The Question Mark

Hey y’all. Again, a lapse in posting has occurred; so I owe you an update: I’m a college graduate!! I graduated from Bethel University in December of 2020 with a Bachelor’s in English Literature and Writing.

I have typed that last sentence countless times on cover letters. It’s an interesting space, concluding a chapter of my life with a tumultuous year. I’ve sent out roughly thirty job applications in the last three months. I know that isn’t a ton, but I’m trying to focus on where I would fit best. The problem is, I don’t yet know my professional strengths, apart from blogging. I recently took some personality assessments and they’ve been very helpful in this journey, but the best teacher is experience.

My focus lately has shifted to learning about marketing and making professional connections, which is very exciting. I just… don’t quite know where I’m going. I want to pursue marketing and communications, but in an authentic and value- oriented way. I look forward to exploring how my creative talents can best serve a brand that aligns with my personal mission,

In all honesty, I’m a little scared. I'[m scared that nothing will change and I'[m cared that everything will change. I would prefer massive change over no change, I just dislike waiting. Apparently some people spend months looking for a job, which is a terrifying thought. But this is a good chance to focus on discipline and self-motivation. I’ll just be sharing my life journey from here on, with the occasional review of current media. Welcome to the next chapter. Let’s see what'[s next.

Onward, Elena

Unlabeled Creativity-Intro

Hello! So maybe I haven’t written in six months and the first thing I post is about music. We’re rolling with it! This was a school project in Literary Journalism, and I had a great chance to interview some cool people about their experiences as independent artists. This first post is mainly an overview, based on my discussion with Malachi Lossen.

Musicians tend to pursue their careers to create and share art. Record labels start as profit-seeking ventures. This dissonance leaves many artists feeling betrayed and constrained, but with modern streaming services and independent distribution options, artists are creating their own careers. Record labels have served their purpose and have assisted many of the world’s greatest modern musicians, but like all industries, they’re being replaced by a better method. The dissonance of art and bureaucracy is getting too loud to ignore, and the artists are taking control, one song at a time.

Artists have been speaking out about these constraints for years, but independent distribution is offering new leverage to even the score.  “There’s a lot of noise being made right now about record labels. A lot of things that are about to change,”  according to Malachi Lossen, an independent rapper, and communications major at Bethel.  As an observer of the record label industry rather than a participant, Lossen is rather skeptical about the future of Big Records. Popular musicians have struggled with their record labels for decades, the most recent example being Kanye West, who recently revealed his contracts on Twitter, comparing himself to Moses and the record industry to slavery. This garnered attention from major media outlets and drew comparisons to acclaimed Minneapolis artist Prince, who performed on the Today Show with the word “slave” written on his cheek. Like Cobi, Prince had more available material than the label could handle and wanted more creative control. He was introduced on the Today Show as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” after legally changing his name to a symbol in 1993 in protest of his constraining record contract. 

Lossen points to the enduring problems of labels and the recurrence of reform efforts.  “[Kanye] started the conversation that people have already been having, just not on this big scale. . . record labels will sign people to contracts and then essentially screw them over because they own all the artist’s masters.” However, the tide is slowly but surely shifting. In this new generation, a lot of artists see the commonly horrific terms of record deals and aren’t signing. If they do sign record deals, they agree to record leasing where the label has masters for only a few years.  

All of the independent artists interviewed use DistroKid to release their music. DistroKid is a popular subscription service that uploads music to Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, and other platforms for $20 per year. This is just one of many affordable and independent distribution services that allow artists to pace their own careers. Prince found a unique way around distribution problems by mailing physical copies of his Planet Earth album to newspaper subscribers in 2007 and creating an exclusive online fan club. Prince would be overjoyed and proud of the independence in this new generation of unlabeled creators. This is an amazing innovation, but the best feature of DistroKid is that artists entirely own their master recordings.

“Master recordings” are a somewhat nebulous term, but a decidedly contentious concept. The master is defined by MixButton as “the official, original recording of a song”. Owning “master rights” connotes controlling how and when the song is distributed. The legalities of master rights have caused major controversy for major artists from Prince to Kanye to Taylor Swift.

As the rules of producing and releasing music change, Lossen muses that “labels are having to adapt to the times, and I think all hell’s probably gonna break loose before anything gets better…the labels are gonna [sic] have to adjust or maybe rip up some contracts.” The main historical advantage of record labels is leverage, such as funding for recording and industry connections, and now independent artists can create their own industry connections through social media. With the rise in independent artistry, the ballad of the record label may be playing its final notes.

