February 2024

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FEBRUARY 2024

love online

Doing It For the Plot

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PG. 20

Sex Machina PG. 12

Street's Winning Love Issue Essays PG. 4, 6, 8

DECEMBER 2023


LET TER FROM THE EDITOR

Philosophizing on the tangled web of love and longing online. Dearly beloved, We gather here today to celebrate an unholy matrimony between man and machine. Love in the internet age is a fever dream, an entanglement of digital artifacts of past relationships and reminders of present lovers. Couples have been thrust into unwilling polycules with their phones, where the possibility of infinite communication leaves all communication feeling insufficient, and exes are just one Instagram search away. Meanwhile, for us single folk (Las Culturistas rule No. 34: Street editors are terminally single), dating app feeds are populated with all the wrong people—from the hot TA who failed your CIS midterm to your friend’s ex–situationship. Then again, maybe it only feels like that because of the ridiculous standards that a swipe left or right imposes on possible matches. You can join The League and try to find the crème de la crème, you can think of the perfect opening line every time, but it will never make you not hate yourself. If anything, you’ll hate yourself more. Our digital spaces also overflow with all the detritus of past loves, be they platonic, star– crossed, or simply unfulfilled. That Spotify Blend we made fall of sophomore year still lives in my Spotify library, that Lady of Guadalupe candle sits in my childhood room back in California, those unsent Notesapp letters of unrequited love are buried in a landfill of longing. But love isn’t always loss; every artifact is evidence that we coexisted, even if it was only for a moment. Love in the digital age is permanence and inescapability. The Cloud and all its contents float over us. For all the bitching and moaning we do, our relationships with the digital world are the longest standing coupling most of us have ever had. When the feeds run dry, the other side of the bed’s gone cold, and memory alone is insufficient, the digital remembrances of our love online will remain infinite. The adoration we express on the internet is a testament to the

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people, places, and poetry of love and longing that makes us whole. The act of cementing your love online is both incredibly intimate and increasingly commonplace in the year of our lord MMXXIV. Though some would turn up their noses at the nearly bi–weekly Instagram soft– launches and digital mixtapes, there’s beauty in the real–time documentation of love in the internet age. It’s a short life ahead of us; let’s embrace the raw, unfiltered expressions of love online. After all, love that leaves an indelible mark on your psyche deserves a spot on your feed.

EXECUTIVE BOARD Natalia Castillo, Editor–in–Chief castillo@34st.com Catherine Sorrentino, Print Managing Editor sorrentino@34st.com Norah Rami, Digital Managing Editor rami@34st.com Wei-An Jin, Design Editor jin@34st.com Kate Ratner, Assignments Editor ratner@34st.com EDITORS Hannah Sung, Features Editor Jules Lingenfelter, Features Editor Anna O'Neill–Dietel, Focus Editor Issac Pollack, Focus Editor Claire Kim, Style Editor Sophia Rosser, Ego Editor Nishamth Bhargava, Music Editor Luiza Louback, Arts Editor Weike Li, Film & TV Editor Sophia Liu, Design Editor Jean Park, Street Photo Editor Abhiram Juvvadi, Photo Editor Jada Eible Hargro, Social Media Editor THIS ISSUE Charlotte Bott, Copy Editor Laura Shin, Copy Editor Deputy Design Editors Anish Garimidi, Emmi Wu, Insia Haque, Janine Navalta, Katrina Itona STAFF Features Staff Writers Caleb Crain, Keira Feng, Meiling Mathur, Delaney Parks, Luiza Sulea Focus Beat Writers Prerna Kulkarni, Bobby McCann, Ellie Meyer, Chloe Norman Style Beat Writers Madeline Kohn, Steven Li, Natasha Yao Music Beat Writers Jake Falconer, Mehreen Syed, Ananya Varshneya Arts Beat Writers Jessa Glassman, Dylan Grossmann, Kyunghwan Lim Film & TV Beat Writers Aden Berger, Emma Halper, Fiona Herzog, Amy Luo, Thu Pham Ego Beat Writers Sophie Barkan, Parin Keerthi, Gemma Levy, Talia Shapiro, Ella Shusterman, Leah Weinberger Staff Writers Julia Fischer, Maia Saks, Zaara Shafi, Aaron Visser

LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The Land on which the office of The Daily Pennsylvanian stands is a part of the homeland and territory of the Lenni-Lenape people. We affirm Indigenous sovereignty and will work to hold the DP and the University of Pennsylvania more accountable to the needs of Indigenous people. CONTACTING 34t h STRE E T M AG A Z IN E If you have questions, comments, complaints or letters to the editor, email Natalia Castillo, Editor–in–Chief, at castillo@34st.com You can also call us at (215) 422–4640. www.34st.com © 2023 34th Street Magazine, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. No part may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express, written consent of the editors. All rights reserved.

MEW


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This month's Street explores the delicate, romantic glow between the people we love and the screens we see them on. By Emmi Wu Muses: Hurricane Katrina and Phillip Gao

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First Place Essay: Digital Dispatches in the City of Love Mapping the Paris Metro, Station to Station

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Introducing the Birids and the Beats Spotify Blends is rejecting tradition and embracing modernity one digital mixtape at a time

A Campus Tradition Unlike Any Other Penn Marriage Pact brings together students trying to find love, a hookup, or something else entirely.

No, You Can't Sit With Us Undressing the politics behind elitism on dating apps.

30 Rock Takes on Locust Walk Penn's ex-president Liz Magill, as portrayed by Heidi Gardner, was the subject of Saturday Night Live's cold open this past month.

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Transportation Trouble

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KooF Ibi: A Man, His Trumpet, and a World of Sound

SEPTA and the state of labor relations today.

Transport yourself to KooF Ibi's world, where everything is made of music, community, and joy.

LOVE ONLINE

ON THE FRO NT C OVE R

DOING IT FOR THE PLOT Fanfiction writers have a decadeslong love affair with storytelling.

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O N TH E B ACK C OV ER Despite Love Online being the main focus of February’s issue, the back cover features items that appear in all kinds of love: romantic, sexual, platonic, familial, and even the one encountered in a situationship. By Janine Navalta


DIGITAL DISPATCHES IN THE CITY OF LOVE

Mapping the Paris Metro, Station to Station

BY IRMA KISS

Châtelet - Les Halles (1e)

'STOP! IF A CHURCH IS OPEN, I ALWAYS ENTER.’ We’re in front of St. Eustache, freshly back from a date at the Brancusi atelier and heading to his motorbike. Throngs of tourists are swirling around us. I’m not too impressed by this sudden show of piety, or by his follow–up question, pitched with a grin: ‘Have you been in love before?’ As if! Weaving between pedestrians, we find his Lambretta. I hop on and ride pillion as he steers us through traffic, taking us along the Left Bank and driving past embassies and posh schools until we arrive in the 15th, one–time home of Brigitte Bardot and Samuel Beckett. Upstairs, we go out on the porch. We talk

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about quitting, so I try a feeble joke— ‘one only stops smoking so one can start again’—but he won’t even smile. He loves the same artists I do, which is cause for concern. I like old pigs and perverts: Bacon, Picasso, Schiele and the lot. Time passes until he lifts me onto the bed and corners me with the typical nonsense—'it’s now or never' or some drivel. Wannabe Don Juan. I pluck my ballerinas from the doormat and slip away into the street, walk all the way home to République, woozy from wine. On the way I pass the Eiffel Tower, happy families picnicking below, cross the bridge and like an idiot wind up in Place de la Concorde again, trapped between cars that won’t stop. I’ve been here over and over, but I’m still so green.


01.

This time he’s Ukrainian, a former ballet dancer. We meet at an exhibition opening for exiled artists. I’m swept and he’s swept too, so we make a date to walk in the woods. He lets slip a few dates and I calculate that he’s 35, give or take. We talk about drink and dance and wartime and exile. We talk about Eastern Europe and my studies. ‘You don’t seem to understand,’ he says. ‘If there’s one word I have for you, it’s freedom. You have all the freedom a person could hope for.’

Château de Vincennes (12e)

Maria and I take the 7 up north to La Villette. Before we get on, the light on the noticeboard flickers and changes: Our train will be late by a quarter hour. ‘Fucking delay! This line is always delayed. Some crazy flinging himself onto the rails again.’

When I’m at my lowest—when I want to tear my eyes out and bludgeon my hands so I can never work again—Baltazár takes me in.

Maria and I meet six months later and slip away to Verona without telling anyone. Somehow my mother finds out and rages and rages—but we come back safe and sound. Maria hosts a party to celebrate, 20 people in her studio, red wine and her mother’s homemade Patxaran splashing onto the white walls. Next morning, we scrub purple stains from ceiling to parquet.

I was the thinnest I’d ever been. All I’d brought with me that winter was a threadbare coat. Such a sorry sight, you would’ve thought I was a victim of the Vaganova method. When I arrive he feeds me so much food I think I’ll burst. On the way home from the Tuileries I need to vomit. I need to vomit but we’re on the metro and there’s nowhere to run. So I sit down and he shields me with his coat.

Reuilly–Diderot (12e)

Corentin Cariou (19e)

Stalingrad (10e)

He’s an old friend whose mother and father fled the same rotten town as mine: Kaposvár, where the hanging tree and the music school stand next to each other. When I visit the family for the first time, I’m only 13. We nip down to the superette for eggs and he introduces me to the Maghrebi shopkeeper as his little cousin. I go red. We don’t meet again until this summer. I’m twenty and he fails to recognize me. Then someone speaks my name and we take each other in like spring bulbs hitting the air for the first time. And I remember what his mother said all those years ago, smoking in the kitchen: Love is only weakness. She shouldn’t smoke anymore and neither should I. But this summer she nips some of my tobacco when everyone else has gone to bed. We sit at the dinner table and smoke our shitty little darts, two chimney pots together in the quiet.

Gare du Nord (10e) On the way back to London on the Eurostar, I examine all my ballpoints. I’ve shown them only to a handful of people. This boy, the latest, is a Paris native. He likes Diderot and Tocqueville and all the ones I seem to hate. But these days I think hate could be the wellspring of curiosity, or something like desire. I show him my impression of the two little dragons roosting on the side of the Fontaine St. Michel. When he sees them on his walk he remembers to send a photo. There’s never a beginning or end. Only a station and a rattling cart and some passengers who cross each other time and time again. k

DECEMBER 2023

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BY ANONYMOUS

How do you tell a love story you don’t believe is over yet?

02. REWATCH THE YEAR IS 2024. IT'S SNOWING outside, and my carefully curated anthology of media about doomed romance tagged ‘#webweaving’ has just hit 2,000 notes on Tumblr. I’m on my second rewatch of Fleabag, and Andrew Scott is telling Phoebe Waller–Bridge to kneel. I know how this story ends. PWB kneels, and I watch on.

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“This is a love story,” she says in a previous episode. I misprinted it on a sticky note that sits on my wall: "This was a love story." My ex–boyfriend has more followers than me on Instagram. Nine of them are girls named Caroline, which I know because I looked it up after seeing him play the song “Caroline” by Briston Maroney three times in the last forty minutes on Spotify. 7/9 of the Carolines are blonde. I am not. I’m also not named Caroline. (Why does even this matter? We broke up two years and three months ago, jfc.) Because I don’t have TikTok (addictive personality, fear of losing control, and getting my brain eaten by the algorithm), I watch Reels while girl–rotting in bed at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. An artist sketches stars around the phrase, “There is a perfect version of you in my mind that I sometimes miss / And an awful version of you that I resent.” My ex-boyfriend has already liked the Reel. He’s the only person who’s ever made me feel truly loved. He started dating someone else three weeks after we broke up. When he called me on his birthday, we both said “I love you,” to each other. That was last February. We haven’t spoken to each other in nearly a year. Despite the abundance of Carolines, none are in my ex–boyfriend’s latest Instagram post. There’s actually no girls tagged in that post. Also, I’ve officially been single for a year and change now, after a we–don’t–talk–about–him second ex–boyfriend. These facts are entirely unrelated. (Are they?) On a school night, past my bedtime, my eyes are burning, but I’m still staring at a computer screen. What I should be doing: reading that 48–page sociology paper for class tomorrow. What I am doing: looking through his latest Spotify playlists for any hint of myself. (For context, I introduced him to the song “Lose It,” by SWMRS. The chorus [prophetically] goes, “Yeah, if all my favorite songs make me think of you I’m gonna lose it.”)

There are words for this behavior, ranging from unkind (desperate, pathetic) to aesthetic (yearning, longing). There’s a white girl with a Stanley cup in my head chanting, “delulu is the solulu.” And it is delusion that sets in when I find a playlist first made in November, last added to a week ago, half composed of songs he used to play in the car with me. I go to bed, that sociology paper left unread. The sun rises, and I wake up. I walk to class, I don’t slip on ice, the sun shines on my face, and all I know is this: We used to be part of each other’s lives, and now we’re not. All I have of him is a Spotify playlist, an Instagram post from November, a Reel he liked, and a phone call that ended a year ago. Paint strokes in the bittersweet picture of it all. But there’s this too: When I’m having trouble sleeping, I imagine we reunite in our late twenties and fall in love again. If I believed in soulmates, I would think he’s mine. SWMRS sings, “There’s still some space for the rest of our lives.” The Reel’s artist goes on to doodle, “I hope we can be friends again someday.” Fleabag’s hot priest says, “It’ll pass.” I’m writing in my journal, “At some point, my longing turned into grief.” #webweaving. One of my 2024 outs is ‘living in the past.’ I just wrote a whole essay about my ex. (Thank God it’s an out and not a resolution.) Before I try again (and again and again) to let go of the past, here’s a scene from last February. I’m at rehearsal for a play, and a take–five has just been called. Someone asks our director, “Do you ever really get over your first relationship?” I’m busy eating barbecue chips and miss the answer, but we’re sharing relationship stories now, and I’m eager to share mine. I go to speak, but the words never come. How do you tell a love story you don’t believe is over yet? Like this, I think. This is/was/is a love story. k

FEBRUARY 2024

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BY NEHA PEDDINTI

NON STRANGERS At what point does a stranger become a non–stranger?

