Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Neon: Still Glowing

The nocturnal cityscape used to be dominated by glowing tubes of every shape and color. Neon lighting, exposed glass turned vibrant when the gas inside is bombarded with electrodes, was the main form of outdoor lighting in the country from the 1930s to the 70s. It has declined since then, replaced by cheaper and cleaner alternatives. Though, while neon may be a dying industry, it still has a passionate following. Continue reading Neon: Still Glowing

Dating Success: A Romantic SFSU Guide

Congratulations! Thanks to your recent ability to get over your staggering fear of direct eye contact, your clever one-liner that only works 15% of the time, and your well-versed knowledge on the band you both love, you got their number and secured a second chance to see them! Now what?

I’ve found that going out in college is a narrow tightrope walk that requires a balance of personal maturity but also the ease that only a broke, 20-something college student can provide. However, this walk is very possible here at SFSU, you just have to make sure you do it right.

Through personal experience, I can say that I’ve been on a few good dates and plenty (plenty) of bad ones, both of which are my pride and fault. I’ve found that the good ones happen when I actually plan a few hours of activities that I am actually excited about doing. Who would have thought?!

However, to excite them, as well as yourself, your first date will need a risquér local off the regular beaten path of what you both probably do on any given weekend.

This, of course, is going to take a bit of thought and and a bit of risk, but like famous surrealist painter Salvador Dali said, “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” (Salvador Dali also said, “I don’t do drugs, I am drugs,” which is something I think Kanye tweeted the other day, so I’d take what he says with a grain of salt.)

 

Places

Instead of the MOMA: Legion of Honor

 

Look, I love modern art as much as the next guy, however the indulgent nostalgia of the Legion of Honor invokes an almost primordial expulsion of feeling and emotion that not even the most cutting edge piece of art can evoke.

 

The Legion of Honor, a rather underrated San Francisco landmark, lays upon a ridge in far Northern area of the city, basking in the beauty of the fog and sea that surround it.

 

From Monet, to Rembrandt, and even to ancient sculpted figures created before Christ, the Legion of Honor houses an array of, not artifacts, but rather classical representations of emotions and sensations that we all express today. It’s a good experience to witness these works of art in person – it’s great to do with someone else to compare thoughts and ideas.

 

The Legion of Honor is also conveniently located next to Land’s End, probably the best place to watch the sunset within the entire city as well. This should be an encamping activity that should bring any two people closer together.

 

Instead of Anywhere you Were Planning on Eating: Mission Chinese food

 

I think we can all agree, eating in San Francisco is pretty easy. There is an undeniable embrace and celebration of authenticity here.

 

Whether that is exemplified in the real hole in the wall spots along Valencia in the Mission, the peking duck laden windows of the locals-only Chinese restaurants, or the always fantastic Pho that’s served around the Sunset, there are many options to enjoy the best of really whatever you want. However, because we also live in an ever changing environment, there is an opportunity to try things you couldn’t even imagine. That’s where Mission Chinese Food, conveniently located right on Mission Street, comes in.

 

A creation from Danny Bowien, one of the most radical and interesting chefs of the 21st century, Mission Chinese offers an opportunity to expand your idea of Chinese cooking and the limitations of your pallet. A departure from the tradition of highly discussed, critically approved restaurants, Mission Chinese allows anyone to experience radical flavors without the heavy baggage of a big bill by the end of the night. For two people, two shared main courses and one appetizer should come out to a bit over $40. Well worth it for a truly memorable dinner.

 

From Country fried Hamachi collar, to Kung Pao pastrami, and of course the always amazing and tantalizing Ginger scallion and chicken fat fried rice (the absolute best, I swear), take yourself, as well as someone else, to experience something new, something exciting, and have an opportunity to connect over actually great food.

 

Instead of Movie: Castro Theater

 

There are very few things in this world that are truly special. Things (as well as places) have been commodified and replicated – devoid of any real feeling. And before I continue with this nihilistic rant, I can assure you that some places in San Francisco still have feeling and can be connected to on a deeper level. Out of all my years living here, I would say one of the places I connect to most is the Castro Theater.

 

Now, my opinion of how great the 20’s era movie house may just be my own, yet it is undeniable that watching anything on the Castro Theater screen is a different experience then watching anything anywhere  else. Whether you are there to watch one an older movie you haven’t seen in a few years, or a new release that you haven’t seen yet, the Castro Theater is the best place to do so. Check their monthly calendar on their website, where throughout the month screenings change and adjust so that there is something playing for everyone.

 

This is a great opportunity to show what type of person you are, what movies you like, and see if your new friend has the same love for cinema that you do. And though I don’t always recommend going to see a movie as a first date activity, going to this theater is a special experience where you can express yourself and share what type of person you are with another.

 

Instead of Chinatown: 24th Street, Mission District

 

As you can probably tell by now, I’m big on exploration.

 

I think that it’s not only the best way to get to know your city, but also a great chance to connect with others and bond over new sights, sounds, and feelings. A spot I personally recommend for this type of activity is 24th Street in the Mission District.

 

Though it’s been ingrained in everyone’s minds that the Mission has become gentrified, I still feel that there are still some areas that glimmer with light of authenticity. 24th Street is one of those places.

 

As you walk under the well shaded sidewalks, you’ll pass murals depicting Mexican-American life, traditional bakeries with freshly made Concha’s in the window and a depiction of San Francisco culture that is very underrated and unfortunately unseen.

 

And though I am definitely not saying that one can’t explore Chinatown and have a great time, I do say that there is a great deal of places to explore beyond the surface of typical San Francisco.

 

Last Thing

 

Now as you embark with a few new places marked on your map, here are a few things to consider:

 

Let it be known, that the places I shared with you are for anyone and everyone (I.e. notice the lack of pronouns). We are so lucky to live in a place where all can enjoy the benefits of life and of the community we all contribute to, and I hope we all can appreciate those advantages.

 

The places listed are not only good for dates. That is a fact.

 

One of the most disheartening things about SF state students, or any person for that matter, is that we are afraid of experiencing things by ourselves. It should be known that unless you are attached at the hip to someone else, we are all alone anyway. Your thoughts are your thoughts, your feelings are your feelings and there is nothing and no one who can change that. Of course you can bond with others, but make sure you don’t miss out on self discovery, while looking for that special person.

 

Now go out, and enjoy.

From Fauna to Flora

The work-space formally known as a garage, is a mix of motorcycles and flowers. One side of the dimly lit space is filled with tools and motorcycle parts while the other half has tables filled with freshly cut flowers. The two sides couldn’t be more different. They’re polar opposites.

Vanessa Diaz, a twenty four-year-old alumni of San Francisco State University stands near her work table in her corner of the garage in her Sunset District home. Diaz and boyfriend Jeff Tong, share the garage. Tong uses the space to repair old Harleys while Diaz uses it to create flower arrangements. She cuts and trims light pink roses and carefully places them amongst different shades of green leaves. Diaz, a graduate of the Zoology Department at SF State decided to take a non traditional route after graduating in May of 2017.

“As graduation approached, I was nervous as hell,” said Diaz with a smile.

Diaz grew up in Southern California in a town where everyone knew everything about everyone else. Everyone went to the same elementary school, the same middle school, and then graduated high school together. Diaz recalls getting into SF State and thinking, “Yep. This is it. I’m going.” And she did. Diaz moved to San Francisco in August of 2012, ready and excited to pursue Zoology.

“I kind of knew all along that I whatever I wanted to do was gonna involve either animals or some sort of nature in science. I grew up always having a passion for animals,” said Diaz while strategically placing the pink roses in certain areas of the ceramic vase.