Frankenstein (2004 miniseries)-Yearning Son

Hello! You didn’t think I was gonna just analyze the novel and then leave Frankenstein alone, right? 😉 Before I rip apart the 1931 “classic”, allow me to present a positive alternative. This American miniseries was produced by Hallmark in 2004. I know, I was surprised too, but they got at least one quality production on the resume. Luke Goss stars as beloved Peter, and Alec Newman plays scatterbrained asshat Victor. I have already explored the plot of the novel in depth (Unconventional Son), so this will primarily address cinematic highlights of the adaptation,

I am incapable of properly “reviewing” or “analyzing” Luke’s performance without aid, so below are some clips of key moments. Obligatory spoiler warning ⚠️ clips recorded from YouTube where the entire show is available for free in two parts.

Tenderness-This is the first of many times Peter addresses Victor as “father” in this adaptation. ‘In the novel, this address is used only once, on page 124. I don’t believe Victor would have slept through that, but it’s a movie. Peter’s face as he says “my father” embodies a beautiful mix of tenderness and fear and hope.
Anguish- While Peter has expressed anger and grief throughout his short life, the expressions Goss presents allow us to truly FEEL his anguish, and anguish is the only appropriate word here. He got STABBED by his FATHER! And also got his only real chance at love destroyed before his eyes. Victor is a coward for screaming, because his life isn’t entirely ruined.. yet.
This sums up the end of the movie pretty well. Peter comes to see Victor’s body and has a poignant conversation with Captain Walton. Walton disapproves of Peter’s actions, but misses the yearning behind them. It’s interesting that Walton makes the comparison to Christ, as this is never previously stated.

Clearly, writer Mark Kruger and director Kevin Connor had the good sense to do justice to Peter and give him a complex and sympathetic arc. Overall these clips highlight Goss’s emotional range and acting capabilities, and he deserves mainstream success.

Alec Newman gives an authentic and engaging performance as our favorite college dropout (which is to say I hated his character). He has ZERO chemistry with Elizabeth, which makes sense, given THEY WERE RAISED AS SIBLINGS! He has more chemistry and banter with his best friend Henry Clerval, played by the adorable Dan Stevens. Mark Jax gives a surprisingly heart wrenching performance as Alphonse Frankenstein. Victor’s father is an admirable influence on his son, but all his guiding efforts end in vain.

The characters are effective and interesting to varying degrees, but the setting of rural Germany circa 1822 is breathtaking across the board. The quaint villages and lush trees embody the Romantic era perfectly, and offset the dark tones of the plot.

Overall I give this miniseries a 10/10 for faithfulness to the novel, engaging emotional performances, and a gorgeous aesthetic. Watch if you are a faithful fan of the novel and willing to undergo intense emotional work.

Introducing 🎥 Reel Representation 🎥

Hello all. A disclaimer: I began this post in May, before my state was disrupted by riots and protests about the wrongful death of George Floyd. I remain safe at home, checking on loved ones and praying for peace. On with the post.

I know I promised to update more frequently with all the time on my hands, but a quarantine can’t stop college! Now that finals are over, I wanted to introduce a passion project, a new series on the blog. I was assigned to research a social issue throughout American history, and I chose to research “physical nonconformity in media” because it is close to my heart. I looked at movies such as The Elephant Man, Rear Window, The Greatest Showman, and the television show Speechless, These and other works of art are to be the basis for a new review series: Reel Representation.

First, a bit of background: I’ve chosen to use the term “physical nonconformity” as opposed to “disability” or “disfigurement”, because both common terms have pejorative and limiting connotations that I would like to avoid. As I said in my essay Breaking the Binary, the distinction between appearance and ability is often overlooked, yet incredibly important. Stories of physically nonconforming people in media often condescend to them in storie such as Everything Everything, or The Elephant Man. I do want to address these and other “classics” and how they portray distortions, but first I want to focus on positive portrayals.

Some positive examples of physical nonconformity on film include Penelope (2008), The Greatest Showman (2017), the novel Defect (2007), and the television show Speechless (2016-2019). These will be covered first

One important facet of representation on screen is the common correlation of physical nonconformity to “monstrosity” or evil in the horror/sci-fi genere. I tend to avoid scary movies, with one important exception: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have two separate articles, one for the book and one for the 2004 Hallmark miniseries, and I will address the 1931 “classic” in a third piece. I’ve been passionate about this story for years, and I’m excited to share my thoughts.

Part 1/2-The Wonder of Miscasting

Part 2/2-The Shape of Ableism

Above is a two-part video essay by Sarah the Scrivener, a social commentator and activist. She explains the problems of media representation eloquently, with credible research and statistics.

I look forward to exploring stories of representation and sharing unique perspectives. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Frankenstein.

