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Subtext: Some Have It, Others Don’t

First, What Is It?

Subtext is implied information. It’s that simple. It comes from high context relationships, wherein two or more people have common knowledge of past events and refer to them without stating an outline of the events and how they effected each other and their futures. Most people employ subtext when talking to old friends and family. An inside joke is the simplest form of subtext, but in writing subtext tends to be a little more sophisticated. Usually because the characters don’t want to really bring that old crap into the light. Subtext in a narrative is the best way to do exposition of plot and explore motivations of characters. Not all writers are good at this. Some writers hit a reader over the head with exposition and motivation. They hit them with signs that say “EXPOSITION!!!” and “MOTIVATION!!!” and most readers and viewers balk at that kind of clunky story telling. But it is easier to show then to tell, so I’m going to use DraculaKill Bill Vol. I, and Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard for my examples, so . . . spoilers.

For those you you who don’t watch this show, this moment happened right when Spongebob dropped the dialogue bomb of why Mr. Krabs had been gone (he was on vacation). It was purposely clunky, hence the title above his head.

Subtext or Are You Reading Too Much Into It?

There is a joke going around the internet about English professors right now that I love. Here it is:

It makes me laugh every time I see it or think of it, because I completely get it. While reading Dracula for a course, I was repeatedly confused by the idea that Lucy was a slut. Not vampire Lucy, but normal Lucy. I don’t get this. The evidence given to support her promiscuousness is the blood transfusions from four different men, one of whom (Arthur) said it made him feel like they were truly bonded in marriage. I get the idea of mingling blood relating to sex as one result of sex is consanguinity as in the creation of children; however, based on how the instances of the transfusions came about negates any agency from her in the act. She was passed out each time, suggesting instead non-consensual mingling of blood, just as Dracula took her blood without her consent. The leap from her lack of say in the blood transfusions to her being promiscuous seems very far fetched as her inability to consent completely throws out the idea of her as promiscuous which requires an act of agency and instead reinforces her as victim. The whole theory also throws out the fact that this was a life-saving medical procedure (do we consider getting a blood transfusion from strangers as a metaphor for sex when we are in a car accident and need one? No, we don’t. We consider it a medically necessary procedure.)

Some have brought up the fact that she had three suitors, like that is somehow evidence. I disagree as she was an heiress of good breeding and sweet nature. In the time period of the novel, three suitors is quite normal, especially considering the fact that before engagement people would refer to each other by titles and surnames. Dating wasn’t really a thing. Instead we would see friends of the girl’s family spending time with her in public spaces and with other family members and guests. There wasn’t really proclamations of love until a marriage proposal was also voiced. Men of this time were also hard pressed to get a woman alone to profess and propose, which was the only time it wasn’t unseemly for a girl to be alone with a man. Lucy’s three proposals are only strange in the fact that they all happened on the same day. If she had acquiesced to each man or showed fickleness in her decision, I could see an argument for a metaphor for promiscuousness, but I did not see evidence of any fickleness. Lucy seemed quite sure she wanted to marry Arthur to the very end. She does say something about how society doesn’t let a woman have as many husbands as she wants, but she isn’t thinking about sex but about the hurt she had to give to Dr. Seward and Quincey by saying no. She also knew it was a silly thought. She was most likely thinking idealistically, not sexually. I had serious doubts that Lucy knew much about sex, as she didn’t seem to come close to this consideration in any of her writings.

Other flimsy arguments that she was promiscuous bring up the times Dr. Seward and Dr. Van Helsing stayed in her room all night or washed her in a bathtub. This is again refuted by looking at their actions from the medical profession. Had they not done these things she would have died sooner, just as with the blood transfusions. Doctors throughout the ages have spent time in female patients’ rooms without it being called unseemly, far before the period of the book. I agree that the time period of the novel is far more stringent in its decrying of sexuality than say one hundred years prior, but medicine and science were gaining ground at this time over perceived propriety as is evidenced by the entirety of the British Gothic genre which includes far more scientific theory than previous genres.

My overall point though is what exactly do people see in that novel of Lucy’s actions pre-vampire to suggest her being promiscuous that can’t be brushed away by other evidence? I feel as though this is a game of rumor that has been going on for more than a century about this novel. Or preconceived notions gained from others’ interpretations such as that very awful movie where Lucy is naked and moaning throughout most of it. The idea of vampirism being about sex is an established theory, but in most instances then it would seem vampirism is about rape, wherein vampires attack and take from their victims without their consent. I think when Stoker has his characters describe Lucy as sweet, poor, or angelic, I believe he means she was sweet, poor, and angelic. I believe she was developed this way to make her undead state more contrasted and horrifying. I also believe she had so many suitors because Stoker needed someway to have a medical professional in (Dr. Seward), a representation of English power (Arthur), and a classical hero (Quincey) all in the story and connected to Dracula in a believable way with a motivation to go after him (the death of a woman they all loved). So I do not believe the subtext for Lucy being promiscuous is actually in the book but is being read into it. The novel does have subtext, just not that interpretation.

The Opposite of Subtext

Years ago when I was in a two year playwriting program, I was made to read Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard. I’m still scratching my head on that one. Not because it was particularly deep but because I didn’t understand what anyone saw in it. Though I’ll freely admit that the names made following it harder, the dialogue itself often left something to be desired. The beginning has a lot of moments where people reminisce. As a writer, I can’t endorse reminiscence as a form of exposition. I can barely endorse it for any reason. It seems too clunky, and in The Cherry Orchard people have a reason for reminiscing, but it still comes kind of out of no where and leaves a lot of emotionality to be desired. Like this moment:

“ANYA. [Thoughtfully] Father died six years ago, and a month later my brother Grisha was drowned in the river– such a dear little boy of seven! Mother couldn’t bear it; she went away, away, without looking round. . . . [Shudders] How I understand her; if only she knew! [Pause] And Peter Trofimov was Grisha’s tutor, he might tell her. . . .”

There is no impetus for this line at all. It is a statement of facts. Telling us backstory. It’s a non-reply to Varya saying “I told them not to wake him.” Where is Anya’s motivation for saying this? It’s no where. I’ve heard that Checkov is a master of subtext, but stating backstory for no reason is the opposite of subtext. I’ve also been hard pressed to hear the subtext in other moments. Another harsh critic of Checkov believes that a good director took hold of Checkov’s work and told the actors how to behave to give the work depth versus it being in the actual text. This sounds like a good theory to me.

Good Use of Subtext

Now I’m a pretty big fan of the Kill Bill movies. They have great dialogue, great fights, good imagery, good acting, and a sense of humor about itself. In a recent rewatch, I realized there was more to the first one than one would think. Mainly, in the relationship between O-Ren Ishii and the Bride. There are some major clues in this movie that O-Ren and the Bride had a close friendship before the incident in the Texas chapel, but let’s go through them.

One: The first person on the Bride’s list is O-Ren, before the obviously easier Vernita Green. But the Bride wants to handle one of the most challenging of her targets first. There could be many reasons for this: she wants the others to know she’s coming (why else would she leave Sophie alive?), she wants to see if she is capable of fighting and killing after so long, she wants to get the arguably hardest challenge out of the way first, or O-Ren was important to her. I do believe that all of these are the truth and feed into the Bride’s motivations for taking down O-Ren first.

Two: The only person on the Bride’s list to get a biography is O-Ren. When going after Vernita, the Bride simply tells the audience where Vernita is now; whereas, O-Ren is shown at an important moment in her life (becoming the Yakuza boss in Japan) without the Bride there. Then we see a quite long and personal anime sequence showing how O-Ren became the woman she is, including the most important moments of her childhood. We do not see anyone else’s, including the Bride’s, childhood in either movie. We do not know what happened to the rest of the squad or Bill as children to turn them into killers, but we do see this with O-Ren. But how does the Bride know any of this? It is my theory that O-Ren told her about these moments as they grew closer in the squad or even before the squad (it is entirely possible that O-Ren and the Bride had teamed up before joining the squad). If O-Ren did tell the Bride about her childhood, it was most likely because the two relied on each and felt they could trust one another. Perhaps the Bride shared her childhood with O-Ren as well.

Three: The report in the present of the movie between O-Ren and the Bride is very easy but lacks overt expressions of motivation or emotion, unlike the dialogue between the Bride and Vernita, which is instead comprised of the digging up of old issues between the two, most likely never voiced. Overall, the best moment of subtext in this movie is an exchange between O-Ren and the Bride that had a lot of people scratching their heads as to the reason it was even in the movie.

While the reference to the the cereal slogan may seem out of place, it isn’t if we consider it subtextually. If based on evidences presented in One and Two mean that O-Ren and the Bride were once close friends, then this moment could be taken as a throwback to earlier dialogue they would have had when working together. Perhaps when they thought an assignment was going to be easy, but it turned out harder than expected, they would exchange these words and get amusement from it. Most people who are close repeat humorous exchanges throughout their relationship, so this is not a crazy conclusion to draw. So by repeating it here, O-Ren and the Bride are bittersweetly referencing their former closeness as opposed to giving a breakfast cereal free advertising.

Their final exchanges were laced with apology and respect. It did not seem as though O-Ren was simply apologizing for making fun of the Bride but possibly also for her part in the chapel massacre, and that the Bride was accepting that apology, but because of who they are (killers) the Bride and O-Ren are going to finish this fight. The idea of giving forgiveness while still fighting to the death is a very old Samurai story theme, making it both deep and in good tradition. O-Ren can’t voice an apology for the massacre because it is too horrible of an action to ask for forgiveness outright, so the scene is very heavy with all that happened between them before they meet this time.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is chock full of subtext (and some hints as well, like the fact that it was Bill who actually did the killing of O-Ren’s parents) and is worth another watch to suss out back story and connections between the characters.

To Conclude

It is important not to read too much into a work, to read into it what you want to see versus what is actually there. But it is also important to pay attention and think about what is being presented while reading or watching a story. As a writer, it is important to use tact when creating back story as tact is the secret ingredient in creating good subtext.

Are there any works you find are lacking in tact? List them below! Or are really good at subtext? Explain why you feel that way.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Craft of Writing

 

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College: Not Everyone’s Cup o’ Tea

Why I Bring It Up

I went to college. I also taught at college, first and second year students, but I’m not talking about any of my former students. I’m referring to my general experience of my peers and the research I did to prepare and grow as a university instructor. I’ve seen students take a really long time to get their undergrad, go into extreme debt, and, in some cases, come out the other side with a degree in something they didn’t really care about. I have a problem with the whole system, even if I believe in lifelong education. Let me break down the issues.