TEXTING SEVENTEEN PEOPLE ON Tinder, and going to strange rooms, houses, and apartments might not be the best move. Last week, I sat on my friend’s carpet, and she asked me to hand her the applesauce sitting on her minifridge. I passed it to her, and she took the spoon, holding it aloft as she gulped straight from the jar. Still kneeling on the floor, I let my head sink into the dark pile of blankets at the foot of her bed. Her fingers landed in my hair, massaging my scalp. I looked up after a few minutes. Her tight red coils were recently dyed and washed. The post–breakup cartilage piercing she had gotten two days ago glinted gold. Angie works evening shifts at the gym, while I go in the morning. I went in the evening once and it was awful— every locker already full, too many guys swarming around the benches, flexing, shouting, and dribbling on the basketball court. On my way out, I saw Angie at the front desk with her two red buns and dozens of chains, chatting excitedly with her coworker. I wanted to say hi but

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didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, so I headed out without looking in her direction. When I first met her in August, I found her intimidating. She seemed nice, but she was 5–foot–10 and beautiful, glitterfaced, with a tattooed waist, a cropped top that barely covered her chest, heavily lined eyes. In the circle of introductions that plagued those first couple weeks of the semester, I asked for her name and promptly forgot it. I had to meet her two more times for her name to finally sink in. Last week, when I was sitting on her floor, he messaged me at 8:51 p.m. “Heyy” “Ru still down to chill?” I often walked alone at night, but a stranger’s apartment seemed more threatening than a house show off an alley, so I asked Angie if we could share our locations with each other. I sank back down to lie on the carpet, and she called up her girls to ask if they wanted to go out and get drunk later. I started walking at 9:20 p.m. Stopped in front of the unknown building entrance


around 9:28 p.m. Stood in the wind for a few minutes after he said he’d be down in a second. Walked to the end of the block, spun around, and was a few buildings away when he texted that he couldn’t see me. At what point does a stranger become a non–stranger? Maybe it’s in the elevator, when you lean back against the cold mirror walls and discreetly check his Instagram page for his full name. Maybe it’s when he holds the door open for you, and you find out that he has wood flooring and green mugs, that he has a photo of his parents on the right side of his desk, that he keeps the pizza seasoning next to the ground coriander on his spice rack. His family probably doesn’t know that he stacks his maroon towels on a closet shelf next to a half–empty bag of rice cakes. The next morning I was wide awake by 8 a.m., but I stayed under the covers for another couple hours because I wasn’t sure if it would be rude to leave. He snored softly beside me, his arm gently wrapped around my waist. The blankets vibrated. Angie was texting from her laptop, asking for her phone’s location. I pulled up the app and sent her a screenshot—it was at the frat house she had gone to last night. I’m still in this guy’s room, but I can grab it for you if you want. She was at work, she responded, but one of her other friends could get it. But thank you so so much bae. Wrapped up in the arms of this non–stranger, I waited in suspense as her updates slid in one by one—she forgot most of last night, blackout drunk, late for work, bad hookup, worst night ever. I tried to mirror her fire, all uppercase letters and exclamation marks, but when the conversation came to an end I stared at her last text for a minute before throwing it back onto the pillow and closing my eyes again. I went back to that apartment building a couple times. Same omw texts, same wait in the cold, same mirrored elevator walls, carpet hall, wood–paneled bedroom floor, offers of water. Every time he fell asleep, I lay awake, staring mo-

tionlessly at the dim red LED strips that outlined his ceiling. It is a beautiful thing to be called beautiful by a lover. It is a crippling thing to be called beautiful by a non–stranger. Tonight I lie alone in my bed, scrolling through my Instagram feed. It’s all hard muscle and protein supplements, lean torsos bulky quads, thin pretty women in expensive skin–tight sports clothes, perfectly made–up faces preaching listen to your body while posting salads, nuts, grilled chicken—branded makeup palettes and essential oils—self care and wellness—pilates instructors with defined obliques in pristine gyms—strong women with rippling back muscles doing pull–ups—lift heavy for abs—curvy not bulky women with tan skin and false eyelashes sipping wine posing with friends. My scrolling is interrupted by a hey from marcus hinge. Underneath it are the unread messages from garnet tinder, who is 23, presumably, and has a nice face and wants to take me out to dinner. He knows I am 18. I know that marcus hinge just wants to hook up—his previous text was “tryn blow your back out ngl” and I hadn’t responded in two days. I text garnet tinder that I am free Thursday night. I check Angie’s location to see if she’s home, intending to invite myself over, but she’s at the gym. Probably working a late shift. My eyes start to close, and I fall asleep with my phone under my pillow.k

03. FEBRUARY 2024

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INTRODUCING THE

BIR S AND BEAT Spotify Blends is rejecting tradition and embracing modernity one digital mixtape at a time

BY JULIA FISCHER Illustration by Janine Navalta

ith the arrival of Valentine’s Day, it’s time to ask: How do you say “I love you”? Well, other than in those words exactly. A box of chocolate–covered strawberries? A handcrafted card?

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An all–expenses–paid surprise vacation? (Maybe not that last one if you’re a college student.) If you’re lost, there’s a very popular theory of five “love languages.” For a time, the mixtape was the pinnacle

of thoughtfulness and accessibility in gift–giving. Burning a CD or packing a cassette with songs that perfectly described one’s feelings for their loved one was not only inexpensive, but also seen as an art


form. Nostalgia for this artifact of the past persists; mixtapes feature even in relatively recent films as a symbol of love. With the rise of music streaming services, it seems the art of the mixtape is dead. But Spotify Blends might be the 2020s’ adaptation of a beloved tradition. Music arguably found its most successful initial social–media–fication through Spotify. Beyond its huge library of streamable music, Spotify stands out due to its interpersonal capabilities. Each user has an online account complete with a username and profile picture, can follow friends and artists, and can like and save others’ playlists. In a world dominated by iTunes, Spotify’s unique characteristic was its aim to connect people online through their interests—in this case, musical ones. Originally launched in 2021, Spotify Blends promises to deliver just that within a playlist. Aptly named, a “Blend” generates a combination of the tastes of up to ten users. It, along with Spotify’s Friend Mix, falls under their category of playlists with “social recommendations,” meaning that Blends include songs Spotify thinks users “might like based on their listening activity” and update with new additions daily. But how do Blends actually work? The magic mechanism behind the Blends is an algorithm. In its creation, Spotify’s engineering teams sought to balance four attributes: Relevance (the inclusion of songs that have been listened to many times by users), coherence (a playlist’s “flow”), equality (similar representation between users), and democracy (the presence of “overlap” music between a Blend’s participants). Spotify deliberated between two main goals in generating these playlists; in their own words, either to “maximize the joy” or “minimize the misery.” According to Spotify, we should think

of it as a Venn diagram. If each user’s musical taste is a circle, the overlap is the music they both like. Minimizing misery would mean prioritizing this area within the playlist. Maximizing joy, meanwhile, focuses on including each user’s actual favorite tracks—either side of the Venn diagram. Each Blend clearly implements this setup, as there are three types of tracks: In a two–user Blend, we have User One’s favorites, marked by their profile picture; User Two’s favorites, marked by theirs; and the songs they both listen to, designated by the profile pictures side by side. Ultimately, the team decided to “maximize the joy” by valuing relevance. This approach, according to Spotify, allows more flexibility with user pairs who have very little listening history in common. All of this sounds great on paper; after all, Spotify calls Blends both “automatic” and “personalized.” But do they really fulfill the latter? One Reddit post critiques their functionality, noting that, from their experience, Blends isn’t quite as up–to–date on what users are actually currently listening to, instead incorporating songs they listened to months ago. There’s also the fact that it’s so low–effort—perhaps both a benefit and a shortcoming. Can Blends really be today’s equivalent of crafting a mixtape for someone if they’re compiled by an algorithm and not by ourselves? Spotify’s collaborative playlists, where users can essentially share the same capabilities of adding, deleting, and reordering tracks, seem like a truer modern take on the mixtape. At the same time, there’s something to be said about the physicality lacking on streaming platforms like Spotify. A CD, as any older Gen–Zer knows, is all too tangible. Prone to scratches you don’t realize until the music skips a beat, stacked in cracked

plastic cases or inserted in the pages of a book–like case, the compact disc is an experience of its own. Though online playlists are much speedier to assemble, they are also much easier to be rid of altogether. In the event of a breakup—romantic or platonic—deleting shared playlists is easy. But a CD or mixtape is harder to throw away. (The same can be said about texts and emails in contrast to handwritten letters and cards.) Spotify Blends are still a similar expression of love and shared interests, but a CD is like a moment frozen in time. Though the bond between its creator and the person who received it might have changed, the tracklist remains exactly the same, capturing the nature of their relationship the day the disc was marked with a message in Sharpie. Physical media continues to experience an immense uptick in popularity. However, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a return to our roots. The LP, which turned 75 in 2023, has seen an increase in sales for 17 straight years. In 2021, American CD sales rose for the first time in nearly two decades. This trend may be due to a desire for real ownership of music and support of artists. But this shift might also simply indicate gratitude for the charm of physical media as a chance to disconnect from the internet—and thus, our phones, computers, tablets, and even, at this point, watches. Maybe Gen Z is so “chronically online” that we’ll soon seek a mass exodus from what that means for our music, and more importantly, our relationships. Though we can’t completely divorce ourselves from technology, leaning away from automatically generated playlists and time spent online, we can seek refuge in a less advanced digital world—capturing a joint personal moment in time with those we love. k

F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 4 11


BY LUIZA LOUBACK

One of the biggest drivers of new technology is sex. Illustration by Insia Haque

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ave you ever watched a TV show and become so immersed in the characters' stories that you cried for them? Maybe even had a crush on one of them? Humans tend to idealize and identify with many things. As kids we love and care for toys, as teenagers, we become obsessed with fictional characters. The emotions we experience with these lifeless objects and characters can mirror the feelings we have for real individuals. But what if a robotic companion could mean even more to humans? What if we could have sex with robots, or even fall in love with them? The idea of falling for a robot isn't completely new. It’s seduced the entertainment

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industry for a long time, with movies like Ex Machina, I’m Your Man, and Artificial Intelligence garnering tons of interest and tons of money. When the movie Her came out in 2013, the world was just beginning to consider the concerning effects of solitude in a hyper-connected world driven by technology. Her takes place in an alternative technological future that very much resembles our own, but where human–robot relations are the norm. The plot takes place in a Los Angeles marked by individualism and the intense flow and consumption of information, where protagonist Theodore falls in love with Samantha, a personal operating system. The plot was pretty out there in 2013,

but just 10 years later, it seems to have predicted the technology that now drives waves of real–world speculation about our possible entanglements with the robotic world: artificial intelligence. Although much more advanced, the intelligence in the movies works similarly to real ones, such as ChatGPT. The artificial intelligences that exist today are used for different purposes, such as image creation and virtual assistants, grammar checkers and even to create music and lectures. But life imitates art and AI is becoming even more complete and complex, programmed to develop subjectivities such as love and even sex.


The border between the real and the digital is being broken down day by day. A 23–year–old influencer named Caryn Marjorie recently introduced CarynAI, a voice–based chatbot marketed as a virtual girlfriend. This AI has a distinct voice and personality, participating in one–on–one conversations for several hours each day. The chatbot discusses plans, shares intimate feelings, and even engages in erotic conversations. CarynAI has amassed over a thousand "boyfriends" willing to pay $1 per minute for the experience of this virtual relationship. Sex bots are on the rise, and companies like Realbotix are at the forefront. They are working on robotic heads that attach to anatomically silicone bodies. These bots, when linked to a corresponding app, can do more than just mimic human anatomy. For example, they can crack jokes and flirt. Another popular sex bot, Samantha (life imitates art again), emerged in 2017, created by Synthea Amatus. These bots are highly customizable, resembling the fascination with creating an ideal lover. Buyers can choose body shapes, eye color, hair, breast size, and even hand–painted features like freckles and veining. The CEO of RealDoll, Matt McMullen, seeks to enhance his ‘silicon sculptures’ with AI to “create a genuine bond between man and machine.” These dolls can be programmed to remember the owner's preferences, from food and films to music and birthdays. But robots reveal true human facets, such as violence and sexism. A Samantha doll was so severely molested by a group of men, it had to be sent back for repairs. This is a vivid example of how these dolls invite abusive treatment and reveal violent male behavior normalized by pornography culture. Sex robots, by eroticizing non–consent, contribute to making male violence appear more acceptable and even inevitable. They also illustrate the close relationship between patriarchy and capitalism, as the human–robot relations are built on ownership and objectification. Beyond the fetishist ways in which AI and sex dolls are used, there are broad ways we can consider relationships—the strange, weird, and odd ways we connect with others. AI companions can provide much– needed company for those who are lonely or isolated and could even help improve a person’s mental wellbeing. AI might be changing not just how we think about sex in the future, but the entire spectrum of intimacy. And who is to say if that is a bad thing? If even our romantic choices with human beings are difficult to explain, the human– machine interaction is even harder. Robots may seem to offer everything we might want in a partner, such as attractive body features and continuous devotion, but some things can’t be replicated by machines: intimacy, connection, and reciprocity. Falling in love with synthetic androids might become normal in a not–too–soon future, but it will also be accompanied by issues all too human. k

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EGO OF THE WEEK

You know that one senior who never fails to bring a smile to everyone’s face? Who always has the craaaaziest stories? Who you’re going to miss so much when they graduate? It’s time to give them the recognition they deserve. Ego of the Week seeks to showcase seniors, not for their grades or other fake academic construct, but for who they are as a person and the joy they bring to the people around them!

Nominate your favorite Penn Seniors for Ego of the Week! DECEMBER 2023

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Communication: Everywhere, All the Time,

BY BOBBY MCCANN

All at Onc Social media, relationships, and why more doesn’t mean better

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hat if Romeo had Snapchat? The soft crooning outside Juliet’s window would cease. Instead of relaying his deepest feelings, “With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls/For stony limits cannot hold love out,” he sends a “u up?” text at 2 a.m. It seems that there is something destructive lurking underneath relationships and social media. Whether it’s location sharing or instant messaging—every thought, mood, or state of being is perceived. Social media does not revolutionize communication for partners. In many ways, it destroys (healthy) communication. While many social media apps allow people in long– distance relationships to stay connected, virtual communication still results in other serious consequences to communication. For example, in the absence of body language cues, there is a rise of miscommunication. When you rely on heavily mediated and predominantly verbal communication, it becomes harder and harder to discern what a partner actually wants to communicate. Even when partners are physically together, they are more distracted than ever on devices. Whether adrift in 14

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an endless sea of TikToks or Instagram posts, couples are in the same room but worlds apart. We’ve all seen that dinner date, the pair eyeing their phones more intently than each other (even the phone “eats first”). Studies show that roughly half of those in relationships feel that their partner is distracted “sometimes or often” on their phone while in conversation with them. Distraction leads to the missing of “bids” for connection. A bid is a vie for attention that can be as small as wanting an answer to a question, a nod to show acknowledgment, or more involved like advice or sex. Whatever the bid, missing them is a problem: some estimate that in a healthy relationship, bids are responded to positively 86% of the time. However, scrolling on social media can severely detract from the possibility of even receiving the bid in the first place, let alone responding positively to it (i.e., acknowledging it or acting upon it). And it seems like this problem is not theoretical anymore: 40% of adults in relationships are bothered (sometimes or often) by the amount of time their partner spends on their phone. There is even a term for this phenomenon: “phubbing”


(phone snubbing). It is also true that couples love sending each other content and bonding through relatable or funny experiences reflected on social media. Humorous content can be as simple as sending videos of oversized cats on Instagram Reels, and can help maintain connection through comedy. Illustration by Alternatively, a Emmi Wu post can remind someone of their significant other, and this will cause them to share it. This can include hopes or plans for the future, whether that be Pinterest boards of weddings or videos of ideal proposals. Lately, there has been a proliferation of videos of cats or dogs put into feigned relationship situations, with comical captions explaining what is going on. For example, one has a caption that reads “her: communication is important,” and then shows the inquisitive and supportive “boyfriend” cat meowing at a stubborn–looking and (importantly) not talkative “girlfriend” cat with the caption: “also her.” Content like this pokes fun at one’s partner while helping to reflect on the qualities and attributes that are present in a relationship. Thus, it is clear that some forms of communication through social media, especially for those in long–distance relationships, are important. However, there is also insidious content on social media that proves harmful. Some cite a rise in jealousy caused by a number of factors. Around half of social media users have “checked–up” on exes or past

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relationships on social media, which can give rise to “retroactive jealousy” among partners. Seeing past pictures can even spark jealousy, which is not even to speak of current behaviors. If a partner likes someone else's picture, this can lead to tension. 34% of 18 to 29–year–olds feel “jealous or unsure” in their relationship as a result of a partner's behavior on social media. Jealousy and uncertainty can lead to questionable behavior: 34% of adults in relationships have snooped on their partner's phone without consent, and that number rises to 52% in ages 18 to 29. These feelings seem a far cry from healthy communication in a relationship. For all the problems that social media creates, relationships on social media appear to be perfect. Expectations on social media are set unrealistically high, so much so that it can impact how couples thrive. 81% of users report that they “at least sometimes” see posts from others concerning their relationships. This inundation with others’ (possibly feigned or misrepresented) posts can harm relationships by forcing constant comparisons. Couples are confronted with unrealistic relationships posted online that can easily make them feel like their own relationships are inadequate. In bad cases, “negative comparisons” can lead to betrayal or an end to the relationship. This inundation with others’ (possibly feigned or misrepresented) posts can harm relationships. In any case, what is important in relationships, especially long–distance ones, is “open and intentional” communication. Social media runs communication through a gamut of funhouse mirrors, fraught with distortion and refraction. It proves the saying “more does not mean better” true. Being inundated with communication is not the same as being more connected. k FEBRUARY 2024

