the importance of being decisive, especially in our increasing critical world. Julius Caesar reveals the significance of following our own convictions, in the face of our culture’s growing animosity towards individual beliefs. The classical canon is relevant to our culture because it is our culture. The themes of classical literature are a reflection of the cultural traditions that have shaped our society for centuries.

That is why replacing the classical canon with contemporary selections is a grave disservice. Contemporary works only capture inklets of the fundamental insights that classical works offer. The readings of classical canon should not be limited, because they are one of the best ways of understanding our culture itself.

So before groaning at the syllabus on the first day of your humanities course, just remember—the books you will read are part of the reason why our culture exists today.

Remember the Alamo—Correctly

It’s easy for revisionists to trot out the age old line that history is written by the victors.

A famous legend about the Alamo entered Texan folklore a few weeks after the notorious siege. Around April of 1836, Santa Anna was fed up with resistance from freedom fighters. To stomp out this lingering flame, he sent a message to his troops in San Antonio, ordering them to burn the mission to the ground. But when his soldiers approached the Alamo, they met a ghastly surprise. The light from their torches gleamed on the sabers that suddenly appeared in front of them, glistening like red flames in the dark of night. Holding those sabers were six spirits, emerging from the front doors of the mission. “Do not touch the Alamo, do not touch these walls!” they shouted. The group of soldiers, shocked and afraid, ran from the mission, never to return.

To a proud Texan, it is a pleasant myth. The only thing better would be for the same ghosts to reappear when revisionists try to burn the legacy of the Alamo heroes.

To us Texans, the Alamo is a symbol of how we value freedom and liberty. William Travis, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the other Alamo defenders were heroes because they valued the liberty of their countrymen and land above their own lives. 

Unfortunately, our own state’s institutions do not see it that way. Nearly two years ago, the Texas State Board of Education sought to remove mentions of the Alamo defenders being “heroic.” Their official statement said that the label was “too vague” or inaccurate. 

Disdain for cultural pride of the Alamo is not new.

What’s vague about it? Heroism means self-sacrifice. Heroism means undergoing a trying task for the sake of others. The Oddfellows Cemetery, about a mile from the Alamo, is a testament to the defenders’ heroism.

But the State Board’s decision had little to do with wording. The reason was rather simple: they saw the Alamo as culturally problematic. But why?

Disdain for cultural pride of the Alamo is not new. Academics, artists and pundits have tried to debunk heroism in the Alamo as idealistically flawed. Conflict between the Texan and Mexican perspective of the event is one of their major reasons. 

It’s easy for revisionists to trot out the age old line that history is written by the victors. They paint the freedom fighters as disloyal oathbreakers who stole Mexican land, turning their backs to form their own rebel state. In their eyes, the Texans were the real villains, traitors to the Mexican government. Perhaps more popularly, it can also be hard for some to extricate the battles of 1836 from our cultural problems today. 

Now, I could go ahead and describe the tyranny forced on the Texan settlers. I could show the various ways in which their rights and liberties were forfeited. I could even emphasize the atrocities committed on those who dared to resist.

But those are not the point. 

Instead, imagine the beauty of what drew the settlers to Texas. The viable farmland and plentiful crops. The warm, pleasant Texas sun. The promise of freedom and opportunity in a new world. All these aspects are certainly attractive. But what made Texas worth fighting for, then and now, was the creation of a unique culture and identity.

Being Texan is not just about buying the newest leather boots or sporting a cowboy hat. Nor is it only about baking blueberry pies or decorating the garden with bluebonnets. Texan culture is about something deeper: family, faith and freedom. When the Alamo defenders withstood artillery barrages, they were thinking about the lives of their sons and daughters. They were praying for perseverance and courage throughout the siege. But they also looked past their own lives, hoping that the battle would save the future generations from tyranny. 

That is why the Alamo defenders should be considered heroes. Even though they died to stop a dictator forgetting his own country’s laws, they sowed the seeds that would grow into a new nation and become the brashest, greatest state in the Union. Their actions were not vague or misleading. They were deliberate, risking their lives in a hopeless situation, to give hope to future Texan generations. 

A Review of “Masses and Man” Performed by TUPS

Trinity Theatre’s “Masses and Man” balances modernist quirks with true feeling.

    As I sit down, I notice the steady stream of people pouring into the Cafe Theater. Mellow chatter ensues, and I stretch out my legs. I showed up 15 minutes early to the performance and figure I would relax. Suddenly, after most settle in their seats, someone enters the room, dressed all in black, and sits among the audience. She has an eerie yet intent look about her, mindful of the surrounding crowd yet focusing on the stage. As I continue to stare, the lights suddenly go off, her silhouette fading into the surrounding darkness. New lights leap up before me. Two women, dressed similarly in that uncanny black attire, appear on stage. After an impassioned dialogue, the first figure questions the other, but in a tone somehow directed at the audience: “Comrade, are you ready?”

