TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
3 Meet Sneha Sharma
7 Phoebe Bridgers Comes to Philly
11 Feminist Flea Market
12 LGBTQ+ at Penn
18 Isabel Hu, Digital Artist
34TH STREET EXECUTIVE BOARD Beatrice Forman, Editor–in–Chief: firstname.lastname@example.org Chelsey Zhu, Campus Editor: email@example.com Mehek Boparai, Culture Editor: boparai@34st. com Karin Hananel, Assignments Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org 34TH STREET EDITORS Eva Ingber, Features Editor Angela Shen, Features Editor Julia Esposito, Word on the Street Editor Aakruti Ganeshan, Focus Editor Emily White, Focus Editor Hannah Lonser, Style Editor Maddie Muldoon, Ego Editor Peyton Toups, Music Editor Walden Green, Arts Editor Arielle Stanger, Film & TV Editor Denali Sagner, Special Issues Editor 2
On appearances, making Instagram casual again, and being the main character
get really hung up on appearances. As embarrassing as it is to admit, swiping through Instagram carousels of date night photos while spending my third consecutive Thursday night alone with The D’Amelio Show still gives me that special kind of hurt. You know — the kind that sends your brain into a tailspin as it figures out why you lack the intangible something that guarantees weeknight plans and a medium sized girl gang. It doesn’t matter that I like my solo Thursdays or that big groups of people make me anxious. What matters is that they’re creating a memory I lack, even if I don’t want that particular memory in the first place. Social media is a game of whack–a–mole appearances. As soon as you accept someone else’s supposedly charming life as aspirational, another curated–to–be casual post undoes all that work. We know this concept (as does Facebook) a little too well. And yet, it’s not easy to stop feeling that all–encompassing envy. We can predict the advice Boomers dole out on the topic. It follows this route formula: Remember that nobody is having as good of a time as they look, that everything is photoshopped, and that real life doesn’t happen behind a screen. All of that is true— to an extent. Nobody is having as good of a time as they appear to be, but what if they’re having a better time than you? Reality, after all, hovers exactly in between expectation and the lies we tell ourselves in order to function on a daily basis. Although pessimistic, I don’t think we can free ourselves from the grip of cyclical Instagram jealousy. But I think we can reconfigure it. Namely, we can remember that the doldrums of our lives are exciting—and unattainable, almost—to someone else. The girl who requires a party for a good time secretly wishes she could be satisfied by a Saturday spent on a long walk or with a good book. And the boy who hops from one Instagram official Jesse Zhang, Multimedia Editor Kira Wang, Audience Engagement Editor Alice Heyeh, 34th Street Design Editor 34TH STREET STAFF Features Staff Writers: Sejal Sangani, Angela Shen, Mira Sydow, Amy Xiang, Meg Gladieux, Emilee Gu, Tara Anand, Avalon Hinchman Focus Beat Writers: Rema Bhat, Jean Paik, Gabrielle Galchen, Naima Small, Leandra Archibald Style Beat Writers: Kira Wang, W. Anthony Perez, Anna Hochman, Rachel Ker, Joanna Shan Music Beat Writers: Evan Qiang, Fernanda Brizuela, Derek Wong, Grayson Catlett, Treasure Brown Arts Beat Writers: Jessa Glassman, Roger Ge, Irma Kiss Barath Film & TV Beat Writers: Harshita Gupta, Jacob A. Pollack, Sneha Parthasarathy, Heather Shieh, Cindy Zhang Staff Writers: Kathryn Xu, Emily Moon, John Nycz, Kate Ratner, Kayla Cotter, Mame Balde,
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relationship to another probably wishes he could be single in the way you are, unperturbed and self–fulfilled. The point: as silly as “Main Character” syndrome is, it gets the job done. When we stop replaying the climax of someone else’s movie, we realize how great our own is. The week’s issue exists in the liminal space between appearance and reality, unpacking what life looks like just beneath a glossy exterior. We have notes on Megan Fox’s hot girl friendship with Kourtney Kardashian and the well–meaning vanity of queer representation on Dancing with the Stars. And our feature, an exploration of LGBTQ student life at a university lauded for inclusivity, revels in a deeper truth: praise can stifle growth.
Illustration by Isabel Liang
Shelby Abayie, Vidur Saigal Multimedia Associates: Dhivya Arasappan, Sage Levine, Sophie Huang, Samantha Turner, Sudeep Bhargava, Sukhmani Kaur, Roger Ge, Andrew Yang, Mason Dao, Sheil Desai, Derek Wong, Evie Eisenstein, Andrea Barajas, Rachel Zhang, Sofika Janak, Sneha Parthasarathy Audience Engagement Associates: Sneha Parthasarathy, Adrien Wilson–Thompson, Kayla Cotter, Vidur Saigal, Heather Shieh, Caleb Crain, Saya Desai MULTIMEDIA Isabel Liang, Design Editor Multimedia Associates: Dhivya Arasappan, Sage Levine, Sophie Dai, Sophie Huang, Samantha Turner, Sudeep Bhargava, Liwa Sun, Sukhmani Kaur, Alexandra Morgan–Lindo Audience Engagement Associates: Yamila Frej, Saya Desai, Sneha Parthasarathy, Adrien WilsonThompson, Kayla Cotter, Vidur Saigal, Heather
Shieh, Caleb Crain Copy Editor: Brittany Darrow Cover Design by Isabel Liang Contacting 34th Street Magazine: If you have questions, comments, complaints or letters to the editor, email Bea Forman, Editor-InChief, at forman@34stcom. You can also call us at (215) 422–4640. www.34st.com ©2021 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 (but I bet we will give you the a–okay.) All rights reserved. 34th Street Magazine is published by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc., 4015 Walnut St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19104, every Tuesday. feeling feral
WORD ON THE STREET
A Love Letter to Hill House Dining Hall How the dining hall shaped my most meaningful friendships at Penn | FERNANDA BRIZUELA
eals were never a big deal at my house. While many families consider mealtimes a way to bond, during my childhood, my parents and I mostly rummaged through the kitchen to see what we could find and ate separately. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy food at all, or that we didn’t spend enough time together as a family. Making home cooked meals together was just never a priority. When we ate out—which we did frequently—we often visited the same restaurants and didn’t explore many cuisines. My exposure to different foods was limited to American, Italian, Japanese, and, of course, the typical foods from my hometown: Mexicali, where traditional northern Mexican and Chinese foods coexist. But my thoughts about food immediately changed during my first fall semester at Penn—now three years ago. Some of the best memories from my first year are not at frat parties, downtowns, or even late nights at friends' dorms. Many of them occurred at Hill House Dining Hall. I never looked forward to the food—it wasn't the best. Nevertheless, I always eagerly left class to go to the dining hall and see my friends. The sight must have been almost ridiculous: a rotation of ten to 15 Latin American first years chattering in Spanish around a long table, the group changing as people left for class and others joined. At times, we would spend
up to two hours at Hill, talking about our days, checking to see whether the garlic knots were ready, getting second helpings of frosted flakes, and taking multiple chocolate chip cookies from the jar at the dessert station. During my first year, the dining hall was the place where I laughed the most, sometimes until my belly hurt. Case in point: the time a friend told us about taking care of a tipsy first year and his dog. Another: when one of the dining hall workers called out my now– roommate for getting servings of two different kinds of potatoes, prompting an iconic rant. And one more: witnessing two of my friends who, desperate for freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, snuck behind the counter to get their hands on a batch and got caught. Of course, not all of my memories of Hill were great times. Most of the drama that seemed earth shattering to 18–year–olds was shared through hushed conversations over bowls from the Global Fusion Station. I remember exactly what I was eating when I stressed out about my first failed midterm, when I told a friend about my first crush at Penn, and when I consoled someone after a particularly hard day. Throughout the year, the number of people sitting around the table changed as our large group inevitably began to break off into smaller ones. Even then, through good times and bad, the dining
hall was where I reinforced friendships with those whom I now consider family. Eventually, we all moved off campus and started cooking at our own apartments. Initially, I feared that, without the common ground of Hill, I wouldn’t see my friends during the week. After all, we study different things and don’t take classes in the same buildings—or even similar areas of campus. Although I initially saw my friends less, we made it a priority to continue to get together. And what better way to do so than by sharing food? At first, I simply tagged along as my friends made it their mission to try as many Philly restaurants as possible. But soon I found myself getting excited by the idea of trying new places as well, even eating dishes I would never have eaten before. Our special occasions are now always defined by restaurants: brunch for a 22nd birthday at Café La Maude, dinners with parents at Double Knot, K’Far picnics at Rittenhouse Square, or Pizzeria Vetri when friends from home are visiting. My favorite food moments aren't necessarily those at fancy restaurants. The days when we cook together and share a meal at home are just as special— if not more.