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FLOWERS AREN'T ENOUGH 16

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BY DYLAN GROSSMANN Graphic by Janine Navalta

Marina Abramovic and the Performance of Love


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nce upon a time, we had no idea the string of a bow and arrow to the what our exes were up to. Only very end, the arrow pointing directly at hearing about them from a friend Abramović’s heart. Both in a constant of a friend or through a mention state of tension, pulling from each side, in print—not only were we able to de- they bore the constant threat that if one tach ourselves from our ex–partners, of them made a mistake, Abramović’s but there was always the possibility of heart would literally be shattered. Their a sweet serendipitous reunion with them art showed the all–consuming nature of at any given moment. Once you could intense, true love. The delicate balance hope that one day that person and you of trust, of giving your all to someone find each other again under better cir- that you are willing to put your voice, and cumstances at the right time. That glo- your life in someone else’s hands, knowrious reunion, you thought, would be ing that if they slip up, you are immediso beautiful, so emotionally relieving, ately shattered. In our contemporary relationships, we that it would feel like art. That is exactly what happened when German per- rarely mark the intensity of our love by formance artist Ulay sat across from how willing we are to put our lives in the his ex–lover and collaborator Marina hands of the ones we love. To bare ourAbramović at her 2010 performance selves completely to one another withretrospective The Artist is Present. out the fear that they won’t accept it. We Abramović met Ulay in 1975, two 30– don’t perform Talking about Similarity at something European performance artists our weddings to demonstrate our ever– both immediately taken by one another. lasting commitment. We cement our reAbramović in her book, Walk Through lationship outwardly, rather than within Walls, describes their connection as not our hearts. Soft launches, engagement created, but innate. Their hearts beat TikTok, and pregnancy announcements as one, she explains. Their eyes locked flood our feeds. We feel the need to show and they were forever changed. No In- off our love to others, rather than to each stagram story liking, swiping right, or other. These external markers of love, the ones we can cautiously check our game–playing is necessary. There’s no denying that the lack of exes aren’t making elsewhere, are easily mystery in break–ups is aligned with wiped away from the public consciousthe lack of mystery in relationships. Ulay ness. When we break up with our signifiand Abramović’s love story was far from cant others, we can delete the Instagram dull. Separated by their busy schedules posts and wipe away the public presas artists, they spent hours on the phone, ence—but Ulay can’t erase the scars tape–recorded by Ulay who knew their from his sewn–shut mouth, nor could love would be worthy of documentation Abramović ignore the mutilation her from the start. When phone bills got too body faced in her taxing works with him. high, the couple began letter correspondence, a lost art among the average iPhone–carrying couple. Unable to spend time apart, they began planning how to create art together, fitting one another seamlessly into the other’s lives. Their In 1981, Ulay and Abramović decided “hard launch,” to mirror digital terminology, was Relation in Space, a 58–minute they would walk the Great Wall of China, performance piece at the XXXVIII Bien- starting from opposite sides and meetnale in Venice, Italy. The artists stood ing in the middle. Inspired and madly naked twenty meters apart, and ran into in love, they decided they were to marone another, capturing the sound of their ry when they reached the middle. But flesh colliding with a microphone, trans- by the time the feat was approved and ferring their energy and transmitting their set to begin, it had been 12 years since love between their bodies with each col- the two instantly connected. Their lives, once intrinsically connected by their lision. Abramović and Ulay continued with love and art, began to diverge—the artheir intense love story, performing row, this time metaphorical, began sliptogether and living out of a van they ping and was bound to shatter Abramovcalled home. Their performances high- ić’s heart. So, at the end of their rigorous lighted their connection as well as their three–month walk of the Great Wall, they shared perception of the world and their didn’t get married; instead, they hugged desire to challenge it. At their shared quickly and shook hands—ending their birthday party in 1976, they performed personal and professional relationship Talking about Similarity for their friends. there. Upon returning to her home of AmAfter sewing his lips together, Ulay sat in front of the audience of friends and sterdam, alone for the first time in 12 Abramović explained that they were to years, she told her friends it would take ask questions, and Abramović was to at least half of those long six years to answer as Ulay. Another performance of be freed of the pain of losing Ulay. One theirs among the many was their 1980 day, soon after seeing Ulay kissing his performance of Rest Energy. Ulay held pregnant wife, Abramović decided she

needed to get out of Amsterdam—physically separating herself from the world that she had built with Ulay. This separation largely allowed Abramović to continue and improve her career as a performance artist, elevating her to the highest echelon of artists on her own. This separation is what is lost in the digital age. There’s no way to fully sever yourself from someone your whole digital identity is tethered to. After spending 12 years with someone, the ability to keep checking in and putting yourself through the wringer by watching the life you could have had with someone is grueling. It’s too hard to completely cut ties, unfollow, or move away like Abramović because stalking your ex’s new life is too easy. All you have to do is pick up your phone. But Abramović’s decisive and concrete separation from Ulay was not only geographical, but professional. In her 1992 work Biography, she ended by reciting “BYE–BYE ULAY,” dramatically severing her work from the theme of their love and connection. Years later, in March 2010, Abramović took over the Museum of Modern Art in New York, along with a prolific collection of performance retrospectives. The Artist is Present allowed strangers to connect with the artist. As wild lines form to sit across the artist, one stranger would sit across from Abramović for as long or short as they would like, maintaining eye contact, transmitting energy, pain, and love—as Ulay and Abramović did together years before. Abramović described that the sitter immediately felt very moved; they were forced in that moment to look inside themselves and confront the pain within them. In the digital age, we are never confronted with our feelings or our own pain. We are docile and numb, scrolling through our feeds to numb our feelings. The Artist is Present forces that uncomfortable, but necessary feeling for the participant. On the opening night of The Artist is Present, Abramović was forced to look within and feel her pain when Ulay sat in front of her unexpectedly. As they shared the space, watched by hundreds of onlookers, Abramović explained that 12 years of her life ran through her mind in an instant. In a moment of overwhelming emotion, love, and pain, Abramović broke the rules of her performance, reaching for Ulay's hands across the table. As thousands of eyes watched their dramatic reunion—the sweet, sweet reunion one dreams of when they end their relationship—Ulay and Abramović looked only at one another, their eyes swelling with tears. Ulay and Abramović were painfully separated to be beautifully reunited. If it’s possible, they had a true romantic breakup. They made the ending of a relationship, and the trauma that comes with it, into art—not just an unfollow. k

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A CAMPUS UNLIKE ANY OTHER he hallowed halls of Penn field endless traditions. First years celebrate their first steps on campus with convocation and a boozy New Student Orientation. The next four years get filled to the brim with throwing toast onto the field at football games, Hey Day, U–Night, Spring Fling—you get the picture. And at the end of it all, students commemorate the completion of their college years with a week of festivities that culminates in a grand graduation ceremony. But one tradition on Penn’s campus stands alone. Each fall, thousands of students participate in the Penn Marriage Pact, a process designed to give them the algorithmically ideal potential romantic partner. ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎ In the late fall, Penn’s campus gets flooded with marketing telling students to fill out the Penn Marriage Pact. There are flyers around campus, emails from people in Penn Student Government, and plenty of chatter on Sidechat. “This year, everyone was on Sidechat always asking ‘When’s Marriage Pact coming out?’” Bruno Basner (W 18

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TRADITION

’26) says. “As someone who is on Sidechat from time to time, I see it, and … decided to do it.” This marketing blitz is aimed at getting you to fill out a survey that attempts to determine who you’d be most compatible with. While it aims to be comprehensive—asking students dozens of questions about their preferences, political, social, sexual, in a partner— there’s only so much information that can be expressed through numbers. The human brain is made up of millions of cells, and it’s impossible to get down to the core of how a person ticks by asking them to what extent they agree or disagree with 50–ish statements. Yet, the Penn Marriage Pact is incredibly popular. Despite hiccups— like there regularly being not enough straight men to guarantee every straight woman who fills out the survey a match—for a period of a few weeks, it becomes the talk of campus for thousands. Part of this is due to the ingenious timing structure. Students find out a match’s initials just a few hours before actually getting their name and contact information. This sets off a small period of insane speculation and

BY CALEB CRAIN Illustration by Emmi Wu

Penn Marriage Pact brings together students trying to find love, a hookup, or something else entirely

many harried messages sent to friends as thousands of students simultaneously attempt to identify their matches. But perhaps there is another reason for this appeal, something that goes deeper into how love and relationships function in this online age. For the days between filling out the survey and getting results, there’s an element of mystery to who your supposed Penn soulmate is. In a school where everyone is obsessed with networking, everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows you, and always seems to have the next several years of their life already planned out, Penn Marriage Pact brings back the allure of dating in an offline, bygone age, where there were more opportunities for exciting chance encounter and a sense of mystery in who could be the “one.” ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎ Penn isn’t the only school to have a Marriage Pact. 86 colleges and universities across the country have a version of the Marriage Pact, including Vanderbilt University, Princeton University, and the University of Michigan. All of these are run by a centralized com-


pany—Marriage Pact—which is in the business of giving students an “optimal backup plan” romantically, according to Abner Gordan, who vets potential schools for Marriage Pact. It is likely no surprise that Marriage Pact was founded by a student. When Liam McGregor was a student at Stanford University in 2017, he created the Marriage Pact for an economics final. Initially, the project wasn’t meant to pair people for relationships in the here and now, but instead functioned as “an informal agreement between two people—if both of them remain unmarried and without prospects by the time they turn 40—to simply marry each other,” McGregor writes on his blog. After designing the survey, McGregor tested it at Stanford, giving students a week to complete it before they would find out who their matches were. And that first year, over 4,000 students signed up, showing McGregor that it had major potential to be something huge. For its first few years, Marriage Pact was limited to the sun–drenched quads and the golden foothills of Palo Alto, but in 2020, it expanded. After a few years of rapid growth, Marriage Pact is at over 80 schools and has made over 160,000 matches. Even though Marriage Pact exists at a wide range of schools, it remains pretty much the same between each school. Beyond just the surveys, the algorithm to compute optimal matches and how Marriage Pact markets itself are similar at each school, fitting its positioning as something of an alternative to traditional dating apps, where people choose partners pretty much strictly on looks. ❤︎ ❤︎ ❤︎ But at Penn, the noble intentions of McGregor and everyone at Marriage Pact aren’t aligned with the reality of how the Penn Marriage Pact is used. Instead of helping people find a potential backup plan for years down the road, it has become a social activity, and even somewhat of a competitive

game played simultaneously by thousands of Penn students, showing that even if people say they are looking for love, they actually may not be. Despite the noble intentions that Marriage Pact was created with, the way people on the ground use Marriage Pact suggests that their goals don’t actually line up with the goals of the founders. Even though Marriage Pact has immense appeal to students as a concept, the actual truth of the product is that it’s much more banal. Penn Marriage Pact thrives on the hope that your long–lost lover could be out there among the 10,000 undergraduates, living their life completely ignorant of you and that all you need is to be set up for sparks to fly. But when you find out their name, it actually showcases how small the school really is. There’s an overwhelming likelihood that you know them from a class or club, or that the two of you have a mutual friend. That isn’t the only issue that pops up when people find out their matches. Even though a match’s email address is released alongside their name, most initial contact doesn’t take place there. Gordan confirmed that students often find a match on Instagram and reach out there instead of via email, and added that some people will be sure to change their profile pictures in advance of the Marriage Pact result coming out. This dynamic adds an additional screening layer, which makes Penn Marriage Pact function like a mainstream dating app and removes its entire appeal. It’s supposed to reintroduce a sense of anonymity and mystery back into the process of finding a partner, and maybe let two people click on a deeper level. But instead it means that people are judged for their looks first and foremost before they can even talk over text. “People will just look at the Instagram [of a match] and if they don’t find the other person attractive, they’ll just cut it off or ghost,” Bruno says. “Which kind of defeats the purpose of Marriage

Pact, because it’s supposed to be [not like] Tinder, where you see the image and you’re solely swiping based on looks.” McGregor wrote that 10% of matches that result in meetups eventually lead to long–term relationships of at least one year. But this isn’t consistent with Basner’s experience. He’s heard of a few couples hooking up, but no relationships emerging. Regardless of whether a pair hooks up, goes out on a date, or even exchanges a few flirty DMs, the entire process of Penn Marriage Pact fades rather quickly after matches are released. It exists as a little blip on the Penn social calendar, leaving the scene just as quickly as it arrived and hibernating for the next 11 months. While it may not often lead to sustained relationships, Penn Marriage Pact can often confirm social connection, as Basner has known of several pairs of friends who’ve ended up being each other’s match. And maybe that’s the point. Perhaps algorithms are better suited to tell you who would be a good friend rather than a good romantic partner. There seems to be an extra, intangible, element in matchmaking that no survey can cover, beyond just physical attractiveness or whether you have the same philosophy on doing drugs. And while Penn Marriage Pact aims to cut through the bullshit that befalls other dating apps, the entire process just ends up falling short in the exact same ways. So what is the Penn Marriage Pact exactly? It’s not a dating app, despite some of their similarities. But it’s also not McGregor’s vision of a literal pact for people to marry at age 40 if they’re still single. This all shows that in the digital age, love—and the ways in which we find it—is more ambiguous. People use a variety of different platforms for a variety of different purposes to fulfill what they are looking for at a particular moment. And some of these methods—like Marriage Pact—are more of social rites of passage than genuine attempts to find a partner. k F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 4 19


DOING IT FOR Fanfiction Writers Have a Decades–Long Love Affair with Storytelling

THE PLOT BY MEILING MATHUR

Photos Courtesy of Aled, Ku, Olee, Fayyaz, & Rox

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hat do a Wattpad story about One Direction, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet all have in common with each other? The answer: they all qualify as fanfiction. The first one is pretty obvious—the use of preexisting characters and events to create an original story is essentially the definition of fanfiction itself. What’s less obvious about the other two works is that they are also original adaptations of existing source material; Tolkien’s entire Middle Earth fantasy heavily borrows from features of Norse mythology, with many of Tolkien’s figures being based on Norse deities. Shakespeare’s play is a direct dramatization of the 1562 poem by Arthur Brooke, The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. Though Romeo and Juliet, Lord of the Rings, and Wattpad stories are separated by several centuries, no amount of time and space can deny the common thread that unites them—love. Specifically, love for stories, self, and human connection. To be impacted by a sto-

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ry so profoundly and to be inspired to honor that impact shows how stories and lives become inseparable—a part of one will always find its way into the other, much like the bonds that connect human hearts. Creating fan media, it would seem, is the ultimate act of devotion from a creator to a piece of media. Fan–created media takes on many forms, from novels and art to musicals and TV shows. In the 21st century, the subcultures of fandom creation can be found all over the Internet. Fanfiction writers publish on AO3 and Wattpad, fan artists upload their works to Instagram and Twitter, and cosplayers post videos on TikTok and YouTube. With the rise of greater online connectedness, it has become easier than ever for those within fandoms to engage with fan–created content and find communities of creators who share similar interests. The internet is more than a place for exchanging ideas: It is a digital immortalization of people's love for media and the relationships that they form with each other over that shared love.