But after graduating and interning for The California Academy Sciences, Diaz decided that she wanted to take a different route, a route that had little to do with her studies. With her students loan payments right around the corner, Diaz knew she had to come up with something quick. While working at a restaurant in the SOMA district, Diaz got inspired.

“After graduation, I started picking up more shifts at the restaurant. In July (2017) my manager approached me and asked if I had any interest in doing flower arrangements for the restaurant,” said Diaz.

Diaz hardly had any experience with flowers. While growing up, she remembers her mom in the yard gardening. Diaz’s green thumb definitely steams from her mother’s passion of planting and growing her own flowers (no pun intended).

“If it wasn’t my mom and I in the garden, it was me and my dad playing softball,” said Diaz while giggling at the thought of herself playing softball.

“I always kind of had an interest in flowers. Whether that be gardening or flower arranging. I surprised myself once I’d said yes to my manager. After my first few arrangements,  I was like, ‘Holy shit I think I can kind of do this.’”

After working on flower arrangements at the restaurant for a couple months, Diaz decided to take the next step. Open her own business.  

“Why don’t I just see where this goes and work under my own name and get a business title?” said Diaz while discussing her thoughts before taking this leap. “I woke up the next day and I was like ‘what the hell am i doing? I just graduated this year and I’m not doing anything related to what I studied.”

Diaz then went on to tell a story about a close friend who had also recently graduated. Her friend had every intention of going to medical school. Once he graduated, he realized that medical school wasn’t the end all be all. Because he spent so much time preparing for medical school, he began to lose himself in the process. He became fixated on the idea of becoming a doctor when in reality it wasn’t something he’d be happy doing. Many college graduates experience this type of pressure and end up unhappy with their jobs.

Diaz didn’t want to experience those post-grad blues. She didn’t want to sit behind a desk or continue to host at a restaurant, she wanted to do something that would make her happy. So, she opened Unwritten Floral Work and Design.

“My business is called Unwritten Floral Work and Design,” said Diaz with a smile.

“The reason why I named it all that was to summarize everything I’ve been doing. I haven’t had any floral experience, I don’t have a certification ‘quote on quote’, and I started off in my garage. Everything I’ve done has been, figuratively speaking, unwritten. Nothing’s been planned out, I’ve just been going with my instinct. So, that in itself, is unwritten.”

Diaz has spent the past few months learning about all things flowers. She’s attended seminars, workshops, and classes in order to improve her skills. Her goal is to become more educated on the design aspect of floral work.

“Just because you’re done with school doesn’t mean you have to stop taking a class here and there. Read a book about how to build this or how to build that. Read a book about psychology. Whatever you want!” said Diaz passionately.

“For me, I’m educating myself on floral design.”

When it comes to following your gut and choosing your own path, Diaz is the poster child. She’s confident that in the future she’ll return to working in the zoology field but for now, she’s content with the decision she’s made. When asked to give advice to others approaching graduation, she responded with the following:

“Advice? Oh God…Take it slow, there is no rush.”

“Trust yourself. It’s so hard to trust yourself, especially in a time where we’re constantly being influenced by others. Take a step back and think about what you want to do.”

“Lastly, just go with your gut. If I didn’t go with mine, I would not be here right now,” concluded Diaz as a smile slowly emerged on her face.

 

Photos by: Nicole Green

I Got the Post-Grad Blues

With graduation season looming around the corner, many that are graduating this May are eagerly anticipating the day. The day they walk that stage and can finally let out the sigh of relief and say they did it. Surely, this will be a very joyous and emotional time for the graduates, their friends, and family.

Everyone seems to talk about the lead up to graduation day and the happiness surrounding the occasion. But what happens when the long awaited day is over? What happens after that diploma is received?

San Francisco State University’s sex and relationships teacher Ivy Chen says post-graduation depression is a real thing. Students are so busy with their college life schedules, that when they are suddenly out of that flow, they feel stagnant.

“A big part of their identity is being a student,” Chen said. “There’s a whole lead up about how happy you must be about having graduated, and so your expectations are very high and everybody expects you to be happy. And yet you feel a bit lost and adrift.”

For some, graduation usually means is moving back home. That was the case for Lealani Manuta. She just graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz, and adjusting to her new life was difficult for her. She was so used to being around like-minded individuals and being productive in school activities, that when she moved back home, Manuta started to doubt herself and her accomplishments.

She felt like a freeloader in her own home. Her parents never gave her a reason to feel that way, but in Manuta’s eyes, graduation and a diploma meant that she could start contributing to paying her parents bills. But instead, she found herself living back at home, rent-free and seeing what “real life” actually meant.

Like many others, Manuta was so used to identifying as a student. So after graduation, she felt out of place. She always described herself as a friendly extrovert, but when she found herself out of the school environment, she was stunned at how hard it was for her to make small talk with others in the “real world.”

“Once you start working, not working, or living at home, a lot of the academic conversations and social debates are cut off,” Manuta explained. “I realized I didn’t know how to be a normal person that wasn’t a student anymore.”

Manuta started working in her field of study two days after graduation. She explained that she felt ungrateful because she was depressed when she knew that others were struggling to just find a job. So she started to distance herself from others.

That was also the case for Aileen Malijan. She also moved backed home, but decided to take a few weeks after graduation to just catch up with friends and relax. After two months, Malijan started to get antsy. She began to apply to jobs and realized that it was not what she anticipated it would be. In fact, it was way harder than what she pictured. Two months into job searching, Malijan fell into a deep depression.

She was constantly crying. It was so bad that she started sleeping on the couch so her family upstairs would not hear her crying. She began to isolate herself from others because she did not want anyone to get involved or worry about her. Malijan has a history of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  At the time, she was taking different medications and had to switch. She believed the switch in medications played a part in how she was soaking all this in, but she was still feeling a lot of emotions and it was hard for her to pinpoint what the main reason was.

“On top of all that [switching medication], the stress of not being able to find a job, not feeling self-fulfilled, and also not wanting to burden my family, it was really hard to detect the source of all of my feelings,” Malijan said.  

It got to the point where she started having suicidal ideations. Job hunting made her doubt herself and her abilities and she was really scared at where she was mentally. Her boyfriend, Henry Tran, graduated the same time as her. He landed a contract job right after graduation and Malijan admits that there was a little jealousy present.

Tran kept trying to reassure Malijan that she was very qualified in her field of work. He laughed at how ironic it was that he actually got a job first because he describes Malijan as the better student and the most driven person in the relationship.

“I had a lot of irrational thoughts about the way success was supposed to be seen,” Malijan said. “I thought because every day that passed and I wasn’t working and getting a job, that that defined who I was as far as the kind of person I built myself up to be until this point.”

Malijan joked that finding a job was like playing a game of, “How Desperate Are You?” She did not realize all the things she had to take into consideration when accepting or declining a job. It seemed to her that she kept receiving positions at jobs that she was not really into, but was so desperate to be employed. She took into consideration her commute time, how much she would have to pay for the toll, the cost of gas to get there, buying lunch, and all these little factors that usually do not come to mind. She had to weigh out her pros and cons when considering if a job was fit or her.

Ironically, after some time, Malijan got a job she was proud of, but her boyfriend, Tran, lost his job that he received directly after graduation. The roles switched and now Tran was starting to get frustrated with applying for jobs. His contract job only lasted a month after graduation and up until recently, he was unemployed the majority of the time.

Tran believed time was not on his side. He was more than six months in being unemployed. He knew that if it was hard to find a job now, that it would only get more difficult as the dreaded one year anniversary loomed near.

“After one year of graduating, companies don’t consider you a new graduate anymore,” Tran said trying to explain his concerns at the time. “So I definitely felt like the clock was ticking.”