Through their preferences and customs, I've been able to learn so much from my friends. One of them (who was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America, mind you) taught me that food is one of the most special gifts you can give to someone, and it’s true. Even though my friends aren’t chefs—with the one exception— they have all shown me their love through food in one way or another. One of them made me hummus when he found out I had never tried it. Another makes me coffee when I need some energy— or tea when I have to relax. When I lost a loved one recently, a plate of cookies was waiting for me outside my door. Even the simplest of snacks are meaningful, like the guacamole and chips my roommate uses to lift my spirits when I'm down. It wasn’t until this year, our senior year, that I started to reflect on what these moments mean to me. Meals are no longer about eating in a rush, or even about the flavor. They're about spending time with the people I love. Even with all of my other incredible memories at Penn, what I’ll miss the most will be sitting around the table and sharing food with my great friends.
Photo by Tamara Wurman OC TOBER 5, 2021 34TH STREET MAGAZINE
SNEHA SHARMA HOMETOWN: Memphis, Tenn. MAJOR:
Philosophy, politics, and economics with minors in health care management, neuroscience, and engineering entrepreneurship
International Affairs Association, Alpha Kappa Psi, Penn Policy Consulting, Class Board ‘22, Tomorrow's Promises
Health and legal activism are kind of Sneha's thing. | ANJALI KISHORE
34th STREET: Tell us about your major and minors—how did you get here? SNEHA SHARMA: I think, starting from high school, we were always encouraged to think of different parts of the machine. When I was reading something, if it was history, [I'd] try to understand the psychology of the people involved, the social climate of the time—I'd try to understand every facet of it. So coming into Penn, whenever we had an issue in my pre–med classes, I was always interested in the hows and the whys of the whole picture. That led me to think that I should try an interdisciplinary approach at Penn because I want to be a lawyer after all of this, and [lawyers] always emphasize having to understand both sides of the subject. With any issue with health, which is what I’m interested in, I can understand the engineering side, the law behind it, and the economic impact of the issue. These minors and the major itself allow for an
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approach that looks at all the different sides of an issue. STREET: What led you to health care? SS: I would say it goes back to my family. My mom became a doctor because, when she came to America from India, she saw the health care discrepancies, and so did my dad, [who grew up] in Zimbabwe. They raised me to be very appreciative of what I have. When you grow up in America, something like a flu shot being mandated by schools when it’s not so feasible in other places raises the question of, “Why do I have something?” or “Why do these disparities exist?” STREET: How do these passions play into your extracurricular activities on campus? SS: When I came to Penn, I wanted to make sure that the time I spent here had an impact on something, whether it’s one person or something larger than that. For example, with research that I do at the Center for Behavioral
Economics, I’m studying health policy and how government policies work in order to close that gap. On the other hand, I have the Penn Public Policy Group, where we lobby Congress or write to the United Nations. It’s kind of just translating what I’ve learned in classes to something that’s tangible, so that I’m using the resources at Penn for something else. STREET: Off campus, how does your education inform your service work with your nonprofit, Tomorrow's Promises? SS: That started in high school. I was able to travel a lot growing up because my parents are from two different parts of the world, and every time we went to India or Zimbabwe, it was apparent that there was so much inequality. The thing is, we can’t be surprised by inequality when we don’t give people the resources they need. We can’t continue to act shocked by achievement gaps when there are things like corruption and systematic racism, and institutions
that are responsible for this. I did a lot of community service projects back home, and one of them was at my high school. People would have fundraisers, and we’d collect money for seven or eight nonprofits in the Mid– South to donate to that focused on closing the achievement gap for children, whether it had to do with literacy, health disparities, free lunches, and other issues like that. When I saw the impact it was making, my idea was to do that on a broader scale. I started talking to some mentors and leaders in the community who brought up the idea of creating a nonprofit. Each child has a promise for tomorrow, and I feel that it’s our duty to ensure that they can fulfill that promise, so the initiatives were all trying to make sure children had the resources to fulfill their potential and do what they want to do. Even just one child being impacted was a change in itself, and we were doing something with what
we all had. Even a bake sale—you get money for that, and if that is able to buy a book for a kid who wanted to learn how to read, that’s very important, and that’s something anyone can do. The idea behind it was to start small, and then hopefully have the ripple effect and get bigger. STREET: It seems like it got pretty big. SS: Yeah. Right before college started, I was able to take this trip to India, and I wanted to build a library for this girls’ school. It kept getting vandalized—just playful vandalism from kids in the village, but they didn’t have a library at the end of the day. I think it’s important to understand the culture itself rather than just
giving [people] money and abandoning the issue, so I lived there for a month with them to understand the day–to–day life. I came to realize that one of the major issues was that the girls had to go to a neighboring village to get water. They didn’t have time to go to school because they had a duty to provide for their family. So our project shifted from the library to getting things like bicycles to help the girls get water so they had time to go to school. It was also really exciting because we were able to work with another NGO to get a water plant to clean the water in the village and help the entire community. We found the root of the problem rather than just putting a Band–Aid on the
issue. It comes back to the interdisciplinary thing, understanding where issues come from. It was important to me that Tomorrow’s Promises created sustainable change. Donations do a lot, but I wanted to be able to see that it could continue on without the money. STREET: How have these experiences influenced your future plans? SS: I want to practice international law with a focus on human rights. A lot of issues can be fixed through policy, and law school is important to understand policy and get the experience to understand constitutions, the mechanisms behind court decisions, and the semantics and syntax of legis-
lation. STREET: What's your most memorable experience at Penn? SS: I was studying with one of my friends, and we were studying Washington, D.C., a lot for our constitutional law class. We felt like we were in a rut because we wanted to see what we were learning and not just read it. Basically, we booked a Megabus to D.C. for a couple hours later and talked the entire ride there and got to know each other so well. The next day, we got to go walk around the museums and really see what we were studying. It was crazy. It’s what college is about really: having those experiences and that fun that we only really get to have for these four years.
LIGHTNING ROUND STREET: If you were a building on campus, which would you be? SS: Probably Stommons [Starbucks in Commons]. It’s kind of [the] Old Reliable for me. It’s always there, there’s always food, there’s always coffee. And so many different people go there for so many different reasons, which really speaks to that whole interdisciplinary approach. STREET: What's the last song you listened to? SS: "Godspeed." Not the Frank Ocean one, but the cover by James Blake. Yeah, I was in my feels. STREET: What's your death row meal? SS: Halal food truck. I’m actually obsessed. Every time Restaurant Week comes up and everyone’s so excited to try it, I’m just happy with my Halal food truck. It just makes me happy. STREET: There are two types of people at Penn ... SS: People who get eight hours of sleep, and people who get eight one–hour naps. STREET:And you are? SS: I’m much more likely to get the eight one–hour naps.
