The metaphors we use to talk about things are powerful. For example,¬†when talking about the internet lately the “flow of information” is seen as a given. It’s like drinking from a firehose. We’re engulfed. We’re drowning in it.

What if instead information online were a river, continuously available to carry us where we need to go, there to quench our thirst for knowledge, and distract us with cool waters for as long as we want to dip in our toes?

Don’t you feel calmer already?

An old tradition

grad robe

Since I graduated during summer term, I didn’t need to walk in the fall graduation ceremony. I did though, and I’m glad I did. It reminds me of all the heritage we are carrying and how we as people are continually working to improve our scope of knowledge. It’s easy to lose sight of that hunched over a computer, and humbling to be reminded of it.

“It’s More How People See You…”

After more than a year of work, my master’s thesis was approved for final submission to the Graduate School! It has been a challenging project, but a fascinating one due to my own experiences and hearing students’ stories everyday. A big thank you to my committee and–most especially–my advisor, Dr. Christina Weber. Also, my husband, who possesses infinite patience.

Here is the overview in a nutshell/abstract:

“IT’S MORE HOW OTHER PEOPLE PERCEIVE YOU”: SOCIAL IDENTITY FORMATION THROUGH STUDY ABROAD

This research investigated how study abroad affected students’ sense of identity and how interactions between study abroad students and other people shaped their understanding of their identity. While abroad, students taking part in a five-week study abroad program started to recognize having an American self and used behavior and clothing to negotiate their association with this role. The relationships between students and the program leader, other students, friends, and family members were instrumental in the recognition and development of their identity. Students also started creating a study abroad self before departure and used points of discomfort as an opportunity to adjust how they defined this identity. Student responses indicated that study abroad offers them insight into how a sense of identity is related to the context of place and people, as well as an opportunity to negotiate their identity both while abroad and after return.

Follow-up regarding The Help

I’m glad to see that I’m not the only person who noticed the issues with the narrative framing for The Help. Unfortunately it sounds like the problem extends from the marketing for the book and movie to the structure of the movie itself. Erik Childress at eFilmCritic comments:

Aibileen and Minny are wonderful characters, so well played by Davis and Spencer, each bringing just the right touch of pain and sass so as not to become caricatures. Both, but especially Davis, are likely to be talked of highly around Oscar time. So why not start with them and end with them instead of using them as crutches for white girl success and insecurities?

The full review is here.

The Help and Racism Today

The book The Help was recently recommended to me as an example of interesting narrative structure. The descriptor of “summer read” is generally enough to make me skeptical, but I quite enjoyed the book. However I couldn’t help but notice one thing: this is a book about racism, and the marketing itself for the book and movies seems to be displaying subtle racism.

The book is structured with three narrators: Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. The first two are black women who work as maids, and the last is a white woman who just graduated college and has moved back home. The first chapter is from Aibileen’s perspective, the second from Minny’s, and the third from Skeeter’s. The book then alternates perspectives in no particular order, with just one chapter in the later half written as a third person perspective when all three characters are in the same location briefly. It concludes with Aibileen’s perspective, neatly bookending the story in a mirror of how it began. The structure of this book comes together to make it most predominantly the story of the black maids, with Skeeter’s story functioning as an opportunity for change and thus motivating the plot.

Rather noticeably, the marketing for the book and the movie do not mirror this narrative structure but instead put Skeeter in the foreground. In both the book jacket and the movie trailer, Skeeter’s background is mentioned before the other two black characters. This change might make sense if the marketing were using this opening as an opportunity to indicate that Skeeter wanted to be a writer and thus would be interviewing the black maids, but instead she is merely introduced as being a member of the social scene in Jackson. Her role in pushing the plot forward is only brought forward after the Aibileen and Minny are introduced. In this way, it seems that the sole reason for listing her first is to frame the story from her perspective.

This leads me to wonder if there are marketing gurus in the book and film industries who believe that the story would not have a chance to be a success if it is pitched as a story about black women. As much as I would like to believe that this assessment is wrong, I can’t definitively say it is. Still, regardless of whether the marketing gurus are making an accurate assessment, it makes me sad to think that a well-crafted story about overturning racism is still running into a subtle form of that very problem 50 years later.