Welcome to arts, ink.

Welcome to arts, ink., where our student columnists are given a forum to write about the arts and cultural thoughts that are on their minds. If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your blogs. We review applications and hire new bloggers twice a year, in September and January. Read more about Blogging Opportunities here!
Email us at arts@umich.edu with questions.

Podcast Starter Pack

I can’t leave the house without my earbuds. Or my headphones, depending on my mood. Although I will say that since my headphone cord broke last week and I switched to $5 earbuds, I am seriously missing the noise cancelling technology. (Thanks but no thanks, Bose.)

I would say that most of the time I listen to podcasts as I walk to and from class. I’m never in the mood to listen to music for some reason, maybe because I studying music at school all day, or maybe I’m just a really curious person. It’s a combination of both, I imagine.

There’s something about stories for radio that makes them so meaningful. I understand that if you were to read the transcript of a radio show from a screen or piece of paper, it wouldn’t have the same effect on you as if you had heard it. I’m sure there’s an art to writing for radio and I could probably take a class on it.

(Before I get into my recommendations, I want to preface this by saying that I listen to my podcasts on The Podcast App. The built-in iPhone Apple Podcasts app is a poor excuse for a podcast app!)

The starter pack:

This American Life was on in my mom’s car all the time while I was growing up. Every week the stories are based on different themes, and each story offers a totally different perspective on that theme. They just released their 661st episode on Sunday, so there’s a lot to check out. I would recommend this podcast to everyone on earth.

Serial and S-Town are break-off pods from TAL. Serial is hosted by Sarah Koenig, and in each season she picks one story to tell episode-by-episode. The first season was a national sensation, and now she’s in her 3rd season, reporting on the criminal justice system in Cleveland. Easy to binge-listen. Same with S-Town, a six episode story about a man who lives in Alabama. Trust me, it’s more interesting than it sounds.

Ear Hustle is based out of the San Quentin State Prison and it explores topics in prison life by interviewing real prisoners.

Queery with Cameron Esposito is a good one if you’re interested in queer topics and hearing from queer people in the entertainment industry.

2 Dope Queens is a comedy podcast that supports women and people of color! The hosts are hilarious and they spotlight around 3 comedians per episode. They only invite 1 white guy on per year, and last year it was Tom Hanks. My kind of show!

The Daily is my preferred news podcast from the NY Times. It comes out every morning and each episode is different. It can surprise you.

Let me know what else I’m missing!

“Last Days in Vietnam” and Responsibility in Documentaries

The Vietnam War continues to be fresh in Americans’ conscious as one of the last conflicts of the Cold War, and “Last Days in Vietnam” does a detailed job in preserving the war’s memory by featuring interviews with American and Vietnamese people who lived through it. The film brings history to life, but its lop-sided coverage of the war shows the dangers of documentaries engaging in political issues.

The conflict is a very sensitive matter, which the Vietnamese refer to as the American War since it was a satellite war for America to forward its imperialist interest in maintaining superpower status. The documentary does not get the perspective of the opposition to American forces. All the interviewees have ties to the United States, either as members of the American armed forces or as Vietnamese refugees who escaped to our country. This does not mean there was no value to the film. To hear the first-hand accounts of the American men who actually fought the war was gripping, especially their very human emotional struggles as they dealt with the impact the conflict had on civilians who lost their homes and lives. The archival film footage of bombings, evacuations, military exercises and the like made vivid the clear descriptions of the Vietnam War I read about in history class. The tragedy became much more comprehensible by showing the individual people and actions it takes to mount a war in the first place. But the lack of perspectives outside of the forces with America makes the documentary a simple and concise history of only the American side of the war. To not have this view counterbalanced with that of the Soviet-allied forces makes the loss American forces hard to understand. There is no focus on the achievements and developments on the Soviet side that led to their success. Only the work of the American forces is then appreciated.