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OC TOBER 5, 2021 34TH STREET MAGAZINE
Meet Rahim Khan the Man Behind Penn’s Friendliest Halal Cart
Illustration by Isabel Liang Original photo by Sheil Desai
This Pakistani immigrant serves up chicken over rice with a smile. | SHEIL DESAI
34TH STREET MAGAZINE OC TOBER 5, 2021
hen there are dozens of competitors making exactly the same product as you, how do you stand out from the crowd? Rahim Khan says it's all about customer service. Khan operates the halal food cart, University City Gyro, on 38th and Spruce streets, across the street from the Upper Quad. His cart is plastered with pictures of lamb gyros, crispy falafel, and—his best seller— chicken over rice. The smell of shawarma spices forms an inescapable cloud that settles over his corner of Spruce, enticing passersby. There are dozens of halal carts in University City with identical menus featuring Middle Eastern meats, rice, salad, and the iconic white sauce. Khan’s closest competitor is only 20 feet down the road. Yet Khan’s cart consistently attracts lines at lunchtime. “The usual?” he asks customers, grinning ear to ear. Not only does he remember the orders of loyal customers, but he offers “thank you” tokens for their business. “Free chickpeas on the side or an extra falafel keeps them coming back,” he says. He shouts, “Hey, what’s up man?” at former customers as they walk by, prompting surprise as they realize that the halal cart man remembers them. Khan was born in Peshawar, a Pakistani city bordering the mountains of Afghanistan. He identifies as a Pashtun, an ethnic group located in Iran, Afghanistan, and Northern Pakistan. In 2019, a family friend successfully applied for a work visa and brought Khan to the United States to work together in his halal cart. Before arriving in Philadelphia, Khan had never left Peshawar before. “The first six months were very hard," he says. "My culture is so different. When the pandemic started, it was so tough. I did not know anything about
Philly, and I did not know what to do. The owner of the cart helped me so much and gave me a place to stay, but nobody but me knows how tough it was,” Khan says. His family eagerly awaits his daily calls and messages. “I have five brothers and two sisters all in Peshawar. I support them all,” he says. Every morning, Khan wakes up at 6 a.m. for morning prayers. He begins cooking the day’s food around 8 a.m. He usually closes down the cart around 6 p.m. Khan works six days a week, Sunday being his only day off. “I just want to work for my family," he says. "I work hard for them. It's hard work.” But he insists he takes full advantage of his day off. “I love to play cricket on Sundays. I loved cricket in Pakistan, and I play cricket here too. I was captain of my high school cricket team in Pakistan. Sometimes [I play] volleyball because it is my second favorite,” he says, laughing. Khan has two years left on his visa, at which point he will return to Peshawar. “The first thing I will do is get married to a girl my mother finds for me,” he says. Now that he has earned some money, his parents and siblings want him to start his own family. Though Khan’s time in America is limited, he's grateful for the opportunities it has given him—both to support his family back home and to dismantle stereotypes about his culture through food. “When [people] see Pakistanis, they think of terrorists," he says. "I am grateful that my customers treat me so well.” Khan is parked on 38th and Spruce streets every day except Sunday, feeding hungry Penn students and Penn Medicine workers halal food with his characteristic wide smile. In a city full of identical food carts, Khan’s larger–than–life personality makes his stand out.
Phoebe Bridgers Embraces Sad Girl Autumn at the Mann
The indie rock musician graced the Skyline Stage on Sep. 22, and brought a wave of tranquility with her. | MEHEK BOPARAI
hen the group of musicians on stage played the familiar opening chord of "Motion Sickness," the crowd gathered at the Mann here in Philly exploded with it. Phoebe Bridgers and her band arrived a few minutes past 9 p.m., and each member was decked out in the classic skeleton onesie except for the artist herself. Instead, she was dressed in a sequin–adorned blazer that reflected across the faces of the audience. The first number was a fan– favorite from her 2017 record Stranger in the Alps, but the 2021 Reunion Tour is meant to celebrate the release of her second studio album Punisher; it became one of the most critically acclaimed albums dropped during the peak of COVID–19 in June of 2020. The 11 tracks on the record are constituted of waves—waves of nostalgia, loneliness, apocalypse, and more. In late August, Bridgers' team announced the tour would be relocated to outdoor venues following the spike in COVID–19 cases due to the Delta variant. The Skyline Stage was the perfect atmosphere for the haunted house her concert became, as vaccinated guests remained spellbound throughout the entire performance. After the opener, Bridgers performed each of the tracks on Punisher in succession. When the upbeat rock tune "Kyoto" came on fourth, the crowd screamed as she sang "I'm gonna kill you / if you don't beat me to it." Teenagers and adults alike swayed from side to side—the one major takeaway of a Bridgers performance is that you don't
really dance. You nod along, mouthing the words and occasionally uttering a "wow" to your friend. After the first few handfuls of songs, Bridgers introduced her band members and offered an embarrassing anecdote about how they thought they were performing in Pittsburgh that night. A series of "boos" rang from the Philly locals before the band launched into a haunting melody, quieting them once more. "Moon Song" was the pinnacle moment of the show—it seemed as if not a single member in the audience was speaking but rather softly singing along the lines, "You couldn't have / stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody / who loves you more." Bridgers' music acts as anthems for not only unrequited love, but for love that has failed—time and time again. While she is defined as indie rock, Bridgers' Punisher carries a heavy melancholy more than anything else. The album was nominated by the Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. This genre is the best word to encapsulate the varying musical styles that are riddled throughout. Yet alongside this melancholy is the ultimate desire to grow in ways that aren't present than her debut album. Bridgers once described the album's conception to Stereogum as "someone who started to go to therapy and work out some of the things you can’t change about yourself no matter your circumstances." In between songs from Punisher come some tracks from the deeper trenches of Bridgers' repertoire, such as when
she asked the audience if they would rather hear "Me and My Dog" from her trio act boygenius or "Georgia" off Stranger in the Alps. The applause for the former was deafening as Bridgers launched into the song with a voice much more mature than the recorded version. Of course, the final song that Bridgers played from her setlist was to be expected, as the title suggests: "I Know the End." This track, spanning nearly six minutes, is a slow burn—what begins as a somber description of a failing relationship spirals out into a full–blown attack of instruments, apocalyptic lyrics, and an eventual few seconds of screaming from both the band
and the concert attendees after they chant "The end is here." With the accompanying trumpet and vibrating drum hits, the moment became singular in its own as the antithesis to the calm she emitted with "Moon Song." As to be expected in a modern concert, Bridgers fled the stage before returning to perform one last song as her encore. She opted out of her usual choice of "I Feel Funny," a cover by Bo Burnham, and instead
gave those in the audience who voted for "Georgia" what they were waiting for. Before she bid her final farewell, Bridgers left us with the looming words "Will you hate me? / And would you f*ck this / And let us fall?" And as the crowd eventually dwindled, the question remained unanswered.
