The Big Bad Wolf of Hollywood

For the past 20 years, I have always thought of myself as hard working and deserving of the opportunities that I received. I earned good grades, kept in good shape and made a good effort to impress my employers. This constant feeling of being good enough put me in a position of self-entitlement, a tragic flaw that remained cloaked for years by my own hubris. Little did I know that I had lived a life of ease because I had failed to immerse myself in an environment outside of my comfort zone. It didn’t take much time for this wall of self-entitlement to be mercilessly knocked down.

My first day working at Big Studio would soon awaken me to the ruthless world of corporate America. There he was: the Big, Bad Wolf of Hollywood (who I will hereon refer to as BBW for C.Y.A. purposes). At least that was what I called him in my head because that nickname was one I too greatly feared to share among my co-interns. Others referred to him as the Harvey Weinstein of the west coast, not unlike the formidable Miranda Priestly in the coming-of-age film, The Devil Wears Prada. BBW instilled a cold aura among his lowly peers, remaining one of few who still practiced the old Hollywood tradition of screaming at people to get things done.

For months I struggled to juggle tedious tasks that seemed (to my rude awakening) nearly impossible. On week two, BBW dropped a box containing a Dolce & Gabana shirt on my lap and instructed me to “ship it back to Europe”… without a return label, return address, account number or password. I felt humiliated and offended that I, a college-educated 20-year-old, had worked so hard to intern at a prestigious company just to be given menial tasks with minimal instruction, even less respect and no appreciation. I was given a condescending death glare when I didn’t know I was supposed to do something; reprimanded when I did anything wrong; worst of all, unrecognized when I went above and beyond. No matter how hard I worked, how hard I tried to impress him, nothing seemed to evoke a smile on BBW’s face.

And so, by week 5, I did what any college educated 20-year-old would do. I locked myself in my car at lunch and cried. Puffy-eyed and so unprofessionally distraught, I called my dad to vent my misery. He told me a piece of advice that I would carry with me in all of my jobs, “You don’t get respect, you earn it.”

For the next 5 weeks, I surpassed expectations in every task I was given and when I felt disrespected, I worked harder. I responded to each problem with multiple solutions. I learned to anticipate what my boss wanted before he said it. For lunch runs, I memorized his lengthy lunch orders as specific as a salmon salad but substitute tuna instead, no croutons, a sprinkle of feta cheese, oil and vinegar on the side. To prepare for his travel, I wrote comprehensive lists of hotel options that included the hotel location, description of amenities, customer reviews, competitive prices and surrounding restaurants. Each menial task I was given turned into a challenging endeavor that gave me the opportunity to prove that my position at the bottom of the Hollywood pyramid did not determine my abilities.

By week 6, BBW called me into his office to have a talk. Terrified, I could not recall what I had done so wrong to have prompted him to want to “talk.” To my astonishment, BBW not only offered me an opportunity to continue the internship into the fall, but also compliment my abilities. I, The Nonexistent Intern, had grown into the Smart and Funny Kristin. As I exited his office, my face turn red with childish giddiness because what surprised me most of all was that BBW had called me by my name.

A Lukewarm Teen RomCom

Paper Towns was an offbeat but pleasant teen romcom. Initially slow and unstructured, I felt the film took a while to develop because, as an audience member, it’s difficult to adapt to Margo’s eccentric personality; she remains jaded and unrelatable (which arguably gives Margo her appeal). Understandably casted as a way to attract young female viewers, Cara’s infamously odd nature and lack of femininity suited Margo’s individualistic character quite well. Nevertheless, her deep voice and forced American accent made her feel unrealistically older than the other characters; she lacks the colloquial speech of an American teenage girl.