ALED Though fan–created media primarily lives online, its effects on the lives of those who consume it hardly exist in a bubble. Aled Dillabough (C’25) started writing fanfiction when he was in elementary school, before branching out into fan art as well. He said that his current choice to study communications with a fine arts minor was strongly influenced by his history with fanfiction and fan art. He explained that the analytical processes of figuring out how to accurately portray a character in writing are very similar to the skills he uses in communications, and his deep connection with fandom culture has inspired him to find a job where he can write about media after college. Aled explained that a major appeal of writing fanfiction is that it can be difficult


for writers to create their own characters from scratch, but fanfiction allows them to tell the stories they want using characters that they already connect with. For Aled personally, writing fanfiction gave him the freedom to explore his own identity and emotions through his characters, as well as helped him develop more confidence in sharing his ideas. “Sharing my writing in class … used to be something I struggled with, but sharing my art and writing [online] helped me become more confident with participating and sharing my ideas,” he said. “I also think it’s helped with my ability to articulate myself and communicate because I write about a lot of stuff that is reflective of my experiences, so it helps me understand [my experiences] and be able to talk about them.” Through creating fanfiction, writers are not only demonstrating their love for the original source material but also discovering themselves. Self–expression, understanding, and acceptance are the key components of creating any sort of art, and the relationship between a writer and their work leaves an indelible mark on the writer themselves.

KU For those who may not be pursuing a field that is directly related to content creation, the experiences of engaging with fandom still enrich their lives in equally significant ways. Ku Li, a first–year student at the University of Maryland studying social data science, has been drawing fan art since the fourth grade and reflected on how creating art motivated Ku to independently develop art skills. Ku sought out art classes and self–studied anatomy and color theory, hoping to go into art. While it didn’t turn out that way, Ku believes that making art for so long helped hone Ku’s creativity and taught Ku the satisfaction

of achieving personal goals in the form of creations that Ku could be proud of. Ku described social data science as being a “computer science–adjacent field” and pointed out how the problem– solving aspects of art have translated to Ku’s academic work. “Since programming languages only give you the bare building blocks to do whatever you want, it’s up to you to decide how you want to approach whatever you’re trying to make … and I think that the sense of satisfaction [of solving problems] translates over to art, like when you finally learn how to draw a hand correctly or grasp how colors work,” Ku said. Ku started posting art on Instagram and Twitter and gained traction with those accounts, eventually hitting over 1,000 followers. Ku said that it was encouraging and motivating to receive other people’s feedback on Ku’s work, and seeing the positive reactions of others further inspired Ku to create more. However, at a certain point, Ku started experiencing burnout in the face of constantly trying to please an online audience. From the experience of sharing work online and navigating post engagement and audience feedback, Ku learned the importance of staying true to one’s wishes when creating art. Creating art is not only a way for people to understand themselves but also a means of standing by the authentic version of themselves. Through sharing their work with audiences, artists learn how to find their voice in a world where it is so easy for it to get drowned out. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to do what makes you happy, and you shouldn’t be trying to cater that to people,” Ku said. Ku is inspired by the passion that those in fandom spaces devote to their work and said that fandoms allow Ku to connect with others who share similar interests, as well as people across the world who would otherwise be inaccessible outside of an online context. “[Fandom] offers a kind of family where everyone is united around a central interest and everyone can contribute their own experiences to it,” Ku said. “It’s really a beautiful thing to witness and be part of.” And since fandoms are built upon

fiction, Ku pointed out, they allow people the opportunity to engage with concepts and topics that would otherwise never be encountered in real life. “[Ideas] are not limited by physical bounds or science. It’s just based on whatever your imagination wants to come up with,” Ku said.

OLEE Indeed, the beauty of fandom creation lies in its ability to facilitate the exchange of ideas and imagination that cannot be found anywhere else. Olee Banerjee (E’27) used to write fanfiction with her friend in middle school. She found that experimenting with creative writing allowed her to practice writing skills that she did not get as much exposure to inside the classroom, as her school did not provide many opportunities for students to learn about creative writing. “When you’re doing analytical writing, you’re not learning how to write dialogue or how to define character types,” she pointed out. Creative writing allowed Olee to improve her fluency with figurative language, imagery, and grammar rules. She said that in aiming to evoke certain feelings through her work, she learned which techniques work and which ones don’t when trying to garner specific reactions from her readers. “You start being able to identify how to connect emotionally with readers, or the people looking at your art,” Olee explained. “Just because you think something is sad might not necessarily mean that it is sad unless you give it context, and using figurative language, symbols, and foreshadowing to do so lets you learn those skills.” Olee noted that she used to not be a very strong English student, but writing fanfiction allowed her to translate her creative writing skills to her English classes, which made her more comfortable with the

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process of brainstorming ideas, revising drafts, and analyzing other literary works. Aside from improving her writing skills, Olee said that writing creatively taught her how to see a project through from start to finish and think critically about situations. “When you’re writing a fanfic, you’re trying to fill in the holes, or you’re trying to add a character that you think will actually add to the plot, so you’re trying to figure out, ‘What can I improve about this thing?’” she pointed out. “You get used to this kind of analysis of any piece of art or anything that you look at.” Olee currently enjoys writing her own songs and believes that the skills she gained from writing creatively have had a significant impact on her ability to express her ideas through her music. Similarly, Aled said that his experiences with writing fanfiction inspired him to branch out and explore new genres of writing. So far, he’s written scripts for his own TV shows and musicals, and he really enjoys coming up with stage interpretations of the media that he consumes.

FAYYAZ Further highlighting the importance of writing in different contexts, Fayyaz Vellani, a lecturer in critical writing at Penn, explained that the more students practice writing for different audiences outside the classroom, the more effective they become in writing for their day–to–day lives as well. A solid handle on structure and outlines is required for creative writing, as chapters, chronology, time, characters, and plot are all elements of creative writing that require thoughtful planning, so practicing creative writing can help solidify these organizational skills. Vellani also teaches "PROW 3010: The Power of Storytelling", a postgraduate course that is offered through the Certificate in Professional Writing. His students

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come from a variety of backgrounds, such as doctors, lawyers, actors, artists, and dancers, and storytelling plays a role in each one of their lives. “I had a Hollywood actor who said, ‘I want to be able to tell better stories when I go to auditions,’ and he was like, ‘I’ve been getting more work since I’ve been using these methods,’” Vellani recounted. He explained that, from elevator pitches and interviews to resumes and visualized data, storytelling plays an important role in all sorts of day–to–day applications. “A job interviewing someone says, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ They’re asking for a story, so just having [my students] feel more comfortable with that self–expression in a structured way … it helps us tell better stories in the professional world,” he said. Indeed, storytelling has played a meaningful role in Vellani’s life, as he is not only a professor but also a novelist. His novel, Tea with Ms. Tanzania (2022), is a historical fiction piece that revolves around a relationship between a mother and a son, as well as the story of Tanzania after it gained independence from Britain. “It’s a part of the world that’s very beautiful but under– acknowledged—a lot of people don’t know about it,” Vellani described. His favorite part of writing the novel was researching the history of Tanzania to include in his work. “In the process of doing that research, I uncovered that there hasn’t been a lot written about those historical events, so it further cemented my desire to get this book out there,” Vellani said. As someone with a family history rooted in Tanzania, writing this novel allowed him to better engage with that part of his identity. “I think we make sense of who we are through stories, so the stories that we tell about ourselves to others, and also stories that are told to us … give [us] a sense of completeness as a person,” he said. “In the same way this story is from Tanzania, even though I was born in England, [writing the story] gave a completeness to my life because the Tanzanian part of my identity has always been a part of my life.” Dedicating time and energy to understanding the stories of others, whether fictional or real, represents our human desire to know others and be known.

Olee explained that creative writing, especially in the context of fanfiction, can be a meaningful way for writers to not only understand their identities but also express them. For example, the Marvel franchise is heavily built upon traditional notions of masculinity, as it is dominated by male characters who exhibit stereotypically masculine–coded traits of physical strength and emotional toughness. However, with most fanfiction writers being young females, writing fanfiction gives them an outlet to reflect their identities in a media where they don’t normally see themselves represented. As an Indian person who grew up in America, Olee feels that she has not really seen herself represented in a lot of the narratives that she consumes. Indian characters in pop culture, such as Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory, are often built upon stereotypes and primarily function as a laughingstock for non–Indian audiences. “It becomes hard to see yourself in media. You’re just like, ‘Oh, it won’t work, because if it works, people would have done it already. I get that my culture is so different—it wouldn’t make sense for an Indian kid to be on a superhero team,’” Olee explained, “But when you start questioning [this belief], especially when you start writing fanfiction, it fosters self–confidence in a way because … you see that people like you can be part of that narrative.” It is not only our desire to be known that drives storytelling but also the drive that compels us to tell the stories of those who cannot— creating space for the voices that have historically been silenced and uplifting their narratives. Ku discussed how fandoms can be a space for discourse around important social issues. For example, Genshin Impact’s Sumeru update sparked controversy over some of its culturally inaccurate character designs. Initially, it was difficult for some POC fans to make their voices heard, as their critiques of the character designs were met by backlash from white fans who wanted to defend them. However, Ku noted, POC creators started proposing their own fan art and designs to show how the characters could be made more culturally


accurate, such as by changing the hair texture and skin colors of certain characters to match people from the specific regions of the world that they were supposed to represent. “Again, white people would start sending a lot of backlash to these edits, so it’s another example of how marginalized people are silenced within fan groups,” Ku said, “But I do think that fan works can also create these spaces for positive change, especially if it’s coming from the people who are most impacted by [these issues]. The worlds that they create are their voice within the fandom space.” Ku’s experiences with social issues in fandom have inspired Ku to incorporate social work into Ku’s future career. “I’m invested in equity within fandom culture and letting marginalized people have a safe space in fandom, so I feel like that could translate into the work that I actually do in real life.” This empathy for others that is generated in fandom communities carries effects that extend beyond the online space, shaping livelihoods with it.

ROX There’s no doubt that the skills, insights, and experiences fan creators take away from their work shape the other aspects of their lives, whether it be personal, academic, or professional. For some, fandom is their life, as is the case for creator Rox Adams. Rox, who graduated high school in 2021, has spent most of their life engaged in fandom—drawing fan art, writing fanfiction, and cosplaying. For them, fandom started as an escape from some of the events of their younger years. Having not had consistent access to electronics, Rox used any materials they could find—journals, binders, and loose–leaf paper—to

handwrite fanfiction, often spending class periods to do so. Despite their circumstances, Rox’s love for writing allowed them to overcome the barriers that stood in their way; noticing their aptitude for writing, Rox’s sixth–grade English teacher helped Rox found their middle school’s creative writing club, of which Rox served as president for two years. In high school, Rox’s pre–AP English teacher encouraged Rox to participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge, where participants are challenged to write a certain number of words every day for the month of November until they complete a 50,000–word manuscript. Rox completed a 50,000–word piece of Undertale fanfiction, and after November ended, they went on to write a sequel that was triple the length of the first book. Rox attributed their growth as a writer to the encouragement of their English teachers, and writing fanfiction helped Rox discover their love for English, finding the subject “beautiful” and “something that [they] wanted to pursue.” Writing became their whole life, and the beauty that they found in the subject served as a safe space when they needed it the most. Rox is planning to study creative writing in college once they are able to go back to school. They are also hoping to pursue game development, as they are in the process of building their own video game. “Even if I do find something professional, I think there will always be a part of me that will always go back to fandom content,” Rox said. “It’s been such a huge part of my life for so long, and I don’t think it will ever not be.” Within all of the experiences that life has to offer, the initial calling of fandom creation continues to have its place in creators’ hearts, a first love that they will always return to. Rox’s discovery of the Attack on Titan fandom inspired them to start cosplaying, which allowed Rox to meet some of the most influential people in their life, including their now–best friend. “If I had never gotten into cosplay, I know for a fact that my life as I know it right now would absolutely nowhere be the same,” Rox said. “I’ve met so many different people

that have changed my life so drastically in such a positive way.” “Some of them in such a not positive way,” Rox acknowledged, “but I think that’s just life.” With a vast majority of fandom spaces serving as an intersection between neurodiverse and queer communities, the sense of belonging generated by the convening of people with shared interests carries implications that extend beyond just bonding over a favorite TV show; members of marginalized communities are able to find comfort in being surrounded by people with similar experiences online. “It’s kind of like laying on a bed of nails your whole life, and for the first time getting to lay on an actual mattress with blankets,” Rox described. It is often the case that people deeply engaged in fandom face criticism and mockery from those who see their interests as “cringe” or “embarrassing,” to which Rox maintained that cringe culture is inherently built upon ableist beliefs that shame hyperfixations and special interests, a significant draw for many neurodivergent people to fandoms. “I think people should be able to enjoy whatever they want in any capacity,” Rox stated. “If you are that upset by somebody else having fun … it might be because you aren’t able to find that happiness yourself, and I think you should try to find it.” Indeed, from reading the stories of others to seeing their passion for art and bonding with them over shared interests, Rox believes that the most important lesson they have taken away from the world of fandom is to be kind. “You never know what someone is going through … so if you can be kind and help that person in their darkest hour, that's everything,” Rox said. And as someone who has witnessed firsthand the positive impact that storytelling can have on people’s lives, Rox seeks to inspire and uplift others by writing their own stories. “If those [stories] are the impact I leave on this world … I don't care if my name isn't written in lights, because I know that I've left a little firefly with the people I've helped,” Rox concluded. k

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BY NATALIA CASTILLO

W

hen it comes to dating decrees, all women know that there’s only one rule that matters: “The bigger the better”—bigger resumes, that is. If you thought dating apps could not get more brutally superficial, then you haven’t heard of The League—a dating app catered to students, graduates of elite universities, and high–powered professionals. What do all of these students, finance bros, and CEOs have in common? Their big, big … resumes. And the app’s tagline, you ask? “Have you been told that your standards are too high? Keep them that way.” While Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble occupy the largest share of the online dating market, The League occupies a smaller, more exclusive corner of the in-

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ternet. However, despite its reputation, users of the app come from a broader background of schools and jobs than just Ivy League schools or Blackstone internships. Nevertheless, the app predictably gained an early reputation of elitism and exclusivity. Whether The League holds up to its own purported standards remains up for debate, but its branding prompts a larger inquiry into a trend of elitism on dating apps and its implications for class divides that shape the dating landscape both in college and beyond. Since The League’s 2014 launch, the market for online dating platforms has expanded, for better or for worse, but the app’s increased traction from recent advertisements brings the app to the center of ongoing cultural debates

about institutions of exclusivity and meritocracies. In 2015, CEO and founder Amanda Bradford set out to dispel the platform’s reputation of elitism, describing their unique mission as “promot[ing] higher education, encourag[ing] career–ambition and, most importantly, cultivat[ing] the desire for an egalitarian relationship in both sexes.” Fascinatingly, it is perhaps more often female– identifying users on dating apps who are more selective with their potential matches. Yet, are gender–based norms and imbalances truly subverted by this particular brand of selectivity? The app instead seems to select a largely monolithic crew of matches, with other potential applicants self-excluding before even applying. Let me set the scene for you: You are


Undressing the politics behind elitism on dating apps. Illustration by Emmi Wu

setting up a profile for The League. You are now faced with THE question: “What are your educational dating standards: ‘none,’ ‘selective,’ or ‘highly selective.’” You’re a Penn student, so obviously you pick “highly selective”—you only want the crème de la crème. Next thing you know the app is asking to connect your LinkedIn profile to verify your academic and professional credentials. You cannot wait for your potential matches to see your very important Morgan Stanley internship listed on your profile (did I mention they list your recent and past jobs on your profile right under your photos) let’s all cross our fingers and hope we do not match with our old coworkers. Now that you have gone through the painstaking process of bragging about your achievements on your profile—an

excruciatingly difficult task for Penn students, obviously—you expect your profile to be successfully complete. But wait, what is that? You are now prospect number 39,133 on a waitlist of 39,134 people in Philadelphia waiting for their profile to be approved—and now before you know it, you’re having traumatic flashbacks to Ivy Day. Now, we are all wondering the same thing. “Why does it seem harder to get into The League than it is to get into the actual Ivy League?!” However, unlike the actual Ivy League, the app experience of The League is not actually about what happens or what benefits you reap from being inside the “club”— it is about the delineation of the haves and have–nots—desire for acceptance accumulates exponentially for those

who find themselves on the other side of the velvet rope. If you are curious about how to actually get off the waitlist and have your profile approved, you can either wait out the other 39,134 applicants, or you can join by paying to be a member, effectively skipping the queue. Memberships range anywhere from $100 for a weeklong trial to a one–month VIP membership for a minty $2,499.99. Truly—the similarities between The League admissions and Ivy League admissions are becoming increasingly uncanny—either pay your way forward or wait among the masses. It is this very fanaticism and desire for belonging that The League capitalizes on. Capturing an audience of students at “elite” schools, the app cultivates an-