Not Old Enough to Drink, Or Vote in Some Cases, Old Enough to Make Lifelong Decisions

I once saw a quote on Tumblr that made me laugh, but also made me want to cry a little. It said something like “College, where you’re asked to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life, but only a few months ago you had to ask for a pass to go to the bathroom.” In high school, students are treated like ten year olds. To some extent this understandable, but students need to be given mounting responsibility in high school to be able to handle the dramatically higher responsibility of college. Otherwise, most students will revolt against the amount of work required of college. Instead, high school students have their hands held all four years, unless they are in honors or AP courses, where they are taught that the quantity of the work they are given is more important than the quality of the work they are given. I’m not just talking about the workload though. Freshman traditionally take on two huge decisions right away: loans and major.

Let’s face it. Even though there are a lot of colleges out there with a lot of scholarships, there are more college students than there are scholarships and aid. This means that students need to supplement paying for college either by working or by getting loans, and for those with a higher tuition and/or less financial stability, both. I’ve heard a lot of students express a lot of pride over the fact that they paid their own way through college by working, not taking a dime in loans, but this is very unempathetic. First, if any job a student can get is not enough to pay for tuition, fees, and books let alone food, shelter, and gas, than that job is only going to make the situation all the more stressful. Then there are those students who are non-traditional, who have an okay paying job but also have house payments and utilities as well as the other things students need to pay for. There are others that can’t supplement their income any further with work because they have time obligations to family: they have family members they have to take care of. But there could even be those traditional students who don’t have other financial obligations or time obligations but have a learning disability and have to focus an extra amount of time to their education to keep their grades up. So in these situations, the students take out loans. So let’s not act like everyone has a choice in this matter. It becomes a choice between a loan or failure in your education. Then let’s remember that the traditional student is 17-18 years old when they make this decision when previously they were treated like a leper to responsibility by those in charge of their education.

Then there is the major. A lot of kids go to college with a dream, some go with their parents looking over their shoulder, and some go with no clue what they want. This isn’t the best time to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Students are young and haven’t experienced much, as such, chances are if they have an idea what they want to do with their life, that’s going to change in a year or two. Parents who pay for their children’s college think they have a right to say what their child’s major is going to be. After all, it’s their money. Okay, I get that. But does that mean the child owes their career to their parents as well? Probably not. Students should not sacrifice their whole life (a career can make or break a person’s lifelong happiness) just because their parents are willing to pay for their college. Those that go to college with no clue what they want to do with their lives are going because everyone in their lives have told them that they need to go to college for security, but they get there and meander from major to major because they are still trying to figure out what they want. Or they pick a major based on how hireable they think the major will be. Picking the wrong major is an expensive mistake both financially and emotionally. If two years in, a student decides that pre-law isn’t for them, switching to business means a lot of money. Or sticking through with pre-law when it doesn’t excite interest anymore for four years means paying for something that is worthless to the student at the end because even if they do go to law school and become a lawyer, the career is ultimately unfulfilling. So picking the major in the first years of school, forcing students to forego the required exploration through electives which end up being too costly, can end up ruining a student’s career options and finances. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Open Enrollment vs. the Low Standards of High School

It’s not a secret right now that public elementary and secondary schools’ standards have dropped steadily. This means students leaving before they have gained the basic skills expected of them when they reach college age, including reading, writing, and math. Most of these students if they go to college end up at open enrollment universities, where they sink fast. It’s an awful thing to see a student with a loan or a student with an athletic scholarship failing their classes, even when the university does everything they can to help. With instructors, coaches, and tutors all pitching in, a student who doesn’t know how to spell basic words or doesn’t know that every sentence requires a verb is not going to pass, because no matter how much help the student is given, they still have to do the work themselves. Students can put forth all their effort and still fail. This is possibly the saddest thing to see, but a college instructor can’t in good conscience pass them based only on their go get ’em attitude because in gen eds especially, these skills are needed for the student’s future. Most likely these students should be in remedial courses first, but these cases are hard to catch before a student has failed a few courses.

But students with below standard skills and knowledge are not the only issue with incoming freshmen. The other problem is prep for the amount of work involved in college courses. I’ve known first semester courses that have required eight short papers, with a rough draft and peer edit for each along with weekly reading, and that’s one course. To those not in the know, that’s a freshman composition course. Other first year courses involve a lot of work for points spread out so that no one assignment is make or break, at most equaling a letter grade. As students enter more major based courses, there are less assignments but each with more percentage values, meaning students have less baskets to put their eggs in. If a student likes their major this isn’t an issue, but they first have to get through those heavy gen eds. Students who have never taken an AP or honors course don’t really know how heavy college workloads start out. They bridle against all the work. Having been both student and instructor, at the same too as I was a grad student when I was an instructor, I know what an important balance between student effort and instructor empathy is. Teachers need to understand not that students haven’t experienced this before but that their course isn’t the only one their students are taking. Students need to understand that the work is important and that college (while TV and movies have presented the contrary) is not party time but hard work.This means turning assignments in on time, following instructions, showing up to class both physically and mentally, and most of all, communicating to the teacher when a problem occurs. These are the most basic steps to being successful in those gen eds, but oddly, a lot of students have a problem doing these things and get upset when their grade suffers because they didn’t do these things. They can look at their instructor who is penalizing them for failing at these steps as the enemy. Instead, these students need to understand that they are held responsible for doing the work, and the instructor is not their friend but their evaluator as well as their teacher. After the handholding of high school, this is a hard transition to make.

An Education, Not a Business Transaction

Some students think that because money is involved that they are paying for passing grades in their gen eds. Some of this comes from colleges treating students as customers first. It makes the students think the teachers are there to satisfy them instead of to educate them. This is why the adjunctification of universities, especially open enrollment ones, is so detrimental in the long run. When students who don’t like the amount of work involved in gen eds and who think that they are the customer fill out those course evals, they tend to be very harsh on their instructors. If those instructors are adjuncts, they tend to not have their contracts renewed. Unless, that is, those adjuncts lower their standards to please the “customers”. I haven’t had personal experience of this, but I have heard other former adjuncts testify to this occurrence. These lowered standards result in a worse education. I understand why an adjunct would do this; they need to keep their jobs so they can pay their bills and put food on the table. It’s not really their fault. The idea of student as customer and customer satisfaction as a pivotal part of keeping or letting instructors go is terrible for real education. This is why tenured professors can either be the best or worst instructors at a college. Either they are not afraid of customer satisfaction’s effects on their job, so they hold their students to high standards, or they know that firing them is nearly impossible, so they focus less on teaching and more on research. High standard adjuncts don’t always last long and typically end up floating from college to college. I respect them for holding education over customer satisfaction in the hierarchy of importance. But students need to understand that they are not customers. They are paying for a fair and usable education. They are not paying for an A grade. This is not to say, however, that there are no bad teachers. There are. I knew of one instructor who didn’t give students As on their papers if they didn’t argue what the instructor believed. I refused to take any of those classes, mostly because I can’t do something like that and would have failed. I probably would have argued too much with the instructor for her liking. Versus one instructor I had, several times, who encouraged back and forth. Good instruction means challenging students to think, and especially, to think for themselves. It doesn’t change the fact that students have to put forth effort.

Tuition Costs, Why So High?

In 2008 the housing market crashed big time, and that hurt everybody. Government funding was cut for pretty much everybody too. Most of the funding cuts happened from the state governments because most of them were suffering bad and didn’t have the money to spend on their normal programs. A lot of people were mad about this, but you can’t get blood from a stone. So a lot of universities took a big hit in funding. Then FAFSA made the decision to cut off aid to students after a lesser number of semesters. Retroactively. This meant, quite suddenly, some students lost all their aid. This hurt non-traditional students the most because they take less courses per semester, maybe they only take twelve hours when most traditional students take fifteen to eighteen. This means what takes a traditional student ten semesters takes fifteen or more for non-traditional students. The maximum FAFSA didn’t go up in this time. The reason for this change was so that they didn’t have to lower the maximum aid a student could get. It was a major sacrifice, and it hurt a lot of people. Especially considering that because of the funding cuts colleges took, tuition went up. The problem is we have to ask what the tuition is going to? Almost all colleges are constantly under construction. They spruce up old buildings, build new ones, and buy surrounding land. This is not inherently a bad thing, but quality instructors should come first. If the university is knocking down the president’s house to rebuild it but have an adjunct ratio of 3:4, then they don’t have their priorities straight. If their top administrators are making six to seven figures when their instructors don’t have enough offices or classrooms, then they really don’t have their priorities straight. When choosing a college, one has to look at how the money is spent. If the campus tour doesn’t show many classrooms, instructor areas, or dorm rooms, but they show the ritzy community areas instead, one needs to be a little suspect of how high a value they put on the actual education the school provides. This is not to say that a college can’t have nice community areas and provide a good education, but a little more digging than the sales pitch needs to happen before committing to paying that hefty bill.

Not When, But If

Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone wants to go to college. Not everyone will succeed at college. This is not a problem. This country is very pro-college, just as it is very pro-house buying (seriously stop telling millennials to take that risk just because the market needs it). Most people think that to make in this world, you need a college degree. Which is strange considering all those people with college degrees who are unemployed. We can brush this off as people who got degrees in the liberal arts as those guys never get jobs, right? Wrong. Some employers aren’t hiring people who have career focused degrees because they have learned that those people don’t have the critical thinking skills that are so important to self-starting and high responsibility jobs. There are a lot of unemployed people with law degrees. There are a lot of unemployed people with business degrees. These “safe” careers aren’t safe at all. Right now, there is no such thing as a safe career. In fact, there probably never is. So college is not the answer. The answer is hard work, networking, and luck.

Conclusion

Don’t assume that college is for you. Assume lifelong learning is for you. We can all stand to learn more at every stage of life. College is no guarantee of happiness and security. If a person goes to college, he or she should use that time to figure out what they want. There should be no time limit on that, even if FAFSA will run out. If a person figures out he or she wants to major in something seemingly useless and unlucrative, then he or she should go for it anyway. We have one chance at happiness. A false sense of security at the cost of this one chance of happiness is a risk not worth taking. People have gone the safe routes and still lost everything mostly because of luck, but also because they didn’t care. It’s much better to make the choices that are right for you as an individual. My life is not perfect, but I am happy because I know that I’m striving for what I want. College was right for me. The colleges I chose were right for me. My majors were right for me. Make sure that the choices you make are the right ones for you.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Best Superheroes: An Examination

Get ready for the longest post I have ever written. I have a theory that the best superheroes are the symbolic embodiment of some facet of humanity. Without this, a hero is typically pretty flat. Let’s look at those superheroes which could be argued to be symbols. Look out! Spoilers below.