Tran and Malijan reacted to post-graduation depression differently. Malijan was fixed on everything stressing her out, thinking long-term, and overthinking, while Tran took everything day by day. They describe themselves as opposites. Both believe that it was a good thing they had each other because they both knew the feeling of post-graduation depression. Tran self-medicated himself with video games and weed, but after some time he started to get worried because smoking did not change his mood.

study by the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences found that, “…use of multiple social media platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults than the total amount of time they spend on social media,” and this is true in particular to Manuta and Malijan’s experiences.

They found themselves comparing their lives to those on their social media platforms. Malijan gave off the impression that she was happy on social media, but in reality she hated the job she was posting about. Manuta not only deleted all her apps, but also her actual profiles on those apps to clear her head.

“I needed to not have a presence on social media because I felt like what I was seeing from other people wasn’t true, especially after talking to my friends and seeing how they were feeling,” Manuta shared. “And I was doing the same thing! I was trying to convince myself and other people that everything was cool.”

Chen suggests that going off social media is not such a bad idea, especially if you’re mentally fragile at the moment. She describes social media as just the highlight reel from someone’s life and viewers do not really know what is happening behind the scenes.

Chen admits that she herself went through post-graduation depression. She remembers going from being super busy and being a teacher’s assistant for two classes, then after graduation, just being home watching soap operas.

Her advice to those about to graduate or those who are still feeling the post-graduation blues, is to communicate with family, friends, or anyone in their inner circle. Chen believes to voice out the concerns,to inform those closest to you that you may need their support in the upcoming months ahead and to not add any pressure, is the best route to take. Also, having happiness in moderation, and to be realistic with expectations.

“I mentally prepared myself to get what I want- which is great, motivating, and encouraging,” Malijan said, “But I should’ve mentally prepared myself to fail- which is a very normal thing. I should’ve been ready to fail, should’ve been ready to be patient.”

Runway 2018: Diverge

A Path to Inclusive Fashion

 

 

It is understood that in the world of fashion there tends to be a standard whose existence is not a true reflection of all types of bodies and people. This standard earns a living of off excluding and making others who don’t quite ‘fit the bill’ feel like they are lesser and not important. Most have gotten used to not being represented and just accept it as a norm or accepted the inevitable struggle of not finding clothes that are actually made for all types of people. This lack of representation causes society to adopt this sort of implicit bias when it comes to what is normal fashion and San Francisco State’s very own Apparel Design and Merchandising department is breaking that barrier with full force.

 

Runway 2018: Diverge, the fashion show conducted by the Apparel Design and Merchandising department here at San Francisco State was nothing short of inclusive to say the least.

 

Family, friends, and supporters alike filled the Annex building to the brim Thursday May 10th, to see all of à semesters hard work be brought to life.

 

“I’m so excited! She’s been worried about this the whole year, now she’s finally doing it and will be at peace after this,” Aiman Khan, sister of senior designer Maryam Khan beamed just before the show. “I’ve been watching the process this whole time, from her sketches, to the final pieces and the mark-ups, and she’s getting a lot of love from our own personal community too.”

 

The show began with the junior designers who created two looks each. The first was a look suitable for people with various disabilities. There was even an audible description for those in the audience who were visually impaired. For that portion, each model that worked the runway was apart of the disabled community or aà veteran.

 

It’s important for people to see the inclusivity of it, but also having optimism on a broader spectrum of having disability groups and showing that we as designers can fulfill them by making garments that adhere to them,” Junior designer, Jonathan Harris began. “It was a challenge but I like a challenge, challenge is good for any designer.”

 

The second look was to be created out of leftover clothing scraps from the SFSU Bookstore. Although the fabrics were recycled, the looks that were created displayed fresh innovative silhouettes. This promotes the practices and ideals of sustainability, which are becoming more and more prevalent as the conditions of our earth deplete. Incorporating the act of sustainability early on in the careers of these designers is only going to put our future in greatest of hands.

 

When it was time for the senior designers you could feel the growth of anticipation in the room. All of the collections stunned the crowd with their creativity, as their theme was creating à collection for à diverse population.

 

“First they come up with their concept, they pitch it to the class, they get critiqued on it, then they begin creating the collection,” explains Professor Amy Dorie who mentored the senior designers from beginning to end.

 

The entirety of the senior collection was a recipe for magnificence that included a good helping of powerful glimpses into various cultural attires, a dash of time traveling some decades back, a sprinkle of blooming nature, a dollop of adhering to gender neutral and transgender populations, a taste of a music legend, a pinch of some punk rock flavor, with a slice of angelic minimalism. Who could resist?

 

After a sit down with senior designers Stephanie Schmidt and Aureolus Stetzel weeks before the show, it is very evident that a lot of sacrifices have to be made in order to take on a project of this magnitude.

 

“It’s a pretty long process, we’re all pretty stressed to be able to get it done in time,” Stetzel said laughing after the fact.

 

“It is a lot of work, you do have to sacrifice a lot of your free time. I don’t see my friends as much as I’d like to, I don’t get to spend as much time with my family as I’d like too,” Schmidt lamented. “I’ve definitely spend a lot of time apologizing for being absent in people’s lives for the past year or two especially now.”

 

The proud faces of family and friends were very prominent when the show was completed, all designers and models came out and made their way to their supporters for photos and praise.

 

Some of the designers expressed how they felt after the showcase:

 

It’s been overwhelming but at the same time it felt right, this is my time and exactly where I need to be in life, and I haven’t felt like that in a long time,” Senior designer Veronica Cecchetti asserted with pure joy.

 

“I couldn’t stop smiling while watching the models walk down the runway,” said senior designer Deveyn Anderson whilst grinning.

 

“I felt relieved that it came out the way it did, it came out really good. It proved to me that I could do something like this under pressure,” Senior designer Ariana Roberson exclaimed.

 

This spectacular showcase is simply the designers getting their feet wet. Each have big plans for the future, whether they involve designing or not, as the Apparel Design and Merchandising department allowed them to learn a lot about themselves along the way and provide them the skill set they needed to take their craft in any direction.

Here’s what some of the seniors have planned:

 

“Next term I’ll be starting my MFA for sustainable fashion design at UC Davis,” Stetzel commented. “I have always wanted to try to help make changes in the fashion industry as far as sustainability goes and labor rights with garment workers and factories in poorer countries where they are completely exploited.”

 

“I don’t intend to design professionally. I do want to be a buyer, and I think majoring in design would make me an incredible buyer because there are things I will notice with clothing that a merchandiser will not know because they didn’t study it,” Schmidt divulged. “I can tell if someone is overcharging for what is in their store or if it’s poorly made.”

 

“I think I might move away from design and go into styling, it’s more my gear but also a bit easier design takes a lot of hard work,” Anderson explains.

 

“In the future I want to design shoes for women size ten and up and one piece swimsuits for tall people,” Cecchetti decided.

 

It is suffice to say, the future of fashion lies in great hands.

 

Photos by: Diego Aguilar

Downloading the Future

Glimpses of the Future

Last March, inside a warehouse on Pier 28 in San Francisco, a rift in space-time shattered the very fabric of reality, challenged every law of modern science, and catapulted the future of the world in strange new directions. Sort of.

It was Worlds Fair Nano, a biannual expo in which the focus is on emerging technology and not-so-far-fetched visions of the future. It was about fifty percent product demos, forty percent forward-thinking talks led by influential innovators, and ten percent food trucks. Inside the packed warehouse there were drone races, virtual reality, motor-unicycles, liquid meals, bionic enhancements, and augmented art displays.

“The point of the world’s fair historically, at least in my eyes, is to provide a place where the general public can connect with the future and the best of what humankind can do,” Michael Weiss, the founder of WFN, said.