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Are Music Reviews Really That Important? Pitchfork and other publications have stopped caring about the music. | EVAN QIANG Humans crave approval. For some musicians, this may be in the form of commercial success, sold–out global tours, or widespread media attention. For other artists and a select group of fans, appreciation comes in the form of overly favorable reviews. Publications such as Rolling Stone and Spin have reviewed and rated albums for decades, and some seek validation for their accomplishments through their approval. Good scores can lead to bragging rights and appearances on Grammy campaigns, while a poorer reception can cause an artist to find new inspiration in their music. Although these reviews have been a staple in the music industry, the purpose they serve now is flawed and inconsistent. Arguably the most prominent music review site, Pitchfork has
developed a dedicated fanbase. They have a certain air of credibility that exceeds their competitors. Over the years, however, Pitchfork has shifted away from its former role as indie music connoisseur to more of an eclectic culture publication. After its takeover in 2015 by Condé Nast which also owns Bon Appétit and Vogue, Pitchfork focused more on its image rather than its scores. They started to embrace mainstream artists including Taylor Swift, whose work was noticeably absent from the website’s wide array of discographies. There was an even more dramatic change when Pitchfork reviewed Peppa Pig’s Peppa’s Adventures: The Album just a few months ago. Given that the author compares the tracks “Recycling” and “Bing Bong Champion” to the defining
works of Fiona Apple and Swift, the review was clearly not meant to be taken seriously. But like all other reviews from Pitchfork, it was given a numerical score: 6.5, a relatively low score for Pitchfork’s standards. This still places Peppa’s work higher than Weezer’s OK Human and Madison Beer’s Life Support, two albums released this year that had much more artistic inspiration. When looking at scores from the past, the comparisons become even more ridiculous; Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die scored a 5.5, Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile scored a 2.0, and The Strokes’ The New Abnormal scored a 5.7. If these scores really do reflect Pitchfork’s self–described reputation as the “most trusted voice in music,” then that would be a massive blow to the artists who worked hard on their albums only to be
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34TH STREET MAGAZINE OC TOBER 5, 2021
placed below Peppa. This inconsistency comes in part from discussing the artist and trying to match the current narrative surrounding them. When it comes to someone like Kanye West, it’s difficult to avoid the controversies when they play a direct role in his persona. Reviews of Donda mentioned his past and the inclusion of Marilyn Manson, which sometimes led to an automatic zero stars. But other artists like Lorde, who spent years away from music, have also been subjected to intense scrutiny which is shifted away from the album. Critics saw her new release Solar Power as a substantial downgrade from her sophomore album Melodrama, one of the most acclaimed albums of all time. Most of the criticism wasn’t even directly attached to her; it was attributed to Jack Antonoff, whose collaborations oversaturate the pop market. This appeal to the conversation around an artist can lead to review discrepancies. Lana was originally disliked by the indie community leading to a mixed reception for Born to Die, but after her monumental Norman Fucking Rockwell!, both Born to Die and her past discography have received retroactive acclaim. Other music publications have undergone a similar, albeit less noticeable, shift. With the exception of already–shunned artists, mostly negative reviews have all but disappeared; instead, the publications don’t write one at all. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Dan Ozzi of VICE said that “it’s actually news at this point when an album does get a bad review.” Therefore, it’s not surprising to see only “eight out of 7287 albums” receive a red score on Metacritic,
a website that aggregates reviews for music and other forms of entertainment. Part of this change can be attributed to the dying trend of print and digital magazines. To prevent alienating their audience, publications are more unlikely to call albums “trainwrecks” or music for “open mic nights of deepest hell” for fear that they’ll get called out. Now that anyone can be an informal critic on social media, negative reviews bring only unwanted attention that can threaten a website’s integrity. Additionally, artists who have previously been offended with their scores have directly called them out. After Halsey was disappointed with Pitchfork’s score for their album Manic, they posted a now–deleted Tweet that said, “can the basement that they run p*tchfork out of just collapse already.” When popular YouTube critic Anthony Fantano gave Isaiah Rashad’s The House is Burning a five out of ten, Rashad responded by claiming that Fantano was “hate bombing” and an example of “poor journalism.” Halsey and Rashad aren’t alone in their frustrations. Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and Nicki Minaj have also expressed their disapproval, which has sometimes led fans to take matters to the extreme. After Pitchfork gave an 8.0 to Swift’s folklore, a score that is on the upper echelon of Pitchfork’s scale, Swift’s fans were not pleased. Because it didn’t match up to the 100s and 90s folklore had received previously by reviewers, the album’s score on Metacritic dropped one point to 89—a number that still placed folklore in the top twenty albums of 2020. Swifties were furious, leading to death threats, doxing, and angry phone calls even af-
FILM & TV
Airing One’s Own Funeral: The 2021 Emmy Awards
very fall, the TV awards season comes to a close with its biggest night: the Primetime Emmy Awards. Despite CBS airing this year’s Emmys, the network won nothing. In fact, the Big Four broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox), collectively only won one award: best variety sketch series for NBC’s Saturday Night Live. A decade ago, not a single streaming service was represented at the Emmys. Yet in 2021, the top awards were only awarded to Netflix, HBO (HBO Max), Apple TV+, and Disney+. One can only imagine what network executives, particularly CBS, were thinking during this telecast, in which they lost to every streaming service. In essence, CBS was airing its own funeral. There is stellar irony that during this three–hour event, CBS telecasted a show that awarded mostly streaming juggernauts like The Crown, Ted Lasso, Hacks, The Queen’s Gambit, and Mare of Easttown. While CBS’s parent company, Viacom, did win best variety special live for Stephen Colbert’s Election Night 2020 and best competition series for RuPaul’s Drag Race, the main broadcast networks left Sunday empty–handed. Netflix won the most Emmys with an incredible 44 wins, which ties the record for most Emmy wins in a single year with—in a cruel coincidence—CBS. At least CBS can claim its record is not broken just yet. How did these networks go from winning all of the awards to losing them in a matter of a few years? The answer is clearly streaming, yet the changing of the guard
from network to streaming services is more complicated than just producing insane volumes of content. Since the emergence of streaming services' programs in 2013 with Netflix’s House of Cards, the number of scripted television series released each year has jumped over 52% to more than 500 programs. Despite increased content, people are actually watching less television. According to Statista, the average daily time spent watching television from 2014 to 2021 has dropped from four to three hours a day. Instead of watching more, people limit themselves to a select number of shows. As people continue to subscribe to streaming services in lieu of premium cable networks, the masses have begun to congregate to streaming services to collectively join in on what everyone else is watching. In life, most people enjoy following the crowd, which has transcended to one's viewing patterns. As more “event” or “peak TV” shows like WandaVision or I May Destroy You premiere on streaming services, the weekly conversations and buzz have begun to transfer to these platforms. While Netflix did pioneer the highly successful and efficient bingeing method, it could be argued that, from an awards standpoint, the binge method is unfavorable. Dumping full seasons of shows removes the collective experience of watching a show and being invested in the story for multiple weeks. Of this year’s top five awarded streaming shows, only two out of five, Netflix's The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit, were released in a binge model. Not only have stream-
ing shows moved the pop culture conversations away from cable, but they have taken back the weekly release model that has been a fixture of network shows for decades. For any cable fans or investors, the future is not entirely gloomy. If history’s on anyone’s side, it’s broadcasting and cable's. Streaming services’ surge in television success is still a recent trend. It was only in 2017 when Hulu became the first streaming service to win one of the big three series Emmys (drama, comedy, or limited), with The Handmaid’s Tale winning best drama series. Netflix might have finished this year with 44 wins in both the Primetime and Creative Arts ceremonies, but it also had a 66% losing
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For a mostly predictable Emmy Awards, this year's telecast was nothing less than a horror show for its host, CBS. | JACOB A. POLLACK
percentage. It’s true that fewer network shows are being recognized by the Television Academy, with just 35 nominations among NBC, Fox, ABC, and CBS this year. But all of the streaming services have decades to go to catch up with these networks’ number of wins. There is a narrative in Hollywood that streaming services are dominating all other forms of content, which is frankly not true. According to Nielsen, the firm reported that “64 percent of the time American viewers used their television sets in May 2021 was spent watching network and cable TV, while they watched streaming services about 26 percent of the time.” By the end of 2021, Nielsen
does predict the streaming share of TV watching will increase to around 33%. This trend shows streaming’s ominous presence in media, as it slowly carves a majority in people’s television consumption. However, cable TV is still watched more than streaming among all Americans. For now. This year’s Emmy Awards showed what the future of entertainment will likely be. However, as much as CBS was airing an open casket for its company’s eventual demise, this awards ceremony should be a wake–up call for broadcasting and cable networks. Creating shows that are cultural phenomenons is a first step to restoring some power back to the original TV networks.
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FILM & TV
SQUID GAME: How Far Would You Go to Be the Last One Standing?
Netflix's new No. 1 series teaches us that the real threat to humanity is apathy. | HEATHER SHIEH Editor's Note: This article contains spoilers for Season 1 of Squid Game.
y now, you may be wondering why a show about soldiers in hot pink tracksuits forcing debt–ridden adults to play children's games is Netflix's most–watched international release ever. Squid Game, written and directed by Hwang Dong–hyuk, tells the story of a gambling addict named Seong Gi–hun. Gi–hun lives on his elderly mother's income and frequently steals her ATM card to bet on horses. After his encounter with a tall, dark, and handsome stranger—played by Gong Yoo—he is lured into a game where he can play for higher stakes. The outcomes are binary: You die or you don’t; you kill or be killed. Soon enough, he finds himself in the game's playland along with a slew of other debt–ridden players, all of whom have a different backstory but the same reason for entering the game: They would rather die than live in shame. $40 million is the cash grab and it dangles over the contestants in a large ball, almost like a toy toddlers would try to reach for. But only the last one alive can walk away with it. The odds aren't great but to these desperate, indebted individuals, the reward compounded with inescapable nihilism compels them to put their lives and the little dignity they have on the line. Like many Netflix shows, Squid Game’s widespread success is attributed to its characters. Following the footsteps of shows like The Good Place and Orange is the New Black, the series examines the relationships each character has to the world outside and what brings them to the 'bad place'. Among the 456 contestants in the show is Gi–hun, the protagonist; Sang–woo, SNU business graduate and Gi–hun's old friend; a North Korean escapee; a Pakistani immigrant; and a frail geriatric dying of terminal cancer. At first glance, the characters seem simple—we think we know who's good, who's bad, who's the brain and who’s the brawn, who's the defector, and who’s the first one to die. The premise of the show seems to tease out childlike and primitive qualities of human nature, and it almost makes you underestimate how these roles can change. Indeed, what's most chilling about the series isn't the 10 3 4 T H S T R E E T M AG A Z I N E O C TO B E R 5 , 2 0 21
gore—which, to be frank, loses its shock value by the first episode. It's the way the characters' true natures unravel throughout the timeline of the game.