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There were a few witty, memorable lines that made the film a more charming romcom. For example when Margo tells Q she lives in “a paper town for a paper girl,” she suggests that the idea of her as Q’s dream girl is as fictitious as a paper town. I think this particular quote should have followed with a melodic rhythm and abstract scene of her (as a vision) drifting farther away from Q, instead of simply being briefed in conversation. Another quote that caught my attention was when Q narrates, “It always seemed so ridiculous that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like basing your breakfast cereal on color instead of taste.” Q sees Margo as a mirage; a fictitious love interest that he believes will bring him life. But he learns on his way to finding Margo that the fulfillment that he longs for, which he mistakens as being Margo, is found among those who have supported him along the way (his friends).

The film eventually found its spark once Margo left and the very average, yet likable protagonist, Q, began his quest to finding his “paper girl.” The dynamic among Q and his two best friends allowed for a few giggles such as when they sang Pokemon for a courage kumbaya or when the team strictly allocates less than 10 minutes to regroup at a gas station. Overall, Paper Towns makes for a decent modern-day teen romcom with a splash of mystery and quirk to each character.

Acing Round 2 of Steve Jobs

sjobs.jpgThe film’s most compelling piece was its portrayal of Jobs to be as mechanical as the computers he develops. Contrary to most protagonists, Jobs’ character never seems to evolve except for perhaps the ending when he acknowledges Lisa as his biological daughter. Jobs is a rare case in which we see very little character development and when we do, it is subtle. Sorkin did a brilliant job with the screenplay. The dialogue was rich with tech-savvy detail and quick wit, making it nearly impossible to keep up with if you missed a beat. Fassbender played an exceptional Jobs, acing the cutthroat attitude and the cold air he gave to everyone around him. This was especially felt in the scene in which an unspecified Apple employee greets Jobs with a “hi,” to which Jobs does not even flinch; the camera maintains focus on Jobs’ back as he walks past the man. To pick, Fassbender seemed to possess a bit too much charm, especially in scenes opposite Hoffman, which made him too likeable. His broken childhood also brings reason to his cold demeanor, making him a sympathetic character. These qualities may cause the audience to question why anyone might dislike Jobs, such as when Hertzfeld states at the end, “I’ve always disliked you.” This also puts into question whether a protagonist can ever be unlikeable.

I found Winslet to be the voice of reason. kate-winslet-best-roles-steve-jobsShe played a strong supporting actress; in fact, so strong that she seemed to have been the brains behind any of Jobs’ success. Whether or not Boyle had intentionally highlighted her as the most valuable asset to Jobs’ life, it was refreshing to see a woman as the strongest character in the film; her ethics in demanding Jobs fix his relationship with Lisa, her courage in respectfully arguing with Jobs and her constant position as showrunner of each product launch. By film’s end, I wanted to see more of Joanna Hoffman and her role in running Apple and leading it and arguably Jobs to success.

Overall, Steve Jobs was an engaging film that focuses specifically on Jobs’ failed attempts that ultimately led him to the rise of Apple. Not a film I’d watch in theaters; it requires too much focus and caters to a specific crowd of people interested in Steve Jobs and his personal path and contribution to Apple. This is a film that might have done better if released on digital. But kudos to the camerawork and soundtrack for adding tension, excitement and suspense to the relatively boring scenery consisting of a stage (for the product launches) and a dressing room (for any other dramatic scene).

Disconnected

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Gary Turk’s YouTube video, “Look Up,” has reached nearly 55 million views as of today. In his captivating video, Turk poetically calls attention to the harmful effects of the Millennial generation’s obsession with their mobile devices. Many have become too immersed in the digital world and too absent in the real world as a direct result of the rapid expansion of technology. Users now focus on economizing superficial online relationships rather than carefully tending to their authentic offline relationships. The following is an excerpt from Turk’s viral video:

A world where we’re slaves to the technology we mastered,

where our information gets sold by some rich greedy bastard.

A world of self-interest, self-image, self-promotion,

where we share all our best bits, but leave out the emotion.

We are at our most happy with an experience we share,

but is it the same if no one is there.

Be there for your friends, and they’ll be there too,

But no one will be, if a group message will do.

We edit and exaggerate, we crave adulation,

we pretend we don’t notice the social isolation.

