How People Are Using Gifs to Get Off

On swapping sex gifs as party favors in participatory online porn culture.

By Monica Torres

 

Welcome to the new frontier of anonymized intimacy. Older generations had anonymous AOL chatrooms and Yahoo! Group Mailing lists to explore kinks; younger generations are using gifs, or looping animated images. With the rise of gifs being used on social networks, fans on Tumblr are engaging in a participatory porn culture, swapping erotic gifs with each other in a 21st century gif(t) exchange. The pleasurable goal on- and off-screen is to arouse but rather than the proof of a physical cum shot, online fans see release with an endorsing reblog tagged: #hot or #Icametothis. Media theorists call these fans who mediate their own desires “prosumers”: people who inhabit the “simultaneous role of being a producer of what one consumes.”

These porn gifs are usually ripped from porn sites, so they are de-contextualized from their original meaning. But for porn gif makers, that’s the whole point. They are less concerned with plot and more concerned with zeroing in on fucking. Compressing scenes of desire into the seconds that were most personally affecting allows these “prosumers” to re-center frames of desire towards moments that aroused them, not whatever an ass-man director wanted from a film.

“Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.”

The porn scholars behind “Giffing a fuck: Non-narrative pleasures in participatory porn cultures and female fandom” argue that gifs are uniquely suited for this affective engagement: “microporn facilitates a tighter focus on those gestures or movements most sexually affecting. This affective experience is furthered by the loop aesthetic of GIFs in which a single privileged moment is replayed repeatedly (and perhaps obsessively).” Passing facial expressions of pleasure get magnified. Penetration is obsessed and lingered over. Orgasms last forever. Surprise is repeated. In a sex gif, it’s always the first time.

These sex gif loops create feedback loops. There’s no better example of fandom-facilitated engagement than orgasmictipsforgirls, a Tumblr for “horny girls everywhere” that has over 154,000 followers. The blog orgasmictipsforgirls is run by Holly, a self-described “twenty-something not-entirely-straight girl who loves to gossip about sex stuff.” It’s my favorite sex blog on Tumblr, because it represents my favorite part of fandoms: community.

Holly doesn’t want to call her blog’s goals #sexspo (sex inspiration), but she does see links between fitness blogs and her sex Tumblr. Both promote narratives of self-improvement for readers. One is just doing it through explicit step-by-step gifs on how to give blow jobs: “It’s like when you read about someone who went from not fit at all to running a marathon and you’re like ‘I could totally do that! I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT!’” she wrote in an email to me. “But with the advantage that training for a marathon is hugely exhausting whereas being a bit more sexually confident can be enjoyable all along! (Oh, and that reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.)”

Holly has created highly-detailed guides on how to help women masturbate filled with supplemental gifs that act as useful, nonjudgmental visual aids. If I had known about all these ways I could hump myself to completion when I was a sexually frustrated teenager, I would’ve had my sexual awakening a lot sooner. And many other fans have been in that same boat based on the frequency readers ask Holly, “what’s an orgasm?”

Holly believes gifs can titillate women in ways that porn videos can’t: “[I]deas often fail at being good or believable or non-skeevy the whole way through (especially for women!) but most anything can be sexy for 2.2 seconds.”

Appreciative fans send Holly audio recordings of themselves masturbating, nude selfies, their sex stories, and the gifs and videos that got them off. Holly curates them all into Tumblr packages to be reblogged. She says opening up her blog to submissions made it possible for everyone to “have the opportunity to be a ‘sex blogger’ for a Warhol-sized fifteen minutes.” Her blog is considered so helpful that a sex therapist once directed a patient towards her site because, according to Holly, the therapist said, “there are pictures that will show you EXACTLY what to do.”

Orgasmictipsforgirls is an example of how the power of porn fandom comes not only from the loops of sex themselves, but also from the loops of feedback created between “prosumers.” It’s this intense, intimate community that fandom is actively fostering through curated loops of desire exchanged between Tumblrs. Citing academic Karen Hellekson’s previous work on fan economies, “Giffing a fuck” says that fandom gifs rely on “giving, receiving and reciprocating” works that reinforce bonds between users: “the gift of artwork or text is repetitively exchanged for the gift of reaction, which is itself exchanged, with the goal of creating and maintaining social solidarity.” Seeing hundreds of notes and reblogs to your gifs isolating that one ass slap is a confirmation that you weren’t the only person to find this hot.

“Reading about other people’s marathon training doesn’t make you fit, but reading other people’s sex stories can get you off.”

But Holly recognizes the limits to using porn gifs is their source material: “The huge weakness is that it’s still made out of ‘Porn From The Porn Industry’ so visually the blog is way, WAY whiter, skinnier, hairless etc. than I’d ever choose it to be.” The all-inclusive, celebratory messages of “Anyone Can Fuck!” and “’People Don’t Give A Shit What You Look Like, Trust Me” that Holly wants to give followers clashes with the limiting spectrum of bodies she’s curating from. It’s a reminder that even when gifs are purposefully taken out of contexts, they are still subject to them through the kinds of bodies the images use.

Gifs create ephemeral moments of pleasure that impact people far beyond their second-long loops. Scrolling through these explicit dashboards, I will sometimes pause between gifs of explicit body-slapping fucking, arrested by a woman’s captured, open expression of lust. On photography, literary theorist Roland Barthes called these arresting moments the “element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces [you].” What pierced this one gif curator and compelled them to make this gif is now, in turn, piercing me. ‘Do I look like that?’ I’ll wonder. It’s still rare enough for me to see women’s pleasure on screens that gifs like these do feel like gifts. In porn, I’d have to rewind. In sex, there’s no replay button. But here I can linger freely.

Our Hair, Ourselves

For some women, losing their hair can mean losing a piece of who they are. I talked to a friend about how that feels.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

For many women, hair is a significant facet of public and personal identity. From a young age, women are categorized socially by hair color and length, texture and style, reduced to features acquired genetically or at the price of a straightener or bottle of dye. The gendered imbalance of the importance of hair is evident in our language; referring to “the blonde over there” still conjures for most an image of a female-bodied person. In black culture, the phrase “good hair,” described by Lauren Walker as a reference to to hair that is naturally wavy, not kinkyis mostly reserved for women. The existence of the term itself exemplifies the complicated politics of hair within different realms, often a confluence of gender, race, class, and power dynamics.

For these reasons, discussing female hair loss remains taboo despite women making up 40% of the 50 million Americans experiencing it. Academic research supports the idea that hair weighs more heavily on feminine identities. In her studies on the subject, Priya Dua defines “hair work” as 

a technology of the self and/or the body wherein hair is a tool that women use to construct identity in everyday social interaction. These processes are located at the interstices of femininity, gender, normality, health, and beauty. Hair work is something that women are socialized into…hair loss is something that women need to be more concerned with than men.

In order to explore these ideas I spoke with a close friend about her own experiences with hair loss and identity. Michelle* is a 30-year-old nurse whose thinning hair has impacted her self-image in different ways over the last decade. “I feel like I was always aware of my hair being flat and fine,” she says, over drinks in Brooklyn. “It just wasn’t thick. In my early twenties, in the midst of nursing school I became more conscious of it. I’d start noticing that I could see my scalp in certain angles, or that I could see the ridge of my head through my hair.”

After doing research online and finding few options, she decided to see a doctor. She recalls that “he basically dismissed my claims and came off as incredibly insensitive. He was bald himself and made the joke that, ‘Hey it’s hard for men, too!’ I left just devastated thinking this was my fate, that this was happening and I couldn’t do anything.”