Photo courtesy of Netflix What keeps you at the edge of your seat are the two final contestants—protagonist Gi–hun and villain Sang–woo—and their conflicting character arcs that bring the story to an explosive climax. From the get go, Sang–woo is the golden boy, the business graduate from SNU. He enters the game as a dignified, educated, and sharp contender. Later, we find that he takes advantage of this perception to fool the Pakistani immigrant into cooperating with him. From there, Sang–woo’s hunger to survive outpaces his collective disposition and we find him becoming increasingly numb to homicide. At one point, he pushes a player to his death in order to get himself (and the last two players) across the bridge in the nick
of time. Clearly, Hwang had taken the age–old trolley problem straight from every philosophy 101 textbook. On the flipside is Gi–hun, who enters the show as a hopeless man with no prospects and few redeemable traits. Later, we learn that in spite of his gambling addiction, he manages to find goodness within himself that drives him to spare people’s lives instead of taking them. After defeating Sang– woo in the final round, Gi–hun refuses to accept the cash prize in order to save Sang–woo's life. This would mean both players walk away penniless. Sang–woo, unable to bear a life with debt and shame, kills himself on the spot, and Gi–hun is left cradling Sang–woo’s bloodied head to his chest. But why would the protagonist weep over the very villain responsible for the deaths before him? There are plenty of scenes that foreshadow this heart– wrenching moment. As the number of contestants is shaved down to single digits, the players are no longer consumed with the temptation of obscene wealth. Rather, they turn towards each other with the hope of mutual survival: “we should stick together,” “when we make it out of this hellhole, we will look after each other's loved ones.” These are just some of the chilling sound–bites in the show. The last person Gi– hun attempts to strike a deal with is the villain himself, but without Sang–woo, Gi–hun is truly alone. Hwang asks, "Who are we without other people?" Interestingly, Squid Game does as much to examine the lives of the players as it does the spectators. A select few VIPs watch over the live game behind glass walls and gold masks, surrounded by opulent settings reminiscent of other dystopian adaptations like The Hunger Games. Explained later in the series, the games were created as entertainment for the rich who were simply bored of their lives: “You bet on horses. It’s the same here, but we bet on humans. You’re our horses.” Hwang doesn't try to embellish his message with layers of subtext. Every character serves a purpose and every game poses a clear philosophical question. "Can you trust anyone to be good?" is what the front man asks Gi–hun in the final scene. It offers us a sense of closure that The Truman Show never gave us: a face off between creator and participant, and the time to fully discern Hwang's overarching message— that goodness can be found even in the most harrowing place, and the real threat to humanity is apathy.
Support Local Artists and Mutual Aid at the Feminist Flea Market This flea market & craft fair is creating space for radical joy, connection, and solidarity. | JEAN PAIK
f you’re into polymer clay earrings, sustainable crochet, stunning watercolor portraits, and everything in between, the Feminist Flea Market & Craft Fair is the place to be. First organized in 2018, the market is dedicated to highlighting artists marginalized for their gender, including women and transgender, non–binary, and gender non–conforming folks. Funds generated at the Feminist Flea also go directly towards local community organizations throughout the city. The market had its most recent openings outdoors and in person after conducting their event virtually last year. Feminist Flea's first “nighttime market” of 2021 was in late August at Cherry Street Pier, with its donations benefiting Homies Helping Homies, a mutual aid distribution effort in Point Breeze. The event garnered over $6,000 for the organization’s shopping fund, helping them buy supplies for their biweekly food and household item distribution. The fair’s most recent appearance was as a complementary “daytime market” in the parking lot of Love City Brewing last Saturday, with $3 of the $5 entry fee going towards the Coalition for Black Trans Economic Liberation. Each market had over 40 amazing, non–repeating vendors present. Reb Aronow, the organizer of the Feminist Flea Market & Craft Fair, says they are intentional about choosing artists for the event—specifically prioritizing vendors that are Black, Indigenous, people of color, trans, and queer. The market has been committed to this mission for years, but it’s also evolved in many ways
since its inception. “I think every day, month, year, I get more and more radical,” Aronow says, “[and] I think that has shown itself in the market.” They explain that implementing a robust feedback form for vendors has allowed for more community input into the market, and ultimately helped bring about initiatives like a sliding–scale vendor fee system. Previously, if vendors could not afford the market’s vendor fee, they would have to reach out to set up a separate payment plan. While Aronow offered this flexibility, they acknowledged that this system may have deterred people from vending at all, and didn’t fully consider people’s financial capacity or variations in the amount vendors would make based on their differently– priced products. Now, Feminist Flea has shifted to a sliding–scale system that allows vendors to choose what they are comfortable paying on a given spectrum, no questions asked. The fee range depends on the particular market’s venue costs and budget, so Aronow also offers the ability for vendors to pay in increments, pay less than the bottom range, or not pay at all—with a consideration for what is financially accessible to the vendor. Another significant change in the market’s operation was directing money to grassroots and mutual aid organizations rather than to nonprofits. Through their experience working in the nonprofit industry and witnessing the intense harms of the nonprofit industrial complex, Aronow realized that it did not make sense for the Feminist Flea Market to funnel money in that direction. Instead of treating donations as a one–time event, the
market now focuses on building sustainable and reciprocal relationships with organizations that look to meet the needs of their community. Last February, the Feminist Flea collaborated with Philly Red Umbrella Alliance and Project SAFE for their Philadelphia Sex Worker Relief Fund, two organizations Aronow says are constantly in dialogue with the community that they’re serving. Learning about the work of the organization, directing volunteers, and signal–boosting requests for resources are a few ways the Feminist Flea hopes to build upon these connections. Aronow is also hopeful for potential collaborations with community groups they’ve worked with in the past, “especially giv-
en that so many people who run community orgs are also artists. There are so many interesting ways that we can cross collaborate.” Within the Feminist Flea Market itself, Aronow stresses that it’s important for the market to feel safe for people at the intersections of marginalized identities. “I believe in time and space for connection, joy, and reciprocal support ... There's something about having a space for art made by people that are acknowledging the systems we’re trapped in, and therefore trying to break out of,” Aronow says. They ultimately want the market to align with their values, and the values of the people who come to the market—aiming to redistribute wealth, and giv-
ing people the opportunity to be intentional about where they spend their money. For Aronow, however, there’s always room to learn, grow, and change. The future of the Feminist Flea Market & Craft Fair is something they think about often: "What are the ways the market can—even though 'it's just a market'—keep pushing boundaries?" In whatever form this may take, the market is resolved to celebrating the Philadelphia community in radical ways, and consistently showing up for one another in solidarity. While the market recently had its last 2021 appearance on Sept. 25, you can visit the Feminist Flea website to look out for its next event, as well as a list of all the previously featured vendors.