Frankenstein: Novel and Introduction-Unconventional Son

This review has been two years in the making and is quite long. Maybe if I finally post all of my thoughts surrounding this story, I can move on from this obsession and focus on other projects. We shall see. Also major shout-out to my girl B for proofreading this essay and offering suggestions.

I was first properly introduced to Frankenstein through the 2018 Guthrie production. I knew that my mother had written her master’s thesis on the novel but I was still more familiar with the Boris Karloff version, with electrodes in the neck. I went in expecting horror and what I got was severe heartbreak. I vividly remember riding the bus back to campus and crying on my friend’s shoulder.  I decided to name the Creature Peter, after Marvel’s Spider-Man. In typical fan discourse, the Creature* is named Adam or Prometheus, which are both worthy symbolic alternatives, but I chose my personal name before doing much research. I was again reacquainted with the story in my sophomore British Literature class, where I filled ten pages of my notebook with curse words. If you don’t believe me, I can send you the photos. 🙂 I continued using Peter as the Creature’s name, but not in public class discussion.

Frankenstein was first published in 1818 by 21-year old Mary Shelley. The classic novel follows the life of the Creature, a man sewn together from the dead limbs of other humans, and electrically animated by Victor Frankenstein, a college dropout with some biology credits. Despite his initial obsession with creating life, Victor is repulsed by his new son and runs away. Victor and his Creature dance around each other for years, until the Creature asks for a mate. When Victor fails to comply, the Creature kills two people in retaliation, after accidentally smothering one earlier.

While the events of the novel play out as a classic tragedy, the philosophical questions that underpin them deserve serious contemplation. What constitutes a “human”? How does one obtain and maintain a “soul”? How far is too far in the pursuit of knowledge? How does one evaluate Peter’s violent actions against his continuous cries for love and belonging? That last one hits home-we all desire love and belonging and achieve it to varying degrees by varying means and circumstances.

*Anyone who refers to Frankenstein’s creation as “m**ster” will be scolded and blocked. It’s rude and plays into cultural misconceptions. 😉

There’s the spoiler-free portion. Spoiler warning from here on out. ⚠️

I wrote this paper (Thy Fallen Angel_ Disability Representation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) a few weeks ago, for a course about stories of oppression and resistance. This paper focuses on the parallels between Peter’s experience, and the experience of “disabled”/physically nonconforming people in our society. This blog is a less academic paraphrasing of the essay, but feel free to compare the two. I also wrote a paper comparing Frankenstein and Rime of the Ancient Mariner

To address the elephant in the room, no Peter’s narrative is not explicitly stated as being about “disability” but his story mirrors such narratives closely enough for solidarity and empathy. He is “born” to a father who deeply desires him, but suddenly changes his mind, leaving his newborn son to fend for himself.

Victor narrates Peter’s “birth” in the novel with these chilling terms; “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far
exceeded moderation, but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished and
breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley 60)

This newborn is not taught proper social skills and so learns by observation, on the fringes of society. Peter’s story about his time with the de Lacy family is especially poignant. Peter finds a family in a secluded cottage and observes them for some time, slowly learning what a healthy family dynamic is supposed to be. He is welcomed as a friend by the blind grandfather and shown the first true kindness in his life, but this is quickly taken from him when the son and daughter-in-law are terrified at the sight of him. The two strangers act on impulse, physically attacking Peter and driving him away, The one brave initiative Peter took in his whole life proved to be a disaster.

Peter spends months alone in the woods, reading books swiped from the de Lacy house (particularly Paradise Lost) and examining Victor’s journal. Peter wants answers as to why he was created in the first place and then so cruelly abandoned. Who among us hasn’t tried to explain or analyze our suffering?? Meanwhile, Victor suffers from anxiety and family drama, rendering him incapable of telling his loved ones what has happened, and amplifying his paranoia about being “watched” or “hunted” by his son.

When he is discovered and chased off, he eventually comes face to face with his creator again and begs for mercy, pleading,

“Remember, that I am thy creature. I ought to be thy Adam but I am rather thy fallen
angel, whom thou didst turn from joy for no misdeed… How can I move thee? Will no
entreaties cause thee to turn a favorable eye upon thy creature, who implores thy
goodness and compassion? Believe me, Frankenstein, I was benevolent; my soul glowed
with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone?” (Shelley 93)
This poignant and pitiful plea comes in the middle of the first meeting between Peter and
Victor after being apart for many months. From a mental newborn who couldn’t speak, Peter has grown into quoting Milton and contemplating his own creation and existence; yet all Victor can see is the physically deformed body. Victor is so shocked and disgusted by Peter that he doesn’t take so much as a second to explore his unconventional son’s mind or heart.