When asked what was most upsetting about noticing her hair thinning, she responds, “It’s just another part of the aging process that makes you feel like you’re losing yourself. This is the face I’ve looked at my whole life, this is the hair I’ve had, and it’s going away.” Hair is also a big part of her personal fashion. “It’s kind of your everyday, permanent persona. I wear a lot of black, I like my boots. My hair and shorter bangs are kind of goth, kind of edgy. It definitely influences my style.” Being a nurse means having to wear a uniform, and she finds that just having a slightly out of the ordinary hairstyle makes her stand out to her patients. “At work my hair draws attention – mostly because of my bangs which are kind of Betty Page-esque-and people comment and say it’s different.” She laughs, “People tell me every week that I look like the girl from NCIS.”

“This is the face I’ve looked at my whole life, this is the hair I’ve had, and it’s going away.”

The physical differences between male and female hair loss contribute to varying societal perceptions of the condition. NYU Langone Medical Center reports that for men the most common form of hair loss, androgenetic alopecia, can start anytime after puberty and the likelihood of going bald as a result is high. For women, the same condition typically begins later, and while it may cause hair to thin dramatically it rarely leads to baldness. Michelle says, “the way my doctor explained it to me that it’s like trees in a forest. You have the same amount of trees but instead of thick tree trunks they’re skinnier.”

Because of the pattern of female hair loss, dealing with thinning hair can be a performance steeped in disguise. Although most people likely wouldn’t notice that Michelle’s long dark hair is thinning when they meet her, she explains that the uncertainty of how noticeable it is leads to anxiety and precautionary behavior. “There’s certain ways I won’t wear my hair and certain things I don’t do which I think would draw attention to it. I’ll see pictures of myself and think how obvious it must be.”

In a time of changing norms, new pronouns, and fluid gender, experimenting with personal identity often begins with hair. However, the element of control is lost when it comes to naturally thinning hair.   “I see women all the time who are bald or with super short hair who are beautiful. But most of time it’s a choice to have a short haircut, they have the right head shape and it’s a whole look,” Michelle notes.  

Her concerns about her hair lead to issues of intimacy, even in non-romantic relationships. “I remember a few years ago I was goofing off with my friend,” Michelle recalls.“She was being funny and pretending to pick stuff out of my hair like a monkey and she goes, ‘Oh my god I can see your scalp!’ And she said it so innocently and she was genuinely surprised and didn’t mean anything by it but I jerked my head back and snapped at her and walked away. I was surprised by how much it affected me.” This fear of naming the issue is echoed in Dua’s studies, which found women often only bringing up the subject to “safe people,” indicating how far-reaching the taboo is.  

“I’d like to think that I will be this badass woman who doesn’t care what anyone thinks but I do now, I care about how people see me.”

One of Michelle’s “safe people” was an ex-boyfriend, the first romantic partner she ever opened up to about her concerns. According to her it made it easier to talk to him because his hair was also thinning. “We were even able to joke about it. We broke up on good terms and during one of our final conversations it felt like there was closure and I said ‘Maybe one day down the road I’ll turn and see your bald head and you’ll turn and see mine,’ and we both laughed really hard.”

At this stage in her life Michelle feels more equipped to deal with her hair concerns. “Since it’s been over the course of many years I think more and more I’m coming to terms with it and treating it like any other aspect of my personal care.” But insecurities still crop up, particularly about the future. “I think about it because I’m not in a relationship right now and it makes me think about when I find someone that loves me, are they going to love me if I lose my hair? More importantly, I have to love myself, and this issue can impact that. I’d like to think that I will be this badass woman who doesn’t care what anyone thinks but I do now, I care about how people see me.”
*Michelle requested we not use her real name due to the sensitive nature of this interview

“Get Out”: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

“Get Out” shows us that the scariest thing racism makes you lose is yourself.

By Monica Torres

Spoilers Ahead

It’s dark. You’re walking down a sidewalk in a quiet suburban neighborhood, the kind with trimmed shrubs, bay windows and manicured front lawns. People from Norman Rockwell paintings live here, but not you. You’re a visitor. A white Porsche Boxster with tinted windows starts following you. When you stop, it stops. You sweat, you move faster, but you don’t run. Why don’t you run? Maybe if you’d been born fifty years earlier, your instincts would be better, but by the time you remember, it’s too late, the driver’s side is open, but the driver isn’t there, he’s right behind you, BAM—

I saw “Get Out” on the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s killing, and in the opening scene of the film where Andre gets kidnapped by a neighborhood vigilante in a car, the film takes us back to that time. George Zimmerman’s reasoning for calling 911 on a 17-year-old black boy, tailing him in his car, then fatally shooting him, was that Martin was “just staring…just walking around the area…looking at all the houses.” Under racism’s illogic, a black boy walking back to his own home is “not a citizen of a democracy, but the subject of a carceral state,” as Justice Sotomayor warned, made guilty by his very existence.

Next time we see Andre, who is played by LaKeith Stanfield, he is worse than dead.

We learn that his mind has been trapped into the Sunken Place, while some Crazy von Cracker has taken over his body. He’s worse than dead, because even though his body has been hijacked, some part of Andre’s mind is still aware of what he’s lost. In the movie, the Sunken Place is depicted as a black hole that the victim is endlessly falling through. As you’re falling, you’ll see an open door where reality plays out in front of your mind’s eye. Maddeningly, as a victim to the Sunken Place, your escape is always within sight, but never within reach.

W.E.B. DuBois’ concept of double-consciousness, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” is taken to terrifying extremes in the movie. DuBois was talking about how racism wears on a black person’s psyche, the need to always present a false mask to a white world that does not see them as human. Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar describes this survival mechanism in his poem “We Wear the Mask”:

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

In “Get Out,” the villains have built a mask that its victims can never take off. But the monsters who would build this psychological horror are not outliers of society; they’re your neighbors.

The Armitages are a liberal family who would’ve voted for Obama for a third term. They’re not wearing white hoods but they’re still white supremacists who are buying and selling black bodies as their property. They do this by transplanting the minds of their white friends into the bodies of black people like Andre, who they capture.

The movie follows their latest target. Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams, has invited her new boyfriend, the film’s protagonist Chris, who is portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, to meet her parents at their house. She said she hasn’t told them that Chris is black. That makes Chris nervous, but not nervous enough to run. Chris’ friend Rod, who is played wonderfully by Lil Rel Howery, is the audience’s surrogate and he isn’t buying it: “White people love making people sex slaves and shit!” he warns in one of his scenes of welcome comic relief.

Rod is right. When the Armitage patriarch greets Chris, as “my man,” it’s not a clumsy attempt at brotherly slang, it’s a possessive foreshadowing of the body-swap horrors to come.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 8.10.16 PM

More creepy than a monster wanting to kill you is a monster who wants to own you. That kind of trauma is neverending. “I want your eyes, man,” Jim, the blind artist who wins the bid to “buy” Chris and take over his body tells him. He denies that he’s doing this because Chris is black, he just wants “those things you see through.”

This is colorblind hypocrisy taken to another level. Jim wants the cultural capital of being black without any of the work of being black: ‘I want those things you see through, all your sensibilities, your sexual prowess, your strength, your cool, everything but you.’