The documentary is very good on a technical level. At the beginning, I was deceived into believing that the incredibly conventional editing of the documentary would contain an incredibly conventional story. Instead, the intricate and chaotic nature of war strategy plays out in the most visually literate manner possible. However, if the viewer does not have a nuanced education on the Vietnam War, this film could do them a disservice by only presenting one side of the conflict, and even then not focusing on the Vietnamese people who were most impacted. While doing a thorough job of chronicling America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, at no point does the documentary dive into historical analysis, leaving me wanting more. I’m sure the interviewees have strong views on the war that could have been shown in a balanced way to the benefit of the viewer’s knowledge without getting mired in politics.

I don’t consider the limited scope of the documentary a fatal flaw. While the story given is clearly given from the American perspective, it is even-handed in describing the United States’s losses and triumphs in the war. To include the Soviet side would be to extend the documentary far past its hour-and-a-half running time, and would expect a movie to be as authoritative as a vetted history textbook. However, the lack of self-awareness in its obvious bias is concerning. As the saying goes, history is written by the victors. Those who truly respect history must resist this vantage point.

getting through the semester

(Awashed by Nur Sarah)

In moments when it seems classes and assignments are starting to become overwhelming, I find this poem I wrote myself hidden in my notes. “It can’t be dark forever”, the phrase I need so much right now.

Often times, it can be tempting to think, “Why is university life centered around so much studying?” as if we have no other purpose. It can seem daunting, thinking about our assignments that await us, the gnawing feeling that we always need to study, to catch up with things. And all for a scroll of paper from the university.

Even during my internship, I found work genuinely more enjoyable than just studying. Sure, there were work performances due every year but besides that we were not graded every three weeks on how we were doing. I was learning a lot while trying to figure out how to do my work. I also did not find my degree to be particularly useful for my internship, leading me to question the usefulness of the degree altogether.

Maybe, just maybe I have yet to see the benefits of studying for my degree. Perhaps things will make sense later, as they always do. Time will tell but until then, don’t give up. Keep living, stay afloat amidst all the incoming work from classes. And take care of your mental health.

Looking at the “Tears in rain monologue” of Blade Runner (1982)

I recently watched Blade Runner (1982) with a few friends over the weekend, and I thought it was excellent. They did an incredible job with the movie’s visuals – the atmosphere is moody and oppressive, claustrophobic with swarms of civilians bustling about an obviously overpopulated metropolis. The entire film is tinted a somber ocean blue and shimmers in artificial neon light to create a dystopian and gloomy backdrop for the movie’s introspection in consciousness – it all works very cohesively. It’s crazy how they managed to pull off such an impressive visual scale of its city and tech without the use of CGI, in 1982! (As a side note, the setting of the movie is in 2019, so it looks like we’re just one year away from flying cars, killer androids, and eternal rain. I look forward to it!) If you haven’t seen the movie, obviously give it a shot, and spoilers ahead.

One scene in particular stands out to pretty much everyone who’s seen it, and the main actor in that scene is said still to get comments about it 30 years later. Of course, I’m talking about Roy Batty’s final few lines, or the “Tears in rain monologue.” (This one-minute scene is apparently famous enough to warrant its own Wikipedia page!) Here’s the transcript:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

Batty’s speech is a recognition of his own humanity, an acceptance of his mortality, and by extension, our own. Batty is a combat replicant, genetically engineered for the sole purpose of war. He is literally designed to be emotionless, and yet, this supposedly expendable, programmatic husk of a “non-human” being comments on the beauty of his experiences, even those in the violent landscape of war. The monologue’s fictional imagery is somehow easy to picture; gargantuan structures blaze in silence, as a crumbling ship and its passengers become the dust in cosmic wind; a vivid mosaic of bright color stretch through the black void of space, massive in scale to Batty’s small form. It’s these experiences that Batty, who can be considered no more alive than the code in a program, has remembered and described as “things you people wouldn’t believe,” or the things that Batty sees immense wonder in – these deeply impactful memories that his “meaningless, programmed” life was truly lived out with great purpose, if not solely for the reason that he had lived and experienced the beauty of his universe at all. Here is Blade Runner’s acknowledgement of Batty’s humanity: his ability to view the universe with conscious, wondrous eyes.