Batman:

Batman is a much beloved superhero by comic book fans and non-fans alike. He is the single most popular and remembered superhero from DC and possibly of all superheroes. He’s not everyone’s favorite (not mine certainly), but we can’t deny his top spot. He has been re-visioned more times than I can remember and as such his character isn’t always the same. For example, we all have this idea that Batman doesn’t kill, but he has in the past, including when in the 90s movies he killed the Joker and Two Face (watch those again–they’re on Netflix right now–Batman’s actions lead directly to their deaths; that does fall under legal definitions of murder as Batman acts with malice and actions reckless of the lives of the victims, not that we care that he killed the Joker and Two Face). Some people who’ve gotten their hands on the caped crusader have been laughably horrible to his character, while others (*cough*FrankMiller*cough*) have greatly honored Batman. But if we look at the gist of the character, we can get a basic idea of what Batman stands for: Justice & Order.

The understanding of Batman as symbol comes from his origin story. His parents were killed, there was no justice served for the murders, so Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. We can see in certain adaptations that symbolism is brought up point blank, such as in Nolan’s movies wherein Wayne says in so many words that he uses what he fears as a symbol. But it’s important to note the kinds of people Batman traditionally goes after. I’m not talking about his supervillains yet. I mean the everyday street crime he typically handles. Most of these crimes (armed robbery, burglary, assault, theft, carjacking, random murder) go very much without any conclusion from the police and courts. In a lot of cases, the police can’t even find the criminal. In those they do, the criminal could be let go on a technicality, charges are dropped, or cases are not pursued in court by prosecutors because of a low level of evidence. Those that make it to court have taken a while to get there, and they could still end without indictment, in a mistrial, with a plea bargain wherein criminals just walk out that day for time served, or with not guilty verdicts.Those that get guilty verdicts could end up with lower sentencing making the result equivalent to a plea bargain or be repealed again and again. All this can be seen as pesky red tape, but is to protect the accused party from erroneous charges or guilty verdicts and cruel and unusual punishment (two words very much up to interpretation). But this usually leaves the victims out in the cold, meaning they don’t get justice. Batman cuts out all that red tape (i.e. the law–let’s not forget the fact that he is a criminal here) and deals out justice immediately, typically with his fists which adds an extra level of satisfaction. He also actually stops street crimes in progress on a somewhat unrealistic level as it is something the police rarely get to do even with their sheer numbers over Batman (typically police show up to a crime scene after it has happened not because they aren’t trying to get there, but because criminals don’t usually commit crimes within eyesight of a cop and crimes are most often reported after they have happened). This idea that Justice can just show up when the crime is happening (which is pretty freaking impossible) and met out sentencing (in the form of his boot to said bad guy’s stomach) right then and there is enticing to most of us. Batman is also the Santa Claus of crime and knows who deserves to be on the other ends of his fists without hundreds of people putting in their two cents along the path to victims getting justice as is the case in the real world. Again, this all pleases readers and viewers. We can look at Batman and say he gives victims peace of mind that justice exists and the bad guys will get what they deserve.

Some may question this interpretation since Batman doesn’t ever kill in new canon. Well, to some degree I think that’s because Batman remembers that he can never be 100% certain that the suspect is guilty and killing the suspect puts an end to other avenues of justice. Also, possibly one could interpret capital punishment to be law and not justice, making it at odds with Batman’s symbolism.

But Batman doesn’t just stand for justice, but also order. Part of this is the fact that he prevents the injustice of crime by stopping crimes in progress thus restoring order. But there is another support of this symbolism, and that’s the Joker. The more modern Joker that is. The Nolan/Ledger Joker presents a person of chaos: he takes on all of Gotham’s criminals, destroys their money and power, kidnaps/kills/disfigures the city’s leaders, threatens to blow up a random hospital (then does) forcing every hospital in Gotham to evacuate (which I’m sure in most major cities the evacuation plan is to take patients to another local hospital so that plan is out the window), drives random citizens (people who have never committed murder or are sworn to uphold the law) to kill one man under the threat of the hospital’s destruction, and maneuvers the citizens to evacuate the city ONE WAY then threatens to blow them all up. Every single person in Gotham during this movie doesn’t know what to do. They’ve lives have reached full stop by the climax. The Joker has managed to up end every person’s way of life. That is very much chaos. Much of the Joker’s depiction in this movie is based mostly on the Miller Joker who kills himself with sheer will and spite to prevent Batman from becoming a hero thus usurping the natural comic book world order. This is a man who forms intricate plans just to cause as much disorder and craziness as he can. Even the Joker from the Burton film does this: he poisons random beauty, health, and hygiene products sending most peoples’ lives into a realm they never imagined possible and then he held that crazy parade, promising to give out money to everyone. People lost their minds and came to get the money despite the fact that they knew he was responsible for several deaths. In nearly every modern version of the Joker, everything he touches turns to chaos. One man causes so much disorder and death and typically because he thinks it’s fun. But the Joker also usually knows these kinds of actions will attract Batman, with whom he is obsessed. And this is where the symbolism becomes balanced.

Whatever the Joker messes up, Batman fixes or attempts to fix. Chaos turns to order and order to chaos, and we can see this cycle again and again within Batman and Joker’s long battle. In the Burton film, Batman gets rid of the Joker’s gas balloons, saving countless lives. In the Nolan film, Batman prevents the death of the threatened man, prevents Harvey Dent from murdering a child, prevents the ferries’ destruction by the Joker, and restores some order to the city by allowing himself to be vilified. In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman “kills” himself off while creating what might possibly be the coolest neighborhood watch ever (I mean, seriously, if neighborhood watches dressed up as bats–take it further–and stalked around at night going after criminals that would be awesome). In all three instances, Batman helps restore balance and order to Gotham, undoing the chaos that the Joker caused, thus making him the antithesis to disorder, which is of course order. The Nolan/Ledger Joker likens their struggle to the unstoppable force and the immovable object (Marvel has a much more literal interpretation of this idea what with The Juggernaut and The Blob), which very much defines the fight between chaos and order. This is why Batman fans love a Joker story. Their battles are the most fun because of their opposite symbolism, which is another reason why Batman is considered (and pretty exclusively is) the best superhero.

(Don’t ask me about the Hanna-Barbera/West Batman. Let’s just pretend it didn’t exist.)

Spider-man:

Spider-man is probably considered the second best or well-known superhero in the world, especially since the Rami/MaGuire movies came out. He’s pretty close to being my favorite, probably is of this list. I’m not sure I’ve met someone who doesn’t know that silly song, even if they haven’t since the old cartoon, and I grew up watching that very silly cartoon from the 90s (I still like to watch it actually even if it is corny–just let me have my childhood!) In fact, I had one of those B&N first ten comics for Spider-Man which included his introduction in Amazing Stories (do I sound like enough of a nerd yet?), and I like watching anything Spider-man related (including the MTV show with Neil Patrick Harris) and saw the first Rami/MaGuire movie in theaters twice, having bummed a ride the second time and going it solo just to experience it again, though I can’t seem to sit through The Amazing Spider-man 2, which seems to be saying something about their depiction of the character or the world. But my experience with the hero aside, I don’t believe he is a top dog for nothing. Spider-man, like Batman, stands for two things: Responsibility (duh) and the Everyman.

The first one is pretty obvious to most viewers and readers of traditional Spider-man stories. I mean, it’s part of the origin story and stated quite succinctly.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t succinct that time, but the original text has it down pat and is an essential part of the Spider-man canon, so I’m not sure why they didn’t just use it in the new movies. There is literally no better way to convey that meaning.

Everything about Spider-man/Peter Parker feeds into this one saying. He skips school, he ends relationships, he neglects his career, all for the sake of the responsibility tied to his powers. He is miserable the whole time because it’s his responsibility to ignore his own mental, emotional, physical, and social health for the sake of helping others all because he can. This responsibility goes beyond those usually befalling citizens, it goes beyond the law. It’s the last great advice of a young man’s only father figure, but beyond that even, it’s the fact that lives are on the line. When Peter isn’t Spider-man, people die. The second Rami/MaGuire film has Peter walking away from that responsibility, and in a parallel to the first film, he runs into a burning building and saves a child, but someone dies on the third floor, someone Spider-man could have saved had he been there. It’s harsh. In fact, it’s a bit like kicky a puppy, and not just because MaGuire does the best puppy dog eyes ever seen on film, but because he can’t catch a single break. That is so much responsibility. That is Sisyphus level responsibility. That’s sixteen ton weight responsibility. I’m not sure Uncle Ben understood just how crushing those words would be to Peter. Peter is a slave to responsibility. Every time he tries to escape his duty as the web-slinger, he just ends up crawling back to fix all the problems that cropped up when he took what usually amounts to the world’s crappiest vacation because the whole time Peter is thinking: Oh, God! People are dying! As much as I love Spider-man, his story can be somewhat bleak when we notice what a shell of a person he is and part of the reason this can be depressing is because he also represents the Everyman.

Not everyone knows what the Everyman is, so I’m pleased to give you this link. Don’t worry, it’s a quick one. Some may argue that being Spider-man automatically takes Peter out of this category, but I argue that his powers are “extraordinary circumstances.” Unlike Batman, Peter didn’t seek out what makes him super. It just happened to him. There is no character drive behind his powers, they are just the other side of the equation of With Great Power, Great Responsibility. Other than those powers, Peter is a pretty typical guy (unlike Batman who is a billionaire loner/genius with an obsession with beating the crap out of criminals). He’s smart and talented, like most people think they are/wish they are. He struggles to hold a job and maintain a college career, like most college students. He almost always broke, like a lot of people. He misses those people in his life who have passed, like anyone. He gets frustrated with his job (JJJ is to blame on this one). He gets down on himself. He has crushes. He has dreams and aspirations outside of being a superhero (I’m sure a lot of people wish they were a superhero, so we settle for more meaningful and possible dreams, but Spider-man is a superhero and wants the same dreams we do). He has drama in his social circle he has to deal with. He gets embarrassed often. Any of this sounding familiar? We tend to see more of Peter Parker experiencing every day life than we do with other superheroes. I doubt we will ever see Bruce Wayne embarrassed in front of his crush. I mean, he’s too suave for that (as we all wish we were) and may not even notice or care if he did something socially stupid since he’s got other things on his mind like a crazed clown or diabolical penguin man. But the writers tend to find time to show Peter at his most human, which is usually presented by humiliation (people are never more real when their faces are beet red because for the most part embarrassment is a human emotion). Because of all the crap we see Peter put up with on a day to day basis in the most ordinary and sometimes even those extraordinary circumstances, we relate to Spider-man more than any other superhero.