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Safe Yet Stifling: The Spectrum of the Queer Experience at Penn
Penn is often lauded as one of the most LGBTQ–inclusive campuses in the United States. But beneath this praise exists an opportunity for criticism—and then growth. | SEJAL SANGANI
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ilan Chand (C '24) hid his identity for most of his life. He came out as gay after his senior year of high school, telling all of his friends and family on the same day in the summer of 2020—right in the middle of the pandemic. “It wasn’t until I was in my isolation alone that I didn’t have to deal with anybody else’s opinion, and I was able to come out,” he says. Milan wouldn’t call his hometown homophobic, but he says that “the culture of high school in general breeds homophobia.” His high school classmates speculated about him being gay behind his back, and he had to deny it when faced with those rumors. “It was always this thing that people would make fun of me for. I would just have to deny and pre-
Milan Chand (C '24) tend like it was nothing. I would just heavily deny it and deny and deny.” Fast forward two years: Now, Milan says he's found a welcoming community at Penn through a variety of organizations, including the Lambda Alliance, the LGBT Center, and the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta, commonly known as FIJI. “I didn’t always feel comfortable with a big group of straight guys because there were always gay jokes being thrown around,” he says. “[But FIJI] allows you to still be open with all of them and still create those friendships, without the fear of your sexual identity getting in the way.” “As soon as I got to college, it just kind of felt like a new me,” Milan
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says. “I finally felt like myself.” Penn has been long commended as an LGBTQ–friendly college, consistently ranking among the top colleges for queer and transgender students for over the past decade. Campus Pride Index, a national listing of LGBTQ–friendly colleges and universities, gives Penn five out five stars. At Penn, many queer students have applauded administrative support for the LGBTQ community. The University’s LGBT Center is the physically largest and second oldest college LGBTQ center, preceded only by the University of Michigan’s. These ideas that exist about Penn on paper do translate to lived experiences. Several LGBTQ students interviewed for this story feel completely at home at Penn. But this hasn’t been the case for every student: Others have experienced the exact opposite, encountering homophobia and toxicity—from cishet and queer students alike— that have pushed them away from Penn’s LGBTQ community. While the University is generally exceptional in its support for queer and transgender students compared to peer institutions, members of the community still wish for a more inclusive campus culture. Martina* (C ’23) is a queer woman of color who has faced challenges trying to find her own space within Penn's LGBTQ culture. She came into college with the idea that she would be able to discover her place and her identity through Penn’s queer community. However, this hasn't been the case. Martina, who is from South Texas, says her hometown is “violently conservative regarding everything gay.” “It’s very quiet. People aren’t loud about it,” she adds, explaining that this was one of the reasons she wanted to go to college in a big city. Philadelphia has an extensive queer history and culture, including Washington Square West, which is known as the Gayborhood. Dealing with such issues at home has affected how Martina expresses
her sexuality at Penn. “I’m not going to immediately become this out–and–proud and happy gay person,” she says. Meanwhile, Alex (C '23)—another queer woman of color—is from Boulder, Colo., a left–leaning city. Still, she faced challenges regarding her sexuality in Boul-
Oliver Kaplan (C '22) der, which she says is “aggressively progressive, but in a damaging way because it’s all white liberals.” Both Martina and Alex also feel that attitudes from progressive students at Penn—especially white progressives—have been implicitly homophobic and performative. “I ran into a lot of people that were offhandedly homophobic,” Alex says. She explains that she used to joke around with the phrase “no homo,” and once used it in front of a straight friend, who replied, “Oh my God, yeah, definitely no homo.” Another time, one of Alex’s straight friends went up to homophobic protestors and told them off. The friend looked back at Alex, smiled, and gave a thumbs up, signaling that she was supportive of Alex’s sexuality. “Homophobia is homophobia, but when you try to mask it under progressivism, it bothers me a lot,” Martina says. But even beyond interactions with straight students on campus, Martina and Alex say that the University’s queer community, a supposedly welcoming space, can be stifling. They both feel that they’ve been forced into certain
labels or a certain archetype of an LGBTQ person by the queer community at Penn. Martina says she struggled to fit in with other LGBTQ students because many of the people she’s encountered are upper–middle– class, part of the top 1%, or white. “I [came to Penn] thinking, ‘There’s going to be a lot of gay people I’m going to relate to,’ and I didn’t relate to them at all, because these other identities were so conflicting,” she says. “Because they make up such a big portion of the out gay community here, it drove me away from the LGBT community.” Martina and Alex have also encountered white queer students who claimed to understand various types of oppression because of their LGBTQ identity. Alex explains that some interactions she’s had with white queer Penn students have gone along these lines: “Racism? Well, I’m gay, so I know exactly how that feels.” “Gayness is their gateway to oppression,” Martina says. When Alex came to Penn, she initially thought she was only attracted to women, but she slowly realized that she was attracted to men as well. Explaining this to her queer friends was met with a lot of biphobia, she says. Besides Martina, she hasn’t had many positive experiences with LGBTQ
students at Penn. “The LGBT community at this school likes to shove everybody into the same type of queer person,” Alex says. She explains that queer students have viewed her negatively because she never got involved with the LGBT Center, which just drove her away more. “The LGBT students that I’ve interacted with, they’re so toxic, and they’re shaming,” she continues. “There’s nothing about Penn gays that make me want to be like, ‘I am proud to be gay at Penn.’” On the other hand, other queer students have found a supportive and welcoming home in Penn’s LGBTQ community. Oliver Kaplan (C '22) transferred to Penn after being outed during his sophomore year at Bates College. Now a senior, Oliver is deeply involved with Penn’s LGBT Center, and he participates in advocacy work around preventing nonconsensual outings. “Penn was the first community where I was really welcomed for being part of the LGBT community,” he says. “Being able to reclaim a school environment in a more welcoming and accepting way was really important to me, and Penn has provided that.” Overall, Oliver feels that the support for LGBTQ students at Penn is strong and inclusive of the intersectionality of each queer student’s identity.
“Homophobia is homophobia, but when you try to mask it under progressivism, it bothers me a lot."
“Every single identity group I belong to, there’s a queer group for [it],” he says. Some of these groups include J–Bagel (a group for queer Jewish students), Queer & Asian, and Queer Student Alliance. Juliana Vollmer (C '24) came out as demiomnisexual/demibisexual during her senior spring of high school. She told a few of her teachers the week when her state went into lockdowns due to COVID–19. “I’m still in my honeymoon period of being out,” Juliana says. Juliana met one of her best friends and one of her roommates through the LGBT Center’s kikis, which are weekly casual chats for Penn’s queer students. She’s also utilized the Center’s community alongside other resources to work through mental health issues. “I don’t feel like I have to hide anymore—my queerness or my mental health,” she says. Penn’s queer community coalesces around the LGBT Center, which houses 28 student groups and programming for faculty, staff, and alumni. The Center’s reach is all–encompassing. It offers free printing, which allows queer or questioning students to explore the space without having to explain their identity, and the Peer Mentorship Program, which pairs younger queer students with older, out ones. The LGBT Center participates in a lot of advocacy work, as one of the nine confidential resource centers on campus for Title IX issues. Staff are trained to help members of the Penn community who have faced discrimination based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. The Center is also heavily involved in creating a safe educational environment for queer students. Staff members work with professors to make syllabi and classrooms more inclusive, as well as hold educational workshops on topics such as implicit bias.
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Juliana Vollmer (C '24)
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According to Erin Cross, the director of “There’s this belief that homophobia is the Center, all staff members there have an eradicated on campus,” Juliana says, which “open–door” policy—they leave their office has lead to a lapse in understanding between doors open unless they’re in a meeting, es- the queer community and straight, cishet sentially inviting students to talk to them students. about anything on their minds. She suggests that this education could be Cross also emphasizes that not all LGBTQ included in the Thrive At Penn (TAP) segstudents have to be involved with the Cen- ment of New Student Orientation that inter. coming students are required to participate “Just because you’re part of our commu- in. She even proposes that the LGBT Center nity doesn’t mean we expect to see you at the could work with other cultural groups on Center every day. Absolutely not. We want to campus to create a section in the TAP modsee you when you ules that informs stufeel comfortable dents about the issues coming,” she says. marginalized groups “We just want face at Penn. folks to know Other than educathat they have a tional reforms, insti“Just because you’re space where they tutional changes can part of our commubelong.” help create space for The Center a more inclusive LGnity doesn’t mean provides a specBTQ culture. For we expect to see trum of resourcinstance, Cross says you at the Center es to the queer that the LGBT Cencommunity, but ter badly needs a third every day. Absolutely students from all staff member. She also not. We want to see backgrounds and strongly emphasizes you when you feel experiences say the need for all–gender the buck doesn’t restrooms in Universicomfortable coming. stop there. Penn ty buildings. Students We just want folks to can do more to who don’t identify make the general within the gender biknow that they have undergraduate exnary often have to go a space where they perience more into other buildings—or belong.” clusive, especially not use the restroom when it comes at all—during class to educating stubecause there's no all– ERIN CROSS dents on implicit gender bathroom in and explicit forms the building. This also of homophobia poses an issue for staff and transphobia. or faculty who need Institutionally, both Martina and Alex those restrooms. praise Penn’s efforts in supporting the com“There are folks who want and need gendered munity. Martina specifically cites the LGBT restrooms. We totally support that, 110%. But Center, availability of LGBTQ health servic- there [need] to be bathrooms for folks of all identies, and LGBTQ–centric mental health care ties,” she says. through CAPS. They both say that 90% of Ultimately, even Penn, a university lauded for the problems with queer culture on campus its LGBTQ spaces and programming, isn’t exempt stem from the people—not the administra- from homophobia, transphobia, or discrimination. tion. A positive experience for one queer student doesn’t Juliana says that she would like to see edu- necessarily guarantee a positive experience for othcation on LGBTQ issues go beyond students ers, leaving a trail of cultural changes this campus that come to the LGBT Center, as these stu- needs to make to ensure the safety and well–being dents are usually either queer or allies. of all LGBTQ individuals at Penn.