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Unlike every other black character trapped in the Sunken Place, Georgina, the Armitage’s “housekeeper,” breaks through the hypnosis without needing the external trigger of a camera flash. I keep thinking about this small breakthrough, wanting a whole story just on Georgina, the one black woman in the film trapped in the Sunken Plane, whose grief and terror was big enough to be seen on its own. It’s the movie’s best scene.

This breakthrough happens when Chris tells Georgina privately, one black person to another, “If there’s too many white people I get nervous.” Hearing this admission, Georgina goes rictus-still. She smiles so wide it splits her face in two. And yet as Claudia Rankine reminds us, “the body has memory…[t]he body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through.” However much you school your face, it won’t erase the toll of the moments and years endured.

Tears slip through the mask of gentility. Even as she’s smiling, Georgina begins to cry.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Georgina says in defense of the white family she serves and each no is an exhortation, a plea, a lie, a demand, a cry from deep within. “They treat us like family.”

Georgina, split in two, leaves Chris alone after that moment. After Georgina leaves, Chris tells himself and the audience “that bitch is crazy!” and it’s played for laughs, but those tears are the last real sympathy and solidarity Chris will be shown in that house until the end of the film.

Later, after Chris finds the box where Rose keeps photos of her previous conquests, we see the first and only look of the original Georgina. In the photo, Rose is entwined around the original Georgina, and their smiling faces are close enough to be lovers. There’s no 1950’s hairdo and no apron of servility. This is a Georgina who had her whole life ahead of her.

The horrors black women face in “Get Out” are never seen on screen. How did Rose lure Georgina into her haunted house? Did she tell Georgina the lie she told Chris, that Georgina was her first black lover? When Georgina’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” moment arrived, was she also asked to maddeningly represent her whole race: “Do you find that being African American has more advantages or disadvantages in the modern world?” At what point did Georgina know, did she try to fight back, and who, if anyone, is looking for her missing body?

These are the questions writer-director Jordan Peele never answers, and what some critics rightfully point out are disappointing erasures. The film makes the case that inaction is just as much a betrayal as what you do. But Peele gets implicated too in his inaction to center certain stories over others.

When Georgina is later killed, it’s graphic and bloody. She had the soul of a murderous white grandmother, so it’s gratifying to see her die, but it’s also a moment of loss. Because when Missy Armitage, the controller of the Sunken Place, is killed, the camera pans away:

the intentional framing and editing choices Peele makes to conceal and work around the explicit deaths of Missy and Rose show that white women are still valued as fragile and occupy a unique cultural privilege…even in the blackest horror film of this decade.”

Besides Georgina’s tears, the next kind thing an ally will do for Chris is shake his arms and scream at him to “GET OUT!” When Chris takes a photo of Andre, the camera flash jolts Andre out of the Sunken Place. Andre’s nose bleeds as he yells at Chris to leave. But with another dose of hypnosis, Andre goes under again and is back to being “Logan.” Chris is the only person who experiences the Sunken Place to escape it with his mind intact. And the only people who help Chris out in the end are black people.

When faced with the order to kill Chris, Walter, who has been taken over by the Craziest von Cracker, uses the brief mental disruption from Chris’ camera flash to take over his own body to shoot Rose. Walter then turns the weapon on himself and chooses death, a final resting place free from masks.

The body-swap is fiction, but for Peele, the layered anxieties it represents are very real. “We’re all in the Sunken Place,” Peele said about his film, implicating us all. Junot Diaz elaborates on the two-forked devilry of racism: “white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.”

But that fantasy is a trap. It’s why it took so long for Chris to believe that Rose could kiss him, defend him against police, and lead him to his psychological slaughter, all in the same breath.

“Rose, give me the keys!” Chris begs, even after he sees the photos that prove she was in on the plan to steal his body and mind.

“Get Out” turns a lot of horror film conventions on their head. Black men are not sacrifices, “Magical Negroes,” or bestial monsters; they’re vulnerable young men. White women are not damsels in distress, but predators. Unlike Night of the Living Dead where a black hero escapes a house of crazy white people, only to get shot by the police; in “Get Out,” a black hero finally makes it to the end of the movie.

But what’s especially unsettling about the film is what still remains the same.

The tension for the audience watching Chris attend an all-white dinner party is just as high as when he’s strapped to a chair about to undergo a lobotomy. The strongest scenes in “Get Out” draw upon the familiar, everyday indignities of racism, those off-hand comments and backhanded compliments that divide the world into us and them, turning friends and lovers into strangers: What did you say? What did you just say? You already know the answer, but you don’t run because it’s 2017 and you’re tired and you want to be proven wrong.

Racism drives its victims crazy. When it happens to you, people stare at you like you’ve lost your mind. ‘You’re being paranoid. He didn’t mean it like that.’ In “Get Out” there’s no ambiguity. He did mean it like that. It does not see the best in well-intentioned white people. That’s why I described the film to my friends as “grimly satisfying.” You’re not crazy here. The film takes all of your fears and anxieties of being The Only One in a room of white people and brings those nightmares to life.

When Chris’ friend Rod comes to save the day, he is glad to see Chris alive, but also, man, he called out white people from day one: “I told you not to go in that house.”


Further feedback I’ve enjoyed:

This roundtable: “Get the Fuck Outta Here: A Dialogue on Jordan Peele’s ‘GET OUT’

This academic syllabus: “‘Get Out’ Syllabus

This podcast: “The Horror, The Horror: “Get Out” And The Place of Race in Scary Movies

This criticism: “What Becky Gotta Do to Get Murked? White Womanhood in Jordan Peele’s Get Out

We Asked, You Answered: Social Media Confessions

We asked you to share your deepest, darkest social media confessions with us; things that you have done and things that have been done to you. Here is a selection of some of the entries we received.

By the Editors

 

We asked you to share your deepest, darkest social media confessions with us; things that you have done and things that have been done to you. Here is a selection of some of the entries we received. Our biggest takeaway? We are not alone.

I allowed an ex boyfriend’s social media to make me doubt my career choices.


I found an old high school friend who made significantly different life choices than I did on Facebook and even though I knew I didn’t want what she had – husband and two kids before age 28, born-again Christian, I’d obsess over every photo, every update for some clear proof that she was doing it wrong and I was doing it right, to the point where I had to unfriend her because of the habit.


I once became obsessed with a Tinder fling looking at my mundane Instagram stories from selfies to NYC architecture to food porn. He would look every day but not like at any of my actual Instagram posts. I would sometimes post Instagram stories knowing that he would look. He was one of those guys that would barely text, and I was trying to get his attention. I still don’t get why he wanted to lurk on my Instagram, but not engage me more than that?


After a great first date with a man I had just met, he had mentioned he had a very recent, long-term ex-girlfriend. Naturally, I went looking for her Facebook profile. I did the standard perusal: Check out photos of her to verify that she is indeed more beautiful than I am, see where she worked or what grad program she was in, and, then things took a weird turn. I saw her tagged in a photo with her dad, who was from an Eastern European country. Soon, I was on the Facebook page of a woman I had never mets dad. I was looking at black and white childhood photos of his life in Europe, feeling oddly sad and wistful. It was 1 am and I was getting teary-eyed wondering what kind of life he led. Then I closed the window because I realized things had gotten real weird.


The first thing I do in the morning before I roll over and look at my partner is slide my phone over with half-open eyes and check social media. Sometimes when I do look over he’s doing the same thing. Also sometimes we’ll put on a movie and after a while I’ll look up from my phone and see that neither of us have watched it for 30 minutes.