When he reunites with Victor, Peter is promised a companion, an equal, and this brings him more joy than he’s ever known. Victor assembles this female companion but is suddenly terrified that she and Peter will biologically reproduce. This fear causes him to destroy the bride in front of Peter’s eyes. Peter is left with his rage and the two separate. Throughout all of this, Victor maintains that his son is an “abomination”, and a “wretched devil”. Parenting 101! Those who do not physically conform can have trouble relating to others and so lack the intimacy they crave. While Peter is an extreme example, this yearning for companionship is universal.

I should mention that Peter does kill three people independently-one is an accident and two are intentional. Peter accidentally smothers Victor’s kid brother William when interrogating him, and he is remorseful for this. When Victor destroys the bride, Peter kills his best friend Henry and wife Elizabeth in retaliation. Peter does not enjoy killing as an end in itself, but understands that it’s the only possible way to make Victor understand his pain.

Finally, Peter and Victor meet aboard the ship of Captain Walton, after years of a cat-and-mouse game. Victor dies of “natural causes” (probably of frostbite or malnutrition), and Peter comes to take his body away. Peter knows he has no one left to turn to, no one who truly understands his unique circumstances.  Victor has been narrating the entire novel to Walton, and now Walton is face with proof of the fantastic story. Walton has a choice: will he agree with Victor that Peter is an abomination? Or will he vindicate the suffering of a lonely man? Walton’s choice is irrelevant, as Peter has given up all hope in life. Peter has these parting words for Captain Walton:

“Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man’s death is needed to consummate the series of my being…but it requires my own.” (Shelley 188)

This quote appears on the final pages of the story, before Peter jumps off the boat,
disappearing into the ocean. He plans to “collect a funeral pile and consume to ashes this
miserable frame…” (Shelley 188), seeing no purpose or hope in his existence. What strikes me about this ending is the lack of redemption. Both characters die, although Victor gets an unfairly better deal.

If you’re still here, thank you for reading. This novel has been close to my heart for many years, and Peter will always be my favorite unconventional son of literature. I’m disappointed in major media for distorting the story, but surprisingly Hallmark did a fantastic job with their 2004 miniseries. Stay tuned for the next installment of Frankenstein Fridays! 🙂

Edition Cited

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Johanna M. Smith. Frankenstein: Complete,
Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. 3rd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.

Introduction to Portfolio

This is a portfolio of sample assignments from my Technical Communication class with Leah Guren. The online course focused on the introductory elements of Technical Communication, such as concise communication, clear graphics, and ordered information.

I created this site in 2017 to practice reviewing movies and television. I have also included various personal essays and poetry, along with a large “travel” section covering my semester abroad.

Miss Congeniality-Outdated Feminism

Before someone tries to throw hands at me about the title, let me clarify that I do admire this movie, and have seen it more than once. However, as I get older and watch it with new nuance, I see some critiques of this enduring classic.

The story follows FBI agent Gracie Hart (alias Gracie Lou Freebush) as she infiltrates the Miss United States pageant to catch an unexpected villain. I almost feel like the second scene is misleading. The prologue tells us who we have, the second scene leads us to believe we’re in an intense action movie, and then it pivots to an office!

Two standout supporting characters are Kathy Morningside and Victor Melling. Candice Bergen makes a meal of her bland role and entertains us as pageant director Kathy Morningside. No one with a name that cheerful can be trusted, and Ms. Morningside soon turns into a storm. While entertaining and campy, Caine’s stylist Vic is a two-dimensional stereotype that does no good for authentic representation

The two shining elements that pull the plot together are Gracie’s relationships with Vic and Cheryl. Cheryl is a shy contestant who opens up to Gracie and finds some confidence. r endearing earnestness helps her steal the show and eventually the title of Miss USA. In addition to being her stylist and consultant, Vic morphs into a father figure for Gracie, and they  ultimately winning Miss United States and being saved from explosion.

April 25th

Everyone knows that April 25th is the best day of the year! Cheryl’s “airhead moment” has become an iconic meme. 

While the movie ostensibly shows a strong female embracing other strong females, subtle misogyny abounds and is hard to miss in a post-#MeToo era. 

4 minutes in, a waitress is insulted with the line “this broad’s got two asses”. Right off the bat, this is the kind of subtle language that annoys me about this movie. Even before the pageant starts, the group that picks the agent to participate is made up of ten )males and one female. It’s a free-for-all of objectification and debauchery. (17:08-19:10). Once the pageant starts, Gracie wears a camera, and her male colleagues have a disgusting field day with what they see.