JoJo Siwa: The Queer Icon of Our Generation?
Less than a year after coming out as queer, JoJo Siwa is now one of the most public faces of the LGBTQ community. | KAYLA COTTER
porting her signature bow, JoJo Siwa is this generation’s quintessential children’s star— quirky, imaginative, and energetic; however, this January, the YouTuber ventured into new territory when she came out as queer. Now a budding LGBTQ icon, Siwa has done anything but shy away from her newly publicized queerness; just this month, she made her debut on Dancing with the Stars as part of the first same–sex pair with dancer Jenna Johnson on the American version of the show. While queer stories have become increasingly prevalent in the media with major personalities such as Lil Nas X, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Troye Sivan, and Sam Smith all embracing their sexual and gender identities publicly, what makes Siwa’s coming out especially poignant is her target demographic. She’s a Nickelodeon star marketed towards kids, whose parents have definitive control over the entertainment they consume. Now, while Siwa has undeniably capitalized off of her own niche brand of children’s entertainment, complemented by gaudy rainbow–sparkle ensembles, parental support can make or break her career. The added pressure makes an already courageous and high–risk decision even more difficult for the star. As a Dance Moms alum, Siwa is a singer, dancer, and actress; her first–ever live concert tour, the D.R.E.A.M. tour,
which is currently in progress, is produced by Nickelodeon, and her new Nickelodeon live– action musical The J–Team was just released. Her decision to embrace her truest self and encounter guaranteed backlash has helped to champion the normalization of young queer people in the public eye. It also emphasizes that being queer is not an abnormality that needs to be hidden from children, while letting her audience know that it's okay to be different. From the very beginning, Siwa seemed to cement her place as an LGBTQ role model. Even better, the YouTuber has been anything but apologetic since coming out. Whether it’s publicly gushing over her girlfriend, Kylie Prew, on her Instagram page or engaging in myriad Pride events in support of the LGBTQ community, Siwa's clearly been using her platform to show the power of being unabashedly yourself. Her Dancing with the Stars decision only further proves her dedication to the cause. To The New York Times, Siwa said that when given the choice between male or female, she "immediately chose female.” She then says, “How awesome is it that I get to be the first, that I get to make history and inspire people this way? That is huge.” It is huge, at least for the American version of the show, which is now catching up with its Danish and French counterparts. Representation, especially long–overdue representation, is a big deal, and Siwa seems
determined to ensure that she isn’t merely a token individual in the eyes of the audience. Not only did she compete on the first night, but she and her partner, Johnson, slayed the competition with an impressive quickstep, receiving the night’s highest score (which isn’t surprising considering that Siwa’s livelihood has always been dance). Siwa’s pluck was nothing short of praiseworthy. Siwa is somebody who has always been authentically herself. It’s easy to argue that the YouTuber was an icon far before
she came out in January, given her glittery, kid–friendly image and flamboyant merchandise that purposely lacks maturity (oftentimes to the petulance of her fellow teens). For years, Siwa has been an advocate against bullying, which becomes especially poignant when one comes to understand the depth of what she has harbored for so long. Simply put, it’s nice to see an LGBTQ children’s star embrace their identity so openly, especially given that most of Gen Z experienced a potent lack of queer representation or
role models who brandished their sexuality so shamelessly in their early years. For so long, the reality of LGBTQ relationships was often swept under the rug or ignored completely. Siwa wants to be “a role model for people who love love,” and it’s hard to deny that she has been an exemplary one over the past year. Her refusal to play into heteronormativity at her age is groundbreaking, and with every new project, she continues to cement herself as the young queer icon we all needed.
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The Barnes Foundation’s Retrospective of
is a Triumph of the Female Gaze Inside the model, painter, and rebel's subversive career | IRMA KISS BARATH
Valadon’s lack of erotic interest is apparent throughout, as she renders her subjects washing, grooming, or merely resting. The tone is warm but decidedly unsexy.
Valadon was “raised in the gutter," running through a string of manual jobs before landing in the Parisian art scene at the age of 15. Her modeling work could be punishing. Besides the physical strain of posing for hours, she likely faced the social stigma of her occupation. In 19th–century Paris, artists’ models, particularly those who posed nude, were considered to be on par with sex workers. But these very
beginnings would prove essential to her artistic legacy. Long hours posing in the studio introduced her to artistic techniques, and one can imagine the reputed young model acquired a taste for being on the other side of the canvas. Models—certainly ones as popular as Valadon—are deeply involved in the creative process. Look no further than The Kiss of the Siren, where she twists her torso at an improbable slant. Here one could e a s ily argue that she was as much an agent of creation as the artist himself. Thus emerges the exhibition’s through– line: Valadon’s reappropriation of the female body for her own creative ends. Valadon’s artistic exploration of the female form begins tentatively, with spare sketches and etchings. Encouraged by Edgar Dégas, she turned her eye towards the women surrounding her, must notably her maid Louise, whom she captured in a series of nudes. These early drawings are severe, with the subject engaged in intricate, demanding poses that betray an unexpected lack of sympathy from the model turned artist. However, viewers can delight in Valadon’s progression from these aloof nudes to more
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lively renditions of everyday scenes involving women and children. Highlights include the dynamic, swooping bather of Marie Bathing with Sponge; the charming, gesturally rich Children Dressing in the Garden; the tender sketches of her son, Maurice Utrillo. The show introduces Valadon’s nudes with the insistence that these famous works arose mostly by happenstance. A label clarifies that the artist was merely responding to market demands for nude women. Valad o n’s lack of erotic interest is apparent throughout, as she renders her subjects washing, grooming, 2 or merely resting. 20 © The tone is warm ork Artw but decidedly unsexy. In works like 1923’s The Two Bathers, the artist works not to titillate but to sympathize. The unflattering squat poses here are a reversal of the show’s opening piece. Valadon is keenly interested in women, but not merely for their bodies. Both subjects are fully clothed in the piercing Marie Coca and Her Daughter Gilberte, yet the portrait is by far the most revealing painting in the show. The picture’s ominously tilted floorboards, coupled with Marie’s vacant eyes and slack body, gesture towards a critique of stringent married life. In
1A rti sts Rig hts S ociety (ARS), N ew York
he Barnes Foundation’s new retrospective of Suzanne Valadon, the first of its kind in North America, opens not with one of the artist’s many works—but with a painting of Valadon herself. In Gustav Wertheimer’s imposing The Kiss of the Siren (1882), we catch a glimpse of Valadon as a muse. Under Wertheimer’s hand, we see the petite, brunette Valadon doctored into a leggy, fairytale blonde. However, this is not the only deceiving representation of the model turned artist; opposite Wertheimer’s painting, we see portraits from artists including Renoir and Toulouse–Lautrec. For the most part, these renditions portray the young model as exuberant and eager—but they belie the physical demands of her job, not to mention her precarious station. Curator Nancy Ireson mentions that, according to one callous critic,
the same vein, Valadon’s many nudes undress their subjects’ psyche more so than their bodies. By turns, she exposes the trappings of womanhood and alludes to its hidden power. Valadon's art is keenly aware of the pressures women faced, representing them in their most vulnerable physical states. Not to diminish Valadon's genius, much of her technical acuity can be attributed to her close relationships with other artists. Valadon learnt by observing artists in action (first her clients and then her peers), and references abound in her work. Her affinity for patterns and textures recalls Matisse; her love of flat colors and nature motifs hint at Gauguin; we even catch a whiff of Soutine in the exquisite Still Life with Drapery and Bouquet. With this stylistic agility, Valadon often finds herself grouped with her most eminent male contemporaries. In her lifetime, Valadon habitually turned down group shows with women, a decision that testifies to her self–assurance in the boys’ club of modern art. Yet, despite her critical stature, Valadon’s work is often misread or neglected in the popular imagination. In her later years, she increasingly found herself a footnote to her son’s artistic accomplishments. With this historical awareness, the exhibition glosses over the details of the artist's biography, particularly where it concerns her son. But this reluctance to discuss Valadon’s relationships with men leaves much to be desired.For the artist who so sharply rendered the doldrums of motherhood in Marie Coca and Her Daughter Gilberte, surely her relationship to her son was formative. The viewer is left itching for a more complete portrait of mother and son—a desire that holds true for the other men in Valadon’s life. In brushing over her relationships, the exhibition obscures Valadon’s power as an agent. Yet we can have faith that as a breadwinner and an artist, Valadon was always in control.