Sometimes I make up funny stories as status updates that I know will get a lot of likes, but are completely untrue.


I have posted pictures pretending to be doing things I wasn’t doing at the moment, or pretending to be at a certain place that I wasn’t at the moment, because I wanted a certain someone to see them. I’ve done this many, many times.


I do interpretive dance on video and post it on social media. Usually because I’m bored and also because I want people to think I’m cool.


Definitely have stalked an ex…10 years after the breakup. It was just his wedding photos which I sadly judged very harshly instead of being happy for them.


This wasn’t done by me, but rather, something that was done TO me. I was casually, openly seeing a man and knew that most likely he was seeing other people. That didn’t bother me. What did horrify me was when one of the other women apparently found out my name, stalked me on Facebook, and then tagged herself in picture of me and my baby niece. The tag was on the baby. I got the request for the tag, saw who our mutual friend was, eventually figured out what happened, and began to feel sick. It felt like someone maliciously marking their territory, peeing on my sex tree, as it were. We live in a world where we all know we secretly stalk others, but to have irrefutable evidence that someone was stalking you in jealousy… Man, creepy.


On Venmo a few months back, I saw that my ex-boyfriend (who I haven’t spoken to or communicated with in any way since we broke up almost 2 years ago) had paid one of his roommates for the rent and while scrolling away, my fat thumb accidentally LIKED the exchange. I caught it right away and undid the like, but the moment of panic over that tiny thing isn’t something I’ll forget for a while!


If Instagram explore is any indication of the type of person I am, then I am not as cultured, well-read, or deep as I’ve managed to convince myself. Evidently, the majority of what I click on, and thus what is populated, is nail art videos (they’re mesmerizing), before and after weight loss photos (there goes any credibility for my body positivity), and the Kardashians’ varying butts/hair vitamin ads (I don’t follow them but it doesn’t matter, I click. On. Everything.)


I obsessively watch those pimple popping videos on Instagram. Literally, I watch them every night before I can go to sleep. It’s super gross, but there’s something so peaceful and cleansing about them. As a fun bonus, I also know a lot of key dermatology terms now too.


A few years ago, I became obsessed with a girl my boyfriend at the time was dating. I was insanely jealous of her for no reason except that she’s really hot. I stalked all of her Instagram photos and would check her accounts every day. My boyfriend and I broke up three years ago and don’t talk to each other anymore but you can bet I still look at her account every fucking day. She has two kids now and lives in Manhattan. She set her Instagram account to private recently and I still feel kinda sad about it.


In the first two years after a breakup, I posted things mostly to exact revenge on my ex. It wasn’t the best tactic, especially after he decided to become a priest.


I don’t look at Instagram stories because I don’t want to give people the satisfaction.


Towards the end of college I started dating this girl I met while waiting tables at a sushi restaurant. We dated for a few years and eventually moved in together. During the course of our relationship I would let her take photos of me dressing, undressing, in the shower. Not playboy aesthetic more someone following me around in my morning routine. I didn’t honestly think too much about them until after we broke up and I found bathtub pictures of me plastered all over her Flickr account. I felt so betrayed and humiliated, we had a difficult break up but i never thought she would post such vulnerable and intimate moments. I immediately called her and asked her to remove them, she said I was overreacting, they were artistic and they “really did not show anything”. Her cavalier response felt so emotionally manipulative. She did remove them that evening and I have not really spoken to her since. Our relationship was not terrible but my memory of her has been ruined.


I once “liked” an ex-boyfriend’s old photo of us on Facebook in a moment of drunken nostalgia. When I was called on it by a friend I lied and said I did it accidentally while scrolling.


I have pretended to be shocked by news I already knew, haircuts I already saw, and reunions I already knew took place so that I wouldn’t be acknowledging that I spend time on social media.


I’ve stopped following someone on Instagram but then compulsively looked at their account by entering their name manually. I pretend I have no idea what this person is doing when other friends ask.


I have an ex that I parted amicably with some time ago. I moved and moved and moved again so I’m now three cities away from them and this is long in the past. But for some reason a few months back, Facebook decided to randomly show me a photo of them showing off with their new KNIFE COLLECTION. Yes, that’s right. Knife collection. As in they collect rare and dangerous-looking knives and most of their social media activity is now just photos of them posing with their knives in increasingly more-threatening positions. So every now and then I silently visit their Facebook and Instagram and watch the knife show and wonder how I never saw this side of them and if maybe it’s because of something I did and if I should be concerned.


Sometimes, I’ll check Tinder to see if a guy, who I met through the app, is in town or if he is ignoring me. The app has a location feature that tells you how many miles away someone is.

New Phone, Who Dis?

A woman’s journey, told through cell phones.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

The child of an engineer and a computer programmer, I was the first one of my friends to get my very own personal computer: a blue iMaclike from the commercialscementing my friendship with at least three girls who were way more popular than I was. While my parents likely hoped I’d use the computer as an encyclopedia and to print out my schoolwork, for me it was another way to keep in constant conversation with any humanor botI could find. Before AOL Instant Messenger existed the Internet was basically the Wild West; my friends and I would log into chat rooms and delight in the ability to have banal conversations online, with what we assumed were toothsome boys our age and not, as it is more statistically likely, 45-year-old basement dwellers.

When I wasn’t skirting predators on the World Wide Web, I was chatting on my lime-green cordless phone on my own private line. If it sounds like I was spoiled, it’s because I was. In 1998, having a private line was basically the gold standard of pre-teendom. I didn’t think life could get any better than being able to call people from the comfort of my bedroom. And then, in 2001, at the age of 14, I got my first cell phone and the world opened up even more.

In the sixteen years that have followed, mobile technology has expanded in ways few people could have imagined. Our smartphones have replaced countless devices and appliances and razed entire industries. They answer our questions in seconds and guide us when we’re lost, geographically or existentially. Seventy-seven percent  of Americans now own smartphones, up from 66% last year, and 35% in 2011. Their rapid evolution continues to change the ways we think about connection and convenience, and also makes it easy to forget how recently we walked through life without the immediacy these devices afford us. 

I wanted to see where looking back through the flip phones and sliders of my past would take me. Each of the clunky, outdated behemoths below was a notch in my timeline, radical in its own way.

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Model: V-Tech 9111 // The Non-Cell Phone

Year: 1998

While not technically a mobile phone, it was attached to my body via the back pocket of my hip huggers, and I carried it into every room of the house as well as outdoors into our yard, testing the limits of its connectivity.

One time the mom of a boy I liked called my parents and told them we had to keep our phone conversations to a minimum of two hours a day so that he could do his homework. My unfettered access to call time also enabled me to attempt to steal not one, but two of my friends’ boyfriends by calling them under the guise of discussing their “relationships.” Woof.

siemensModel: Siemens C45 // The First

Year: 2001

My friends teased me mercilessly about this phone because Siemens sounds like semen and we were 14. When you turned the phone on, the screen glowed orange and a smiley face would pop up to greet you. It was a frowny face when you turned it off. Because you had to charge it basically 23 hours a day and the only outlet in my room was on the other side from my bed, I remember getting out of bed to see if anyone had sent me an “SMS” at random hours of the night (they hadn’t).

nokia-3310Model: Nokia 3310 // The Classic

Year: 2003

Who didn’t have this sturdy Nokia phone? Rumor has it this baby is set to re-release in 2017, to the delight of Snake enthusiasts everywhere. I’m pretty sure I owe the C I got in Chemistry my sophomore year of high school to this piece of plastic, but I also got a very high score in Snake. So..