But why doesn’t his life depress us? I mean, it sucks in a lot of ways. We also love Spider-man because he’s able to laugh in the face of all danger. He quips during almost all of his battles (unless someone’s life is seriously in danger and he may not be able to save them), making fun of the melodrama of supervillains and traditional comic book plots. He handles his lot in life with style (and a healthy dose of angst, which is at time purposely funny), and we love him for it.

I also don’t think it is coincidence or bad writing that makes the majority of Spider-man’s villains somehow related to him. If he does represent the Everyman, than the “extraordinary circumstances” should extend into his social life, such as having his best friend’s father (and his best friend) be in conflict with him on the same level, i.e. also have superpowers. This allows Peter’s battles to become symbols of social struggles as opposed to just kickass fighting.

Side note: I’m not sure how I feel about the Amazing Spider-man movies. Everyone seems to talk over each other. Makes everything kind of hard to follow. And as Screen Junkies put it, Garfield seems to stutter a lot. I know they said it, but these movies are just so Sony can keep the rights (as well as the X-Men and FF movies), so they seem like poor, rushed attempts.

Judge Dredd:

Before I begin, let’s all agree to leave Stallone out of this conversation. That movie was very uncanon. But it’s very hard for an American audience to understand Dredd. It’s a UK comic, and it goes back so far with one character (none of that reboot crap or new person taking on the persona–that wouldn’t make any sense either since Dredd is his actual name, that would be somewhat like saying “I’m the new Dr. Smith!”). He’s 2000 AD’s longest running character, having premiered in 1977. And get this, his comic is still going. No breaks. It would cost £410.76 to get all the Case Files and Restricted Files (and don’t think I’m not tempted, but that is $645.26) and the total of all those pages is a whopping 7,716 (prices and pages derived from 2000 AD’s online store). Unfortunately, these and Judge Dredd comics aren’t all that easy to get in the US as you most likely won’t see the File books in your local bookstore or even comic book shops, so most fans know him from little bits of this huge canon and from the film and game adaptations. I also feel woefully left behind on this awesome character, so I welcome any die hard fans to add their two cents on the subject of Dredd as they will have far much more canonical evidence than I will. My first introduction to Dredd was that very awful movie, but then I learned later that he was much cooler than that, and I loved Dredd (2012). But even with my little bit of knowledge, I’m sure we can all agree that Judge Dredd represents the Law, made obvious by the graphic.

In the world of Megacity One, the law has been condensed from police, lawyers, juries, and judges to just judges. They witness, stop, and judge crime. They ride around on great honking motorcycles, carrying awesome guns, and hiding and protecting their faces with iconic helmets. They do this all in a dystopian future/alternate timeline wherein more than 90% of the population is unemployed, people are stuffed into giant slums called Megablocks, some people do nothing but eat, while others consider vomiting a hobby, crime is rampant, and outside the Megacities, there is nothing but nuclear fallout, as such some people are mutated by the nearby radiation. This world just reeks of cool. I mean, not to be really in it, but to read it. The world is a force of disorder and crime, and the judges are the last resort. There is very little fan interest in Judge Dredd’s origin (another reason Judge Dredd bombed here). Most of us only care to see him doing his job. Maybe (who am I kidding? definitely) fighting Judge Death. So the recent movie gave us Dredd on the beat, as it were.

Before I get into the Dredd movie though, Dredd as a symbol is pretty well established by writers and fans. This isn’t really in dispute, but non-fans aren’t really aware of this fact and tend to be put off by Dredd’s seeming two-dimensionality as a result. Dredd is not actually a two-dimensional character though, because within the canon there are constant hints that somehow he is the metaphysical embodiment of the law. Unlike other entries on this list, whose symbolism is not incorporated into the story world, Dredd’s symbolism is a part of the world itself. That’s why his origin doesn’t matter all that much (not to say that there isn’t an origin story, there is, it’s just not as exciting as seeing Dredd in action), because we see the symbolism when he’s judging crime. The two parts of the movie that best depict this come at the beginning and end of the movie, with the presentation of the major dramatic question (Will Anderson pass her exam?) and when Dredd passes judgment on Ma-Ma (spoilers obviously).

Oh! Why’d you cut her off? What was she going to say? Almost what?!

Anyway, the point is that Anderson’s psychic powers were letting her see beyond the facade of Dredd to the deeper meaning of him. It’s nice. Subtle. Something most people who don’t know that Dredd is a symbol would miss or forget about, but any fan probably lost their sh*t at that moment. The first descriptors are almost as important as those she doesn’t get to say: Anger and Control. I believe, the anger stems from the Law being pissed off that all this crime is happening. The control is most likely to stop the anger from getting the better of him and making him no better than the criminals he judges. Let’s face is, there is a bit of anger when the law fails to punish the bad guys and the only thing stopping the law, in the U.S. that is, from just killing every suspected criminal that comes under its purview is preset controls (like appeals and the chain of evidence). Dredd doesn’t need the regular controls we have in the U.S. because he’s there when the crime takes place. He knows, without any doubts, that the suspect did the deed. But the law is a bit like a force of nature in the Dredd universe and as such, Dredd won’t consider anything but the law when in pursuit of a criminal and her sentencing. Case in point:

At the end of the movie (at this point if you don’t know a spoiler is coming then you probably shouldn’t be operating a computer) Ma-Ma has a bomb hooked to her heart, in a ploy to stop the judges from sentencing her to death and carrying it out. Most judges wouldn’t take the risk of getting everyone in the megablock killed over one sentence, but not Dredd. Because the sentence is death, and damned if he’s going to let something like the threat of the death of hundreds if not thousands of people stop him from following the letter of the law to last damn dotted i and crossed t. Instead of considering other factors outside the law, Dredd just does what the law says he should, because, as every awesome Judge Dredd tagline will tell us, HE IS THE LAW!

Captain America:

captain-americas-shield

No, I’m not saying he represents the U.S.A. He represents real patriotism, a.k.a not jingoism. Some may think he is over the top on his symbolism, but one has to remember when he was created. American pride was a driving force behind creating support for our involvement in WWII, which we didn’t have a direct stake in until Pearl Harbour was attacked. But putting aside the historical drive behind his creation, Captain America represents the ideals that America is supposed to represent also. Those being honor, integrity, liberty/freedom, resilience in the face of almost certain death/failure, and most of all standing up for the little guy against bullies. Those last ideals have more to do with the American Revolution than they do with America today. Captain America is these ideals in perfection. We can ague until we are blue in the face that America’s attempts at these ideals are flawed and imperfect to the point of “why bother?”, but Captain America doesn’t represent these things as they are but as they are supposed to be.

For example, no one is going to argue that punching Hitler in the face is a flawed action (unless they are a white supremacist, which who cares what they think anyway?). We all kind of wish we could have done it ourselves, but watching the figurative embodiment of everything that is meant to make America great do it is almost as satisfying. Even if it isn’t real. Captain America is also a very nice person. Steve Rogers is a gentleman and treats everyone with fair respect, another thing America is supposed to value (yes, yes, we were horribly cruel to certain demographics, but remember I’m not talking about the real America but the one we wish it were and it strives to be). Of all the superheroes said to be “boy scouts” (Superman, Cyclops, Hank Pym), Captain America is the only one who actually acts like one. He is pretty much never a dick to anyone. He doesn’t wear honor and integrity as a cologne as those other heroes do. No, it is his natural musk. And we love him for it.

The recent movies starring Chris Evans seem to really capture Captain America as a nice guy, resilient, and a leader. For example, not once, not ever does he brag (which let’s face it, this country and its citizens could learn to keep their mouths shut sometimes–not saying I would want to live anywhere else, but like any nation, it has its flaws). Instead of going around saying how awesome he is (that’s Ironman’s job), Captain America just does what’s needed and goes on to the next task. He saves the POWs and walks them back to Allied territory, and he’s just satisfied that they all came out alive. He fights the Red Skull because it needs to be done. Before he even got his powers, he was a hero, because this:

I mean, look at that! The guy weighs less than I do, and that grenade would have turned him into a scavenger hunt, yet he jumped on it without thinking. All because it was the right thing to do. That’s commitment to beliefs.

Captain America gives us all warm fuzzy feelings because he is the good guy, through and through. He’s nice, he’s brave, he stands up to bullies no matter how much bigger than him they are, and he succeeds. We like to think that goodness perseveres and wins in the end. That’s not always the case in the real world, so it’s awesome to see the greatest ideals literally kicking ass and saving people.

Honorable Mentions: Rorschach, The Hulk, and Wolverine

What is this nutbar doing on this list? Well, for one thing he’s so cool. There are two points (in the comic book) that make Rorschach so loveable (well, not counting the prison line). First is when he kills the kidnapper. We all hate people who kidnap and kill innocent children. It’s so much worse when we read that he cut up the little girl and fed her body to his dogs. Ugh! The reaction is pretty much pure hate here. So when Rorschach decides the best punishment is to chain the killer to the house, give him a saw, and set the place on fire, we all kind of go “YES!” Especially when the guy never makes it out. This is a major turning point for Rorschach as a character. It’s the moment when he decides that no matter what the scum of the earth deserve to be punished. He isn’t Justice or the Law at this point. He is Retribution.

The second point in which we love him is a circling back to something he said in the beginning of the graphic novel: No compromise, even in the face of armageddon. He doesn’t just say this; he believes it to his core. So when the bad guy looks like he’s going to get away with his plan, costing millions of lives seemingly for the sake of the entire human race, Rorschach will not compromise. He (SPOILER!) dies for retribution. And still wins in the end, if one remembers his journal and in whose hands it ends up.