The second half of the monologue is Batty’s acceptance of his inherently ephemeral nature. Replicants are designed only to live for four years before automatically shutting down, and it’s in a previous scene that Batty actually “meets his maker,” only to angrily kill him when he is told that there’s no possible way to extend his lifespan. Here, in the final moments before his death is when Batty has fully accepted the fate he fought to avoid, he realizes that while all those previously described memories will be “lost in time, like tears in rain,” noting the insignificance of his existence in the context of a greater universe, he did not live in vain. The “questionable things” that Batty has conducted over his lifespan is contrasted by the empathy expressed in his saving of Deckard, a man dispatched to kill off him and his rogue replicant friends. Thus, he is perfectly content to die, joyous and appreciative of having had the chance to affirm his humanity.

Blade Runner’s messages are incredibly thoughtful, and I’m honestly very unequipped to analyze the nuance of the film. Nonetheless, the “Tears in rain monologue” stuck by me and I wanted to share my thoughts. The sentiment of the scene is similar to other existential works like The Stranger and Waiting for Godot, but the fantastic visual acting, gorgeous background track, and wholly poetic delivery make “Tears in rain” quite special.

architecture… does it have limits?

credit: instagram @themichiganarchitect

Architecture, the most broad discipline by far… does it have limits?
I certainly believe so, despite my passion for the field.
Architecture is limited between the fight form has with function; architecture is the result of the compromise of these two components.
Architecture is limited by technology. Ever since there was software created, more wild shapes have been encouraged in design. Back in the day, without such powerful software available, past architects instead had to rely on their genius mind power and artistic talent to produce the blueprints for their designs, Whereas today, we have people who care just barely draw, who can turn to software drawing to save themselves from being fried at their next review, and it also allows them to turn the model round and round virtually to literally see how all the elements of their design go together.
The perception of architecture is also limited. As an architecture student, I am constantly assigned projects that question my design abilities, but also must fit to a certain narrative. Yes, we get our own options to interpret the prompts for ourselves, and create our own “solutions” to the presented objectives, however I always question the necessities of the narrative portion. In our projects, I believe the narrative (the story or point we want to demonstrate through our design) simply serves to spur our designing. We think up a storm, to convey a meaning behind our project designs; sometimes we are successful, other times not so much.
What I’ve always found interesting about that is, the narrative is often times the reason for headache and heartache for us and our projects… however, hypothetically speaking, if these projects were to be real proposals in the actual world, I doubt anyone would be able to i(or let alone have the interest to) interpret our narratives behind the design. It’s like, why spend so much time crafting a story, that audiences cannot even see, or do not even wish to see? Perhaps, the reality is that these narratives exist just to capture ourselves as designers to have a fascination and passion for the project, which would in turn power our hard work and determination to do our best in the project, and designing it too.

Not a Blue Wave, But Historic Victories

credit: NowThis/itsjarms

I’m sure you’ve been paying attention to the recent midterm elections, which occurred this past Tuesday. I certainly hoped you exercised your civil rights to vote (no matter how screwed you think we are or aren’t)! People have said that this election cycle could change the future of America and perhaps even democracy itself. Many Americans are worried about the future state of the country, including myself. When tyrannical presidents threaten the nation into near fascism, it’s essential to speak up and effect change.

Tuesday marked a landmark election day, even though the supposed Blue Wave was not as successful as expected. In one of the most watched Senate races, Texas conservative Ted Cruz claimed re-election over the Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who lost by only a few percent. While Republicans maintained their hold on the Senate, Democrats claimed the majority of the House. With the majority blue, possibilities for impeachment become closer to reality.

Despite the undermining of democratic institutions in today’s harsh political climate, there were unprecedented wins for diverse candidates: voters were able to send the first Muslim women, Native American women, and LGBTQ+ women to Congress. The first openly gay man was elected Governor in Colorado. These historic wins represent a tide turning in the United States. Maybe people are more accepting than previously thought, and can look beyond ideological differences to vote for candidates who present political competence. We can work toward a more inclusive, democratic, and informative political environment. And hopefully, real changes will be made effectively and quickly.