    From February 14 to February 17, the Trinity University Players performed “Masses and Man,” directed by Alex Oliver. It is a play about social revolution in the early 1900s. Although political in background, the play explores human nature through German expressionism.

    The story starts off with a Woman (Lauren Keith) attempting to join a worker’s committee. Despite her initial excitement in pursuing a social utopia, her eagerness wavers when confronted by the Nameless (Kathleen Arbogast). Discontent with the Woman’s notions of a paradise through peace, the Nameless urges for a utopia achieved through violence. The Woman refuses, and prevents acts of violence throughout the story. This leads her into capture by the state. Yet, despite help from both her bourgeois husband and the Nameless, the Woman willingly remains in prison to prevent a warden’s death. Ultimately, the Woman is executed.

    In a letter to an early producer, the author Ernst Toller states that his play “can only have a spiritual, never a concrete, reality.” This is the fundamental vision of German expressionism: that objectivity and reality are dictated by inner feelings. This performance captures this sentiment profoundly.

    Although I am reluctant to call the play “spiritual,” it did have a metaphysical atmosphere. The performance relies on physical expression to elevate the actors’ presence in the play. The puppet-stringed pantomime of the bankers (Sarah Bastos, Alex Bradley) is executed to an overexaggerated degree. Their movements are uncanny, the puppeteering motions allowing the actors to embody an eerie social reality. But what I found particularly intriguing were the movements of the Nameless. The performance makes her more than a mere frustrated idealist. In her first appearance, she comes down from the stage. Her movements are nimble yet deliberate, swift across rows of chairs like a serpent gliding across still grass, ghastly chants from the other actors rising like an array of tempting hisses, the captivated audience held by her alluring speech of revolution and change. In this, the Nameless transcends the state of actor on stage to embody humanity’s desire for volatile passion. 

    Naturally, one would wonder whether an expressionist play would lessen the presence of dialogue, favoring physical movement. Fortunately, the execution of the dialogue is superb. The characters are tasked with achieving convincing dialogue to attempt to garner sympathy for their cause from the audience. The passionate, heartwarming and empathetic pleas of the Woman contrast with the inciting, inflamed and rousing appeal of the Nameless. In this thematic and emotional conflict, I could not help but become heavily invested, struggling to either embrace the Woman’s compassionate innocence or empathize with the Nameless’ harrowing frustration. 

In other words, the dialogue was not lessened by the expressionism, nor vice-versa. Instead, expression and dialogue flowed together in the play, both helping create a metaphysical, captivating and deep atmosphere. 

    Personally, I had never seen a German expressionist play before attending this performance. My expectation was that the play would rely on physical expression–rather than substantial dialogue–to tell the story. But after seeing the performance, my perception was thoroughly proven wrong. Although it certainly deviates from the classic play structure, the performance has all the trappings of a traditional tragedy but is further enhanced by profound expressionism and dialogue.

Dear Hollywood: Less Shot, More Plot, Please

As the demand for aesthetics increases, the actual content of the film seems to become devalued.

The lights in the room are turned off. Everything is silent, save the mechanic emissions from the screen. My vision fades into darkness just beyond arm’s length. Suddenly, the screen turns on, casting a net of blue and yellow lights around me. At the same time, the theme of one of cinema’s greatest goes off with a proud blast. My excitement lights up like the screen: my anticipation to see this film’s special edition was reaching its climax. 

Now, you may be wondering what film I was watching. Cinema’s greatest? A bold label to describe recent movies. Perhaps Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit? Notable theme song? Harry Potter? Fantastic Beasts? Possibly one of the new versions of Star Trek?

Well, that last one is somewhat close. But then again, not really. The film I was experiencing was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

I know what you are thinking: no, I was not born before 1997, the year this film’s version was released in theaters. I bought the special edition online a couple of years ago, and watched it through my computer. But turning off the lights in my room really did give it that special effect.

Now you might think I remember this moment fondly because I am a fan. Although this is true, there is another reason: the experience of re-watching this movie in my room is better than any experience I had watching a film within the past decade. 

Now, I like going to the theaters. The food is usually good, though expensive, the company of friends is a treat, and the ability to watch a film on a 60 foot wide screen is always nice. 

The problem hasn’t been the theatergoing experience, but the trend of films themselves.

The emergence of cinematic special effects has been one of pop culture’s most significant moments. Modern special effects, namely CGI, allowed for greater immersion into the screen, distancing film from theater and raising our standards for suspension of disbelief. But the advancement of special effects within cinema would always be a slippery slope. As the demand for aesthetics increases, the actual content of the film seems to become devalued. 

The fundamental role of a film is the ability to tell a visual story. “Story” is the key word in this phrase. Barring aesthetics, the contemporary film seems to have lost this goal.

Why do I want to watch an old Star Wars movie instead of the newest blockbusters? I’m certainly not the only one. The Empire Strikes Back hearkens to an age when the best of special effects consisted of well-crafted costumes, make-up and green screens.