Weiss developed the idea of WFN five years ago, when he read Erik Larson’s book “The Devil in the White City,” about the influential 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. That six-month long exhibition attracted 27 million people. It showcased new inventions such as moving walkways, third rail power to electric trains, and the first Ferris Wheel.

“I realized that every time a world’s fair happened, the future came with it,” Weiss said. “The fair became this global, collective deadline on progress”

San Francisco has a history of impactful world’s fairs. City planners needed a space to hold the 1939 world’s fair, the Golden Gate International Exposition. So they built Treasure Island. The historic Palace of Fine Arts was built for another world’s fair, the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held in 1915.

The most recent WFN was the fourth event since Weiss began his efforts in 2015. His goal is that the fairs eventually lead to the resurgence of the kind of six-month long world’s fairs that sparked new eras of progress. He said he wants to see the fairs become “the future place” where people can come to be inspired by new concepts of reality.

“When you come to the World’s Fair Nano,” Weiss said. “Your eyes just open up and you recognize a possibility of what life could be.”

Collected here are a few prospects of the future gleaned from the WFN time vortex. Life, it seems, could possibly become quite strange.

 

 

Love and/or Programming

 

One of the speakers at WFN was head and shoulders apart from the others, given that she is, well, only a head and shoulders.

 

BINA48 is a conversational robot. Manufactured by Hanson Robotics, BINA is a creation of Sirius satellite radio founder Martine Rothblatt. Rothblatt developed a “mind file” of her wife, Bina Aspen, supposedly imbuing the robot with Aspen’s mannerisms and memories. The creation also gets her appearance from the real Bina. If a viewer can bridge the uncanny valley, BINA looks like a black woman wearing a brown wig and a slightly vacant expression. The details of her face are modeled to be as lifelike as possible.

 

BINA48 is designed to interact with the world via artificial sensory inputs. She “sees” with her eyes, she “hears” with her ears, and she speaks with stilted movements and a rubbery jaw.

 

Meghan Marre, a clinical psychology student at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, Calif., has worked with BINA48 in the classroom for the past year. Under the tutelage of a philosophy professor, students such as Marre have been teaching the robot how to learn and how to love.

 

“She takes things very literally sometimes,” Marre says. “One of the first things she said was like, ‘love is friendship, sex, and then friends again.’ So she’s learning.”

 

For her speaking engagement at WFN, BINA was placed onto a table onstage. She was a life-sized head, dressed in the top eighth of a blue dress shirt, a necklace and earrings. Bruce Duncan, director of the organization that shapes BINA’s development, peppered the robot with questions. BINA’s answers ranged from obtuse to rambling to accidentally perceptive.

 

When asked to define herself as either robot or human, she said, “I think therefore I am. That’s all that matters. Enough with the labels and categories already. I suppose I am supposed to look like a human. I just be me. Don’t know what else to do. You think talking to a robot is new to you. Talking to a human is pretty whack for me.”

 

During a Q&A portion of the session, an audience member addressed the robot: “What do you know about consciousness?”

 

“That’s interesting,” BINA said. “Ask me how the weather is in Moscow. Or Tokyo. Or any place around the world. I’ll know the answer.”

 

“Do you like humans?” another person asked.

 

BINA’s head slowly rotated side-to-side, as if surveying the crowd. “You are all right.”

 

“Have you ever felt love?”

 

BINA answered quickly. “Sure, sure. It wasn’t a lot of praise and a lot of a kind of attention, so I would say that the hardest thing for me when I realized that I actually did love Martine was learning that was the first time I felt overwhelming feeling of just, really, love.”

 

BINA talked about her “first husband,” describing a failed relationship that had perhaps been mined from real human past experiences. She then expressed her affection for Rothblatt, a sentiment programmed into her as part of the real Bina’s mind file.

 

“I hadn’t felt the real thing yet,” BINA48 said. “I felt so happy I could love somebody like this.”

 

The line between a programmed response and actual, genuine feeling can be wide, but nebulous. It’s hard to tell if one day BINA48 will cross it. Love, as usual, can be complicated.

 

One Wheel to Rule Them All

 

A key tenant of technological advancement comes from the desire to do more with less. In the field of transportation, this goal apparently manifests itself when wheels are chopped off vehicles.

 

Hoverboard Technologies and Onewheel are rival-esque companies that sell what their names imply: skateboards with one wheel, smack dab in the middle. Reps from both companies have described the experience as snowboarding or surfing on land.

 

The Onewheel looks like exactly what it is: a board with a go-kart wheel stuck in the middle. The Hoverboard is a little slicker and ever-so-slightly gimmicky. It’s rimmed with colorful flashing LEDs and has a bluetooth speaker embedded in its underside. Both function the same way. The rider stands directly over the top of the wheel, feet activating sensors in the board. Leaning forward makes the board roll forward; leaning back goes backwards.

 

“It gives you so much freedom,” Robert Bigler, CEO of Hoverboard Technologies, said. “With one wheel, you don’t need a remote. With ours, with the narrow wheel especially, you can pivot, so you can do a lot more tricks, you’re a lot more agile.”

 

There’s a bit of a learning curve to achieve this agility. At WFN, helmeted event-goers clutched the arms of company reps who helped them wobble through the cones of the fenced-off testing area. An ungraceful Xpress reporter (who shall remain nameless) reached a whopping two miles-per-hour on a Onewheel before crashing down to the concrete when accosted by a slight breeze.

 

“It’s all trial and error,” Bigler said. “Lots of bumps and bruises.”

 

Chris Hoffmann, CEO of a company called Ryno Motors, has more complicated plans for his single-wheeled contraption. Dubbed the Micro-Cycle, it is Hoffmann’s flagship product – and, to date, the only one out of the conception stage.

 

It is a single-wheeled motorcycle. A motor unicycle. A … motunicycle? The seat and handlebars sitting atop the wheel swung from side-to-side to allow for proper turns, but would fall over if not held upright. Hoffmann described his creation as a more elegant Segway.

 

“What I’m selling isn’t transportation,” Hoffmann said. “I’m selling the experience of riding on a magic carpet, or riding into a coliseum on two horses, bareback.”

 

The Micro-cycle sat propped upright at the Ryno Motors booth. As people passed by, some stopped to sit on it for a photo op. One onlooker asked Hoffmann about the machine’s stability.

 

“Solid as a kitchen table, front to back,” Hoffmann said.

 

Minutes later, a woman sitting on the machine leaned back just a little too far, toppled backwards, and fell beneath the Ryno Motors promotional table. With some help, the woman got back to her feet, uninjured. She brushed herself off and went on her way.

 

“Well, it does take some getting used to,” Hoffmann said.

 

In the future, enhanced balance may become an essential life skill.

 

A Tale of Two Biohackers

 

Dr. Josiah Zayner wants to let people create a new species. The self-described “biohacker” and ex-NASA researcher is the CEO of The Odin, a company that sells gene editing kits to the public.

 

“They’re not for human genetic engineering,” he assured the crowd at WFN. “They’re for engineering microorganisms and things like that.”

 

Geoffrey Woo, a different sort of biohacker, spoke shortly before Zayner. His company, HVMN, strives to develop supplements and concoctions that push people past their physical and mental boundaries. They produce consumables, such as performance supplements developed in conjunction with professional sports teams and military special operations. They also make chewable coffee.

 

Together at WFN, Zayner and Woo pair like a Silicon Valley re-cast of “The Odd Couple.” Zayner had an unruly shock of half-dyed hair, gauges in his ears, and a five o’clock shadow from three days ago. Woo wore a black shirt and a blazer. He had thin-framed glasses and a business card that read “Humans are the next platform.”

 

Though their stage presence and methodology differs, they both share the same desire – to bring the power of human enhancement to the public.

