School Essays Youâ€™re supposed to enjoy school. Sometimes, I do.
There have been many school assignments that I have done just to get them done. There have been a few, depending on how much I liked the teacher or the class, which I have worked hard to do well on. And then there have been those about which I have been so fascinated that I have invested hours trying to make them as thoughtful and elegant as possible. The essays I’ve included in this portfolio fall into the third category – ones that I cared so deeply about that I worked for weeks to make them as good as I could. People who know me roll their eyes when they find out which essays are in this section, because each represents one of my obsessions. The first, written in the winter of my junior year, concerns Batman’s famous arch nemesis, the Joker (yes this was for a real class, it was awesome). The second was an essay for my nutrition class. The third was one for my travel writing class. My great take away from this was that if I am sufficiently interested in something, I can write about it forever. My thoughts aren’t always profound. The writing is messy sometimes. It seems, in fact, that these essays in which I was so caught up are the ones that require the most rewrites, as I do tend to get carried away with them. The Joker essay was for a class called “Laughter and Comedy”, a class that actually involved very little laughter. Our final exam for that class was to write an essay on anything laughter and comedy related. Many people chose to write essays about people like Mitch Hedberg, or Lewis Black. Some people wrote about the Simpsons or South Park. Me, being the huge nerd that I am, wanted to write about comic books, and who better to write about than the Clown Prince himself. The essay starts out defining Joker as a clown in the classical sense, then goes on to (pretty extensively) relate his actions in the comics to clowns throughout history, particularly to Fellini’s I Clowns. It ends with a discussion of a pretty exciting conclusion I drew where I realized that in the classical sense, both Batman and the Joker were clowns. Yes I did refer to it as exciting. Yes I am a nerd. Of course, most of my essays have not been as light hearted. And even those received the same level of care as the Joker one. During the Fall semester of 2009 a friend and I road tripped (this was for a class) from Elon to the westernmost town in North Carolina, and then back up. Along the way we stopped in a little town called Hendersonville in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We stumbled across a diner called Mike’s on Main and were treated to a pretty decent lunch and a fascinating history lesson from a little old lady behind the counter. This led me to write a story that I tried to write faster than I was able to type. I had to keep reminding myself that it was an essay, but what I came up with was basically a slightly academic journal entry. Just academic enough to land me an A-. Then finally there was the final essay I wrote for my Nutrition class, the best class I’ve ever taken. We were tasked with describing whether or not the food stamp system could be altered so people could eat more healthily. Being passionate about both nutrition and personal freedom, I argued with myself up to the page maximum (one, single spaced) before reaching a conclusion that I was somewhat happy with. My professor was happy to – a full A on the paper, and in the class. I can fire off a two page paper in an hour and it’ll be alright. Or I can get so wrapped up in a paper that it becomes mine – something I’m really proud of, and something that clearly shows my enthusiasm and desire to learn about the topic.
The Joker The Ace of Knaves. The Harlequin of Hate. The Clown Prince of Crime. Flattering euphemisms to describe Batman’s most notorious foe. One look at the Joker’s face and it is obvious what he is: a clown, probably with murderous tendencies. Joker’s appearance is decidedly clown like. He sports the typical white face, wild hair, and abnormally large grin of a traditional grotesque white-faced clown. But further probing into Joker’s character reveals that he is more than superficially clownish. Indeed, he demonstrates a wide range of clown like personality traits, from an extremely ambiguous nature steeped in duality to a closeness a variety of different types of clowns from many different points in history. Though there is still great debate about Joker’s past (Joker himself admits not being clear on it) the accepted canon explanation comes from 1988’s The Killing Joke. In this story, Joker is shown beginning as a failed comedian trying desperately to support his pregnant wife. Right from the outset, the duality of happiness vs. sadness is there – the funnyman on stage going home to a bleak and almost hopeless existence. The contrast is apparent in other Joker tales as well. In Tim Burton’s 1989 film, Batman, the Joker tells Vikki Vale he is leaving her apartment, “I’m only laughing on the outside, my smile is just skin deep. If you could see inside, I’m really crying – you might join me for a weep.” Joker’s personality also exemplifies a contrast between happiness and sadness (or in Joker’s case, madness). In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989), he is described as being not insane, but instead having achieved a sort of “super-sanity,” which effectively leaves him with no discernable personality – at times he can be nothing but a harmless goofball, while at other times he is a sadistic, cold blooded killer. Throughout his history, this contrast between humor and terror has been clear. When he was first created in the 1940s, he designed as simply a killer with a clowns face. Later on he became nothing but a simple prankster, with plots as devious as driving over giant tubes of paint in his Joker-mobile to splatter Wayne Manor. By now, the distinction is hazier than ever. While Joker is definitely a psychopathic criminal, the super-sanity suggested in Arkham Asylum means that there is no base personality for the Joker – he simply adapts himself to whatever situation he is in. Evidence of his dualistic nature can be found in a number of Batman comics. The best example is in The Killing Joke. In this story, Joker visits Jim Gordon’s house, shoots his daughter in the spine, which paralyzes her, then strips her naked and takes pictures of her. Then he kidnaps Gordon and puts him on an abandoned roller coaster, showing him giant pictures of his daughter, totally nude and lying in a pool of her own blood, all in an effort to make drive Gordon crazy – to prove to him that “all it takes is one bad to drive the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am…one bad day.” This is widely regarded as the most sinister, depraved act Joker has ever committed. However, at the end of the book, after Batman has thwarted his plan and Gordon is able to retain his sanity, he turns himself in peacefully, even sharing a joke with Batman.