The Hulk is typically a one note character. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry, he gets angry, and he destroys most of everything around him. But his character is actually on some pretty solid ground. For one thing, he’s an homage to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde”, except where Mr. Hyde represents the Id of a psychopath, the Hulk just represents repressed anger. Which is great because most people walk around on a powder keg, because in a polite society, it’s not nice to raise your voice, let alone break something (like that asshole who cuts you off and drives five miles under the speed limit–really? you can’t wait to get in front of someone, but you can’t go the speed limit?). The Hulk often let’s loose where most of us would just have to bite our tongue and take it up the tailpipe, so it’s nice to see that. Also it’s nice to see someone else struggling not to lose it over ridiculously angering things (such as in the Ang Lee Hulk film where people went beyond your typical asshole action and went on to scum of the earth, inhumane actions). We all get angry and struggle not to make a big deal of it, so the Hulk ends up being very relatable, if not tremendously deep.

The Wolverine is a very fun character, and in fact, my favorite comic book hero (especially as played by Hugh Jackman, *eyebrow wiggle*). Sometimes it’s just great to watch someone gut several assholes with six nine-inch razor blades. But Wolverine is also the most classically complete of heroes on this list, what with the amnesia and the search for an origin. It’s a nice twist on the origin story. We don’t know it because he doesn’t know it (at least most of the time). But it’s more than that too. Wolverine is always one step away from being one fastball of animal survival instincts. That’s why he’s so ferocious. When he is in killing mode, he kills at the fastest possible speed. He doesn’t go for wounds or submissions; he goes for killing those that would injure him (not that it would matter if they did) before they have a chance. This is kind of amazing as most of this kind of animal instinct should be based on how if an animal is injured, it is most likely going to die, but Wolverine is fine in the event of an injury, so why in the world are his animal instincts so strong? There’s not really an answer to that, but boy is it fun to watch.

His superhero name is also apt, considering full grown grizzly bears will see a wolverine coming and get out of its way because that is a world of hurt not worth it.

Who Didn’t Make the Grade and Why?:

Superman: Why does anyone like this guy? He’s melba toast with far too many condiments on it, so that when one takes a bite, the tongue is confused into a gag. His character is kind of blah, as I’m never sure what he wants or why he does anything he does. And his powers are a grab bag of weird. He’s really only famous because he was the first, but unlike AOL, which everyone learned wasn’t all that good, people still keep looking to Supes for some kind of story. All the movies are bad. Am I the only person who remembers this scene:

My god, I never thought I’d want to duct tape someone’s brain before. Worst scene ever.

Then there was the recent adaptations, which were very poor in writing, mostly because there isn’t much to work with when it comes to Superman canon. I want a drinking game for Man of Steel, wherein every time someone dies, we drink a shot, and die before the credits. Though Henry Cavil was the best Superman ever for two reasons: one, I actually felt for him (no other actor has managed that), and two, he refused to shave his chest for the shirtless scenes (a wolf whistle to the alien freak). But for the most part, I know Superman from that fun, animated show Justice League, wherein again and again, Superman proved himself a git and a dick with legs, which isn’t that far off from comics what with the destruction of whole neighborhoods because “slums are the cause of crime” and of car dealerships and car factories because “cars cause car accidents”. Brilliant social commentary there.

Wonderwoman: Wonderwoman, like Captain America, was a WWII creation, hence the outfit and the originally extremely racist oneliners. She, however, doesn’t translate well to a modern age because she isn’t an American. She now is more sexist than anything else, and is quite possibly the dumbest superhero ever. I don’t mean her concept is stupid, though it is, but she is dumb. Seriously, watch Justice League and Justice League: Doom and tell me that’s not the biggest idiot ever. I’m not sure stupidity is a good character flaw to go with.

Ironman: Ironman, as played by Robert Downey, Jr., is very fun. But he is a complete character. He has depth and flaws, but he doesn’t really represent anything. He’s also a little uninteresting, mainly because he’s like Charlie from Two and a Half Man. There are only so many times we can read about Tony making strides as a human being before he reverts back to a mentally twenty-something party hound.

Any Women at All: Let’s face it. Comic book writers are men. Walk down the aisles of your local comic book store and you’ll either see muscled men flexing and gritting their teeth looking fierce, or the required women barely dressed in clothes that are basically paint on their skin with tits bigger than their heads that have absolutely no support yet are perky enough to be weapons. These women are not good characters. They aren’t characters. They’re window dressing. I have my favorites (Black Widow, Psylocke, especially in the X-Force costume), but that’s more wish fulfilment fantasy, not admiration of good character development. Incidentally, since I love comic books and graphic novels, I’ve been writing my own, and since I am a woman, my main characters are typically women. If I even partially fill this hole in the genre, I’ll be happy. Though if a reader can think of a female comic book hero that I haven’t , I’d be glad to be corrected.

Conclusion:

This is my list, based on my opinion. If you want to contradict or add (with evidence) to this list, I’d be very happy to hear it. Bear in mind these were in no particular order, so I’m not saying one is better than the other either.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Craft of Writing

 

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How To Ruin Your Life (Without Even Noticing That You Are)

How To Ruin Your Life (Without Even Noticing That You Are)

A blog post that completely expresses my philosophy on life. Throwing away your dreams for the “safe” option is a waste of your one chance to do what you love. Don’t walk as a zombie in your own life. Choose which direction you go based on what you want despite what anyone tells you.

Thought Catalog

Erin KellyErin Kelly

Understand that life is not a straight line. Life is not a set timeline of milestones. It is okay if you don’t finish school, get married, find a job that supports you, have a family, make money, and live comfortably all by this age, or that age. It’s okay if you do, as long as you understand that if you’re not married by 25, or a Vice President by 30 — or even happy, for that matter — the world isn’t going to condemn you. You are allowed to backtrack. You are allowed to figure out what inspires you. You are allowed time, and I think we often forget that. We choose a program right out of high school because the proper thing to do is to go straight to University. We choose a job right out of University, even if we didn’t love our program, because we just…

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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Irony, Satire, and Sarcasm and Those Who Don’t Get It

Three Different Animals

Most people can point out sarcasm when they hear it. Except maybe Sheldon. It’s when someone says something they don’t mean in an overly dramatic voice and often uses hyperbole. Example:

Oh, I really loved it. That book solved all my worries and I’ll never have to worry again, and it can do this for everyone who reads it. It brought Jesus back to life and made broccoli taste like nutela.”

Put emphasis on the words “really” and “everyone”. That’s the overly dramatic voice. It is true that some people are incapable of hearing the inflection necessary to recognize sarcasm, but that’s not many people.

Satire is usually much more long winded. It’s most prevalent in fictive narratives, like Lucky Jim. Which is a great book, by the by. For a more modern example, watch any South Park episode. Satire is used to poke fun at societal conventions. Because it is presented as serious situations, the majority of people have trouble recognizing it.

There are so many different forms of irony, it’s crazy. There’s dramatic irony, verbal irony, situational irony, and those are just the better know ones. For an example, some people may say “Listen to Ironic by Alanis Morsette,” and while I enjoy that song, half the examples are just unfortunate, not ironic. A good rule of thumb for identifying irony is this: something should have been guarded against, but it happened anyway, sometimes because of the guarding tactics put in place or those guards just failed before the event. Best examples I can think of below:

A man gets his fortune read. It says he will die the next day, so he leaves his home/city/state to escape his fate. His travel method kills him (like a plane or car accident) or when he gets to the new place, he dies in an event there (an earthquake/fire/volcano/plague etc.). This is situational.

Now if you are reading a novel, short story, or poem or watching a show or movie and you know something the character doesn’t, that’s dramatic irony. There is a type of poem, called the dramatic monologue, wherein the whole thing is someone talking to someone else and we only read what the first person says. Their speech reveals to us, the reader, deeper information (note: method is called subtext) that the surface meaning of the words themselves do not reveal. This is also dramatic irony, but the best example is obviously Romeo and Juliet. We know Juliet is still alive, but Romeo doesn’t. We’re helpless to stop him from killing himself, even though we know his death is pointless. Dramatic irony is most often not humorous.

Verbal irony is more fun. I do this more than I should. It’s unfair to those I speak to as verbal irony can be just like sarcasm without the tone to suggest the speaker is not serious. It’s not always detectable, but it is very funny to the speaker.

“I watch Jersey Shore every chance I get.”

Technically, sarcasm is verbal irony, but I like to make the distinction since all sarcasm is verbal irony but not all verbal irony is sarcasm (think squares and rectangles).

Not Getting It: The Examples

I’m so shocked when people don’t get satire and irony. I can’t process how they don’t understand. Two major examples come to mind: “A Modest Proposal” by Swift and #SELFIE by The Chainsmokers. I love both these things because of how well they do satire and irony, but not everyone likes them because they miss the point.

Most college students have to read this at some point, whether it is in comp class or British Literature. The first time I read this for class was Brit Lit I, and some of the people in class had to be informed that Swift wasn’t serious. Then when I taught it in my own class, I stood there frozen for a moment, eyes wide, when a good number of my students thought that Swift wanted to eat children. Then I explained satire for the rest of the hour. Show of hands, who thinks that Swift actually wanted the English to eat Irish babies?

Swift was making a point that the English subjugation was killing the Irish, especially the children, so they were as good as eating their children like cattle for steaks. Swift was a bit of an activist, and yes, the English did freak out about “A Modest Proposal”, thinking he was a sick, sick man, but at least it had some impact.

The Chainsmokers have spent a lot of time in clubs, hearing a lot of the inane conversations and flat-out monologues from club girls that repulse those of us who can take a picture without a duckface or filter. #SELFIE is masterfully mixed, even for those of us who love a good string quartet, but the biggest complaint in the YouTube comments for the song is that this song would be way better without the lyrics. I beg to differ, vehemently.

that girl who’s talking she’s so fucking annoying

I  can´t stop dancing to this song but the way this girl speak is so annoying.

it’s almost like watching a trainwreck

So disgusting that this is what’s popular these days. I may as well go join the Islamic State, maybe they’re right about slaughtering all you infidels.

Quotes from the official YouTube video. (“Well, that escalated quickly.”)

Let’s look at the lyrics first. Then let’s take a closer look, and possibly you’ll see how The Chainsmokers are not pandering to the selfie attitude.