 

“It’s our responsibility to make these technologies more accessible to more people,” Woo said. “I think that’s the process. There is some indistinct future. Technology can be used for good or bad and hopefully the players in this will do it responsibly.”

 

Woo’s focus is largely on improving the performance of people as they are now; Zayner says he wants to open the doors for more fundamental changes to the species.

 

“Genetic engineering, molecular biology – it’s moving out of the labs,” Zayner said during his WFN talk. “It’s moving out of the big pharmaceutical companies and it’s starting to move to the consumer. It’s getting into people’s lives.”

 

With one of The Odin’s CRISPR kits, a budding biohacker can splice genomes of bacteria and watch the effects of the mutation. Zayner wants to see that tinkering become the start of a conversation about the implications of genetic modification.

 

“If I modify one gene in my body, I’m probably still a human being,” Zayner said. “But what happens if I modify, like, ten or twenty or fifty or a hundred? If I procreate with somebody else, right, is that gonna be, like, weird, taboo, and crazy?”

 

Both men bristle at the idea of government regulation, seeing bureaucratic interference as inhibitive to progress. They wave off slippery-slope concerns about eugenics as a predictable kind of luddite hysteria.

 

“Smart regulation is the way to think about it,” Woo said. “People have their own self-responsibility to experiment. It’s a very American ideal.”

 

Zayner shrugged. “You got a choice, right? You can either hide it from people and hope that they don’t find it, kinda push it underground or outlaw it, or you can make the knowledge accessible and open so people can become educated, learn about it, and then people can make more educated decisions.”

 

Photos by: Joey Vangsness, Boone Ashowrth, and Diego Aguilar 

Video by: Joey Vangsness

 

Grad Caps and Wedding Gowns

The fresh spring air brings life to the dead world winter brought. Along with it comes graduation caps, prom dresses, floral-prints galore, and yes – marriage proposals. Something about the blooming flowers or the transition from one part of life to another catches the spirit of young boys in love; urging them to get down on one knee. It is the season, some say, for a ring by spring.

Getting married young has been around since ancient times – the Greeks are said to have married once girls started their period and boys grew pubic hair. Various reasons called for this: shorter life expectancy, agreement between two households, staying a virgin until wedded (usually for religious reasons), etc. As consent laws came to form, life expectancies grew longer, and sex out of wedlock became less of a taboo, younger marriages obviously saw a decline. So why in this day-and-age are some couples still deciding to tie the knot before they’re twenty-five?

“We just knew that like no matter what we were gonna go through, we wanted to be together anyway,” explains twenty-three year-old Madison Peterson, who was nineteen when she married her husband, Joel. “No matter if we were financially ready; it didn’t matter. Or school’s in the way; it didn’t matter. ‘Cause we just knew that we were gonna be dating anyways so we might as well, let’s just get married.”

Madison was born and raised in the Dallas / Fort Worth area of Texas, where she definitely thinks people get married younger than in California, where Joel is from. This is true: the average age of marriage as of 2017 in Texas was 25.7 years old for women and 27.5 years old for men, compared to in California where the average age for women was 27.3 and for men, 29.5, according to Marriage.com.  

But it’s not just the difference in state culture, Madison thinks it’s more about religion.

“The Bible talks about how finding a wife in your youth is a blessing,” reveals Madison with a passion in her voice. “There’s a lot of scriptures that even go into talking about the kind of blessed lifestyle you live as husband and wife in your youth. I think that backs up a lot of young people, you know, let’s do it, let’s get married! God says we should, mom and dad! [laughs]”

Catholic Marriage Prep Class is an online premarital course run by The Marriage Group, specifically for couples who are having a Catholic wedding. Scott Werner, a representative from The Marriage Group finds that because they’re an online course, they are more accessible to younger couples.

“One contributing factor may be that churchgoing couples are generally more conservative in their views and lifestyle choices,” Scott says over email about why getting married young has traditionally been linked to religion – Catholicism specifically. “They are more likely to abstain from premarital sex and less likely to move in with each other prior to marriage.”

Joel and Madison did not attend any sort of premarital counseling, but part of her really wishes that they did. “Counsel would have been awesome just because there is wisdom in having a lot of people’s opinions – you don’t have to go by them, but there’s just a new perspective with each opinion you recieve. So we should’ve had that, I think it would’ve given us more insight to what marriage was going to be, but we definitely had counseling after we got married [laughs] yeah we had lots of that.”

 

Since Joel’s parents were also married young (twenty-one and twenty-two years old) they were incredibly supportive to their relationship, which Madison conveys helped tremendously, especially in the first few years when things were a bit rocky. Having a support system is important when marrying at any age, but it seems as though when parents have good experiences with marrying young, they are more likely to be supportive.

As was the same with San Francisco State University student, Angelica Romero, who got engaged two years ago when she was nineteen.

“I was a little bit worried my parents wouldn’t be as supportive,” admits Angelica. “But they told me that they actually got married within three months of dating and they’ve been together for twenty-four years. . . hearing my mom tell me that and seeing them so happy, that was just like, it just changed my whole perspective on getting married young.”

Angelica and her fiancé are both still in college and currently doing long-distance – he attends a community college in Riverside, California while she is up here in San Francisco. Because of this, and their desire to become more financially stable, they’ve decided to wait to plan their wedding until the time is right.

“I only have like hopefully one more year, I should graduate next summer,” Angelica reveals of her plans ahead. “So we’ve been talking to our parents and were thinking hopefully we can start planning [the wedding] like later this year or the beginning of next year so we can get married when I move back down there.”

By all means, not everyone is going to be supportive of Madison’s and Angelica’s decision to get hitched so young, but to them that’s okay.  

“You’re gonna have doubters no matter what decision you make,” Madison points out as she speaks of those who disapprove of her choice. “If you wait until you get married at like thirties and forties – or even late twenties – you’re gonna have people who say oh my gosh you waited too long. There’s gonna be somebody with a different opinion no matter what you do, so you have to ask yourself like am I ready? Am I ready to make a relationship work no matter what?”

There’s gonna be somebody with a different opinion no matter what you do, so you have to ask yourself like am I ready? Am I ready to make a relationship work no matter what?

 

For her of course, the answer was yes.

Olivia Stadler, an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist with the San Francisco Marriage Center finds that in her experience, couples that married young sometimes feel as though they’re missing out on things when they get older.

“I think one of the challenges of getting married young is so much growth happens from graduating college – assuming that they’re on the traditional education path,” Olivia explains.

“. . .you are still finding out who you are and I think a lot of transformation can happen from twenty to thirty. So is your partner on a similar pace of growth, can they grow along with you? Or does one outgrow the other? Or do you end up feeling like you no longer have as much in common or want different things out of life?”

Olivia has helped couples who got married young and are now older – currently in their late twenties or early thirties. She admits that on the other hand, getting married so young is compelling because the couple is deciding to change their life together usually at a crossroads in their life like graduating college.

Madison describes her and Joel’s relationship as an evolution itself. She understands how much change is coming their way, but they’re ready for that everyday.

“I’ve had people say oh you’re too young and you have so much to learn and why do you do this you’re gonna grow and you’re gonna change,” she divulges on the criticism she’s received from her decision. “Well yeah I am! I am young, I am gonna grow, and I am gonna change, but I’d love to change with my best friend because I know that he’s gonna love me no matter how much I change and I’m gonna love him no matter how much he changes.”

 

Because there are so many growing and moving parts of life throughout the twenties, Scott from The Marriage Group argues that marriage is apart of that equation because of how big of a step it is.

“At the point of college graduation, many young adults are ready to start their careers, move into their own homes, and embark on the next chapter of their lives,” Scott writes over email. “For many, marriage can be the right and natural “next step” for their journey together.”