Joker’s laughter also displays a dualism in his personality – between hilarity and terror. Joker’s laugh is instantly recognizable, even in the comic books, where it is always either furiously scribbled or written in block letters. Joker uses it to express a wide range of emotions, from delight in his brilliant schemes to pain at being beaten up by Batman. No matter what the Joker does, his laughter follows, no matter what emotion it is accompanying. But the duality of the different aspects of Joker’s personality is not the only things that make him a clown. There are, in fact, many other examples that actually prove this point better than a close examination of his personality. For example, it is possible to relate Joker to different types of clowns from many different points in history. Interesting to consider is how the Joker functions as a jester in King Batman’s court. In medieval times, court jesters were allowed to say whatever they wanted in the presence of the king, however controversial, without fear of repercussion as long as they were able to make the king laugh. But if they were unable to entertain the king, they could be killed on the spot. Therefore, they constantly had to one-up themselves, and were always thinking of new and innovative ways to make the king laugh. This is Joker’s mission. All of his plots, all his insane schemes are hatched for one singular reason: to make Batman laugh. Much like Feste from Twelfth Night, he seeks to use his wit to bring people to his level, to make them see things, even terrible things, the way he sees them. But he is never able to make Batman laugh, and for this reason his crimes never go unpunished. However, since he is never killed by Batman (since Batman doesn’t kill) he is always able to come back again, always able to try and one-up himself. Modern Joker tales can be related to more modern clown stories as well. The movie I Clowns ends with a clown funeral, during which a mass of clowns of all different kinds perform their best routine ever as a send off for a very famous clown when he died. Every clown act is represented, and when it ends the big top is completely empty and silent. The act left as fast as it came in, leaving behind only the memory of the screaming calliope and the ferocious clowning. In 2008’s Joker’s Last Laugh, Joker is falsely diagnosed with terminal cancer. Believing that he is dying, Joker sets off for one last hurrah – an epic clown funeral. In the story, he gives a number of super villains a dose of his Joker venom, which gives them his hideous grin, and sets them loose from prison to go on a massive crime spree to send him off. This represents that more than just wanting to make Batman laugh, Joker recognizes himself as BEING an actual clown – not just looking like one – and as a result, he wants to go down properly. In many ways, however, Joker is not the only kind of clown in Batman’s world. In the traditional commedia de’ll arte, the type of clowns at the top of the hierarchy are the whitefaced clowns. There are two different categories of whiteface clowns: neat whiteface and grotesque whiteface. The neat whiteface clown in known as “the aristocrat of all clowns.” Its performance is highly artistic and skillful. It wears a hat that fits its personality. The whiteface, while sometimes still being comedic, remains in control of the situation, throwing the pies at the Augustes rather than taking them, etc. The grotesque whiteface clown is more comical than the neat whiteface, and, despite being slightly below them in class, are still way above the Auguste and other fool clowns. They also have more exaggerated facial features than the neat whitefaces, including exaggerated
eyes and mouths. Both whiteface clowns wear costumes that are neater than the lesser types of clowns, though the grotesque whiteface often wears more garish colors. Though it seems they have nothing in common, Batman and his greatest villain share one crucial trait: they are BOTH clowns. Joker is a grotesque whiteface clown, and the Dark Knight himself is the neat. Something they both have in common is that they are both grotesque, though not in a sense of grotesque white face. As explained in I Clowns, “grotesque can be defined as an outer, physical distortion reflecting an inner, spiritual deformity.” This definition is obvious when relating to the Joker, but it also relates to Batman as well. Bruce Wayne is a typical, rich playboy, perfectly sound of mind and doing exactly what rich playboys are expected to do. But once he puts on the cape and cowl, he changes physically and mentally. In many ways, Batman is just as insane as Joker, only with a different goal in mind, and his costume, his “outer, physical distortion,” bring it out in him. The Joker’s moniker “The Clown Prince of Crime” is well earned, and not simply because he looks like a psychotic clown. He can be substantially related to many different types of clowns, and many different interpretations of clown culture and behavior. This is what makes Joker such an interesting character – his personality is completely impossible to relate to, but he is such a complex character that studying him always turns up extremely interesting finds.