We put our words into order, until our lives are glistening,

we don’t even know if anyone is listening.

Being alone isn’t the problem, let me just emphasize,

that if you read a book, paint a picture, or do some exercise,

you are being productive, and present, not reserved or recluse,

you’re being awake and attentive, and putting your time to good use.

So when you’re in public, and you start to feel alone,

put your hands behind your head, and step away from the phone.

You don’t need to stare at your menu, or at your contact list,

just talk to one another, and learn to co-exist.

I can’t stand to hear the silence, of a busy commuter train,

when no one wants to talk through the fear of looking insane.

We’re becoming unsocial, it no longer satisfies

to engage with one another, and look into someone’s eyes.

We’re surrounded by children, who since they were born,

watch us living like robots, and think it’s the norm.

It’s not very likely you will make world’s greatest dad,

if you cant entertain a child without a using an iPad (Turk, 2014).

Turk specifically draws attention to the smart phone user’s growing similarity to that of a robot, suggesting that too many have become as mechanical as the miniature machines attached to their hands. The smart phone user’s desire for social validation creates an expanding self-obsession with his or her online image. The immediate gratification that comes with receiving positive feedback from an Instagram or Facebook post becomes a stimulant that the user grows to rely on. Users now prioritize updating their social media accounts before anything else, which as a result directly removes them from their immediate environment and envelops them in the digital domain.

Although the use of social media creates an efficient way to communicate with more people is less time, it also comes at a major cost. We end up trading deeper, interactive and meaningful relationships for shallow online relationships. The smart phone serves as a medium of communication that allows users to hide behind a screen when sharing who they are to others. They carefully select aspects of their characters that they choose to show to others and more often than not, people omit their insecurities. This is problematic because opening up about insecurities is an integral way people are able to connect with one another on a deeper level and create meaningful relationships.

The lack of real-life interaction also makes people uncomfortable in scenarios in which they have to speak in front of one another. Some are so unfamiliar with the concept that the mere idea of small talk is daunting. Since studies have shown that the majority of communication is nonverbal, people need to practice using hand gestures and other effective speaking skills to better communicate their message. As long as real-life interaction remains second to online interaction, interpersonal social skills will be lost, body language undetectable and attention spans cut short to that of 4G speed. Emily Dargo’s thesis explores the effects of technology on face-to-face communication:

One study examined the relationship between the presence of mobile devices and the quality of real-life, in-person social interactions. In a naturalistic field experiment, researchers found that conversations in the absence of mobile communication technologies were rated as significantly superior compared with those in the presence of a mobile device. People who had conversations in the absence of mobile devices reported higher levels of empathetic concern, while those conversing in the presence of a mobile device reported lower levels of empathy (Misra, Cheng, Genevie, & Yuan, 2014). In another study, Przybylski and Weinstein showed similar results that proved the presence of mobile communication devices in social settings interferes with human relationships. In two separate experiments, the authors found evidence that these devices have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality, especially notable when individuals are engaging in personally meaningful topics. Though much research has shown the negative effects of technology on face-to-face interaction, one study found that cell phone use in public might make individuals more likely to communicate with strangers. In 2011, Campbell and Kwak examined whether and how mobile communication influences the extent to which one engages face to face with new people in public settings. By accounting for different types of cell phone uses, the study found evidence that mobile phone use in public actually facilitated talking with co-present strangers, for those who frequently rely on cell phones to get and exchange information about news (Emily Drago).

Drago points out that smart phones allow us to be more open to connecting with strangers. Although the idea of connecting with many strangers sounds like a positive effect of smart phones’ ability to mass communicate, it actually limits people’s ability to create authentic relationships because the efficient use of online apps immediately appeals to users’ inherent laziness.

Online apps allow us to be eat faster, pay faster, locate faster and even date faster. But, wait, date faster? What happens when the efficiency of a smart phone is applied to dating, a traditionally slowly nourished and enjoyable activity? Dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr or Bumble are a great example of how something as intimate as a romantic relationship with another person has become as dispensable as toilet paper.