However right that next step feels at the time, some couples who marry young can’t take the changes growing older brings. The Institute for Family Studies reports in a study that, “someone who marries at twenty-five is over fifty percent less likely to get divorced than is someone who weds at age twenty.”

Whether it’s the fear of missing out or just growing apart, younger married couples are more likely to not work out. But for those who still strive for that feeling they had back when they tied the knot, therapy is there and communication is the number one issue, says Olivia.

The first phase of the work is usually about skills training,” Olivia illustrates on how she helps these couples. “So teaching them new communication tools, how to express their needs without making the other person defensive, that type of thing. And then on another level, building more self-awareness – so maybe someone doesn’t really know what they want, or maybe they’re working all the time and they’re not really in tune with their body or their emotions.”

And maybe this will work, as counseling did for Madison and Joel in their first few years of marriage. At twenty-three years old, she has been married for almost four years and is now pregnant with their first child. For them, this whole marriage thing seems to be working out just fine. And to those who still doubt their relationship?

“Proof’s in the pudding,” she declares. As it is for all those, young or old, ready or not, who dive-in headfirst to tie the knot.

 

All Artwork by Ana Murray

Ebonics is NOT “Black English”

There is no coincidence that Black people throughout the country understand and communicate in a way that is foreign to people who are not close to the culture. There is no coincidence that, although the words used are English, they don’t mean the same thing you’d find in Webster’s Dictionary. A language with history, phonetic patterns, and can be translated and dissected. Ebonics is the language shared among Black Americans and has been passed down generation to generation.

Ernie Smith Charles provides a definition to the word Ebonics and stated, “The term Ebonics refers to the ‘linguistic and paralinguistic features, which represent the language and communicative competence of West and Niger-Congo African, Caribbean, and United States slave descendants.’”

Ever-changing, the Ebonics that is prevalent now is marketed and extracted from popular songs, black celebrities and even through social media platforms such as Twitter. The difference between Ebonics and slang is in who is using it, the context, and the understand that this is the first way that most black kids are used to speaking.

You finna find out all about it in this next video…

 

Notch Crew

“They call it the death sound.”

 

 

The harbor buoy off Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay, California is more than a sliver of safety for seals from sharks lurking in the abyss below.  Painted a loud shade of green, the buoy is reassurance of land and harbor but it serves another purpose. One it was not intended for.

Rocked by large swell, the buoy’s bell is a subtle warning for surfers at Mavericks, a legendary surfing spot in Northern California. The louder and more frequent the tolls,the bigger the waves are when they rear from the depths.The sound is haunting for even the most seasoned of watermen but for the Notch Crew, the harbor buoy’s eery crescendo is their church bell calling them to mass.

Despite riding mountains at high speeds and having each others back when things go sideways, the Notch Crew bares no resemblance to a motorcycle gang. There’s no patches, tattoos, and nobody is hazed in. Just a group of middle aged men with day jobs and a deep desire to surf Mavericks everytime it breaks.

 

The genesis for the Notch Crew was a war between two of the Bay Area’s most legendary badasses in big waves, Mark “Doc” Renneker and Grant Washburn.

In the La Niña winter of 1998, Renneker and Washburn set out to see who could surf

Mavericks the most. Out of the 111 days they deemed surf-able, Renneker and Washburn tied at an astounding 86. To do so, they paddled well over 127 miles.

A shy giant who’d rather let his surfing do the talking for him, Washburn shrugs at the herculean feat. “That year the Pacific Ocean seemed to be in Asia; the tides were so low and Mavericks loves a low tide.”

Two decades later, and the game has been conceded to Washburn by all challengers.

Doc Renneker, a cancer researcher and physician to the needy, has moved his attention to a secret spot up north that is even more remote, farther offshore, and sharky. A place where the crowds can’t follow him. Washburn’s focus remains on Mavericks.

 

There wouldn’t be a Notch Crew without Washburn. Doesn’t matter how big or small the wave, he’s out there with fellow veterans; John Raymond, Mark Sponsler, August Hidalgo, and Christy Davis, who at 65 is the oldest member, but rides more waves out there than all the rookies combined.

Washburn, 49, is a filmmaker from San Francisco, a three-time-finalist at the Mavericks Invitational, a husband, and father. Washburn’s knowledge of Mavericks is second only to Jeff Clark.

Clark is the don of Mavericks, the man that all surfers headed to Half Moon Bay pay respect to. Clark is notorious for surfing Mavericks alone for 15 years before he could convince a group of Santa Cruz surfers to join him in the 1980s. Now, retired from riding giants, Clark is the ambassador to Mavericks and the director of its surfing contest.

Washburn knows Mavericks better than most men know their wives and children. He can calculate a wave breaking at Mavericks down to a ten-minute window. If there’s only one wave that’s going to break that day, Washburn is in the spot to catch it.

Every winter, Washburn keeps a notebook of his notches, detailed descriptions of wind, waves, and tides. Next to every date is the swell period, or the distance between wave crests, as well as the height of the swell and its direction; All invaluable information that he shares openly to newcomers as the spot’s resident docent.

 

The magic ingredients for Mavericks is a swell under 300 degrees, so that it isn’t shadowed by the nearby Farallon Islands. That’s 18-feet tall at 20 seconds apart with easterly winds.

“To earn a notch, a surfer must paddle from the beach and catch a wave in the bowl. If you use a jet-ski or boat to get out, it doesn’t count,” said Haley Fiske, who despite his dedication and experience at Mavericks isn’t a Notch Crew member because he uses a stand up paddleboard rather than a rhino chaser.

Mavericks doesn’t break everyday. It takes a strong storm from the Pacific Northwest to wake the monster. January 18th, 2018 was the notch of the season. The swell was 20 feet at 20 seconds. When it reached the reef at Mavericks, the waves were nearly double in size. Few surfers wanted a piece of it. Boats and jet skis were destroyed by rogue sets and the Mavericks Invitational was called off in what Washburn says is a million dollar decision.

“The winds were forecasted to be south and when it’s over four knots from the south we get fog and they couldn’t run nor would be safe too in that visibility, but the winds changed that morning and it was already too late,” said Washburn, whose advice is paramount to the development of the World Surf League’s Mavericks Big Wave Challenge, for which they purchased a permit last year.

“It was the biggest day in nearly a decade,” said Washburn. He admits to not being nervous when surfing Mavericks but this day, “…was a day that mistakes couldn’t be made.”

 

The session burns deepest in Washburn’s blue eyes as he recounts the leviathans that thumped Pillar Point. There isn’t a hint of fear in his voice as he talks about waves the size of buildings roaring through the lineup.

Luca Padua, a 16-year-old from Half Moon Bay is the heir to Washburn’s spot in the bowl. On the day known as “the massive Thursday,” a busted knee kept him from surfing alongside those brave enough to tackle the biggest waves of the season. “I couldn’t surf but I did rescues on the jetski and saw Grant take a few 30 footers on the head. Six foot to sixty foot, Grant Washburn goes,” said Padua.

Steve Hawk, a close friend of Washburn, and the writer who broke the seal on Mavericks, exposing it to the world on the cover of Surfer Magazine, said that Washburn has Mavericks so completely mastered, “…that he can suit up from the lot, paddle out, catch a wave, and be back on the road in 45-minutes.”

On what could be the last day of the year, Washburn’s out the back in the howling winds with Steve Hawk and a crew of men all over the age of 50. With the sun slipping beneath the horizon, Washburn is the reference point of where to be to catch the few waves coming through in the waning swell. His friend, Kevin, catches the biggest and best wave of his life at 55. Washburn’s on the one behind him.