When Jason was at the table
I kept on seeing him look at me while he was with that other girl
Do you think he was just doing that to make me jealous?
Because he was totally texting me all night last night
And I don’t know if it’s a booty call or not
So… like what do you think?
Did you think that girl was pretty?
How did that girl even get in here?
Do you see her?
She’s so short and that dress is so tacky
Who wears Cheetah?
It’s not even summer, why does the DJ keep on playing “Summertime Sadness”?
After we go to the bathroom, can we go smoke a cigarette?
I really need one
But first,
Let me take a selfie

Can you guys help me pick a filter?
I don’t know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia
I wanna look tan
What should my caption be?
I want it to be clever
How about “Livin’ with my bitches, hash tag LIVE”
I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes
Do you think I should take it down?
Let me take another selfie

Wait, pause, Jason just liked my selfie
What a creep
Is that guy sleeping over there?
Yeah, the one next to the girl with no shoes on
That’s so ratchet
That girl is such a fake model
She definitely bought all her Instagram followers
Who goes out on Mondays?
OK, let’s go take some shots
Oh no, ugh I feel like I’m gonna throw up
Oh wait, nevermind I’m fine
Let’s go dance
There’s no vodka at this table
Do you know anyone else here?
Oh my God, Jason just texted me
Should I go home with him?
I guess I took a good selfie

Selfie [x8]

Let me take a selfie

If you’re not willing to read all that, go here to listen to the song.

Okay, let’s take the whole thing. It’s a monologue. She asks 12 questions but never once pauses for a response. That’s how self-absorbed she is, more than just wanting to take multiple selfies. Now let’s look at smaller bits. In line 12, she questions why the DJ is playing Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Saddness when it’s not summer. I won’t go into what that song is about, but it’s not about summer and how bright and fun it is to say the least. The only songs that can’t be played year round are Holiday songs (like We Wish You a Merry Christmas), so her question just reads as strange. In the second verse, she wants to pick a filter to look tan, which suggests that she is supposed to (in her own mind) look tan and that instead of tanning (or perhaps she doesn’t think she is tan enough) she wants to use photo-altering methods. This means that she will look different in person than she does in the photo, which is disingenuous (Don’t get me wrong, I understand everyone wants their photos to flatter them, but this is a step too far). Next, she thinks about her caption. She wants it to be clever, but any listener knows that “Livin’ with my bitches, #live” is far from clever. In the final verse, she asks (the admittedly rhetorical) question “Who goes out on Mondays?” Since the person she is talking about is out, she has to be out to see them, so apparently she goes out on Mondays. This is the most obvious point in the whole song, wherein if a listener isn’t at least thinking, let alone exclaiming, “You do!” then the irony has flown over their head.

But wait, there’s more! The speaker is repetitive (not just because they mixed it that way though that feeds into the point as well). Her actions and words are repetitive, retreading ground she has already covered, such as the two times she wants to take a selfie, but also the two drinking moments in the third verse, and the turning of her thoughts to Jason, who can’t be clearly characterized by what she says about him but who is in all three verses. The most subtle repetition is at the top of the third verse wherein she says both wait and pause one following immediately after the other, which have the same meaning within this verbal context. These repetitions are great musically, but in actual speaking and action they show an inane mind that can’t focus on more complex ideas. The simple ideas of smoking, drinking, discussing one’s appearance, and boys/sex show that the speaker doesn’t have the capability or lacks the desire to think about more important and productive subjects and actions.

Don’t change that channel yet! The speaker is shown to be fickle. When returning to subjects, her opinion is different than it was the last time she brought it up. For example, she goes from distrusting Jason’s motives, to thinking he is creepy, to considering going home with him. This all happens in one night, but the short length of the song emphasizes how rapidly her mind changes. On the selfies themselves, she goes from wanting to take one, to wanting to post an altered version of the photo, to wanting to take it down within five minutes, to thinking she should take a new one, to thinking her first one must have been good. This doesn’t just show fickleness but also vanity. This vanity is also shown in how she puts down the other women she sees show in the first verse and the third verse. The first woman is viewed negatively based on the fact that she is with Jason, but also by aesthetic values such as her height and the type of print she is wearing. The second woman is viewed negatively because she took off her shoes (a common occurrence with women because of heels), and is seemingly attractive (being described as a model, even a fake one, suggests some kind of attractiveness), then is subject to less obvious judgments about her non-visible actions. I’ve already mentioned the inherent contradiction of the speaker’s last on this woman.

I could keep examining this song, but I imagine some people are getting tired of it at this point. This long tirade of examination is all dramatic irony. We know, even if she doesn’t, that she’s ridiculous, but what she said isn’t random. It was written by people who knew what they were doing. They wrote each line with purpose: showing exactly how outrageous this kind of behavior is. They even picked a good actress to take on the role and use the correct dialect for this type of person. Alexis Campisi is actually nothing like the character she depicts, so not only was this monologue written by writers (as opposed to actual audio from a club girl), it was an act. Her own selfies lack duckfaces and those weird way above the head angles girls so often use, if not filters. Her twitter feed, at a glance, is replete with actual thoughts and funny quotes (“Do you want to build a snowman? Taking applicants based on singing ability.” and “My iPhone is so conceited, it keeps telling me it’s too hot to function.”) instead of inane chatter and a plethora of hashtags. The point is the monologue is crafted to present something to the listener. It’s grating and irritating, but it’s supposed to be. It’s also meant to be laughable, so I can’t help but be shocked when people don’t understand that they aren’t lauding the character but maligning her.

What’s the Point of All This?

Could someone please explain why some people understand irony and satire and others don’t? I’m at a loss here. I can usually get this kind of writing on the first experience, but I don’t understand how some people can take this stuff seriously. It’s so much more fun to nod along with the creators of satire and irony if we all get it. It’s possible this has more to do with critical thinking skills than anything else. I imagine a bunch of club girls who don’t have a good sense of irony speaking along with the monologue, smiling because it is a song about them and isn’t that great, then I laugh inside, then I die inside. When people don’t get this kind of writing, I’m not just shocked. I’m also sad, not because they’re not in on it with the rest of us, but because through no fault of their own, the creator’s work is perverted. Maybe we should have a picture of Leonard holding a sign that says the appropriate term as a warning to these people.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Craft of Writing

 

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Health Insurance, Health Care, and Consumer Rights

Open Enrollment Looms

That rhetoric may sound dark and scary, but it is how I think about the open enrollment solution. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. Settle in because the answer is long.

Insurance vs Care

Years ago the AHCA was at Congress. A long struggle ensued with some strange tactics being used to try to get it passed. The whole time this was going on, I shook my head in anger. It was, for the most part, based on the individual mandate, as the reaction was for many citizens that were against the act, but it was also because being a person who takes frequent trips to the doctor for various reasons, I didn’t see how insurance reform that basically only included the mandate would change the issues I had experienced. I didn’t see a reason for insurance reform, unless it involved more coverage of big expenses and less coverage of little expenses. I did see a plethora of reasons for care reform. Why do hospitals charge for pills every day that patients may not even take? Why do doctor’s offices charge for a “consultant” when the second doctor only poked their head in the room? Why do doctors get to refuse patients sterilization based on age? Why do hospitals get to refuse reasonable care that patients need and request, only because it may hurt their stats? Why do a group of doctors get to decide who is even eligible for organ transplant based on any factors, some of which include moralistic reasons? Why do hospitals get to decide that physical harm is more important than financial harm? Why don’t most hospitals and doctors have to tell patients up front the costs of visits and procedures? These issues have very little to do with insurance. They are caused (and thereby fixed) by the health care industry.

For a personal anecdote (remember I’m not trying to make a generalization by using this evidence but to call your attention to cases of similar problems), there are a lot of forms one has to fill out for procedures. When Patient A went into the Mayo Clinic (considered one of the best hospitals in the U.S. if not the world), A had an EGG attached to their scalp with glue, and it was going to stay there for days and possibly weeks. More than halfway through attaching it to A’s head, a tech handed A a form to sign concerning the procedure. A actually read the form. It said the glue and attachments could cause permanent scalp damage including bald patches. This feels like something A should have been told before the start of application. Lesson: Forms should be given to patients before procedures are initiated.

Another example: A year ago Patient B was looking for a new yearly doctor. B called places that would be convenient or that were recommended and asked for the prices of the visit and the lab work. B picked one that said (without insurance) it would cost $100. When B made the appointment during a second phone call, B confirmed the cost. When they called B to remind B about the appointment, B confirmed the cost again. When B got to the doctor’s office, they told B it would cost about $136. Needless to say, B was angry. The women at the desk tried to tell B that the up charge was due to B being a new patient. B told them that the woman who made the appointment entered B as a new patient and still confirmed the $100. They said she was wrong. B said, well, she could have been wrong, but I expect you to honor the price I was quoted. Some readers may think, it’s only $36, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that as a consumer, B expects the price B was told. Lesson: If you as a consumer ask for a quote, the vendor should honor that quote. To do otherwise is unethical.

If you want examples similar to this, check the doctors and hospitals in your area on Yelp. You’ll probably see a lot of problems on the care level that do not involve insurance.

No Insurance even with Options

The point of AHCA is to make healthy people get insurance to make it cheaper for sick people. The majority of these healthy people, according to a lot of the supporters of the act, are people in their twenties. Well, let’s think about that for a moment. What expenses do people in their twenties have? Many of their parents can’t afford to have them living in their homes rent free, so there’s that plus groceries and utilities. But wait, what if they are in college? Again, many of their parents didn’t really save a lot for them to go to college, so there’s tuition and fees and books. Maybe they live in a dorm, so that offsets their cost of living somewhat but not in all cases. Even with a part-time job, they probably can’t afford all that on their own because they go to a moderate to great school so they are more likely to get a job after school, so they get loans. Let’s say that all that has already happened. They’re out of school, maybe just last May or maybe in the last five years. They need an apartment and the countless accouterments that come with one (for cooking, cleaning, sleeping, hygiene, and just plain sitting). They need a job too. They apply in their industry, but not everyone is hiring as there are no new positions (the companies don’t have the money to grow) or no openings (as no employees are leaving for other companies or retiring), and the few interviews they get have competition with thirty years of experience on them. They do anything for income, ending up underemployed, with a job with no benefits or too little pay to take advantage of the benefits. Six months after getting out of college their student loans come due because while underemployed they make enough so that they don’t qualify for deferment, and now have an extra bill to pay every month. They keep searching for a better job, but one isn’t forthcoming as there are just too many applicants for the few postings that are appropriate for them. I’m not saying this is every twenty-something’s experience, but it seems to describe a lot of them. I’m not just talking about myself. I’ve read a lot of personal accounts that meet this description. Now tell me, how in the world is this person supposed to help anyone? If our Congress wanted to saddle the youth of our nation with subsidizing the AHCA, then they should have subsidized the education of the youth, and that means helping students, not universities.