First of all, choosing a date is now easier than choosing a place to eat. Users are arguably more inclined to spend time reading a Yelp review for a restaurant before reading a Tinder profile. Once connected with a stranger, online conversations are short-lived, non-committal and carry a jaded tone. If a date does not work out accordingly, meeting a new prospect is at the convenience of a swipe.

Working hard for something gives it value and when it is too convenient to meet a new stranger, people will not endure the difficulties that come with getting to know someone deeper. Smart phones have the ability to connect strangers, but they lack the ability to sustain meaningful relationships. As Barry Schwartz suggested in his TED talk “The Paradox of Choice,” too much choice limits one’s ability to choose. People are presented with too many options and ultimately end up making half-assed decisions, still thinking about the options that they did not choose and already lining those up for the future.

Life has become built at the convenience of a click. Apps are developed everyday and they all seek the same goal: to make things faster, easier and more convenient. Perhaps the answer to lasting fulfillment is to put down smart phones or as Gary Turk might say, “look up” and cherish existing relationships that allow people to share their faults instead of putting their time and energy into building a faultless online persona.

 

Examining ISIS as an Organization

The terrorist organization has killed innocent civilians and frightened masses. Their recent attacks on Paris have reinforced ongoing tension that continues to air among French and American citizens. Last week, a couple pledged allegiance to ISIS and killed 14 innocent U.S. civilians in San Bernardino County. The series of these recent events made me question exactly how does ISIS recruit such a small but talented group of individuals to fight against a majority group of world forces? Despite ISIS’s wrongdoing, the terrorist group has an astute method of recruiting members that collectively factors into why their small group is so powerful.Islamic_State_(IS)_insurgents,_Anbar_Province,_Iraq

My first thought was that ISIS is undeniably savvy in technology. They program their phones to erase each text sent among their group members immediately after the text is read. This ensures that they leave no trace of organized crime for later investigation by outsiders. Their expertise in social media also allow them to make penetrating announcements that instill fear among the public. ISIS members train their recruits to use an anonymous Internet or “Darknet” and other very selective online outlets to publicize announcements and further ensure hyper-computer security. For example, they used a specific outlet to broadcast their applause of the Paris attacks (prior to claiming responsibility) then publicized commentary on Twitter right after the events occurred.

The following quote from a CNN article examines ISIS’s success in luring Westerners:

“ISIS now operates the most sophisticated propaganda machine of any terrorist organization,” said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. ISIS now operates the most sophisticate propaganda machine of any terrorist organization, said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Importantly, the group also views itself as the now-leader of a global jihadist movement,” Olsen said. “It turns out timely, high-quality media, and it uses social media to secure a widespread following.” ISIS has a penchant for producing slick videos that resemble trailers for Hollywood action movies. One hour-long video showed a collection of bombings, executions, kidnappings and beheadings. As one roadside bomb blasts a vehicle into the sky, two men in the background of the video chuckle. “We are way behind. They are far superior and advanced than we are when it comes to new media technologies, social media, when it comes to video production qualities, and in disseminating their propaganda over the Internet,” said Maajid Nawaz, a former jihadi and author of “Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism.” Olsen’s remark suggests that ISIS is able to perform successfully because of their advancement in new media technologies, social media and general ability to disseminate propaganda via Internet. Only recently has a counterterrorism hacktivist group, Anonymous, been able to take down 5,500 of Twitter accounts belonging to the Islamic State.

The counterterrorist organization, Anonymous, seeks to combat terrorism by hacking ISIS accounts and preventing further propaganda. This is a bold step forward because it highlights the importance of the cyber war that is occurring simultaneously with the ground warfare in the Middle East. UnknownTerrorism is able to influence infinitely larger masses by the widespread use of social media propaganda. The battle between terrorist and counterterrorist organizations has expanded to an all-encompassing war, suggesting that methods to successfully engage in combat must be executed online.