I also recall having to push my nails into the buttons to dial after a few months, the physicality of the structure so obviously the sum of its parts.

Model: Nokia 3200 with interchangeable covers // Feat of Visual Engineering

nokia-cover

Year: 2005

I tried desperately to find a picture of the actual interchangeable cover I had for this upgraded version of the basic Nokia phone but I couldn’t, probably because it was an unauthorized cover I bought at a boardwalk stand in Ocean City. I’ve got one word for you though: FLAMES. Fun fact: constantly changing the cover on this phone led to debris accumulation; it basically became a dirt factory that I held up to my face all day.

The biggest differenceoutside of the unbelievable aestheticwas that this phone came with its very own camera. As a seasoned photographer after a year of high school photography that I spent outside smoking cigarettes, I was ready to explore this new medium. The pictures I took included, but were not limited to, my feet, my hands, and an eyeball. That’s it. Because 3 pictures was all the storage it could handle.

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Model: Motorola Razr // This phone came in pink

Year: 2007

I know you were waiting for this one. This phone was a game-changer. I was thrilled when I finally got this sleek design but also knew that my excitement had to be partially ironic in order to continue being as cool as I thought I was. I perfected the one hand flip and relished clicking it shut. I was Paris Hilton.

Incidentally, 2007 was the first year that Americans sent and received more text messages than phone calls each month. Perhaps that’s why this is the phone I remember sending them from for the first time, which begs the question, what the hell was I using all those other phones for?

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Model: Verizon Pantech Jest // I was eligible for an upgrade

Year: 2009

I genuinely thought this was the coolest phone ever, until it arrived and I realized how crappy it was. Nevertheless, since this was when I got my first “real” job out of college; I’d slip this little pebble into my stiff Target-bought khakis with grit and determination. While the home screen boasted “Email” access and something called a “Social Beat,” you needed a stable internet connection and 20-25 minutes just to log on to www.google.com and type in “beer store.”

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Model: Verizon LG ENV //Groundhog Computer

Year: 2010

The folks who designed this phone clearly thought they were onto something, envisioning a groundhog-sized person cracking it open to type at his groundhog-sized desk. Oh look, a shift key! In my memory this weighed 8 pounds.

Model: iPhone 4//The Futurescreen-shot-2017-02-22-at-9-03-27-pm

Year: 2012

And here we are. When I finally made the transition to the iPhone I felt like I’d been launched into outer space. My first grainy Instagram photos are all in Kelvin, i.e. orange and terrible, and this was when my private selfie habit really reared its ugly head. I accidentally smashed the screen on this after having it for approximately one month, wanted to commit harakiri, and have since protected my phone with industrial strength covers and screen protectors like it’s going out of style. So here’s where it ends, because I refuse to include the subsequent iPhones I’ve owned because they are all essentially the same.

A Reluctant Lady in Waiting

I’m a 30-year-old woman who isn’t looking for love. This is not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

By Saira Khan

Not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

 

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I’m a thirty-year-old heterosexual woman and I am not looking for love. When it comes to dating, my style is now firmly casual. A serial monogamist for most of my adult life, two years ago I decided to stop wasting time in relationships with men I saw no future with. Since then, I’ve met some remarkable and kind men, none of whom I wanted to date long-term.

Because I am a woman, some consider this unconventional. “What do you mean you don’t want to be in a relationship with him? He likes you!” is an exclamation I’ve heard many times, indicating the man’s willingness is all that’s required. The equivalences that follow include “You date like a man!” and the requisite “Sex and the City” reference, “You’re such a Samantha.”

To be fair, I’m not complaining.

I don’t like holding hands, I don’t like sharing my bed, I don’t like cuddling. I get my emotional fulfillment from my female friendships. For most of the last two years, I’ve been the one who makes first contact, I haven’t anguished over text messages and surely haven’t waited for someone to ask me out. In her essay “Ladies in Waiting,” Becca Rothfeld examines why women have traditionally been the ones who wait and why they often find themselves in a “state of involuntary idleness.” It is precisely this historical norm that I believed I had broken free from.

I was wrong.

***

One thing I have overlooked, and that you, the reader, may have missed as well, is that I hadn’t met anyone in nearly two years who I truly liked. So naturally I didn’t care if they were in my life or not. On the rare occasion when a text went unanswered, I was unmoved. Then last year I met a man who I will call Kyle, and all of my seemingly unconventional feminist wisdom was lost. It seemed that, when it came to someone I liked, I fell victim to the same “lady in waiting” trope I thought I was immune to, proving Rothfeld’s point that waiting is perpetuated by women who self-police. As someone who is candid about her feelings (or lack thereof), it was jarring to fall into a pit of self-doubt and, yes, constant waiting.

“The lover waits, speaks, entreats, but the beloved is constitutionally silent.” – Becca Rothfeld

The Day After Text

The day after text, as we’ve been told, is of crucial importance. It’s a ritual that serves as an acknowledgement of a potential future—and, in a heterosexual relationship, it is never supposed to come from the woman. This is a dating convention that I have, and gladly will, continue to ignore.

I first met Kyle in October, over drinks at a nearby bar. I knew I liked him when I didn’t give him my standard “I’m not looking for commitment” spiel, used previously to temper any misplaced expectations. A few hours later, after we drunkenly parted ways, we continued our conversation, through texts, into the next morning. Achievement unlocked.

Waiting is the Rule

I saw Kyle again about two weeks later. It was after this second date that I walked away feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. I was nervous. I cared about what he thought of me and, more frighteningly, how he felt about me. Three weeks later, after Thanksgiving, we went on our third date. By then, I found that in his presence I would stumble on my words and the pitch of my voice would falter. The more I liked him the more I retreated into the habits from my pre-enlightenment days; sometimes, I’d wait methodically to answer texts so as to not seem too eager, and allow him to reach out for our next date. I was no longer the pursuer. I waited.

Rothfeld notes that the concept of feminine waiting is ingrained in us by well-meaning female friends whose advice is always the same: wait, wait, wait. Indeed, even the most well-intentioned counsel I have received falls into the same pattern.

When Kyle would go a week without initiating contact, I’d swear he was “ghosting” on me; that it was the last I’d heard from him and the connection had been in my head. Just as I’d get to the point of writing him off, his name would flash across my phone’s screen. A constant battle raged in my head: was he a fuckboi or just really busy? I didn’t know but I sure as hell was happy that he messaged. “Romantic waiting is, like certain shades of pain, delicate enough to hint teasingly at future gratification but never disagreeable enough to preclude it,” Rothfeld writes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

The funny thing is, neither of Kyle or I text much. When we first matched on Tinder, this was our conversation:

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 8.47.37 PM.pngAlthough I was, and still am, seeing other people, I found myself in despair in the weeks I didn’t hear from him. Had he lost interest? We were dating casually but in person it felt like more. We did all the things I thought I hated doing. I obsessed over the details: We held hands, slept in the same bed, often broke bread together, and talked, and talked, and talked. Surely I wasn’t crazy in thinking he felt something more? Right? RIGHT?

When hesitating to reach out to Kyle, I was, like Rothfeld, trying to prove my affection, my true feelings, through “mute endurance,” that is, wait him out. Or was I trying to prolong the inevitable demise of our relationship under this shroud of constant waiting? “Waiting, which renders everything provisional, which suspends progress or conclusion of any kind, is worse than clarity,” Rothfeld writes. While being in a constant state of will he? or won’t he? is excruciating in its own right, was I buying myself time and hoping he’d like me more through the act of self-policing?