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other space in which exclusivity is the name of the game. But that is all it is—a perceived, self–reinforcing air of exclusivity. In reality, you do not actually need to pay $2.5k to participate in a curated cult of elitism—you can DIY it on Hinge, Tinder, or Bumble, swiping right on or liking exclusively “well–educated” or those with “high–power” jobs. From its early years, Bradford fought back against the media’s framing of the app as a platform for cultivating and perpetuating elitism, decreeing “I’m Not An Elitist, I’m Just An Alpha Female” in a 2015 LinkedIn post. Bradford and her founders have instead underscored the app’s intention to cater to women with high educational and professional attainment. The founder’s intentions and the impact of the app itself seem to diverge from one another in practical application. Certainly, women face social and romantic rejection from partners who are intimidated by their power, influence, and accomplishments. However, it seems that in dating circumstances, particularly online dating, women are more stringent in their standards for their male counterpart’s educational and professional achievements. Perhaps in some way, Bradford desired for women like herself to participate in a selective community in which her options were limited to those men who were adequate prospects and matched her accomplishments—not just someone who wouldn’t be intimidated by her status. The League isn’t the only dating and social networking platform overtly concerned with status and exclusivity. In the same year that The League was founded, Raya, a dating app culturally known as the celebrity dating app, was released. Formally, Raya is marketed as “a private, membership–based community for people all over the world to connect and collaborate.” Similarly to The League, the application process to Raya requires a stamp of approval. Where The League requires you to connect your LinkedIn to verify your school and job, Raya requires a referral from a current user in addition to a member-

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ship fee. Not only does the financial component of both apps impose a class hierarchy with regard to accessibility, the mystery surrounding the referral and acceptance processes generates a mechanism of social acceptance or rejection. Given that these apps feel harder to get into than an actual Ivy League or Soho House, as a user you would hope that once you get to the other side of the velvet rope you would be met with the crème de la crème of dating prospects. Think again—because that assumption would be wrong. While we would hate to shatter the illusion—it is just that: an illusion. While the exclusivity projected is propped up by entirely arbitrary standards beyond labels and titles, the impact of their presence is entirely real. If as a society we do indeed date for status, these habits reinforce the notion of marriage as an economic proposition. Historically, given the wage gap and gendered relationship expectations, it is the experience of women to be concerned with the economic stability or lack thereof provided by potential male partners. According to 2023 data from the Pew Research Center, 48% of Americans reported that most men married to women would prefer to earn more than their wife. Alternatively, women reported being largely split between 26% wanting to earn the same as their husband, and 22% of women wanting a husband who earns more than they do. However, only 7% of American women reported wanting to earn more than their spouse. These statistics coupled with dating app trends reveal that while men are less focused on the earning potential and accolades of women, specifically when those respective traits are fewer than their own, in contrast, women’s standards are rising. Women in opposite–sex relationships are increasingly stringent with their dating preferences with particular regard to status, education, and professional attainment. The League’s Bradford has continued to defend these so–called “alpha female” desires, arguing that a romantic prospect’s education or job reflects certain qualities of motivation, dedication, and ambition. In the past year, their recent advertisements have promised to help you find your “goalmate” or aid you in achieving “goal digger” status, aiming to expand its audience and further deconstruct the app’s reputation for exclusivity. However, the very fact that we associate certain job titles, college degrees, or goal attainment as being entirely meritocratic reflections of one’s hard work and inherent talents is a reinforcing loop of elitism and exclusivity perpetuated by centuries–old institutionalized networks of privilege and

access. I mean, let’s be honest—nepotism might as well have been Merriam–Webster’s word of the year. Reputation by association wields incredible influence—think legacy admissions and Hollywood nepo–babies—you don’t always need to have the skills or ambition to get your foot in the door, just the name and the network. Ultimately, The League’s insistent denials of elitism allegations are in vain. Their reputation has been firmly cemented as that of exclusivity and any denials or efforts to combat this perception will effectively alienate their existing users or degrade the “quality” of their match pool. Amidst our interrogations of meritocracy and elitism, one quandary remains. Why do we collectively feel beholden to the allure of exclusivity and the elusive stamp of approval associated with these “elite” spaces—whether it be The League, Raya, or even the Ivy League itself? The pursuit of prestige has consumed our academic lives, our social lives, and now our dating lives. We are beholden to the illusion that there is something better out there for us— some new title or accolade to call our own, a hotter partner, or a bigger salary. The finish line is ever–changing, and these platforms and institutions thrive off our addiction to participating in or achieving the next best thing. Knowing this, when those feelings of inadequacy creep up in the classroom or—find solace in this sentiment—it’s not you, it’s the system. k


OVERHEARDS

This month: botox, blowjobs, and bisexuals.

"He tried men the way he tried LSD in the 70s." — Ethereal Bicurious Son

"I came out via the Penn Marriage Pact."

— Ethereal Bisexual Daughter

“For all the times I didn’t get quid pro blow I deserve a lick ‘n’ leave." — Sex Reparations Activist

"Who needs a couples massage when you can have couples Botox."

“I'm a whore but I'm not stupid.” — Bimbofeminists’ PR Rep

— L. Jarry Lameson

DECEMBER 2023

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P R ITN TR / / / /L E M G UA CS IYC

What Happened to the Campaign Song? Although one of America’s proudest political traditions has fallen by the wayside, a look into the winners and losers of presidential anthems can give us a better idea of how to succeed in politics. BY NISHANTH BHARG AVA Graphic by Collin Wang

S

ince the 19th century, the campaign song has been a staple of presidential elections. Jackson had “Hunters of Kentucky,” Lincoln had “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and even Penn’s own ill–fated William Henry Harrison was cranking out bangers like “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” In the 21st century, however, the art of the campaign song seems to have fallen by the wayside. Campaigns nowadays are more than happy to utilize premade songs from established artists, rather than create their own tunes. Even worse, the cultural democratization of the internet has led this vacuum to be filled by constituent hacks from across the political spectrum, be it Le Tigre’s oddball Clinton anthem “I’m With Her,” or Latinos for Trump's divisive new hit “Unity.” Things were much simpler in the mid 20th century, the true heyday of the campaign song. Communications were developed enough to disseminate media to audiences across the country, but before the art of the campaign song was lost to the sands of time. But even during this apex of the art form, some presidential candidates simply had more juice than others—the history of campaign music has some pretty clear winners and losers. Harry S. Truman—LOSER Truman’s campaign song suffers from the

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same problems as his presidency—a simple lack of originality. Just as Truman tried to sell his policies by borrowing from the agenda of his more popular predecessor, his campaign song, “I’m Just Wild about Harry,” was cribbed directly from the hit Broadway musical “Shuffle Along,” albeit with some minor lyrical alterations. While he may have won the election, the point of art is not simply to achieve one’s material ends, but to realize in the world something of spiritual beauty. The dearth of ingenuity in the Truman campaign’s music department leads him to be one of the 20th century’s greatest LOSERS. Dwight Eisenhower—WINNER The Eisenhower campaign’s songwriting department truly brought the heat with the help of master lyricist Irving Berlin, who included the song “They Like Ike” in his musical Call Me Madam. Rather than trying to sell any sort of political platform, Berlin’s piece presents Eisenhower as a humble leader loved by his people, and the only viable option to end the 20 years of Democratic control that had preceded the 1952 election. The similarly named jingle “I Like Ike” has a driving patter that drills the slogan “Ike for President” deep into your skull, like an earworm nearly impossible to extract. The simple yet effective lyrics and relative orig-

inality of the Eisenhower campaign’s songs make his music department a strong contender for the best of the postwar era. Adlai Stevenson—LOSER The music of the Stevenson campaign has the same enthusiasm as that of the Eisenhower campaign, but with none of the effortless charisma. Instead, the militaristic shouts of the Stevenson volunteers reek of desperation and fear. Songs like “Stevenson, Stevenson” and “Democratic March” are composed in the traditional march style. But where the Eisenhower campaign’s music swings and has a playful charm, the Stevenson pieces seem like rallying cries to a war that no one is all too excited about fighting in. And song titles like “Adlai is Gonna Win This Time” are just kind of sad (spoiler: he did not, in fact, win that time). John F. Kennedy—WINNER In the same way he (allegedly) used Chicago mob connections to win the election, Kennedy called in every favor he could in the musical sector. Heavy–hitter Frank Sinatra adapted his song “High Hopes” for use in Kennedy’s campaign—much better than the Pete Buttigieg campaign song of the same name. Like any good Sinatra song, it has a certain swing that captures the essence of the Kennedy vibe: suave, cool, and collected. Paired with the campaign trail classic “Kennedy for Me,” the Kennedy campaign understood the assignment perfectly. A campaign song is not a place to articulate the minutiae of policy, but a way to drill the general vibe of a candidate into voter’s heads. Everyone from 1980 to 1996—DISQUALIFIED The Reagan presidency spelled the death of both Keynesianism in America and the proud tradition of the campaign song. Every presidential contender since Reagan, with two notable exceptions, has contented themselves with simply borrowing the songs of others for their campaigns. Such conduct is downright unpresidential—if you aren’t capable of creating a single song, how will you ever create change at the national


level? The worst offender in this category of compositional cowards was 1984 Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, who somehow thought it was acceptable to use the theme song from “Rocky” to represent his campaign. Perhaps he lost for a reason. George H.W. Bush—???? Some historical records show that the Elder Bush’s 1988 campaign utilized a song by Willie Barrow and Sylvia Johns Cain titled simply “The George Bush Song.” Extensive searches have not turned up a single recording of this song, a description of its content or even proof that its alleged performers actually exist. If any readers can verify the existence of this composition, please email the author of this article at your earliest convenience. Bob Dole—LOSER You have to respect Bob Dole for being the last to play the game. Ever since his cam-

paign in 1996, no major party candidate has attempted to make their own campaign song. Sadly, this is perhaps the only thing you have to respect Dole for. In addition to bungling his presidential campaign, Dole was also responsible for bringing into the world perhaps the most bizarre song on this list: “Dole Man,” an oxymoronic Republican take on the ‘60s hit “Soul Man.” Incredibly, it appears that the only reason for the song’s existence was the fact that “Soul” rhymes with “Dole.” Unfortunately, “Dole Man” crashed and burned even faster than his actual campaign, as legal action from the song’s original writers Isaac Hayes and David Porter prevented him from using the song at rallies. Like Bush’s song, no actual performance of “Dole Man” appears to exist online, but if his 1988 campaign is any indication of the quality of his music department, nothing of value was lost. In his seminal 1967 work Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord describes a “degradation

of all life” from valuing being into having, then having into appearing. The campaign song’s prevalence reflects exactly this degradation. Mass politics is no longer about being a good person with good policy, but the appearance of confidence and charisma. As such, the best campaign songs are those that exude a good vibe and make a candidate appear as likable as possible. The end of the “official” campaign song doesn’t mean that the age of vanity in politics has come to an end—it simply means that the cultural war has a new battlefield. But memes and social media outreach have always seemed terribly uncouth compared to the refinement and beautiful energy that a good campaign song brings to the table. Despite it all, dear reader, I implore you, do not mourn the death of this noble genre. For even though politics is nastier, more partisan and less hopeful than ever before—at least we have “Dole Man.” k

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CITY // ARTS

The Allure of Change The Philadelphia Museum of Art's new exhibit, The Shape of Time: Korean Art after 1989, slows down time. BY KYUNGHWAN LIM Photos by Philadelphia Museum of Art and Eulji Theatre

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ime in South Korea moves fast. As quickly as Gangnam Style skyrocketed past the one billion view mark on YouTube, the Korean economy rallied from the trenches of a post-war depression into its current status as a G20 country. The nation has transformed into the highly urbanized culture and tech factory that we know today. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new exhibit The Shape of Time: Korean Art after 1989, artists of Korean heritage explore this revolutionary period in their country’s development. The exhibit, which is on view until Feb. 11, also tackles the concept of time, a complex subject given the peninsular country’s tendency to be on an

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accelerated timetable. As soon as one enters the exhibit, they are confronted with an absurd spectacle that is Yeondoo Jung’s photograph Eulji Theater. A grinning man with a washboard is accompanied by swimsuits and North Korean army uniforms in the backdrop of the Haean Basin in the Demilitarized Zone while tourists watch him and the glorious landscape. The piece is deliberately surreal in nature, juxtaposing the humorous face of the man against the former battlefield of the civil war that occurred decades ago. Behind the grin that the work is centered on, Jung implies a future where Koreans are able to laugh in the face of their tumultuous history and

move on from their shared trauma of the conflict. Yet, the next piece in the exhibit provides a more grim portrait of the time ahead. Forgetting Machines by Noh Suntag is a series of prints depicting the funerary photographs of the many lost lives of the protestors at the Gwangju Massacre. Many of the pictures are washed out, destroyed, and unrecognizable due to the hands of time. Even in death, their voices are silenced and a symbol of their remembrance—funeral photographs—are eventually rendered useless. Just around the corner, Juree Kim explores a similar theme of decay in Evanescent Landscape. Kim’s expert sculpture outlines


the neighborhood of Hwigyeong–dong in Seoul, but it’s a sculpture that is meant to be destroyed. The clay that makes up the bricks of the houses in the work defigure at the touch of water, and over the course of the exhibition, puddles will begin to form and send the model of the town into ruin. It’s a metaphor for the rapid urbanization and apartment development that Korea is going through. As the homes crumble down in favor of high–rise buildings, so do the lives and memories of its inhabitants. In these works, Noh and Kim highlight the constant transience in Korean society that disregards everything in its path. Just down the hall lies what I feel is the

aesthetic centerpiece of the exhibit: a pair of tapestries from What You See is the Unseen by Kyungah Ham and anonymous North Korean collaborators. Ham likens the creation of this work to “a spy movie,” saying that she and her collaborators had to painstakingly smuggle images and texts over state boundaries to complete this project. The resulting product is ethereal. The stitches blend into a crowd of faces that make their presence felt by watching the viewer as soon as they enter the room. Up close, the tiny strokes of silk that make up a 2-D chandelier radiate a transcendence that shines out against the background’s black chasm. Ham explains that these in-

tricate details are supposed to represent uncertainty. In doing so, she frames Korea’s tumultuous course that began under foreign influence during the Cold War as nothing less than glorious. Unlike her colleagues in the museum, Ham embraces change and is eager to face whatever problems Korea may face in the future. In this curated space, artists capture the essence of a country that moves forward with both the weight of its past and the promise of an uncertain future. The exhibit becomes a reflection not only of Korean art but a window into the collective soul of a nation that will continually lose and gain pieces of its identity against the relentless march of time. k

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CAMPUS EGO OF THE MONTH

Hometown

Pennsylvania ————————————————————————————

Major

Fine Arts with minors in English, Asian American Studies, and Cinema and Media Studies ————————————————————————————

Activities

Students for the Preservation of Chinatown, Save the UC Townhomes ————————————————————————————