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Meet Isabel Hu: A Traditional Painter Turned Tattoo Artist and Digital Creator Artist Spotlight | How this design student lets art rule her life with no regrets | JESSA GLASSMAN Photo courtesy of Isabel Hu
rom a very young age, Isabel Hu (C ‘23) was always drawing–sometimes on scrap paper, sometimes in an art book, and a little too frequently on her family’s couch. Nowadays, Isabel frequently finds herself stopping to look for the visually intriguing elements in her daily life, often snapping pictures to reference in future works of art.
Photo courtesy of Isabel Hu “Literally yesterday, I went to the [Penn] museum, the Egyptian section,” she says, fiddling with the stylish longboard in her hands. “[I saw] these tiny statuettes … I’m planning on doing something with them.” Isabel does far more than just appreciate art—she uses it as inspiration for the creation of her own unique artistic language. While her mediums of choice have shifted and likely will continue to morph over time, her enthusiasm and passion for 1 8 34TH STREET MAGAZINE OC TOBER 5, 2021
creativity are everlasting. Isabel was originally trained as a traditional hyper–realist painter, meaning she was taught to translate images directly from photographs to canvas in the most true–to–life way possible. “I feel like that [hyper–realism] really stunted a lot of my creativity,” she says. “It was very direct, but I wanted to start exploring my own style.” This motivated her as she grew older to create more expressive and innovative works. Using Procreate and the Adobe Suite on her iPad, Isabel quickly realized that the options to channel her creativity were endless. With amenities like an infinite color wheel and the ability to toggle layers, easily erase mistakes, and zoom in and out, the digital medium has opened Isabel’s eyes to a world of artistic possibilities. Isabel is particularly proud of one digital project: a transformation of her best friend into an action movie character. She was inspired by a pose she saw while scrolling on Instagram, and she used it as a starting point for the piece. Working with a bright and innovative color palette that she felt matched her friend’s aura, Isabel created a dynamic, creative, and visually engaging rendering. When scrolling through her Instagram feed, the countless depictions of friends show just how much Isabel cares about the people in her life. Some of these friends have even asked Isabel to design them a tattoo, including a Tree of Life design now on her friend's peck. These tattoo designs are another way Isabel employs digital art; she’s even gotten many of her designs tattooed on her own body. For Isabel, a tattoo is both a personal work of meaningful art, as well as an act of rebellion. “It says art in my mom's handwriting,” Isabel says, pointing to the Chinese character on her chest. “She doesn't know,” she says with a mischievous smile. Interjecting during our
discussion about why she is drawn to tattoos, Isabel tells me that she’s getting another one tomorrow. This self–designed piece, now on her shoulder, is of two snakes emerging from a flower and symbolizes various forks in her life. It adds to her vast and growing assortment of tattoos ranging from a Creation of Adam–inspired set of hands to Snoopy from Peanuts. Despite facing consistent pressure from her parents to abandon her dream of creating art professionally, Isabel has stood her ground—understanding that others' dreams should never trump her own. Likewise, when hyper–realism stopped satisfying her craving for creativity, she started to explore other avenues more conducive to expressive experimentation, like tattoo and digital art. Isabel
Isabel makes her life choices by questioning whether or not she’ll regret them decades down the line.
makes her life choices by questioning whether or not she’ll regret them decades down the line. This mindset has led her to study design, seek out a summer tattoo apprenticeship, and work art into her daily life. Isabel hopes her “no regrets” mentality will inspire other students struggling to commit themselves fully to art. “Just go for it,” she says with a smile.
Megan Fox, Kourtney Kardashian, and Marketing Celebrity Friendship Megan Fox and Kourtney Kardashian broke the internet with their Skims campaign. But are they actually friends? | ANNA HOCHMAN
egan Fox is back with a vengeance—filming new projects, taking over talk shows, and posing for paparazzi pictures with her hotshot boyfriend Machine Gun Kelly. It doesn't come as a surprise, then, to learn that she's found a new way to capitalize off of her renewed A–list status. Fox seems to have struck up a new friendship with Kourtney
the Tramp” style. Another shows the two sporting Skims’ famous rib underwear, cuddled up and glowering at the camera. The stars’ fans have gone wild on social media over their Skims campaign. One Twitter user posting about the photoshoot described the pair’s friendship as having “bad girl bestie energy.” Another called Fox and Kardashian “the duo I never knew I needed.”
star boyfriends, who share a similar aesthetic and often collaborate on music. Fans were thrilled to see the couples on double dates and watch Fox and Kardashian introduce Kelly and Barker at the VMAs. No one seems to be under the impression that Fox and Kelly, or Kardashian and Barker, are in relationships for publicity purposes—the pairings are simply too random for anyone to concoct them. Fox and Kardashian, on the other hand, have a friendship so marketable that even their fans would have a hard time believing they came together naturally. As an audience, we can’t look away from celebrity friendships. It humanizes our idols and makes them feel more attainable—like maybe we could be friends with
them, too. That is the genius of Fox and Kardashian’s perhaps calculated, definitely entertaining friendship: By inviting us into their photos, their double dates, and their rumored hangouts, their relationship itself becomes more sellable than the products they are advertising. The marketing of a celebrity relationship is not unique to Fox and Kardashian—in fact, this phenomenon has been on the rise in recent years. Take Pete Davidson and John Mulaney—a pairing that no one expected but fans quickly grew to love. After the SNL star and comedian started appearing together, people couldn’t get enough of the friendship. Their talk show appearances racked up millions
of views, they were profiled together for publicity, and they even went on tour as a duo. Davidson and Mulaney, both famous in their own rights, became even more successful by capitalizing on their friendship, selling themselves as a pair. When interacting with celebrity duos, we feel included—like we're part of the fun right alongside them. We're not just third parties in their relationships, but active participants. They wouldn't be successful without us supporting them, and, in turn, whatever products they're selling—be it tickets, YouTube views, magazine covers, or clothing collections. We might enjoy these friendships—but we don't have to buy into them.
Illustration by Alice Heyeh Kardashian over the past few weeks, and the duo is going viral. The pair went Instagram–official on Sept. 13, posting pictures from a behind–the–scenes photoshoot in the bathroom at the MTV Video Music Awards— where Kelly and Travis Barker, Kardashian’s boyfriend, were performing together. “Kourtney and I are in love,” wrote Fox on the photo of the two women smiling at each other through urinal stalls. The post garnered over 4.5 million likes. A week later came their ultimate power play. On Sept. 22, Fox and Kardashian were revealed to be the faces of the Skims Cotton Collection. As part of the brand’s newest release, the company posted photos of the two modeling the new lingerie and loungewear line. In one, Fox and Kardashian are sharing an apple “Lady and
The collection has done well so far, with numerous items already in low stock or sold out. Part of the launch’s success comes from the publicity generated by Fox and Kardashian, who no doubt are profiting tremendously from sales. In a matter of days, the duo managed to capitalize off of their new friendship, marketing themselves as a commodity useful in selling products. Unless they planned a brand collaboration and booked a photoshoot in less than a week, Fox and Kardashian’s relationship probably began long before their audience was privy to it on Instagram. The timeline of their friendship’s public debut and their subsequent Skims launch begs the question: Are Fox and Kardashian actually friends, or is this all a typical Hollywood PR stunt? The only thing tying the two together seems to be their rock-
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