I will concede that compared to modern films, The Empire Strikes Back definitely lacks in the aesthetic department. However, the look of the movie is not why I fell in love with the original Star Wars films. I enjoyed those movies because they told an entertaining, compelling and profound story.

The original trilogy was basically modeled after a Shakespeare play. From the inevitability of destiny and fate (Luke’s path), the presence of family tragedies (Luke and Darth Vader), and the conflict between emotion and reason (the balance of the force), Shakespearean themes are heavily present throughout each film. Even the dialogue, embedded with subtle profoundness and filled with impassioned tones, alludes to the dramatic and compelling scripts of Shakespearean literature. The presence of Shakespeare in Star Wars shows how important storytelling was in its creation.

Unfortunately, it seems like each new movie values story less and less.

Take for example James Cameron’s blockbuster, Avatar. For a long time, this film was the highest grossing movie in the world. You would think that this success was due to exceptional story-telling and visual content. Nope, just the latter. Besides decent acting, the plot was unoriginal, using the “foreign savior” trope but in space. Yet critics paid no attention to the story of the film, instead praising the revolutionary use of CGI. In other words, the film’s aesthetics inflated the positive reviews.

Our culture only seems to care about the artistic side of film, focusing on uniquely aesthetic ways to visually tell a story rather than the actual story itself. Because of this, films nowadays suffer from bland dialogue, unoriginal plots, stagnant character progression, and insincere themes.

But the direction of the film industry is only in response to society’s demands. If there really is a decline in quality, it may be our fault, as we seem to prioritize aesthetics over substance. The only way to improve this trend is for us to recognize the ultimate purpose of movies: quality story-telling through visual art.

Holocaust Victims Need More than Remembrance

What does it mean to preserve the victims rather than merely remember them?

Last week, the world solemnly reflected on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The name “Auschwitz” itself certainly should weigh heavily on the hearts of many, as it has become synonymous with not only the events of the Holocaust but with the dark human capacity for unthinkable horrors. The practices that took place in Auschwitz are considered by many to be one of the lowest points of human history. Thus, the liberation of this notorious concentration camp becomes one of humanity’s greatest victories: a profound symbol of good overcoming evil.

In solemn times like this, we tend to frame our reflections in the form of remembrance. It would seem fitting: we must remember the dead souls, the lives ruined and the generations forever lost to the Holocaust.

However, the nature of the Holocaust itself is very complex. And because of this, remembrance is simply not enough.

We apply the simple act of remembrance to many historic tragedies. We remember the Irish Troubles. We remember the Great Depression. We remember Pearl Harbor. Despite the differences between those tragedies, each is honored in the form of remembrance. But if remembrance is enough for them, why can it not be enough for the Holocaust?

What makes it different is that those tragedies and others like them are grounded in the past. They are tragic events mark static points in history to be remembered. But remembrance implies a contentment with the past, which becomes an issue when addressing the Holocaust: the past is not quite done.

We will always be capable of the unthinkable.

The term “Holocaust witness” is complex. It can mean someone who survived through the Holocaust. It can mean a family member or loved one of a Holocaust victim. It can even refer to the children or grandchildren of a victim. But despite the various identities of a witness, they each share a similar role: preserving the lives, memories, and tragedies of the Holocaust victims.

For a witness, simply remembering the victims is not enough. The goal is not just to honor them, but to preserve them. Each victim had a life before the Holocaust: valuable events in their lives, loved ones that were dear to them, and ambitions that were never achieved. The Holocaust witness takes these aspects of the victims’ lives and preserves them through memory and literature. This way, the victims are able to live on after death.

Holocaust literature often makes careful use of elliptical prose. This writing style, usually associated with Hemingway and his philosophy of leaving the truth unsaid, creates an unfinished or foreboding tone to suggest a sense of something more beyond what is written. Holocaust literature uses this effect to highlight how time is not a remedy to the tragedy. But more profoundly, the elliptical effect highlights how the Holocaust’s shadow can yet reappear. 

It is the human condition for us to struggle with morality, a struggle that has brought humanity its greatest triumphs and its gravest faults.

We like to think that the Holocaust was a tragic anomaly. This a rather optimistic and, to an extent, ignorant view of humanity. We will always be capable of the unthinkable. It is the human condition for us to struggle with morality, a struggle that has brought humanity its greatest triumphs and its gravest faults. To deny this becomes the greatest folly of humankind, as a failure to recognize our flaws will always lead to greater failure. 

That is why remembrance is inadequate when dealing with the Holocaust. When we simply remember, we concern ourselves with a reverence of the past rather than looking at how the lessons from such a tragedy can be applied to the future. Our response to Auschwitz should not be a passive reaction only incited on anniversaries. Rather, our response should be active and continuous, eager for a culture in which something like the Holocaust remains unthinkable. 

The victims of Auschwitz deserve more than remembrance. They deserve to be kept in the hearts and minds of all those who empathize for future generations to come. Through participating in this effort, we can try to prevent another Auschwitz from ever happening again.