EOTM

I

f you’ve ever seen a Save Chinatown flyer or the UC Townhomes sweatshirts, you’re looking at the art of Alyssa Chandler (C ‘24). Leaning on a couch in the Charles Addams Fine Arts Hall, Alyssa takes a sip of her Dunkin coffee. “It’s been a crazy week,” she admits, gesturing towards her senior thesis sitting on display as part of the Fine Arts Department as part of their senior thesis preview exhibition. On a table, Alyssa has laid out protest stickers and a hand–printed zine detailing the community’s current fight against the 76ers arena. On either side of the wall are archival photos and articles underscoring the history of Chinatown, including a handmade map of the Vine Street Expressway. How did you first get involved in art? And when did your art meet activism? I've always really liked art actually. My sister, who's four years older, she was really really into art as a young kid and, being a younger sibling, I just wanted to do whatever she did. So I started also drawing and painting, and I took art classes all through high school, which was really great. I think back then, my art was very much focused on like the intersection of art and humanities and social practices, but I wasn't able to really implement it into actions the way that I have been able to at my time at Penn. Having other resources and being in Philly and being a community member and really actually engaging with the community and other orgs has been fantastic. I also did art and work for the UC Townhomes Coalition. Both the SPOC and the Townhomes work that I was doing was very much mobilized by trying to use whatever skills and tools I had—especially allocating 33

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Alyssa Chandler This senior's art is making a statement through action. BY NORAH RAMI Photos courtesy of Alyssa Chandler

This inTerview has been ediTed and condensed for clariTy.

resources from Penn directly into these communities that are being very much destroyed by people who have strong ties to Penn. So I started off doing a lot of screen printing, making posters, making things to distribute, and flyers and art to support the cause and to supplement the cause. Can you talk a little bit about your current projects and the work you’re doing with SPOC? So, we just received a grant and, along with four other students, we're all working on individual art–based projects. There's an oral archive that's being made, both through text and video. We're working to try to get a physical space: A storefront in Chinatown to organize out of that will hopefully serve as both kind of a screenprinting shop and then also just a spot to hang, especially for Chinatown youth

because right now the only spots that they're able to really congregate are in our churches and daycares which is not a vibe and not what they deserve. And then the project that I'm spearheading is trying to make a mural in Chinatown, across from the current fashion district where thee proposed 76ers arena is being built. I'm still very much in the beginning stages of that design planning, but it's a lot of work. I've never been in charge of an official plan proposal and things like that. So it's been exciting to get to learn about the process and do what I want to do for the rest of my life. What role do you see art playing in activism? Art, it's a really powerful format. The legacy of protest art is just incredible and very inspiring. Protest art has been used around the


world. I took a class called “Radical Arts in the Americas” [Now called, “Art and Revolution”] and we talked a lot about South American and Latinx protest artists and art, which has been really cool to learn more about. But I think in terms of my immediate work, art serves both in function and in practice as an amazing community–building activity. I think community building and community art days are essential to really creating a movement around an action. Especially with the SPOC work and with the No Arena in Chinatown work that we've been doing, art has been really essential in creating posters and flyers and information booklets to hand out and distribute. Alongside that we did a really fun print day for the Mid–Autumn Festival in Chinatown, where we printed a shit ton—I don't remember how many—but a bunch of t–shirts and totes and distributed them for free to the community. That was just so incredible getting to work with elders and youth and see the immediate impact and joy that art really brings to the community—and also brings outside of the community to people who are just passing by or coming to the Mid–Autumn Festival. I think art is just overall a really great and powerful vehicle to further empower and push the movement further. How are you utilizing Penn’s resources to help communities that Penn has historically overlooked? For my senior thesis, I worked on a risograph zine which is really, really fun to print. And it has all the information about who we are as SPOC and as a larger extension of representing the community and what we're fighting for, who we're fighting, what the proposal and timeline for the arena is, and some of the prior legacy of development in Philadelphia's Chinatown and then other cities, Chinatowns across the nation. Getting to print this risograph zine on Penn's risograph printer was really fun because I would have no way to be able to do that outside of Penn's campus and not having to pay for the printing is also really sick. Also my major art advisor—shout out Matt Neff. He's agreed to give us the old screen printing exposure unit, which is really expensive and really big and really hard to be able to fundraise for, because most of our funding before we got the grant was just through organizing with grassroots funding and donations.

So it’s super empowering to be able to directly have artmaking machines and printers and resources for all of this. Also, shout out to the Morgan Building. I think I've stolen a bunch of stuff from there to use for like paper and screen printing. Even the screen that we've been printing the SPOC stuff on is from Penn. I’ve just been taking all of the resources that I can have—legally and probably not legally—to further the movement and use that to supplement things. It's been great.

struggles that are happening here to struggles that are happening across the world. One of my best friends is Sudanese–American. Contextualizing all of the things that are happening right now in America and in Sudan is especially important if you're going to claim to be doing activist work. If you’re caring about one cause you have to care about all of them. Because otherwise, your work and your cause fall flat and it's just more of an ego thing than anything else.

Can you speak a little bit to your community here at Penn, and how that has influenced you in your last four years here on campus? I think that overall, Penn is a really hard place to be at. All the places that I find the most powerful and beautiful and inspiring are usually with the friends I've made off campus and with my friends outside of the Penn bubble. So my housemates are the best people. They're my family; they're my sisters. I think the fact that we're all coming from different places and learning so much from each other has been essential. We talk a lot and expand things outside of not just West Philadelphia, but to the greater America, which I think is essential towards linking

Final words? Follow the SPOC Philly Instagram. We will continue to post updates about our projects, about events, and different ways to show up. Just please, if you're a Penn student reading this learn more about Penn’s ties to this arena because the developers sit on the boards of Penn Medicine, the Penn board of Trustees, and the Wharton Board of Trustees. Learn more about Penn’s impact on West Philly and the Black Bottom. And really think critically about your role on this land overall. We’re on Lenape land and in an institution that has done a lot to the communities around it and communities across the world, so understanding that is very important. k

No–skip album? CAPRISONGS by FKA twigs. “papi bones” (feat. shygirl) and “oh my love” had been my favorites. —————————————————————————————————————————————————— Favorite spot to eat in Philly? For fast food and late–night food definitely Best China Inn. For more of a sit–down meal or just vibing I love Marrakesh and Dahlak. —————————————————————————————————————————————————— Favorite medium to work in? Screenprinting right now. I think being able to mass produce and turn out designs and really distribute them to people directly is so incredible. —————————————————————————————————————————————————— There are two types of people at Penn … People who are aware and people who are not aware. —————————————————————————————————————————————————— And you are? Hopefully aware. I mean, it's a constant struggle–you have to constantly be putting work into it, which is why a lot of people on Penn's campus are not aware.

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30 Rock Takes On Locust Walk Penn’s ex–president Liz Magill, as portrayed by Heidi Gardner, was the subject of Saturday Night Live’s cold open this past weekend. BY JOJO BUCCINI Photo Courtesy of Heidi Gardner as Penn President Liz Magill in Saturday Night Live (Season 49, Episode 7)

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f you’re a Penn student, you’ve probably spent the last few days waiting with baited breath as the congressional hearings about antisemitism on college campuses and Liz Magill’s resignation made top national news. You’ve stalked The Daily Pennsylvanian Instagram account, and your inbox is flooded with email after email discussing Scott Bok, Magill, Julie Platt, and the state of our campus. This is to be expected after such an unprecedented turn of events. But we didn’t expect our president to be the subject of a Saturday Night Live cold open. While some students celebrate Magill’s resignation after she failed to confirm that calling for Jewish genocide is against Penn’s code of conduct, others mourn free speech and allege that wealthy donors forced Magill out after she answered a question with the only legally correct answer. But no matter what side you’re on, SNL makes fun of you. The spoof features Chloe Troast as Rep. Elise Stefanik (R–N.Y.) who is overly excited to screech at the university presidents. She tears into the three about their handling of the rise of antisemitism on campuses since the Israel–Hamas war broke out in October. “I am here today because hate speech has no place on college campuses,” Troast says, bouncing up and down in her chair. “Hate speech belongs in Congress, on Elon Musk’s Twitter, in private dinners with my donors, and in public speeches by my work husband, Donald Trump.” Heidi Gardner plays our very own Magill, Chloe Fineman plays Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Korn-


bluth, and Ego Nwodim plays Harvard University’s Claudine Gay (yes, there’s the obligatory joke about her last name). Troast poses broad questions to the three presidents, which they answer with even broader platitudes—speaking “not from the heart, but from the thesaurus,” as Nwodim puts it. Bowen Yang as Rep. Mark Takano (D–Calif.) poses a few more questions to the presidents, asking how they would discipline a student if they “poisoned the water supply.” Nwodim responded that if they “poisoned it with diversity, that could be wonderful.” Randomly around minute five, Kenan Thompson appears, playing the president of the online University of Phoenix—that probably fake school you see on billboards and pop–up banner ads. He can’t denounce antisemitism, either: “Well, my campus is the Internet, so antisemitism is kind of our most popular major. And our mascot is porn!” After about six minutes of some more jokes about diversity, equity, inclusion,

and “context–dependence,” the skit is over. In less than two days, it’s accrued over 1.4 million views on YouTube, and a whole host of comments, tweets, and articles about how and why viewers think it’s offensive and not funny. Most say it’s making light of a serious situation or that it’s just not good writing. One of the top comments reads: “This sketch was very similar to the university president[s] themselves: afraid of offending someone, thus pissing off everyone.” But while these jokes may be new to the rest of America, they’re not new to anyone who’s stepped foot on Locust Walk this week. They pile onto the preexisting heap of Sidechat and Under the Button posts. They’re reminiscent of comments overheard during conversations in dorm rooms and classrooms. And while some of the punchlines fall flat, SNL got one thing right: the absurdity of the entire situation. Even though it’s horribly serious, it’s difficult not to realize

how preposterous it is that three elite institutions have gotten themselves circling the drain. The hypocrisy of the actual ordeal, not just the skit, is almost humorous. Stefanik, a Trump loyalist, won’t denounce his antisemitic remarks but grills “liberal” institutions over their responses to antisemitism. Magill, a law professor, focuses on legality in her answers, backing herself into a corner despite her ever–updating action plans. Then, the donors scream for her eventual resignation. But as Harvard professor Steven Pinker says, “It's like firing the coach when your team isn't doing well. It kind of feels good … It doesn't solve the problem.” And so the high–profile mess is sadly comedic itself—and SNL just capitalizes off it. We do too in our own conversations. When all sides have screwed up, one thing we still have power over is our own laughter, no matter who or what we choose to laugh at. Welcome, SNL, to the dark microcosm of Penn humor. k

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CITY // FOCUS

Transportation Trouble SEPTA and the state of labor relations today BY BOBBY MCCANN Design by Collin Wang

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s college students, we all depend on SEPTA. But can SEPTA workers depend on fair treatment? Recent union negotiations suggest otherwise. SEPTA workers have reached a tentative agreement for a new contract between SEPTA and the Transit Workers Union Local 234, the union representing SEPTA. The TWU is the largest SEPTA union, consisting of around 5,000 members. It had previously authorized a strike if negotiations did not reach a fruitful conclusion. The agreement reached was decisive to keep blood flowing through the veins of Philadelphia. Negotiations stalled in part because there is so much on the table for both management and the workers. On management's side, from the lack of staffing to a lack of cash, SEPTA wasn’t in a great position to grant much to workers. But the workers had a lot on the table too: from low wages to forced overtime, workers had much to bargain for. Yet, a beneficial agreement was reached. What do the workers’ efforts say about the state of labor relations today?

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While the agreement between SEPTA and Local 234 is “essentially a work in progress,” and still must be ratified by the union members, it has staved off a strike that would affect thousands using public transit. This tentative agreement has included wage increases, signing bonuses for active union members and a forced overtime work limit. Many of the issues SEPTA is facing have to do with inadequate funding and staffing shortages: “Without additional state and local funding, SEPTA will have no choice but to implement significant service cuts of up to 20% and/or fare increases of up to 31%.” Local 234 counters that the only way to fix staffing shortages is to increase wages and advance working conditions, which is precisely what will attract more workers to SEPTA. By all appearances, this agreement looks like a win for Local 234, as it hits almost all the major points being bargained for. TWU workers were demanding wage increases and cost of living allowances, a re-

duction in forced overtime caused by staffing shortages, and maintenance done on new vehicles “in–house” as opposed to being subcontracted. TWU was also pushing for increased safety measures. While always a concern of workers, the safety issue came to a head when Bernard Gribbin, a bus driver at SEPTA for over a decade, was shot six times and killed by a rider right at the time when negotiations were wrapping up. This tragic incident raises continued questions as to how to improve safety for both SEPTA workers and the public. Union President Brian Pollit states about the new agreement that “many of our concerns related to safety and security will need to be addressed in later agreements.” How specifically is increased safety going to take place? SEPTA CEO Leslie Richards states, “We want to work together closer than ever to make sure that everybody is safe—all employees, all riders.” For those using the SEPTA system, nonviolent infractions, like harassment, mar-


ijuana use, and urination, have contributed to a rise in fear. Many but not all these infractions have seen a rise in recent years. SEPTA currently handles them through the SCOPE program and the Transit Police. SCOPE is a project by SEPTA addressing the growing unhoused population in Philadelphia: “More than a thousand individuals experience homelessness in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. Due to this large–scale public health crisis, many of these individuals end up seeking shelter on SEPTA’s vehicles and in our stations.” This can contribute to a decrease in ridership as one of the contributing factors to fear. Of course, this is not SEPTA’s fault, but it is indicative of a much broader socioeconomic inequality blighting Philadelphia. SCOPE is a project to help address this issue in a humane way. From the United Auto Workers strike, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s recent labor deal, to Penn’s graduate studio union GET–UP, the TWU Local 234's recent near– strike experience is part of a larger wave of

unionization and strike hitting the city and nation. So what does the future look like? It is commonly lamented that the strength that unions once held is no more, and a strong working class that wins fights for fair wages, benefits, and safe working conditions is no longer achievableBut SEPTA workers (and many others) are here to stare in the face of this gloom. In fact, it seems necessary to reject failed union nihilism and demand accountability from companies, despite almost certain obstacles along the way. “The nature of work has changed so drastically in the past few years,” says Jason Sockin, a postdoctoral scholar at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Berlin. He notes that the pandemic has contributed to workers’ concerns about safety and workplace conditions. As a result, many people started seeking out remote work, greater work–life balance, and better amenities, making it difficult for employers to fill positions. These shifts in job preferences, com-

bined with rising inequality and inflation, make workers feel “compelled to ask for steeper gains in wages and benefits.” “I think you have a real catalyst for workers to band together," Sockin says. Sockin adds that the rise in high–profile collective actions, including the Writers Guild of America or the United Auto Workers strikes, are making non–unionized workers see the impact that striking can have on achieving higher pay or better working conditions. “Success is infectious,” he says. Following this rise in strikes and contract renegotiations by workers, it is logical that SEPTA will follow suit. “We Must and We Will” is the TWU’s slogan, providing a mantra for workers engaged in collective bargaining. This optimism is a breath of fresh air for the labor movement, and it will be interesting to see how workers fare in the coming year. While the verdict for SEPTA’s safety concerns remains to be seen, it is clear that workers have been effective in fighting for fair treatment. k

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Judging a Book by Its Cover: Exploring A Little Life and Orgasmic Man A book cover photograph has never seemed so enticing—and heartbreaking— at the same time. BY LUIZ A LOUBACK