Oh, but they qualify for subsidies? Before I go into how subsidies aren’t all that helpful, let me just say if the demographic you expect to lower premiums needs subsidies then they really aren’t the people to look to to fix the problems. That’s like building your castle on a crumbling foundation. The subsidies only come once a year while the insurance payments come once a month. This creates an imbalanced fiscal year for people. I may accept this imbalance as workable if the subsidies came before the people had to start paying their insurance premiums so they could set that money aside, but they have to go in the hole and go without until the next tax time instead. Most people, I would think, would want a place to live and food on the table before having health insurance. I’m sure this is why a lot of people stopped paying their premiums. It’s tragically ironic that they have to choose the healthier option (shelter and sustenance) over something that is supposed to make going to the doctor cheaper. In some cases, I don’t think the subsidy offsets the premiums enough. For example, if the premium is a quarter of the person’s monthly income, the subsidy is just not going to make that cost manageable.

The insurance itself isn’t worth the high cost though. Why? Well, as a professor who focuses on health insurance rhetoric once said to me, health insurance is meant to prevent people from going bankrupt because of extreme illness or injury; however, if a person can’t afford a deductible of $10,000 or a procedure with a $50,000 price tag then insurance really didn’t do it’s job. Extreme illness and injury are still a financial death sentence in this country, regardless of the possession of insurance. It makes me wonder why people are willing to pay such high premiums if it is no guarantee against bankruptcy. What was the point then of years of monthly payments? Right now a lot of the options for buying insurance are like choosing between a car missing a frame, a car without an engine, and a car that blows up when you turn the ignition and the salesmen has a gun on the customer and the asking prices are three times Kelly Blue Book. That simile may need some unpacking though. The options are not worth it. They do not have good coverage for extreme illness or injury, the issues that need the most coverage. Back to cars (but not the simile), auto insurance covers accidents and system failures which are the equivalent of extreme illness or injury, but not oil changes and routine tire replacement which is the equivalent of check ups and typical long term medication (such as birth control and asthma inhalers). I’m sure most readers have heard this analogy before, but my point is that I don’t see the point of health insurance if all my options don’t really help me out financially if I were in an accident or developed a serious condition or illness. I can get care; what I need is something to offset large expenses.

What do I mean by care? I’ve found ways in my current large city and in the much smaller city I used to live in to receive the maintenance care I need without breaking the bank. You’d be surprised how resourceful one can be when one starts coughing up bloody phlegm. In my small town, a visit to the doctor meant $10-$35, depending on the type of doctor I saw and not on the procedures I received. For example, it cost me $10 for outpatient surgery. In my current big city, my doctor’s office is not capable of as much as the one in the smaller city but the price went down to $0. In both instances, prescriptions were also included for an addition of $0. I may not go to the dentist every six months (do people with insurance go to the dentist every six months anyway?), but I still can get problems taken care of for an affordable price. But were I to get really sick or hurt, I wouldn’t have much luck, nor would I if I had insurance. Although, there is a hospital in my city that will tell you exactly how much a procedure will cost and has reduced prices for uninsured and under-insured patients. These options are all so much more affordable than health insurance, but not every city/state has these options. Frankly, they should. A lot of these kinds of systems are based on income or have very limited abilities to be flat-out free, and a lot of places just don’t have a system in place to help patients in extreme cases. So all this fixes the oil changes and tire rotation, but not a collision.

Consumer Rights

I don’t buy products that suck. If the value doesn’t match the price tag, I won’t buy a product. Simple as that. This is why companies compete in the first place. Some try being cheaper, thus lowering the quality of their product. Others raise the quality, thus raising the price. But if a product is both expensive and crap, I’m not buying it. This is the main reason behind me not buying fast food on most occasions. For example, Taco Bell isn’t very good. It’s also not cheap. I can go to Filiberto’s and get much better food for about the same price. I refuse to buy Great Value brand pancake and sausage on a stick. It being vomit-worthy makes any price too expensive. In fact, if I had to eat those I would request that WalMart pay me first. I’m almost always willing to pay more for a better product, because I get more enjoyment out of the higher quality product and if said product is non-perishable, I will most likely not have to buy a replacement item for some time (Remember: The Poor Man Pays Twice). I would rather go without a product than buy a cheaper, going to suck product that I’m just going to have throw in the trash someday soon.

In my personal finance course, I learned this handy dandy rule about product buying: Fast, Cheap, Good–Pick Two. This means a product can only be two of these things at a time. More often than not, I will refuse to buy a product that only lets me pick one. Example: More than a year ago, I was shopping for furniture, and for some reason I believed I needed a dining table because I had a dining room. A dining table would most likely not be used for dining in my life but for projects of another nature (that sounds suggestive, but I just mean drawing and writing). We went to La-Z-Boy and found something we liked. It was small (geeze what’s with all the six to eight people tables) but still had comfortable chairs and was made of wood (why in the world are all four person tables made from metal and glass? this isn’t for my patio!). Unfortunately, it was counter height (why, why, why? who wants this!?), but they did have the option to order table height. It was going to take six to eight weeks, and the set price was high. Okay, so I can have good only. Sorry. Nope. We walked away. But some places don’t have a single one of these attributes, so I don’t ever buy from those companies.

The point of these examples is the consumer’s right to refuse to buy. This sends a message to companies that the attributes were lacking in some way. We shouldn’t buy products that are of no value to us. The three attributes are how we gauge value as consumers. Most health insurance I’ve seen is not good (it does not have good coverage for extreme incidences visible by the deductible), is not cheap (most premiums for good insurance are prohibitively high), or are not fast (reviews of the company show that their turnaround for claims is slow or the fastness of service was not discernible before purchasing and making a claim), so why in the world would I let the company think I like their product by spending money on it? My right to refuse a product tells a company that their product is not satisfactory. Taking away my right to refuse a product means the whole industry doesn’t need to care if their products are satisfactory.

The counter-argument, that the price will go down once everyone has insurance and that coverage is better (no pre-existing condition exemptions, more preventative care, full coverage), is unsatisfactory to me. Why? Because I can’t afford it now, and I’m not the only one. People aren’t going to break their banks, when their banks are already broken, right now for something that is maybe going to pay off in two or three years. Preventative care is great, but you can’t force people to be healthy, nor is preventative care as good as fixing existing problems, i.e. coverage of extreme illness and injury (I will say it again and again: this is the most important point as it is the place where health care destroys lives financially). I don’t need maternity and child care coverage when I’m never going to have a child, nor does a single man need well woman visits. The only good thing to come out of this mess (btw, I did attempt to read the monolith of an act but it was mired by incomprehensible language to anyone but a freaking expert lawyer) was the pre-existing condition exemptions. Us asthmatics and epileptics thank you for that, but please leave your moral judgments at the door when it comes to smoking, and this is coming from someone who hasn’t smoked a day in her life.

Again, I’m sure everyone has heard this argument in some form (i.e. capitalism), but I do think the health care industry was trying to respond to the lack of insurance that typified some of their patients; otherwise, I wouldn’t have the examples in the second part of this post. And the AHCA doesn’t fix the gaps in protecting everyone, insured or not, from extreme illness or injury, so I’m not sure what the whole point was if it was not something seedy like helping health insurance companies get more money.

The Point

Regardless of if an employer has to offer insurance or the government offers subsidies, health insurance is still prohibitively expensive to the point that many people just have to do without even if they have a health condition, especially those who are unemployed or underemployed and those with student debt (sometimes a person can have all three attributes: unhealthy, unemployed/underemployed, with student loans). Health care reform would have been very helpful, especially if more subsidies went to hospitals and doctors offices and if they stopped letting doctors make moralistic judgments with their patients. I would rather have more government subsidized clinics staffed with a lot of RNs and a few doctors with prices less than the average water bill.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in Politics, Social Issues

 

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The Basics of Arguing with Ebola Quarantine as the Example

What with everyone arguing right now over the relative pragmatism and humaneness of quarantining Ebola health care workers, I thought it would be a perfect way to examine how to best argue on the subject.

The Two Different Stances

They can be boiled down to these two basic statements: Quarantining Ebola heath care workers is wrong or Quarantining Ebola health care workers is right. But these two statements are not enough. Both sides need to explain why, because if they were simply to restate those opinions that would be a fallacy called ad nauseum. There are two main reasons backing both: Quarantining Ebola health care workers is wrong because it is inhumane/violates human rights and makes no sense from a medical standpoint and Quarantining Ebola health care workers is right because it is pragmatic and promotes public health safety. But even that is still not enough to be a cogent argument. The first couple of bold, italic statements are opinions on an issue; the second couple of bold, italic statements are thesis statements.

First Thesis Statement, Explanation, and Counter-arguments

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine may be inhumane or violate human rights: . . . because the authorities are holding health care workers against their will. The explanation: Being held against one’s will is the basic definition of kidnapping, which is illegal. One must also question the authority in holding a person against their will. What legal statutes allow U.S. authorities to hold a person against their will when that person is not under suspicion of committing a crime? The fourth amendment itself protects people from the act of quarantine by allowing people protection against illegal search and seizure including of their person.

Counter-argument: The U.S. allows certain authorities to hold people against their will dependent upon specific conditions, such as authorities witnessing crimes committed by such persons or other civilians reporting the witnessing of crimes committed by such persons. But the witnessing of a crime is not the only instance in which authorities are allowed to hold a person against his or her will. It is also allowed when suspicion of a crime has taken place or public safety may be at risk, such as a person suspected of planning a mass attack. It is not unreasonable to extend, or even consider the issue already covered by, the public safety umbrella to cover infectious diseases.

The first argument is a bit of pathos (an appeal to emotion) in that we find being held against our will inherently wrong and logos (an appeal to logic) in that we have a legal document protecting against seizure. The counter-argument is logos (an appeal to logic) in that it shows that only illegal seizure is protected against and that in certain instances a person can be held against their will.

 

My thoughts on the specifics: Quarantine can be inhumane if improperly handled, but I do not believe it was improperly handled to the point of being inhumane in this case. The nurse was able to contact CNN while under quarantine, meaning her first amendment rights were not impinged upon. While she was possibly delayed in eating and comfort, it was not to the point of inhumanity, which would be when it is physically damaging. We can compare her conditions, if she had stated them in detail, to the depiction of inhumane quarantine in Jose Saramago’s Blindness wherein patients did not have access to working plumbing, adequate food, sanitary conditions, authority to prevent patients from stealing, raping, and murdering fellow patients, and medical attention. That is inhumane.