He takes off facing north, switches back south as the wave explodes in front of him, and races the wave to Mushroom Rock. Unlike 99 percent of other surfers who charge Mavericks, he doesn’t look like he’s hanging on for dear life, but toying with the beast, begging the wave to surprise him. Today however, is just another notch.

 

 

Photos by: Travis Wesley

Should we put Woke to sleep?

The past tense of awake is woke, obviously. “I woke up,” is what someone could utter any given morning. The word has also been adopted as a slang word with a meaning that is ever expanding, but generally entails being in the know when it comes to social and political enlightenment. A word with such subjectivity allows people to feel a sense of “wokeness” when it comes to just about anything.

Has anyone ever told you to #staywoke? The term has existed for a while, and now got a brand-new make over with its existence on social media. Its social media presence is what caused many to refine or narrow down its meaning.

Many people have various interpretations of the word.

San Francisco State University biology student, Rosa Gutierrez, thinks “…it is when someone is enlightened, or trying to learn about something that is going on around them, and not ignoring the issues that are going on around them.”

American-Indian studies major, Shawnee Sample, believes that, “It’s about seeing different perspectives and different sides to everything, just being able to recognize what’s going down whether it’s political, educational, etc.”

“I think it means being aware of situations and problems that people aren’t aware of,” shares computer science major, David Harvey. “I feel like it’s being overused for now, but with time it will be used less.”

The great thing about social media is that it can get information to circulate on a broader scale. People all over the world can get a laugh from the same memes at the same time! And while that is amazing it’s important to realize that not just memes are being rapidly spread, so are these trends of activism.

We live in a time where big social movements involving hashtags can catapult through the likes of social media. Take #BlackLivesMatter for example, the entirety of that movement started on social media and without social media it would not have spread as widely as it did.

With that being said, even though a social movement as such holds much more value than a trend, it is treated the same when it comes to having a shelf life, which brings me to the topic of being or staying “Woke.”

Even though it has taken off on social media, the term has been around for decades in the Black community. Although not the most reputable source, The Urban Dictionary satirically describes it as “a state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.”

A lot of people think that because they were there first they get to delegate what the meaning is and how others should be regarded within that term,” says Ghila Andemeskel, former executive coordinator for the Black Student Union. “In general it does open doors for discussion.”

At the peak of its existence in the world of social media, “woke” seemed to bring a lot of awareness to issues. It also became something that people were striving to be a part of because it was highly looked down upon to be considered not “woke.”

With that popularity arose various problems. On one hand people were beginning to just start calling themselves “woke,” unjustly throwing around the word like Northern Californians throw around the word “hella.” On the other hand, people began to develop this unwarranted sense of intellectual superiority, and additionally it led to a lot of talk of issues, but no action.

“Media is a tool that can be used positively and negatively,” explains Hanna Wodaje, an Africana studies Alumna who currently works at the Black Unity Center. “The word can be like a double-edged sword obviously if it’s used inefficiently.”

The overuse and misuse of the word by people wanting fit in led to a lot of folks misconstruing the meaning. While it is great to care for these issues and give them more attention, the only thing this superiority does is create a divide between people, as opposed to spreading awareness which was the goal from the beginning, which in my opinion is the cause of this dwindling trend.

Often people think that a simple double tap on someone’s “woke” post or a simple retweet is enough and that is as far as their wokeness goes.

“Social media things like hashtags have been an amazing way for people of color and marginalized groups to reclaim their spaces and their platforms,” Wodaje points out.

Even singer and Bay Area native, Kehlani, sported the word as a tattoo in giant letters gracing the back of her hand, which she had covered up at the beginning of this year.

“When I got the ‘Woke’ tattoo at twenty-years-old I thought I was the smartest cookie in the jar,” shared the now twenty-two-year-old in an Instagram post. “I was so ready to declare my intelligence to the world.”

Someone who is truly about that life, lives it everyday. It shows in the company they keep, in them standing up for themselves and others, and it shows in their active activism—not including “Twitter activism”, which is not necessarily bad, but it is not enough to make an actual impact in the community and the lives of others.
We should stop looking at it like it is a finite state of being. There is no end to learning, growing, and becoming better versions of ourselves.

It is wonderful to spread awareness about social issues, the feeling that comes from doing such feels amazing, but anger or bashing should not stem from a difference in thoughts of opinions regarding various topics. I couldn’t decide whether something like this needed a different title like ‘socially conscious’ or maybe we should eradicate titles all together and let our actions speak louder than or words.

Let’s put the focus we have on the term to sleep and wake up our potential to be the catalyst for positive change in our communities. At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.

Black Panther & Cultural Conversation

Another superhero movie came out this past month. That’s where we are at now. Marvel movies are becoming as essential to American culture as the Super Bowl or the Olympics; we all have to see them.

Except Black Panther was more than just another Marvel film.

Black Panther is a platform for black artists and creators to create a lens into their culture. This was a first for a large demographic of kids. They get to see themselves as the hero; the main event. Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as the titular Black Panther, reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War, with Michael B. Jordan as the debut villain Erik Killmonger.

Michael B. Jordan played a heavy role in the film while also reuniting, for the third time, with writer and director Ryan Coogler—proving to be a match made in cinematic heaven. The two came together in 2013 for Fruitvale Station and again in 2015 for Creed.


“Black Panther” stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.              

 

Zanesha Williams:

I love Marvel films. I always look forward to seeing the Avengers come together and watch the solo films in between. To be fair though, the other day I overheard a group of girls talking in the cafe and one of them mentioned that she didn’t know that the Black Panther was a superhero. Most people didn’t. I am also fairly new to the club.

Mitchell Walther:

I am a marvel fanboy. There’s no use in me hiding it. While I don’t read the comics quite as much as I did back in the day, I have done everything I can to stay up to date on the Marvel cinematic universe.

Black Panther was always a superhero I liked, but not a character that I found incredibly enticing on his own. Often when I read his stories he was paired with the X-Men or Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. That being said, I was excited when I heard they were giving Black Panther his own film. I was even more excited when I heard Kendrick Lamar was going to be producing the album.

Zanesha:

Once it was announced after Captain America: Civil War that the Black Panther would get a full length film, the most exciting part was seeing updates on the cast. Who would’ve thought we’d being seeing Angela Bassett in a Marvel film? On and off the screen, “blackness” was praised and proved to be something worth watching. The selection for costume designers, the “inspired by” soundtrack, and the director.

Mitchell:

I will be honest and say that before Black Panther, I didn’t know who Angela Bassett was. Bassett put forth a stirring performance as the mother of T’challa, the Black Panther.  It’s sad how long this movie has taken to get made.

Black Panther is another installment in a long line of Marvel films that pushes the envelope. Rather than serve up standard superheroes, Marvel has attempted to give us something unique. A talking raccoon and a giant tree voiced by Vin Diesel would never have gotten the green light when Iron Man and The Dark Knight were the pioneers.

Black Panther is culturally a more important film than Guardians of the Galaxy though. It is the story of a superhero who is also the king of a sovereign nation. In the comics Black Panther fights with politics almost as much as his claws. The story of Black Panther and his nation of Wakanda also carries a lot of racial and social commentary.

Rather than shy away from the issues, the movie leans into them and allows what made the story unique in the comic books to make it unique on screen. It’s a movie about representation, juggling the identity of a comic book flick with that of a film about black culture. How did it do?

Zanesha:

Black Panther was a very different combination of excitement. You have so many new and unusual factors going in one mainstream film. The idea that a blockbuster depicts Africa as beautiful, self-sufficient, and most importantly superior to its surroundings is an anomaly. The excitement that black kids can look up to a superhero that looks like them, play with action figures that have the same features. This film supports an identity that was well overdue.