Another thought is that in addition to being technologically savvy, ISIS is also powerful because its group members are incredibly passionate. ISIS remains unified because it gives each group member a strong sense of belonging. This is especially true among the recruitment of group members who feel as though the world has rejected them. “ISIS recruits young, disillusioned teenagers trying to find purpose and make their mark,” remarked journalist Holly Yan from CNN. Reaching out to lonely individuals is particularly effective because this group of people tend to feel rejected from social affairs. As a result, they feel most at home on the Internet because it offers a safe place for them to be isolated as they hide behind a screen. Individuals who are comfortable in a given environment (at home on their computers) tend to be more vulnerable towards accepting opportunities presented to them at that time. Current ISIS members then gauge an opportunity to reach out to these lonely individuals while they are in their comfort zone online, reassuring them that they are not alone.

The New York Times published an article on a lonely 23-year old woman who found her place among her Internet Islamic extremist friends. They showered her with gifts and reassured her that she was in the right place when she felt most alone. As she began to feel at home among her Internet friends, she began learning Islamic faith and soon found herself supporting ISIS policies. As a disclaimer, I do not believe converting to Islam is synonymous with terrorism. The preceding example serves as a way of describing an instance in which Islamic extremists sought yet another opportunity to assert their power by targeting the weak.

In conclusion, we can accept that ISIS is a terrorist organization that unethically instills fear among innocent civilians. However, the reason their relatively small sized group has the ability to fight against larger groups from different countries should be further examined in order to either model their group organizational strategy. Their strength as an organization is in the way it is structured, which allows them to function effectively as a terrorist group. If we are able to examine their success in functioning as a small yet powerful organization, then we can better examine how we might improve our own group function or advantageously reorganize our current model of combat and better tackle the War on Terror.

 

 

 

Mirror, Mirror

For those parents out there who are concerned their daughters are becoming disheveled braniacs with no concept of beauty, don’t worry because Disney will release yet another Disney Princess franchise this winter, a Frozen short film. The reputable business has not only monopolized the childhood film market, but has catered specific messages to growing girls’ from their subdivision of Disney princess films.

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Media plays a large role in childhood education, providing endless entertainment while instilling in children a range of values, beliefs, and goals that they maintain as they age. Since its inception, the Disney princess film industry has strongly influenced girls to behave and look like Disney princesses so that they, too, may find their fairytale endings.

Over the course of the Disney princess film history, animators have made an effort to highlight physical beauty from different geographic regions such as Mulan from China to Jasmine from Arabia. Despite the princesses’ diverse cultural backgrounds, they all maintain commonality in their physical features: slender waists, large eyes, and thick hair reinforcing the standardized view of what constitutes beauty even on a global scale.

Disney princess films strongly associate a woman’s success and goodness with her physical attractiveness, encouraging girls to focus intensively on attaining an unattainably perfect appearance, albeit at the expense of pursuing other more impalpable goals such as career achievement or finding individuality and self-fulfillment. By seeking societal approval through their physical appearances, girls grow dependent on products and others’ opinions for temporary security and reassurance that they are not only beautiful, but have some value in the world.

Disney contributes to structuring children’s beliefs and value systems, helping them to define right from wrong. However, a subcategory of this distinction is also right from wrong in terms of appearances; what corresponds with a good person and whom children strive to embody from what they view on the screen, is physical attractiveness. Coincidentally, most Disney antagonists are depicted with physically unattractive features, reinforcing the association of ugliness with immorality and failure. Female villains are particularly subjected to this treatment: being deformed (the Evil Queen’s transformation into a stooped hunchback), hideous (Cinderella’s stepsisters), or fat (Ursula). A woman’s inner beauty is often mistaken for her outer beauty; films suggest she needs to look a certain way in order to be viewed as a good person.

As a result, girls mold themselves into an unrealistic image so that they may live happily ever after.