 

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine may be nonsensical from a medical standpoint: . . . because the disease in question is not communicable when not showing symptoms. The explanation for this point must include more than just an appeal to logic as the first one did. Instead it needs a resource, which can be from a medical paper on Ebola or from a statement from a person of authority. If no resource is given by the arguer, then the logical counter-argument is akin to Sheldon Cooper’s argument about infectious diseases:

 

“If influenza was only contagious after symptoms appeared, it would have died out thousands of years ago. Somewhere between tool using and cave painting, homo habilis would have figured out to kill the guy with the runny nose.”

 

 

That’s a joke, but it makes the point that many diseases are communicable when no symptoms are present. The counter-argument is only applicable when the first arguer does not present a source to back up this claim, but the immediate response to the claim without a source will bring up this counterpoint, typically using Typhoid Mary as an example. If the argument is an actual exchange as opposed to a paper (which would get a failing grade most likely for opting to skip sources), the person making the unsupported claim cannot then tell other people to “look up” sources for their claim. This is lazy arguing. An unsupported claim when the person who made the claim knows this claim as theory presented by reliable sources is poor arguing. But let’s say they do have sources and list them. The sources still have to be reliable. One can find anything stated by someone else without real research. In this instance, a reliable source has to be a medical scientist whose career is focused on infectious diseases and specifically Ebola.

Not even this guy is expert enough.

But let’s say that the person making the claim didn’t just use a source to back it up but also got a real expert opinion on the disease. Counter-argument: Micro-organisms are not static beings. They evolve to defeat adversity, and they do it at a much higher rate than non-micro-organisms. This is why new flu vaccines need to be developed every year. This is why antibiotic resistant bacteria exists, now making UTIs resistant and pneumonia possibly fatal even when treated. The flu that survived the year before adapted and changed to evade the previous vaccine. The bacteria that survived previous treatment adapted and changed to evade the medicine designed to fight the bacteria. This is evolution. Medical scientists cannot predict when or how a virus, bacteria, of fungus will evolve to become more suited to their current environment, but all evolution is preceded by a change in environment which may wipe out the species if the species does not adapt. Currently, Ebola’s environment is controlled by humans. We prevent Ebola from spreading by quarantining symptomatic patients, but if this environment of prevention threatens Ebola as a species, it could adapt to spread under different conditions. This may not happen for years. It may not happen at all, but it is a possibility. With such a fatal disease, it is impractical to not take the safest approach while still treating patients and quarantined individuals with dignity and respect.

Both the argument and counter-argument are based on logos because one presents evidence and the other has cause-and-effect development.

My thoughts on the specifics: I was quite annoyed when on Monday I saw an RN being used as “expert” opinion on the subject of Ebola quarantine in some news broadcast. Even if a doctor or nurse has worked heavily with Ebola patients, they are not as expert as someone who has made it their career to study the Ebola virus, experimenting with it, studying its favorite environment and gestation rate, mapping its genome, and formulating hypotheses and testing those hypotheses, all so they can then go to the doctors and nurses who are treating Ebola patients and tell them the best procedures to take. Just because someone is a doctor or nurse, I’m not going to take their every medical opinion as gospel. They disagree, on many subjects. And if you’ve ever been to the doctor, which I imagine you have, you’ve probably heard some pretty dumb things come out their mouths sometimes. I’m not saying we should disregard everything medical professionals say to us and listen to celebrities and politicians instead, but that we should take what medical professionals say with a grain of salt. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had a upper and/or lower respiratory bacterial infection and a doctor or RN has assumed I had a cold or the flu. I also have a serious problem with people who treat Ebola like a static species, which by the way there is no such thing. Small pox is contained but given the proper food supply and a chance to procreate, its evolution would no longer be on hold.

The Second Thesis, Explanation, and Counter-arguments:

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine is a pragmatic action: . . . because it prevents all chance of the spread of the disease. The explanation: While Ebola is not currently spreadable when patients are not symptomatic, quarantining all individuals who have come into contact with the virus prevents relying on patient communication of symptoms. Many times a patient can experience symptoms they are unaware of, such as happens with many individuals who develop cancer. For example, an Ebola patient may have a slight fever and not realize he or she even has it, but he or she is now symptomatic. Health care workers who have worked with Ebola patients may be reluctant to volunteer symptoms they believe are not Ebola caused but from stress, overwork, or another illness. This is not to say that health care workers are going to purposely deceive, but they may in their own minds be downplaying symptoms and do not tell health officials of their symptoms to avoid a quarantine they believe to be unnecessary. Most of them will be right, but it is not an acceptable margin of error for the safety of the health care workers and the people they may come into contact with.

Counter-argument: Health care workers, because of their profession, are more likely to be aware of their own symptoms than the average person. Those who have worked with Ebola will also understand the importance of not withholding or downplaying symptoms, for both their own health and the safety of others. Because of their professional training and experience with the virus, health care workers have a different experience than a typical patient and have a personal gain to volunteering their symptoms to health officials.

Both arguments are logos based because they outline the behavior of patients and health care workers.

My thoughts on the specifics: I believe everyone is human and thereby capable of denial and unhealthy habits. I’m sure we’ve all seen an overweight doctor or nurse in our lives. It’s important to understand that with their profession comes a little bit of arrogance. It’s needed. An unsure doctor or nurse is not helping anyone, but sometimes that arrogance transfers into bad personal health decisions. It sometimes even transfers into blind spots when examining their own patients. We have also heard the idea before that doctors make horrible patients because of what they know, and I think this is another offshoot of the arrogance required of the medical profession. As I said, the confidence in a medical professional is very important, but this can lead to over-confidence which is dangerous when dealing with a fatal infectious disease.

The following is the basic claim as to why quarantine promotes public safety: . . . because it prevents the accidental spread of the disease were symptoms to develop. The explanation: Some doctors have suggested quarantine periods (I’ve heard both 8-10 and 21 days) whether or not a health care worker is presenting with symptoms. This period would allow individuals to present symptoms in an environment that would prevent the spread of the virus. If a health care worker with non-symptomatic Ebola were to forego quarantine and went to a public venue, and then he or she developed symptoms, anyone within that public venue would be at risk to contagion. It would be better if he or she had developed symptoms in an isolated environment. They would also get medical attention much faster in quarantine because a proper quarantine is run by qualified and informed health care workers.

He made sure to touch every piece.

Counter-argument: Health care workers can be screened for the virus through testing and once a lack of infection is confirmed, they can be sent home without need of a quarantine. The general public can be assured at that point that authorities are not releasing Ebola infected individuals into the general public.

Both of these are logos again, with the first because of it’s scary prospect also displaying pathos. I can actually think of a counter to the counter-argument: lab errors.

My thoughts on the specifics: If the medical community is split on the relative need for quarantine, I think we should quarantine. I am actually less afraid of Ebola than I am of human response to it. By which I mean, panic or a lack or response. I want it to be taken seriously, but I also don’t want us stop living our lives and treating people with dignity because of it. I feel like the medical community needs to get it together when it comes to the practices involved in quarantine; otherwise, they will have those same two reactions: not treating quarantine patients well or not having realistic and helpful quarantine practices. It’s possible to fail on both fronts I admit, but that’s why they need experts on Ebola to help them make up the quarantine practices.

The Bad Arguments

There have been a lot of appeals to authority, appeals to the gallery, ad hominems, and slippery slope arguments going around. Below are some examples of all three for both sides.

Appeal to Authority against Quarantine: “My doctor/nurse said their was no reason for quarantine, so I don’t see why we are doing it.” This is a fallacy because every doctor and nurse can have an opinion, but without their also being experts on Ebola, they don’t have a leg to stand on as a support of an argument. The only reason the speaker/writer is bringing this up is that as a medical health professional a doctor or nurse can have an inflated appearance of authority. The speaker/writer believes in that appearance of authority, so they call on their opinion as “evidence.” The average health care worker does know more, most likely, than the average non-health care worker about Ebola, but only to the level of moderate knowledge.

Appeal to Authority for Quarantine: “If our politicians think that quarantine is in the public’s interest, it is something we should do.” Politicians can also appear to have “expertise” to some people, but their opinions shouldn’t be used as gospel as their motivations (especially near election time) are suspect. One should only trust a politician’s opinion when they have advisers who are expects on the issue. Only then are they the mouthpiece of expertise.

Appeal to the Gallery against Quarantine: “No one’s really all that worried about contracting Ebola, so why even talk about quarantine?” Pretending to know what everyone in a nation of 300 million people is very suspect. There are people who are worried, but even if there were not one person worried by the idea of getting Ebola, how people feel in general about it is not the issue. The fact that Ebola is contagious is the issue.

Appeal to the Gallery for Quarantine: “We are all scared, and for the safety of everyone in this country, we need to quarantine every health care worker who has come into contact with Ebola.” Again, acting as though a nation has a uniform thought and we all know what it is oversimplifies the people. Whether or not everyone is scared is also not the issue; again, the fact that a contagious and fatal disease may (and has in some instances) come into the country is the issue.

Ad Hominem against Quarantine: “All politicians are idiots. We cannot expect them to know what they are talking about.” This is also a generalization, but it is an attack on a group of people instead of a counter-argument to their points. Not arguing the points is bad because it clouds the issue and degrades the discussion.

Ad Hominem for Quarantine: “These health care workers only care about people in other countries. They don’t care about American citizens. If they cared about America, they wouldn’t go to Africa and bring in a deadly disease.” It’s much the same as the one against. It’s an attack on the person and doesn’t contribute anything to the discussion.

Slippery Slope against Quarantine: “What going to happen next? Are we going to detain every nurse and doctor that get off any international flight? Are we going to start grabbing people off the street because they could have been to Africa?” We have a lot of checks in place in the country to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Many of our government officials and doctors are against quarantine, so they will prevent things from going that far, but that doesn’t mean that any quarantine will result in this consequence.

Slippery Slope for Quarantine: “If we don’t quarantine every health care worker who’s coming in from abroad, they are going to infect millions of people. One person gets through and we will lose whole cities, states, maybe even half the country.” This seems like a fear response/tactic to me, but it disregards all the other people who are for quarantine and the fact that the illness sends people to the hospital pretty fast once symptoms occur. Most likely, in the event of an outbreak it will not get very far before a response happens to counter its spread.

Both Sides

I hope this exercise taught you a bit about how to argue without sounding like a screaming magpie. But I hope it also taught you the importance of compromise on an serious issue. In a situation like this, the middle way seems best. We shouldn’t be reactionary, nor should we have no reaction. Something serious needs even tempers, logical reasoning, and back and forth; otherwise, something will go wrong.

 
 

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