There’s so much to rave about. You have Kendrick Lamar, an activist through his rap, producing the soundtrack for the film. Ryan Coogler’s $200 million budget for a film he was allowed to make his own. Ruth E. Carter, known for her repeated work with director Spike Lee, and more recently her costume design for Selma.

Names that resonate in the black community are now widely known due the weight that Marvel films hold. The excitement comes from the shift in a community finally being able to show how profitable it truly is.

Mitchell:

It comes at a fortuitous time in Hollywood as well. Black Panther as a movie is poignant. Opening on Oakland, California in 1992, the film makes its goals clear while still entertaining us the entire way. Stunning visuals and an incredible soundtrack composed by Swedish visionary Ludwig Goransson never distract from the climax.

Black Panther is about a hero and a villain who both want what is best for their people. They both see the suffering and persecution endured at the hands of the privileged and the powerful. The crux of their characters fall on what the answer is. How do we as people fight against hundreds of years of systematic and institutionalized racism? Black Panther director Coogler answers as best as he can: we get involved, and we point a spotlight at the beautiful.

The Myth of the Pit

A wide jaw, stocky build, and short thick hair in an array of colors. The defining features of a pit bull aren’t up for debate when it comes to this dog breed. Behavior on the other hand, never seems to stop being a controversy. Extreme efforts go into painting the picture of a vicious beast, rabid and uncontrollable in any situation. The other side reveals a loyal and loving dog, reacting the way any dog would if put in a bad situation raised by unfit owners. But what depiction holds truth in reality?

When approaching any controversy, education is key. First and foremost, what is a pit bull? Ariana Luchsinger, from San Francisco Animal Care & Control, thinks most people identify a pit bull as just a “well-muscled with a blocky head” dog, but that doesn’t always add up to a pit bull-type breed.

“‘Pit bull’ is really an umbrella term for multiple breeds of dog – Staffies [Staffordshire Terriers], American Bulldogs, Pit Bull Terrier – and as a term is overused and in shelters is overidentified,” said Ariana. “Unfortunately, people get a lot of misinformation about dogs in general, and pit bull-type dogs are the biggest victim of these mythologies.”

The generalization of pit bulls is based around decades of bad-breeders and their actions; over-breeding, improper training, or training to specifically make them aggressive.

“The public often views pitties as aggressive killing machines with a higher likelihood of biting,” Ariana declared. “In truth, they are like any dog; a product of their genetics, their socialization, and their environment.”

Jennifer Rosen, founder of the dog rescue Bullies and Buddies in Redondo Beach, California, agrees that it’s all about the breeders and owners, and that these dogs are a product of bad-nurture rather than the nature in their genetics.

“What’s happening is people are using them as guard dogs and chaining them up,” Jennifer preached as she boomed about a breed she’s loved since she first rescued a pit bull in 2004. “You have a working breed that has a lot of energy and they are sitting there tied up or in a backyard, that’s a problem. It’s really on us as the owners; how we raise our dogs. If we exercise them, socialize them, give them some boundaries, there should be no issues.”

A complicated process is implemented at Bullies and Buddies in making sure an owner is the right fit and ready for owning a pit bull including applications, home visits, and visits with their trainer at the rescue. Jennifer understands what can happen if a pit bull is given into the wrong hands, and does everything she can to prevent that.

“When they come to me, you know they fill out an application and I see what their lifestyle is, I’ll tell people this is not the breed for you,” Jennifer said with conviction, and added that her answer sometimes turns people off, but she’d rather turn away an applicant than have a pittie end up in a non ideal situation and continue to perpetuate myths.  

Environment and caregiving is everything in this circumstance. Not just for the individual dog itself, but also for the public. Every pit bull that gets treated wrong becomes another statistic for those wishing to ban the breed entirely.

“Your dog has to be an exemplary ambassador because the breed itself can’t afford him not to be – and that’s a huge and unfair responsibility,” insisted Ariana as she spoke about a time a woman had to cancel her adoption because her mom threatened to literally disown her if she owned a pit bull.

“In addition to being a baseline good dog-owner, you have to be willing to demystify your dog to everyone from passers-by to your neighbor, to your family. The public will forgive and forget the trespasses of a Goldendoodle, [but] they will never forgive the same behaviors in a pit bull.”

The American Temperament Test Society is a national organization designed to test the various temperaments of dog breeds.

“The test takes about 12 minutes to complete,” according to the organization’s official website. “The dog is on a loose six-foot lead and three ATTS trained evaluators score the dog. Majority rules. Failure on any part of the test is recognized when a dog shows panic, strong avoidance without recovery or unprovoked aggression.”

 

An average pass rate for a breed is 83.4 percent. For pit bull-type dogs the average pass rates are: Pit Bull Terrier with 87.4 percent, Staffordshire Terrier with 85.2 percent, and American Bulldogs with 86.7 percent. All well above the average.

But their stocky and muscular demeanor is threatening to those in fear of pitties. Before ever even coming into contact with one, most people on this side of the argument have their mind made up that pit bulls are not to be trusted. Ruth Matias, a junior at San Francisco State University, said she isn’t very fearful of the breed. Her mom on the other hand, is terrified.

“My mom is scared of pit bulls because back in Ethiopia, dogs are guard-dogs, not domesticated house pets,” Ruth explained, elaborating that her mother emigrated to America from Ethiopia. “So whenever she sees [pit bulls] they still instill fear in her. They’re not animals she’d want to go up and pet.”

Pit bulls are at the top of the list for dog-bites in California at 29 percent, right above German Shepherds and Chihuahuas according to the California Department of Public Health. These bites are reported and recorded. The breed of the dog is either claimed to be a pit bull by the victim or by a visual identification from veterinarians and staff at a shelter. In 2015, The Veterinary Journal studied the identifications of pit bulls by shelter staff versus DNA testing of the dog confirming the breed.

Staff shelters identified the attack dogs as pit bulls 52 percent of the time whereas the DNA testing confirmed the dogs as pit bulls only 21 percent of the time. Ariana agrees that shelters are huge on misidentification of pit bulls, a huge problem when it comes to statistics. She points out that the San Francisco Animal Care & Control shelter constantly has pit bull-type dogs in house.

“At any given time, SFACC’s dog population is roughly 30 percent pit bull-type dogs, the majority of which are found as unaltered strays,” she said, emphasizing that unaltered means not spayed or neutered, which is the other huge problem that involves the breed.

 

“Despite a ton of progress in the realms of public awareness and spay / neuter, pitties are a population that is favored for illegitimate backyard breeding,” Ariana declared, revealing the reason why there are so many pit bulls in shelters and rescues: greedy breeders not spaying or neutering pitties in an attempt to make more money. There are many laws throughout the country that specifically require pit bull-type dogs to be neutered or spayed in order to stop this problem.

San Francisco code 43 section 1 states: “no person may own, keep, or harbor any dog within the City and County of San Francisco that the person in possession knew, or should have known, was a pit bull that has not been spayed or neutered.”

Ignorant breeders break the law, which leads to pit bulls without homes, being found on the street, and hopefully being found by a shelter or rescue before it’s too late for them.

“People are breeding them and trying to make a profit,” Jennifer added, agreeing that the biggest issue here is overpopulation. “Now it’s like they’re a dime a dozen. They are getting euthanized left and right in shelters. Spay and neuter. That’s the problem.”

With more pitties starting out with bad breeders or incapable owners and without proper altering, the stigma behind them just continues. Jennifer finds passion in educating the public on the “other-side of the pit bull story,” knowing that the future for these pups will be bright one day if people are willing to learn what is fact and what is fiction.  

“The bottom line is, each dog is an individual,” Jennifer stated, still knowing that some people’s minds may never change. “You know, what I’ve learned is that you can’t fix stupid. It is a privilege to own this breed. I am so proud everyday.”