Fixing Food Stamps – There’s No Magic Bullet Changing the food stamp system such that its recipients could only purchase healthy foods would help people and throw a major dent into the obesity epidemic. Obviously, people who still want to eat unhealthily will be able to do so, but it will be much more difficult to do so. If we could combine healthier meals at home with healthier meals cooked in schools, we could make a critical strike at the issue. This would work in much the same way that cigarette taxes do – by making it more difficult to obtain unhealthy foods, we would see a drop in their consumption. But there will always be problems. For one thing, limiting people’ access to food they can purchase with food stamps is a major blow at their freedom of choice, a principle foundation that this country was built on. Granted, when this country was built, I don't think Thomas Jefferson and George Washington foresaw the pending obesity crisis, but regardless, restricting people’s ability to buy the food they want is contradictory to the idea of the land of the free. Additionally, making food stamps only able to pay for things like fresh veggies and fruit would mean that some people just might not eat. After all, there are not many places to shop for vegetables in the heart of inner city Detroit. It is easy to say “okay, everyone can only buy healthy foods from now on,” but the fact remains that some places simply cannot get it. There is the argument that we would just have to make food accessible to people there, but in many places that would have much farther reaching social implications, some of them positive, some negative. People who live on food stamps are obviously not well off financially. While many are unemployed, many others are working two or more jobs and trying to support their families. Many of the foods you can buy with food stamps are instant meals that you can just throw in the oven and heat, and I’m sure this is a godsend for a lot of people. I hate to say it, but it can be argued that the ability to cook food, to have time to prepare balanced meals with fresh vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, is limited to people who can afford it. If someone gets home and has an hour before they have to go t their next job, they are not going to want to spend that entire time cooking a meal, then (most likely) having to leave before it is finished. Being able to cook healthy is a privilege of those with the time to do it – would we be just leaving behind those that don't? It is easy for a guy in a hemp t-shirt to say that fixing the food stamp system would fix the obesity problem. It is just as easy to say that fixing the government in many third would countries would end their hunger problems. Both statements are true. But there are many, many things that need to be taken into account, a whole social system that needs revamping. Of course, little changes could go a long way. For instance, putting restrictions on things like soda. America has mostly safe drinking water. There is no real reason to drink soda other than that it tastes good, and doing so only makes people unhealthy. If we removed just that from the food stamp system we could see great improvements in health without making it any more difficult for people to sustain themselves.
Hendersonville – Fascinating History in an Unexpected Place The first thing we noticed when we walked up to Mike’s on Main in Hendersonville was a green and white tile mosaic that read “Justus.” Actually, this was what encouraged us to eat there as opposed to Hot Dog World. After we finished eating, we asked our waitress what the word on the ground meant. What she told us was very surprising. In the old days (as in the 1800s), the building that is now occupied by Mike’s on Main was called the Justus Pharmacy. Back then, all of the establishments had their names written in tiles on the ground in front of the door. The Justus Pharmacy was a pharmacy in the old sense – prescriptions in the back, soda fountain and candy shop in the front. The most interesting thing about Mike’s on Main was that it, unlike all of the other newer buildings in Hendersonville, was still almost exactly the same as it was a century ago. The building was the only original storefront left in the town. In a glass exhibit case along the wall was a huge collection of pharmaceutical instruments that Mr. Justus used every day. The counter at the front of the restaurant, filled with candy and brochures, was the original counter from the 1800s as well (luckily the candy was all new). We were confused to see the green and white tiles on the floor in front of the shop – they looked out of place in such a clean, modern looking town. But we were very happy to know that even as it developed, Hendersonville managed to hold on to a very unique part of its history. Recently I saw the same tiling outside of a building in downtown Burlington, more than 200 miles away. I don’t know how many people would have noticed it, but I smiled as I thought of Mike’s on Main in Hendersonville, and I wondered about Mr. Miller, and the kind of shop he ran.