In addition, Gracie Hart is unnaturally forced into a romance with her colleague Eric Matthews, played by adorable Benjamin Bratt. While Hart and Matthews have an entertaining rapport as colleagues, there was no justifiable reason to force shift to romance at the end of the movie. The subtle flirtations and misdirects are one thing, but 

A Brief Shining Moment

This is one of the most straightforwardly feminist moments of the movie. While I don’t like the word “liberating” being used to describe a beauty pageant, I like her attitude shift and commitment to her friends

It’s not about her “becoming a beauty contestant”, but about her learning to operate out of her femininity as well as her masculinity. We also get to see Gracie make real friends, which is endearing

While an entertaining and colorful romp, Miss Congeniality doesn’t hold up as a positive example 20 years after its release. For a colorful Sandra Bullock comedy, I recommend The Proposal and for an epic Sandra Bullock action movie, i recommend The Heat (for adults only). Miss Congeniality gets 7/10 for a strong cast, a good soundtrack, and genuine humor and heart. Three points docked for the misogyny and the unnecessary romance. A great choice for a tween slumber party, or a “throwback classics” night, 

Love is Blind-A Delightful Disaster

Hi y’all! I know i promised to update more with the extra free time, but then online classes started. 🙂 I’m working on a new schedule and I have lots of cool content on the way. First off, my thoughts on a cultural phenomenon besides a disease.

Like the rest of the world, I’ve been alternating between boredom and procrastination in this quarantine. I’ve seen a lot on the Internet about Love is Blind and I finally decided to see what all the fuss is about. I’d like to note that I’ve only seen one episode of The Bachelor and do not follow any such franchises. Let me tell you, I’ve got some THOUGHTS! Let’s go.

The show is a “social experiment” to test whether love is in fact blind. 20 men and 20 women (all ostensibly heterosexual) move into a “facility” for two weeks. They spend every minute of every day talking to potential matches through a thin blue wall. After ten days of intense conversation, some couples may choose to get engaged, although none are forced to. They are then allowed to meet face-to-face. They proceed to a Mexican resort, then a new apartment together. They make their final choice on the altar, with the option to say “I don’t”.

Lauren and Cameron are the King and Queen of this show, second to none. If the show had been a contest for the ”healthiest relationship” (and it should have been), Lameron would win hands-down. From day 1 to the end, both are self-aware, mature, authentic, and they communicate effectively. As such, they are fan favorites, and have done the most promotional interviews. They also have a YouTube channel, Hanging with the Hamiltons

Amber and Barnett are two distorted peas in a cramped pod. They fumble through the pod dates and then see each other upon engagement. Amber might be authentic, but she has an emotional instability to her that “scares the living hell” out of her fiancé Barnett. Barnett isn’t that much better, waiting until the last possible second to choose between Jessica and Amber. Amber’s explanation of their relationship is questionable at best: “Barnett…frustrates me and he irks my nerves, and drives me to the ends of insanity, and…I f**king love him. I adore him for it.” (1×3, 19:30) I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe healthy relationships can be built on irritation and frustration. I wish them well, but I don’t ever wanna hang out with these two weirdos.

One early comedic highlight is Lauren’s reaction upon meeting Barnett: “Now that I see Barnett in the flesh after all of the drama, all of the large wine glasses that were consumed on the girls’ side due to this man. Ummm…” (1×4, 39:40). This tells me all I need to know. Men who cause drama and drinking are not the men who should be getting married.

Jessica and Mark didn’t have a shot in hell. From day one, Jessica had more intense feelings for Barnett, and those continued at full speed until the wedding day. I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt, that she was trying her hardest to go through with the wedding, but I don’t honestly think so. While Mark is 10 years younger than Jessica, he behaves and speaks as the more mature one in the relationship. In episode six, Jessica says “He’s really emotionally available, and that is a red flag for me.” (1×6, 36:59) Yes, a 34-year old woman described her 24-year old fiance in those words.

Gigi and Damian are an interesting pair. While not making it down the aisle on the show, the two are still dating, taking it at their own pace. Gigi is a drama queen throughout the show, but I believe her heart is in the right place. And I’m just gonna say it, she’s incredibly gorgeous. Damian is sometimes a doormat, and their conflict takes up too much show time, but I’m glad they’re happy. 

This is a clip from the reunion finale, when Amber explains Jessica’s problems to her and says what everyone is thinking. Lauren and Cameron embody all of our reactions.

I give this show 9/10 for entertainment and an intriguing spin on a classic formula. One point lost because the “love triangle” and other drama was blown too far out of proportion. Recommended for people who don’t watch The Bachelor but need to have some idea of current cultural discussion.