Jolted Out of the Self

Indeed, if love is feminine and waiting is a sign of that femininity, as Rothfeld observes, then I  subconsciously began acting traditionally feminine in order to gain affection. “The alternative to dejected waiting, then, is patience, the art of elective waiting: a capitulation that women author, a passivity over which we assert ownership and which we might come to more comfortably inhabit,” Rothfeld writes. Even I can admit that I quickly went from being compared to Samantha to comparing myself to Carrie, inviting friends over to analyze a voicemail from Big for some hidden meaning that, likely, wasn’t there. In other words: I was losing my damn mind.

What made me feel even crazier was thinking I was crazy: What if this is all in my head? How much of what we agonize over is a narrative that we have constructed? Has our constant need for communication turned into a constant need of validation– in this case a validation of my feelings? Is my new found state of waiting a manifestation of my own insecurities about liking someone after so long? Have we, women, self-policed ourselves into this modern romantic norm? And what would happen if we stopped? I decided to find out.

In working on this story, I went back to the beginning of my communication with Kyle and noticed something: although there are moments when we went days without texting, there were times when I was the one who trailed off, leaving him waiting. These casual exchanges, to me, felt like the natural end of a conversation, but could easily have been perceived by him as me making him wait. Had I done to him what I thought he was doing to me?

With this new lens and impassioned clarity, I did the unthinkable: I texted Kyle the afternoon he was leaving town for a few weeks.

“at the risk of sounding trite, i think i’m gonna miss you while you’re gone. hope your trip is phenomenal. see you when you’re back.”

His response? He thanked me for missing him.

Welp. Han Solo would be proud, and I am a lady in waiting once more.


“I mustn’t. I mustn’t do this. Suppose he’s a little late calling me up—that’s nothing to get hysterical about. Maybe he isn’t going to call—maybe he’s coming straight up here without telephoning. He’ll be cross if he sees I have been crying. They don’t like you to cry. He doesn’t cry. I wish to God I could make him cry. I wish I could make him cry and tread the floor and feel his heart heavy and big and festering in him. I wish I could hurt him like hell.” -Dorothy Parker, “A Telephone Call,” in The Portable Dorothy Parker.

Exploring Self(ie) Doubt

A lone whiner dives into a sea of selfie-enthusiasts to explore the world of solo photos.

By Gabrielle Sierra

I don’t take photos of myself. This isn’t a principled stance, unlike my stance against using emojis. (I’m a writer in an ever-disappearing industry, let me use my words while I can, damn it.) I don’t selfie because I just don’t get it.

I am well-aware that I stand in the minority on this subject; a lone whiner against a sea of selfie-enthusiasts. The word itself has become so ingrained in our lives that it was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Celebrities and social media influencers make enormous amounts of money just by taking photos of themselves while wearing a product or selling a lifestyle. Even images from the recent election cycle regularly showed crowds facing away from candidates in order to take a selfie. According to a 2014 Pew research study, 55 percent of millennials take selfies and post them on social media, and a 2015 survey by Now Sourcing and Frames Direct calculated that millennials spend more than an hour every week on selfies.

As someone who feels awkward posing for photos in general, the desire to take a close-up snap of my face, and then ask people to judge it, seems strange as hell. I will never understand the impulse to take a selfie in a dirty bathroom mirror unless you just saw a ghost and want to document it. I will never relate to the motivation behind snapping a photo of yourself in a car unless the interior of said car is crawling with ants and you want to prove you are cool under pressure. I will never jump on board with the urge to pout or frown or “smize” for Instagram followers, because I just really don’t get how people can be confident enough to assume we all care about their faces. Subsequently, I have always assumed that people who are driven to take and share photos of themselves must be on some sort of alternate spectrum that runs from extremely confident to straight-up narcissistic.

“As someone who feels awkward posing for photos in general, the desire to take a close-up snap of my face, and then ask people to judge it, seems strange as hell.”

However, as I started speaking with people and doing research for this piece, I began to realize that verbalizing the motivation behind taking or sharing a photo of oneself is complex, to say the least. Most answers and statistics seem to show a struggle between overt self-confidence and inner self-doubt, a social media generation problem if there ever was one.

For example, a study published in Psychology Today did in fact suggest that narcissists, especially psychopathic men, are more likely to share selfies. However, the results of the study also showed that men who view their bodies as objects are more likely to edit them in shared images. This act of editing is a sign of self-objectification that is associated with low self-esteem, not high.

The combination of outward certainty and inward uncertainty is something I kept running into, even with those around me. My queries were met with defensive answers almost every time. Easy selfie questions lobbed at friends and colleagues resulted in several heated debates. Some people began rationalizing their photo activities, saying they only took “funny”or “ugly” selfies. At brunch, an argument broke out and photographs were feverishly scrolled through, presented as proof that this particular selfie was more reasonable than that one. In more than one instance feelings were hurt by casual remarks. 

“This act of editing is a sign of self-objectification that is associated with low self-esteem, not high.”

A 2015 paper authored by Brazil’s UFMG and Korea’s KAIST researchers explained that a number of theories exist when it comes to selfies. One is that sharing a selfie with the world is a means of “self-exploration,” a way to “re-see” yourself. “With the ability to control the aesthetics of a picture, selfies are a perfect tool for showing the world one’s subjective self-image,” the paper states. In an interesting twist, the research goes on to indicate that when presented with an edited selfie and an un-edited one, people tend to identify the more attractive image of themselves as the original picture.

“The amount of selfies you take isn’t something that you really think about. It is sort of like a sickness, it is something you can’t control,” said Ronald Ferret, a colleague I convinced to discuss his tendency to take and share a lot of selfies. “My friends recently made fun of me for taking so many, and I was like ‘no I don’t!’ but then I checked and I was like god damn it, yes, they are right. I realized I had stopped taking pictures of what surrounds me and was taking more of just me in the place. I deleted a bunch of shirtless ones. But my friends were right, and I still do it a lot.”

This selfie-doubt is intriguing, since the act itself still feels so inherently tied to confidence. Many authors seem to agree and have encouraged selfie-taking as a form of affirmation. A quick search around the interweb pulls up a number of articles hailing selfie-taking as a way to build up self-assurance, including the “I Took A Selfie Everyday for A Year and Now I Am Confident” piece and the “Take a Selfie to Feel Better About Yourself” portion of a self-help piece. There are even studies that indicate taking a selfie can lead to more positive feelings.

But a new report, published in Frontiers in Psychology, seems to suggest that while people enjoy taking confidence-building selfies, no one cares about seeing them. Researchers surveyed 238 people and found that while 77 percent of them reported regularly taking selfies, 82 percent reported that they would rather look at other types of photos. This seemed to be yet another instance where the motivation to take, possibly edit, and then share a selfie was less about looking at these types of photos and more about achieving something personal.

Regardless of the many motivations and emotions behind posting and sharing an image of yourself, it is clear the fad isn’t going anywhere. Google statistics estimate that about 93 million selfies were taken per day in 2014 on Android devices alone, a number that no doubt has gone up over the past few years. And as younger generations grow up testing the limits of what we share online, selfies are bound to become more socially acceptable, so much so that my selfie-aversion may soon be archaic.