Due to the portrayal of Disney princesses’ unattainable appearances and the importance placed on achieving this appearance for a happily ever after, girls grow up believing that if they do not look like a princess, they must make up for it by sticking to extreme diets, exercise routines and spending time and money on efforts to achieve beauty.

Society has developed countless products sold on shelves with a range of potentially dangerous chemicals that encourage women to douse themselves in to feel be a bit closer to beautiful. Makeup products that are meant to refine facial features have become chemicals that women grow ever more reliant on. Media fabricates a misrepresentation of beauty that governs a woman’s self-esteem and suggests the false notion that she may feel temporarily beautiful if she covers her natural attributes. Although a woman may wear these products to feel confident, she should never feel as though she must rely on them to meet her goals. Girls exposed to the pressure of being molded into a certain look lack the principle value that they should rely on skills with more depth and permanence in order to illuminate their individuality. When girls feel as though they need to take doses of confidence, they will only grow addicted to the feelings that the products provide them and dependent on the comfort and satisfaction of being granted approval from society.

Similar to how in Sleeping Beauty the slave in the magic mirror equates fairness with worth, society’s evaluation of a woman’s worth becomes based on her appearance. As a result, she must constantly focus on what she looks like in order to feel her own self-worth, creating a mirror effect: what society perpetuates of her worth becomes what she believes she is worth. Placed with the burden to be flawless in every aspect of her life, a woman endures a psychological toll, prioritizing temporary tactics to re-beautify herself while omitting opportunities to chase her permanent goals. She becomes an accessory of the world rather than contributing history to it, creating emptiness and confusion for her purpose in life within.

Although Disney princess films began as a way to relay strong morale through entertaining fairytales, they have contributed to an epidemic of media’s inaccurate depictions of beauty and its determination of a woman’s success.

Entranced by a “happily ever after,” girls grow up assuming the role of a fictional female protagonist with flawless physical beauty and a loving heart. However, while striving to resemble a fictional character, girls lose themselves in a false reality of spending time, money, and effort to achieve unrealistic appearances denoted as beauty by animators and perpetuated as standards for success by the media. Like the endless products they purchase to fuel their confidence, women are prompted to become hollow, plastic, and disposable beings in constant need of fulfillment.

 

 

 

 

Tipping: Now Just For Cows

Danny Meyer announced earlier this month that he was raising prices and eliminating tipping at his thirteen full-service restaurants. Meyer believes that his No Tipping Plan will more fairly compensate all his staffers, especially the servers and front of the house employees. Since tips will no longer act as a primary incentive, Meyers expects his servers to work slower hours.

diningHe described the details to Eater magazine, “If you’re one of our top performing servers, you have the opportunity to positively influence your income potential to train and develop other servers to be as great as you are. Because even when you’re not here, if they’re better skilled, that increases your income potential.” As a result, Meyers hopes that his restaurants will benefit from an overall more professional staff each time they dine.

Tipping has been a staple to the American restaurant industry for years. In recent data, 58 percent of a server’s income comes from tips. The idea behind tipping is that servers are rewarded based on whether they do a good job, incentivizing them to treat customers well. However, Cornell University professor Michael Lynn’s research has suggested otherwise.

A little more than a decade ago, Lynn conducted 14 studies on over 2,645 bills at 21 restaurants. He found that the average correlation between tip percentages and service ratings came out to be a mere .11, suggesting that there was very little variation among servers’ tips despite better service. His research further suggested that people tip what they usually tip, regardless of a good waitstaff.

Other studies have found that in the some places in the U.S., white servers receive higher tips than black servers; in general, female servers with bigger breasts and blonde hair receive higher tips than their counterparts; alternatively, the smaller female server’s body size, the higher her tips.

To some extent, Meyer’s No Tipping Plan does relieve servers of customer favoritism and unfair competition among servers. However, tipping also provides customers a sense of power, a feeling of superiority amongst the restaurant and its employees. It will be interesting to see how Meyer’s unique plan will influence the dynamics between the customer and the waitstaff; perhaps this means ruder service, but at least we save a few dollars.