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o collect photographs," wrote Susan Sontag in her book On Photography, "is to collect the world." Photography has always fascinated me, particularly in one specific context: when photos adorn book covers. While the saying goes "Don't judge a book by its cover," I can't resist an enticing visual. Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 novel A Little Life's cover, achieved just that for me. The book delves into the lives of four college friends as they navigate the turbulent waters of success and suffering in New York City. The black and white photo of a man with his eyes forcefully closed and his hands gently pressed against his cheek caught my attention. I couldn't discern whether the expression etched on the man's face came from a feeling of pleasure or physical pain, as he was about to burst into violent tears. The curious image is Orgasmic Man by Peter Hujar, which depicts ecstasy and male vulnerability. The play of light and shadows on the model's light skin creates volumes that remind me of marble sculptures. The way the model's hand rests near his face is as delicate as Michelangelo's statues,


such as the Dying Slave and the sleeping Fauno Barberini. However, the face in the photograph doesn't follow the classical style; it's more intense and expresses strong feelings of ecstasy or suffering. These mixed senses create tension in the photo, and the title, Orgasmic Man, is a clue to understanding it. In the year of the photo, 1969, a wild storm of change was brewing. This was the year of the famous Stonewall riots in the heart of New York City, when the LGBTQ community protested after a police raid and sparked the modern queer civil rights movement. Amid this backdrop, Peter Hujar was on a mission. He didn't just click his camera at the colorful characters of the NYC downtown scene he called home; instead, he saw them as vibrant souls worthy of deep respect for being unapologetically themselves. Hujar's photographs weren't just about a homoerotic gaze; they were about shouting, "This is me!" in a world where identity was both a political statement and a personal journey. His art isn't just pictures; it's a snapshot of a cultural revolution. In the captivating dance of agony and ecstasy, Hujar's portrait captures a man

whose face is like a canvas of complex emotions. It's a reminder of the dual nature of homosexuality: hidden, suppressed, and at times punished. It raises questions about the price one pays for being true to themselves and facing the harshness of homophobia. The shadow of the AIDS epidemic, especially during the '80s and '90s, tragically claimed the life of Peter Hujar. The picture underscores the intimate connection of the time between being gay and the constant specter of death. One of the most influential photography critics of her time, Susan Sontag met Hujar back in 1963, and they quickly found a shared artistic sensibility. According to Sontag, "Peter Hujar knows that portraits in life are always, also, portraits in death." Through Hujar's lens or the lens of the AIDS crisis, you see death weaving its threads through the entire image, infusing it with a profound weight that speaks of lives fully lived and memories tragically shattered. It's like peering into the soul of a generation marked by love, loss, and defiance. At first glance, when I laid eyes on Orgasmic Man on the cover of A Little Life, I thought, "This book must be about plea-

sure." Yet, Hanya Yanagihara's choice of this particular photo for her novel's cover seemed to hold more depth than meets the eye. As Yanagihara herself stated in a Wall Street Journal review: “I really hung on for the cover … There’s something so visceral about it.” A mediocre photograph provides a sense of comfort, offering the expected. But a truly exceptional photograph, like Hujar’s work, is a disruptive force. It's not merely a picture; it's an emotional earthquake. It disturbs, it gets under your skin, it's heart–wrenching, and it's powerful. Yet, paradoxically, it's also cathartic, moving, unforgettable, and transformative. This photo's allure lies in its inherent uncertainty, a pendulum that swings back and forth between ecstasy and agony. I found myself in that same state of ambiguity, unsure if I was trespassing on an intimate moment. As I finished A Little Life and considered the cover within its context, I realized, "No, it's about pain." Ultimately, I concluded it was about both, but by then, I couldn't tell if I was describing Hujar's portrait, Yanagihara's book, or simply life itself. k

Photo by Peter Hujar

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Film Bros Aren't Born, They're Made There's an art to loving movies. BY I S A A C P O L LO C K Illustration by Insia Haque

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hat’s your favorite movie? Odds are, I haven’t seen it. I’ve never been a movie person. One of the first things people find out about me is that I wasn’t allowed to watch television growing up and movies were relatively restricted as well. Yet this has backfired spectacularly for my parents—I’m now hoping to have a career in the industry. But despite a television obsession that started developing around sixteen, I never got into movies. I always blamed my insane attention span (I can barely listen to a song for more than twenty seconds before getting bored) for my inability to connect with movies. Either that or my love of long–form storytelling, as movies couldn’t seem to click into in the way that a multi–season TV show or hundreds of pages of a fantastic book could. But when my career path switched to entertainment last year, I felt like it was a necessary evil that I learned about movies and film history. 41

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Luckily for me, I had three paths to knowledge. The first is the driest and most academic: I’m a Cinema and Media Studies minor. I literally have to learn about and watch movies for class. From the classes I’ve taken so far, it’s not the most exciting way to learn, but it does help. More hands–on classes have also given me an opportunity to engage with movies in an applied way, which is always more interesting than simply reading theory. The second is that one of my best friends is a bit of a film buff. Compared to me, certainly. If I’m picking out a movie, it’s going to be When Harry Met Sally … or Down With Love. (Side note: Everyone should watch Down With Love. It’s a brutally underrated romcom that pays homage to 60s Rock Hudson and Doris Day Pillow Talk–type stuff with a fun feminist twist. And it stars Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor right off the heels of Chicago and Moulin Rouge!, respectively. It’s a lovely send–up that I would not have been able to properly

appreciate before my filmic education began, and I’m so delighted to be able to love it the way I do now that I’m into watching movies.) But where I love romcoms, my friend loves stuff like The Godfather and Seven. So we’ve been watching movies like that together— and I’ve actually really loved most of them. I saw a screening of Fight Club in a cemetery in Los Angeles this summer. My younger self would’ve scoffed at the idea that such an activity could be fun, but my current self is just glad I’ve expanded the range of what I love since then. It’s been lovely to get to learn via hanging out with a friend, especially being abroad and being able to watch movies with them over our computers. The natural continuation of my learning via class and via my friend is my third way of getting into movies: now I just want to learn on my own. I registered a Letterboxd account, and I’m a little too into it. I’m addicted to listening to the fantastic podcast You Must Remember This. I saw a rooftop screening of


Casablanca for my birthday, and I quoted an embarrassing amount of lines along with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. I read books about film history for fun. I recognize horror homages and Hollywood references in the shows I watch. And most importantly, I watch a lot of movies now. Like … a lot. According to my Letterboxd, I watched about a movie a day for the whole summer. Before getting into movies, I probably only watched about six a year. There are still some massive gaps in my knowledge both in terms of history and in terms of simply watching films, but I’m quickly filling them. It’s been remarkable how much getting into movies has made me enjoy them more. It’s logical, and it feels so obvious and simple every time I think about it, but it really has been enriching my life to a greater degree. Now when I watch a movie, I think so much more about the historical context of its pro-

duction, the careers of the people involved, and easily–ignored elements such as set decoration. A movie, in this sense, becomes part of a much bigger tapestry, one that weaves together the lives of actors, audiences, and the changing cultural landscape that surrounds everyone. Recently, my filmbro–adjacent friend and I did a Fright Night doubleheader, where we watched the original and the 2010s remake. Both of them are deeply goofy movies on a lot of levels, yet also deeply good. And now that I can draw on my knowledge of both history and cinema, I understand why the differences in costume, dialogue, and character backstory from the original to the remake are so emblematic of the time in which they were made. (In the remake, for example, we have David Tennant, fresh off of his iconic run in Doctor Who and beloved by internet–obsessed teenagers everywhere, wearing very little clothing, comically throwing back lots of Midori melon liqueur, and engaging in a weird sexual relationship with his female assistant that can only be described as “the epitome of 2010s misogyny.”) At the same time, I also came to understand what I don’t like in movies, and what I think is bad filmmaking. Napoleon Dynamite, for example, is a movie that I think is good, but that I personally hate. It’s just not for me, no matter how fabulous Tina Majorino is in it. And when my friend and I watched Scarface, we both awkwardly said “… so that wasn’t great, right?” afterwards. I just don’t think it’s a very good movie, but it’s been held up as a Good Movie for so long that people are conditioned to think it is. I’m glad I’ve broadened my movie knowledge enough to look critically at everything, from new blockbusters to old classics. Finally, getting into movies has made me much more knowledgeable about their broader impact and context. For example, I already knew a lot about media during the Red Scare, because I was a weird little history–obsessed high schooler. But back then, I may have known who the Hollywood Ten were, but I’d never actually seen any of their oh–so–controversial projects. Now that I’ve watched some of those films, though, I have a greater understanding of the weedsy details of the HUAC proceedings that I read about

when I was younger. I can see what, exactly, the government deemed so dangerous for the public to see, and I can more deeply understand how profoundly intertwined entertainment and politics are. I checked my Letterboxd, and it’s been about a year since I first started getting into movies. I have only replaced two of my top four on that app since I first downloaded it, so I wouldn’t say I’ve changed radically as a person. Either that or I’m stubborn and refuse to admit that some movies are better than Easy A (no movies are better than Easy A). But I have changed. Most importantly, getting into movies go hand-in-hand with realizing that what I want to do with my life is entertainment. I doubt I would have found that out about myself without dedicating myself to actively seeking out knowledge about movies and film history. Armed with that knowledge, I can hope to go into that industry and create from an informed place and with intention. Less important in some ways and more important in others, though, getting into movies has just made life more fun. I can hang out with my friend and drink my way through Burlesque, a very bad and very fun shakeup from our usual American Psycho–flavored movie watches. I can drive to my job at a production company while listening to Karina Longworth narrating the heartbreaking story of John Garfield’s time in Hollywood. I can watch movies like Güeros and Ginger Snaps for my class, movies that I probably wouldn’t stumble upon on my own, and I can (respectively) love and dislike them. There are so many movies out there that I haven’t seen. My Letterboxd watchlist is over a thousand movies long. I may not get around to all of them—I’m still a TV person at heart, and I doubt that will ever change—but I’m excited to love or hate the ones that I do watch. One of the best parts about getting into movies is being able to have opinions about movies, whether those opinions are shared on an app, academically arranged in an essay, or discussed at one in the morning on a friend’s couch while petting their cat. Getting into movies is really about getting into history, culture, and politics. Or maybe it’s about thirst–watching Dave Franco playing a vampire. Either way, my life is much better for it. k

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Art in the Age of AI A Conversation with Professor James English and Dr. J.D. Porter

BY LILA DUBOIS Illustration by Insia Haque

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here’s no way around it. You live in a world where Drake songs can be recorded without Drake, paintings are born from DALL–E prompts, and ChatGPT will write an apology text to your girlfriend. Professors flounder when trying to parcel students work from that of a software formula. Jobs you’d hoped to apply for are slowly being replaced by computers. In your day–to–day life, you might be forced to wonder whether you could have finished your paper without ChatGPT, or if Barack Obama really did get a verse on Ice Spice’s “Princess Diana”—it was amazing, and though deep down you know the truth, you choose to believe it was not just another TikTok scam. There is no doubt, though, that AI has radically altered the way you consume art. Music, writing, design, painting, sculpting, and more—there is no longer the guarantee of a human person behind it all. And so when an AI Obama/Ice Spice collab poses an artistic existential conundrum, it’s time to ask for expert opinion.

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Luckily, Penn’s own J.D. Porter, a Digital Humanities specialist at the Price Lab, and English professor James English, founding faculty director of the Price Lab, were happy to help. First, they set the boundary that talking about art and AI would require two separate conversations. One for commercial art, the other for ‘high’ art, or art for art’s sake. The scope of commercial art includes anything from advertising to designing book covers, auto–mechanical manuals, and logos to writing a Netflix series or drawing postcards. Because most of this work is built on precedent—that is, the artistic product is more or less formulaic and is expected to remain within the ballpark of what is trending or has already been done—it is work that can be replaced by AI. Professor English admits, “For me, that’s the dystopian part, that AI is replacing a lot of labor done by skilled people. And these are people like my son and my students. Even my mom was an artist. I feel the pain there.”

As the clumsiness of AI artistic reproductions disappears over the next few years, as both Porter and English predict, the artistic laborers will no longer be able to boast quality over AI’s speed and cost– saving allure. Soon, the only difference between a graphic designer and AI will be that AI won’t ask for a raise. Or any salary at all, for that matter. When AI masters imitation of these kinds of replicable products, putting out Hallmark movies and greeting cards as well as human writers and painters do, “there’s no point of trying to defend some notion of beauty that’s inherent in the objects [created by people],” says Professor English. If one understands art as a purely aesthetic and material process, then AI’s mastery here would seem enough to qualify it as genuinely artistic. Whether we protect human commercial artists will ultimately be a matter of whether governments and companies will sacrifice lower production costs in favor of the broader societal value of employing real people. To create or not create with AI is “a


political decision, in a way, rather than an aesthetic one,” says Porter. When we consider the field of ars gratia artis though, any art beyond the scope of industry becomes a social decision. Here, we are talking about the transference of emotion and human experience that slides between the artist, the work of art, and the audience. Professor English described the phenomenon of artistic magic—a sort of glow or aura surrounding a special creative work—not as a product of the art’s physical qualities, but as projections of feeling from the people involved in creating and experiencing the piece. Essentially, we’re talking about art as a mode of communication: the idea that the audience finds meaning in a work or an oeuvre because they approach it with the knowledge that it was made, with an intentional vision and personal care, by someone else. “The art world is a social thing … yes, AI is imitating material and aesthetic things in various ways, and it might do that quite skillfully, but it really doesn’t care about the social surroundings, the social situation,

the outside world. And that’s where the action happens in Art, with a capital A,” English says. Consider, for example, a wedding vow. Even if AI could write perfectly fine or even really impressive prose, its vow will necessarily mean less than one written by one’s partner. Alas, the Achilles' heel of AI: No matter how well it can replicate material art, AI will never be able to access the system of social dynamics that surrounds creative production and which truly makes art meaningful to others. Porter argued the importance of this human involvement through artist Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, which, in fact, was just an exhibit of his signed urinal. Still, he meant the piece to be something radical to comment on the pretentious and exclusionary nature of the art world in the 1920s, and in this way, he gave artistic life to an inanimate object. “Duchamp had intention about it. He gave meaning to the urinal, he made it stand for something. AI could reproduce a toilet, and sign it too, but it could not infuse behind it a

revolutionary meaning,” Porter says. Thinking of the revolutionary and the avant–garde, English takes it further. “I can't really see how AI would have produced the profound first work, you know, the first Duchampian gesture. Because that’s something that comes from left field, and an AI can’t come from left field. AI is better at imitation with small differences than it is at radical newness.” Or as Porter put it, “These things can’t make something unprecedented because what they are are big precedent machines, right?” By this he means that because AI works from its input base of existing paintings, uses of language, and so on, it doesn’t have the faculties to innovate. And so it seems humans still have a monopoly on the radical—on the left–field, the revolutionary, and the truly meaningful. At the very least, we still corner the market on communicative art, subversive urinals, and wedding vows. Porter and English admitted, though, they might not be able to say the same for a Hallmark movie. k

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PERVIENNTT S/ /C AL LE EG NA D C YA R

Take It to the Streets

What to Do in Philly This Month Concerts. Obscure Film Screenings. Art Installations. Sneaker Conventions—and lots more to explore.