Either way, I doubt my opinion will change. I took a test selfie while writing this and couldn’t fathom ever posting it. I will always be the person who would rather take a photo of a beach with a friend walking in the frame than a photo of a beach blocked by my big head. And maybe in the long run selfie-takers will fare better, as the process is clearly an attempt to work through something deeper than just “look at me!”

For now at least I will attempt to scroll through selfies with a more open eye, although I can’t guarantee I’ll ever cave to giving my “like” approval.

Iranians Face a Cloud of Uncertainty During the Muslim Ban

We spoke with four Iranians about Trump’s executive order. Here’s what they said.

By Sara Afzal

We spoke with four Iranians about Trump’s executive order. Here’s what they said.

On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily prohibiting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. The travel ban comes as a shock to many Iranians after the diplomacy of President Barack Obama, who opened up U.S.-Iran relations after 36 years, with the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal. In the days following Trump’s order, Iran issued its own travel ban preventing Americans from coming into the country. There have been reports of a ballistic missile test by Iran; shortly after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on the country and Trump said that military action is not “off the table.”

Trump’s Muslim ban serves as a catalyst for renewed complications and tensions between two nations with an already tumultuous history–caught in the middle are the Iranian people who now have to deal with the fear and distress of an uncertain future.

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Saira Rafiee featured on the #GetSairaHome Facebook event page.

Saira Rafiee, a Ph. D. candidate in New York City

Saira Rafiee, who is on a student visa, was on her way home to New York after visiting Iran when she was prevented from boarding a connecting flight in Abu Dhabi. After 18 hours at the airport, she was sent back to Tehran. “You can probably imagine how humiliated one might feel when her whole future, and the future of so many other people, is changed just by a stroke of a pen,” Rafiee said.

“I am very much worried that what has happened is just the first step towards more horrifying policies. I am truly concerned about the future of the U.S. and the world,” Rafiee said. “I think not only Iran, but all the countries that rightly hold that this ban is inhumane, illegal, and against human rights should take every action within the limits of human rights and international laws to oppose this policy.” Rafiee studies political science at City University of New York.  

Rafiee returned to the U.S. on Saturday, Feb. 4, after a federal judge temporarily halted the executive order on Friday. She has not responded to a request for comment since then.

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Photo taken by Joubeen Mireskandari.

Emir Mohsseni, a musician in Tehran

Emir Mohsseni, of The Muckers, most recently completed a visa application for artists invited to perform in the U.S. After years of backgrounds checks and paperwork, Trump’s executive order has imperiled the status of his visa.

“To be honest, I have no idea what will happen to my case,” Mohsseni, whose band was invited to perform at SXSW, said.

“The reason that I’m trying to play my music in the U.S. is because of my love for Western music and American musicians. It’s inspired me my whole life. I remember when I was 5 years old, I was playing air guitar in front of the TV to Bryan Adams,” Mohsseni said.

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Photo provided by Shahab Paranj featuring his mother (on top left) as well as his nieces and nephews.

Shahab Paranj, a Ph.D. candidate in Los Angeles, and his mother, Azam

Shahab Paranj, who is finishing his doctorate in music composition at UCLA, said he spent a year and a half and about $10,000 on his mother Azam’s green card application. The money went towards lawyer fees and travel costs for his mother’s vetting at a foreign embassy he said. (Iran has not had a U.S. Embassy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution). After the order was signed, Azam was held for 10 days in Ankara, Turkey, where she was waiting for her application to be processed. Her passport was also taken away.

“Even the Trump administration doesn’t know really what the process is,” Shahab said. “There is no proper guidance.”

Ultimately, Azam’s green card was not issued during her trip to Turkey. Following a federal judge’s nationwide injunction on the ban, the Paranj family is now waiting for an update. In the meantime, Azam has returned to Iran.

“I am afraid about what is going to happen in the future. We don’t have a wise leader. These reactions are coming from a dictator,” Shahab said. “I have experience with seeing dictators growing up in Iran, and I know how they react. This is not good news for the U.S., the Middle East, and the world.”

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©NYU Photo Bureau: Heuer

Azi Amiri, an art educator in New York

Azi Amiri is a green card holder who has been living in the U.S. for 9 years. She is planning on traveling to Iran in mid-February, for her niece’s first birthday, but says she is worried about being able to return to America.

“We didn’t expect it to happen to Iranians,” Amiri said. “We have learned to resist. We do our best to keep our rights. We belong to the second wave of Iranians that were born after the Islamic Revolution. We have learned how to resist and how to keep our rights as much as we can.”

Amiri says she immigrated to the U.S. to escape the instability of their home country after war and to secure better job opportunities. As a teacher, she describes herself and her husband, who is an engineer, as hard working. “It is not fair. We feel that we have been betrayed after this ban,” she says.

Sofia Carrillo is Making Horror Out of Dollhouses

An interview with one of the directors behind the upcoming female-driven horror anthology “XX.”

By Gabrielle Sierra

 

Chances are you haven’t yet heard of Sofia Carrillo; an artist, animator and director who up until now has produced beautiful short films from the seclusion of her Mexico City studio. But Carrillo is sure to gain some attention over the next month due to her contribution to the all-female horror anthology, “XX.” Described by its producers as a response to the lack of opportunities for women in film, the movie is set to hit theaters and video-on-demand February 17th.

“XX”, which made its debut at Sundance, features four vignettes directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama and Annie Clark (better known as the musician St. Vincent). Each film is bridged by original animations directed and created by Carrillo, adding a mystical and eerie vibe to an anthology that already looks scary as hell.

We reached out to Carrillo to ask her about the film and her role in it, as well as the ups and downs of being a female director in the male-driven horror industry.

How did you get involved in “XX”?

I received an invitation from Todd Brown, the producer of the film. I “e-met” him maybe 7 years ago and then I met him live, so we had been in touch a bit before he wrote me and invited me to the anthology. The line-up of the directors has changed a few times but I’ve always been excited with the directors of the anthology. I feel honored to be part of “XX”. I felt honored since the beginning, when Todd first wrote me about it.

Your contribution to “XX” is animated. Can you discuss this choice and tell us a little bit about your background as an animator?

At the beginning I wanted to be a painter and/or a writer. I´ve always been in love with fantasy and surrealism. I got into the film school because I wanted to do animation. Cinema, for me, is the perfect combination of story and paint. When Todd wrote me about “XX”, we were aware that my contribution was going to be animated, but, the question was how was I going to match my animated interstitials with the live action segments. I always trusted in Todd!

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So how did you decide what animation you wanted to focus on? What was your goal with your pieces?

We first began with the idea to do something with the rooms of a doll house, so I took Todd´s idea and turned it into something else. I was given a brief logline from the directors’ stories. I have this obsession with the “hidden energy” of objects since creating my short film “The Sad House” [La Casa Triste], that energy that goes from the person to their objects. When objects survive their owners, what happens then with those beloved belongings? The answer became almost natural to provide life to the dollhouse. This house is kind of lost, sad, without her master, walking around, an old house searching for something, and finding it in the tiny doors to other worlds, the live-action worlds. I wanted to make it very feminine, mysterious.

Is there a film in “XX” that really resonated with you? What about one that scares you the most?                                                                                                                                                  

Each short film is scary in its own particular way. The whole anthology has resonated with me. Beyond the genre, I really think it is becoming a protest in this particular moment we are living.

How did you decide what segments to create for each piece? Did you work with each woman to create a unique bridge? Do you have a favorite segment?

I worked all alone in my studio. I had an idea of the stories, but never the script. Let´s say it was like a “jump of faith”. I had to trust my instinct! I met Jovanka Vuckovic last year, but I have just met Roxanne [Benjamin] and Annie [Clark] at the premiere. I have not decided which one is my favorite, I love the four of them!

What do you think animated horror can do or communicate that live-action horror films can’t?                                                                                                                                  

Animation is about giving life to an inanimate object. Animation comes from reality itself, it is a perfect technique to bring the extra “strange feeling” to a horror tale.

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What are your influences?

I wouldn’t say influences, although obviously everything you see stays in your head, I prefer “connection” and I really love Jan Svankmajer, Brothers Quay, Ladislaw Starewicz.

Can you discuss your experiences as a female director in the film industry?

This is my first experience collaborating outside of México with Canadian and American filmmakers. I never thought it could be like this, sincerely, working with Todd and his partners, and when I met Jovanka [Vuckovic]… it just feels awesome. These are very passionate people making movies, just like home.

Can you talk a little bit about your journey into American cinema? What are some big differences you have encountered?

Probably the biggest difference is going to be the reach of the audiences. During production, I worked in Mexico, I had the same adventures that animation usually has, including a really haunted old house. I guess I was very lucky to work with the producers of “XX,” because I felt free and respected all the time. In fact, very, very free.

Let’s talk about the horror industry. Are there any specific stories that stand out to you or times you felt you were treated differently as a woman?

About a different treatment, it sure happens. Mostly, I guess, it is about getting yourself out of your own way and just go for it… I keep saying this to myself  since I heard it from a great woman filmmaker, Ruba Nadda.

What is something you would like to see more of in horror films? What about something you are sick of seeing?

I love the subtlety of it, when the ordinary becomes horrifying, and it is so close to your normal life that you just can´t sleep. In fact, it is funny because I really can hardly stand to watch a horror movie, and when I do, I don´t sleep for days. With my first short films, people began to say that I was doing horror shorts when in my head, I thought I was doing nostalgic or melancholic stuff. This is a funny case of “how did I ended doing the one thing that I just can’t stand?” I’m beginning to embrace and love my dark side.

Any thoughts on the “final girl” trope in horror films?

I find this “final girl” trope in horror movies to be very interesting. I am fascinated and sometimes ashamed by what I see revealed through this character, and I think this reflects on how women have evolved in society. Personally my own “final girl” is built on the idea that if you have a final female character in your story it keeps an idea of life continuing in your film.   

“XX” is being released less than a month after the US presidential inauguration. Do you feel as though an all-female anthology has particular importance right now?

This film is really a huge victory for all the crew involved. It sure has a particular importance in US right now and personally it has even more importance. I feel proud of being a part of this anthology, and mostly, very proud of my crew, our work and my Mexican nationality.

What are your plans/goals for the next year?

I´m in the first steps of the writing of (hopefully) mi opera prima, because is an animated feature length, it might take a few years, I have to be patient as a Jedi. May the force be with me!


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

7 Media-Inspired Suggestions for Not Losing Your Mind in 2017

Advice from an amateur but avid media consumer struggling to stay informed with staying afloat.

By Fríða Óskarsdóttir

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You may have read in any of the 30,000 think pieces published in 2016 that the media landscape is changing. We – as readers, consumers, and citizens – have changed along with it. Compulsively trying keep up with current events in a tense climate can come at a cost. I wake up and refresh local and national news apps, listen to one of 20 or so podcasts in my rotation on the train to work, and receive  long-form recommendations daily from friends that I then plan to read later. By the time the weekend edition of the paper arrives I’m in a daze from tweetstorms and clapbacks, fake news and the people who fake it.

Being constantly plugged into the Matrix leaves me at times feeling like my brain is burnt and others that I remain woefully under-informed. As I’m sure is true for many who don’t work in journalism, social media was a prominent factor in spurring my interest in the news over the last few years. But in the current climate, the volatile mixture of online activism, fake news, and hostile comment threads makes me wary of what I share. In spite of this, I think that learning how to navigate the personal and political in a time of great divide should be at the forefront of our lives. It’s impossible to keep up with it all, but in a time of alternative facts, I hope to stay vigilant.

I decided to examine my relationship with the media and how I use it as a source of information, reflection, and connection. The following points are the ways I’ve found to try to keep myself awake, in check, and inspired.

1. Hold yourself accountable.

In uncertain times, I like to remind myself that I’m in control of the information I take in and put out. Sometimes it’s all too easy to paraphrase and misremember statistics and while acknowledging your sources is important, it isn’t always enough. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow urged being a critical reader of the media on the post-election episode of their podcast “Call Your Girlfriend” (full episode here):

“Ask questions as you’re reading something. Even from [the most reputable] news sources, you can say ‘Who am I not hearing from in this article?’ ‘So this is ostensibly about how people are feeling after the election – but who’s really quoted here? What sorts of ‘experts’ am I hearing from? Is this news source trading access to give people anonymity?’ There is a whole skill set of being a critical reader and thinking about how the news that gets to you is constructed. A good tell is: did this writer call people? Did this writer go somewhere? Or is this piggy-backing off something else?”

2. Focus on lived experiences of others.

Studies and statistics are important, but they shouldn’t completely discount people’s varied personal experiences.  A recent New Inquiry piece from David A. Banks explores the tendency of some of the most popular podcasts to gloss over sociology for more abstract neurological phenomena, leading to “a sense of obnoxious explainerism.” This is particularly helpful to remember as someone who all too often responds to an anecdote with, “You know, I just heard on…”

3. Broaden your scope.

News and politics are so much more than the day to day, but the immediate often takes precedence over all else. Instead of sharing every breaking news item or those pieces that reinforce your point of view into the echo chamber, I find it’s helpful to reach out individually to the people close to you who may think differently than you do. Sharing art, movies, books, podcasts, or articles that you think they might like may lead to common ground in other areas. Not everything has to be political, and that makes it political.

4. Find the sweet spot.

The most powerful movements combine symbolism with action. This was embodied by the viral push to donate to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name. As highlighted in this New York Magazine piece by Lisa Ryan, the campaign was both brilliant and effective: of the over 315,000 donations the organization has received since the election, 82,000 were made in Pence’s name.  

5. Listen.

One of the first pieces of media that brought me out of my post-election stupor was an episode of “This American Life” entitled The Sun Comes Up, which laid out conversations between people in the days after November 8th. The dialogue spanned mothers and children, recent and long-naturalized immigrants, police officers and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. To me these offered solace in the reminder that America will always be home to vastly different ideologies, regardless of how helpless I feel in mine at any given moment.

6. Do the damn thing.

While making your voice heard is vital to broad cultural shifts, sometimes just the smallest action is what it takes to chip away at the despair that crops up from one too many deep-dives on Google. I can rant as many times as I want about Betsy Devos’ terrifying lack of experience in public education, but it makes more sense to volunteer at READ 718 instead. There, I spend a few hours a week reading with one of my many fourth-grade friends, covertly indoctrinating him with feminism and witchcraft. Also, when you tell people you volunteer they automatically feel inferior to you, so, bonus!

7. Write your own story.

The first thing I did on November 9th was sit down with my friends and plan the revolution this newsletter. Meeting, organizing, scheming, and dreaming has absorbed so much of my dread and focused my rage into art, community, and laughter. No one else can create what you do, so get started. And don’t forget to sign your friends up for our newsletter!