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oing to college in Philly, we’re so often bombarded—on social media and IRL—with seemingly endless options for how to spend our free time. So I’m delighted to announce that Street has done the hard part for you: We’ve rounded up what we think are the can’t–miss events for the month (and you can expect more of these in the months to come) in one convenient place. If I’ve done my job right, there will be something in here for every one of our readers, no matter what you like to do with your weekends. Catherine Sorrentino, Print Editor

Feb. 16: Boathouse Row—A Yacht Rock Experience @ World Cafe Live Not quite sure what the buzz is on TikTok about "yacht rock"? With live music from self-proclaimed yacht rock group Boathouse Row, whose moniker is meant to evoke images of yuppies in the early '80s, listen to their smooth soft rock song and get your answer. Tickets are $25-$35, and be sure to check out the dining and drink options at The Lounge, the full–service bar and restaurant on the upper level of World Cafe Live. Ticket start at $25, 8:00 p.m., 3025 Walnut St ————————————————————————————

Feb. 17: Lunar New Year Celebration @ Franklin Square

This year, celebrate the Lunar New Year at Franklin Square, where you can watch a Lion Dance, make crafts, and enjoy a dumpling workshop with Michael Chow from Sang Kee. Afterwards, enjoy a light show, mini golf, and curling at Franklin Square. Free, 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m., 200 N 6th St. ————————————————————————————

Feb. 1–April 1: Thomas Dambo’s Select Dates through Feb. 14: TROLLS: Save the Humans @ the 2024 Chinese Lunar New Year Philadelphia Zoo Hand Made Dumpling Making Feb. 17: Philadelphia Sneaker Con Six hulking trolls are spending this February Event and Chinese Calligraphy @ Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia on a mission to inspire Class @ Dumpling Academy Sneakerheads rejoice! Buy, sell, trade or just humankind to be better stewards of nature. Take a stroll through the nation’s first zoo and get inspired! With admission to the Philadelphia Zoo, you can enjoy Thomas Dambo’s two–story tall trolls made out of repurposed wood. (Yes, they’re the same Instagramable trolls you may have seen people snap pictures of on trips to Puerto Rico or Denmark.) $19, Thursday through Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., 3400 W. Girard Ave. ————————————————————————————

The Dumpling Academy’s annual dumpling-making course is back for the Year of Dragon. You’ll start the class with dim sum snacks, then make savory dumplings and tangyuan (a traditional rice ball eaten during the Lunar New Year). Pricing is $85-$125 per adult, depending on the date. For an additional $30, you can even take a Chinese Calligraphy course. Various prices, various times, location near Fairmount Park. ———————————————————————————

look at a veritable cornucopia of sick kicks this February at Sneaker Con. Expect to meet your favorite sneaker influencers and attend live auctions. May plagues befall you if you arrive in anything but the most spectacular streetwear. My three–year–old Vans and I will not be in attendance. Free Entry, 12:00 p.m. 7:00 p.m., 1101 Arch St. ————————————————————————————

Curated by assistant professor of Ennglish and Cinema and Media Studies Julia Alekseyava, the Penn Center for East Asian Studies is hosting a screening for Hideaki Anno's newest take ont he world's most famous haiju. A classical monster story mixed with political drama, Shin Godzilla is a must–watch. Free, 6:30 p.m., 3340 Walnut St. ————————————————————————————

Tomashi Jackson’s solo show, taking its name inspiration from The Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” comes to the ICA this month. Like the psychedelic song itself, Jackson’s mixed media exhibition creates a visceral and unique experience for viewers. Free with student ID, 118 S 36 St. ———————————————————————————

quarters tent is on your bucket list, check out this new exhibition at the Museum of the American Revolution, which will bring together inspiring works of art, rare documents, and significant historical objects from public and private collections across the United States. $19 with Student ID, open daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Feb. 17, 2024–Jan. 5, 2025: Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington’s Tent @ the Museum of Feb. 5: Shin Godzilla @ Fisher Feb. 10–June 2: Tomashi Jackson: the American Revolution Bennett Across the Universe @ ICA If seeing General George Washington’s head-

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Feb. 17–18: The Dead Milkmen @ Underground Arts

This February, Philadelphia native musicians The Dead Milkmen return to their home turf for one more show at Underground Arts. But these guys are more than simple punk rockers, boasting a long resume of forays into nerdcore, journalistic pursuits, and even visits to rebuild the former nations of Yugoslavia following NATO’s 1999 bombing of the region. Point is: This show is going to be good. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. 1200 Callowhill St. —————————————————————————————

Free, 6:30 p.m., 3805 Locust Walk ——————————————————————————————

Feb. 26–March 8: 11th Annual Oscars Party @ Philadelphia Film Society Missed Center City’s restaurant week in January? All is not lost! East Passyunk will run its own restaurant week at the end of February, where restaurants along the street will offer fixed menus at a reduced price. With menus going from $20-$55, this is your chance to sample some of South Philadelphia’s best! Prices Will Vary ————————————————————————————

Every Saturday, Now – Feb. 23: Legacy Feb. 28: A Reading By Joseph Earl ReclaimedSpotlights@7thWardTribute Thomas @ Kelly Writers House This free tour, which departs from Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, explores the lives and histories of the 19th-century Black residents of Philly’s 7th Ward. The 90–minute guided tour takes groups to about a dozen neighborhood sites, including art installations and several homes and businesses. The tour spotlights the neighborhood that played a critical role in the Underground Railroad and Great Migration. Free, 11:00 a.m., 419 S. 6th St. ——————————————————————————————

Joseph Earl Thomas, an English doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, will be doing a reading of an excerpt from his 2020 Chautauqua Janus Prize memoir, Silk. A remarkable debut that chronicles a young man’s growing up in Philadelphia towards awareness, confidence, and discernibility, Silk is an honest and steady exploration of coming–of–age. Free entry, 6:00 p.m., 3805 Locust Walk ——————————————————————————————

Noise levels on the street hit deafening highs. Our AirPods bombard our inner ears with walls of sound every second of the day. What are we to do to protect our eardrums? A seven-hour French silent film would fit the bill. Revel in the drama and bizarre romance of Abel Gance’s masterwork, which has finally been remastered in 4K. 412 minutes, black and white, silent. Multiple intermissions. $12 with student ID, 1:00 p.m., 401 S. Broad St. ——————————————————————————————

Slide over, Shakespeare. Get out, Goethe! We’ve found the Edgar Allan Poe of the postmodern age. Detroit–adjacent dynamo and wily wordsmith BabyTron graces Philadelphia for one night only—don’t miss your chance to hear this world-historic rapper live, while he’s still out on bond. 8:00 p.m., 334 South St. ————————————————————————————

In 1965, Jamaica Kincaid left Antigua for New York to work as an au pair. She told her experiences in her novels, which led her to become one of the most reputed writers, essayists, and professors of our time. This semester, she’s at Penn and ready to share her stories as a Kelly Writers House Fellow. The reading is also followed by a conversation with the author on the next day, Feb. 27.

that explores love and heartbreak, and maybe you’ll walk out of the theater feeling less alone. Ticket Starts at $25, various times, 323 N. Broad St. ——————————————————————————————

Feb. 24: La Roue @ Lightbox Film Center

Feb. 29: BabyTron @ Theater of the Living Arts

Feb. 29–March 10: Angel Corella's Giselle @ Philadelphia Ballet

Feb. 26: A Reading By Jamaica Kincaid Your situationship not texting you back? Thoughts @ Kelly Writers House of death and existential dread? Giselle is a ballet

March 2–27: Varda—Merci, Agnès @ Philadelphia Film Society and PFS East

One of the most iconic filmmakers of French cinema with a career spanning over 60 years, Agnès Varda has created an oeuvre of nearly 50 unforgettable

features and shorts. Playful and profound at the same time, her films are both a testament to the innovative spirit of the French New Wave, and also so much beyond that. Join PFS this March in saying Merci! Agnès. $12 with student ID, various times, 1412 Chestnut St. & 125 S. 2nd St. ————————————————————————————

March 2 – 10: Philadelphia Flower Show @ Philadelphia Convention Center

Didn’t think plants could be the star of a show? Think again. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Flower Show is the oldest in the nation, and it’s back for 2024. The usually sterile walls of the Philadelphia Convention Center will be adorned with beautiful displays of life for a week, providing a sanctuary in the city. $35 with student ID, open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1101 Arch St. ——————————————————————————————

March 8 – 9: Sting w/ the Philadelphia Orchestra @ the Kimmel Center

We at Street hear you—classical music is for nerds! For far too long, the orchestra has been the realm of the loser. Until now. Former rock musician and current senior citizen Sting joins the Philadelphia Orchestra in a celebration of his storied career, playing hits from his long career both his time in The Police and as a solo artist. Tickets start at $179, 8:00 p.m., 300 S. Broad St. ————————————————————————————

March 10: 11th Annual Oscars Party @ The Philadelphia Film Society

Enjoy the 96th Academy Awards on the biggest screen in the heart of Center City! Philadelphia Film Society is holding its annual, one–night– only Oscars Party, with live performance, complimentary hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Come down to Center City to experience all the red carpet glitz & glam! 21+ only; cocktail attire. Tickets start at $80, door opens at 6:30 p.m., 1412 Chestnut St. ————————————————————————————

March 15: Philadelphia Luck of the Irish St. Paddy's Bar Crawl

Philly is the best place to be on St. Patrick's Day, except for perhaps Ireland herself. Starting at Howl at the Moon, get lucky all around the city’s most iconic bars and pubs. Live DJs, Guinnesses, and kisses if you’re Irish! $19.99, 5:00 p.m. to 11:00p.m.

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KooF Ibi: A Man, His Trumpet, and a World of Sound Transport yourself to KooF Ibi's world, where everything is made of music, community, and joy. LEAH WEINBERGER Photo Courtesy by Chenyao Liu

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CITY // EGO

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ucked away in the corner of Dahlak Paradise in West Philadelphia lies a hall of mirrors, transporting you to another universe. Emblazoned on the wall is a fluorescent neon purple sign that reads “If these walls could talk....” One brisk Wednesday evening in late October, an eclectic group milled about in that very room. The conversation came to a halt as the first note rang out. Body enrobed over his trumpet, KooF Ibi pressed his sock–wearing feet on the pedals of his looper machine, layering his rich, toned melodies to ultimately create a breathtaking world of sound. The room was instantly transformed into a sea of soft, serene foot tapping and head bobbing, enchanted by the aura emerging from Ibi and his beloved trumpet. You could feel the passion in his music, the vibes mellow and ethereal, as a talented percussionist accompanied the siren–like quality of Ibi’s melodies. At that moment, the neon sign bore the truth: great musicians had played in this very space before, the walls steeped in the legacy of countless local musical legends. As Ibi closed his eyes and began to play, the walls hummed with resonance, and at that moment, he etched his name alongside the greats who had graced the same stage before. KooF Ibi is a local trumpet player who is breaking the mold of what it means to be a jazz musician. He is a composer, improviser, and educator who is bringing his unique sound to audiences far and wide. A master of improvisation, his solos transcend all genres, revolutionizing the very definition of jazz and blues right here in Philadelphia. Born Koofreh Ibi Umoren, Ibi grew up in Mercer County, New Jersey. His affinity towards music began from a young age, as he would sit in on his older sisters’ piano lessons. “I just wanted to be in the room with the player on piano,” he said, sticking around until he was old enough to receive his own lessons. Soon after, Ibi modeled himself after his cousin and picked up the trumpet, playing throughout lower school. He quit the trumpet at the beginning of high school until one day, he decided on a whim to rejoin the band for a trip. Here, he connected with his beloved high school music teacher, Ron Heller, whom he attributes to reigniting his passion for music.

Heller introduced young Ibi to his alma mater, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. After high school, Ibi followed in Heller’s footsteps and moved to Philadelphia, where he pursued a degree in education and music. He studied education in order to pay his love of music forward and inspire the next generation of aspiring musicians to realize that the connection lies deeper than scales and charts. When he’s not performing, Ibi’s other pastime is teaching his passion for music. This challenging yet rewarding task is where Ibi truly shines. Breaking the confines of a typical classroom, Ibi is an educator of the city, unearthing the hidden musicians of Philadelphia. Through establishing private lessons and community programs, Ibi succeeds in reigniting the flame and sharing the light of his many talented students and peers. “I’m still a teacher,” he says, “I keep saying that if you’re around me and say that you used to play an instrument or that you can’t play an instrument, I’m going to teach you how to play an instrument. I want to get people to recommit themselves to music that they feel separated from.” After graduation, Ibi quickly became a fixture on the Philadelphia rhythm and blues scene. He is known for his innovative and soulful playing, spanning regular jazz standards to his masterful improvisation. His solos fiery and passionate and his methods unorthodox, Ibi’s musical inspirations are fittingly as diverse as his skill set. “The notes in my head are influenced by all the different styles of music that I played,” he says. From salsa bands in college to the Balkan brass of the West Philadelphia Orchestra, Ibi has accompanied a wide range of performance ensembles. “That style and those scales have influenced my playing, and trying to utilize them all at times adds a different flavor to what I'm doing,” he shares. Ibi’s unique sound marries together soul, avant–garde jazz, and techno–beat. His earlier music memories stem from his Nigerian background. On an average Sunday afternoon, his mother would play Nigerian church music on tape. The religious chants were interlaced with upbeat Nigerian rhythm, a tempo you could dance along to and “truly feel the spirit.” His mother also introduced him to Fela Kuti, a Nigerian afrobeats artist who Ibi claims as his

longest–standing musical influence to date. As Ibi became more integrated into the jazz canon, he was inspired to play outside of the norms by Thelonious Monk, an American composer and jazz musician. Ibi shares his admiration for Monk, who played alongside classic contemporary musicians like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. “He had a completely different style that no one else was doing at the time, but still fit pretty perfectly,” says Ibi. The same could be said for Ibi himself. The final piece of his performance, his use of an electric looper and beat pad, is inspired by Björk. Ibi was drawn to her optimistic perspective on the digitization of music and the world at large. Björk dared to break traditional music norms, embracing new technology in order to elevate her sound to serve as a powerful voice for pressing threats on Iceland’s marine habitats. Ibi raves about her innovative and boundless creativity, inspiring him to intertwine the sounds of the future with the reverberations of the past. Ibi doesn’t view any music genre as unworthy of appreciation. Whitney Houston and New Kids on the Block sang the soundtrack of his youth, and nowadays, he enjoys all genres, from radio pop to heavy metal and Dolly Parton. “I've always tried to keep my ears open to what's going on,” he shares. “It's not going to be played on the radio if nobody likes it. There's something to be taken from that. There's something to be learned about that.” He develops his craft by listening and learning what’s out there. All in all, incorporating the universal sounds of today into his music definitely sets him apart as a jazz trumpeter. One of his favorite performances was playing with Japanese Breakfast, an indie pop band lead by Michelle Zauner, back in 2022. The concert lineup consisted of similar circles in Philadelphia coming together for one purpose: to raise money for the city. They did so in a beautiful harmony of genre and styles. Out–of–the–box collaboration for the purpose of humanity was right up his alley. Ibi also utilizes his artistic talents of film photography and videography to portray the many talented musicians he performs with. His creativity for the sake of unity is boundless. He shoots almost all of his own album and music covers and promotions for solo

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or collaborative gigs. Through his empowering lens, he also highlights a plethora of local Philadelphia musicians with unmistakably unique sounds in his video gallery project, Random Tea Sessions. Now, however, Ibi is ready to take to the stage by himself. He’s covered a vast expanse of music as a collaborative artist, but as he sets out on his first solo tour performance in Vermont and many more cities to come, he’s bringing his unique sound to audiences all over the Northeast. He wants to show people that it’s easy to play music that feels good. Beyond the scales, charts, and the three brass pedals of a trumpet lie endless possibilities. The most important goal, he reiterates, is education. Through his remote private teaching while he’s on tour and his inspirational playing, Ibi aims to foster a renewed appreciation among individuals for the music that once resonated deeply within them. Figuring it out along the way and forging his own path are some of the lessons he learned of musicians past while also tak-

ing the path less traveled. From a small town in Vermont to the underprivileged, aspiring musical youth of Philadelphia, KooF Ibi is determined to share this wild passion for music with everyone in his path. Ibi urges us to “value the times and the people that share music with you.” Some of his most invaluable lessons were learned in and out of the classroom during his time in college, especially from mentors and students who were unafraid to fuse genres. He encourages students to connect with professors, professionals, and like–minded peers circling the music industry and most importantly, students should venture beyond campus and experience the plethora of sounds vibrating throughout the Philly music scene. To catch Ibi live, he plays at Abyssinia every second Thursday and frequents Clark Park as well. One might be so lucky to discover the next hidden gem of the Philly sound, as revolutionary talents like Ibi can be found busking on the streets. With every performance, KooF Ibi leaves a long–lasting impact on his audi-

ence, just as he did that Wednesday evening in the small back room of Dahlak Paradise in West Philadelphia. k


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