When I first started my journalism journey back in 2012, many wondered what the hell I was going to be doing with the path I was on.
This field made no money, print was going extinct, and it seemed to be a dying industry.
But then, good ol’ Mr. Trump came along.
And now whenever I mention I’m a journalism major, it’s followed with a, “Good! We need more people like you, now more than ever.”
The thing is though, there’s always been people like me. Well reported information has always been there for people to absorb. Unfortunately ,it took a rude wake up call for the majority of people to realize how important we are, but hey, we’re here, and there’s no point of putting the blame on anyone now.
What matters is where we go from here.
How we document the truth and how it is delivered is something I’ve been thinking heavily on since I came into this position. So when I gathered my editorial team, I made sure to make it clear to them: we need a voice that’s personable, trustworthy, and relatable.
We’re millennials and so are our readers. We poke fun at how hard it is to find affordable housing while having good paying jobs with benefits, and yet, somehow turn up for march after march, fighting to make a change for future generations. We’re being accused of killing a different failing industry at least once a week, but making everyday changes within ourselves, hoping to positively influence society.
With this in mind, I wanted this issue to be strictly online.
I want to test our readers.
I want to take social media strategies, apply them, and see exactly what we get when our main goal is to not only inform, but to engage with them.
Gathering inspiration from Teen Vogue’s Editor in Chief Elaine Welteroth and Digital Director Phillip Picardi, I’m offering our readers more, too. Our students here at San Francisco State are so diverse.
You deserve more.
Whether it’s reading our article about using the N-word, listening to our End-Of-The-World podcast, or reporting fashion trends on campus, and learning workout routines on Instagram; we want you to know that we’re hustling for you, our multifaceted readers.
“This is why I think this is bullshit,” 19-year-old Vanessa R. Cuevas exclaims. “How can they threaten to deport people when this is the only country we’ve ever known?”
After President Trump’s recent order on September 5, 2017 to end DACA within six months, hundreds of thousands of DREAMers are scrambling to see what they can do to prevent deportation.
DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era program which allows undocumented, young adults – who originally came to the U.S. as kids – to receive benefits such as safety from deportation and work permits. However, the fee that these DREAMers pay is roughly five hundred dollars out of pocket for every two years when their renewal is due. With that being said, there is a large misconception that U.S. taxpayers are paying for this program, but little do people know that DACA is actually a self-sustaining program, hence the large fee that they must pay.
In order to qualify for DACA, one must have/do the following: be younger than 31-years-old, came to the United States before your sixteenth birthday, lived continuously in the U.S. from June 2007 to the present, were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time of applying, came to the U.S. without documents or their lawful status expired as of June 15, 2012, are currently studying or graduated from high school, and have not been convicted of a felony or any misdemeanors.
San Francisco State University students and sisters Vanessa R. Cuevas and Jessica D. Cuevas came to the United States from Mexico alone when they were only three- and four-years-old. Since they are originally from Michoacán, they were put on an airplane to get closer to the border. There they were picked up by two ladies that would eventually take them across the border in their car. They reunited with their dad somewhere in Los Angeles and he brought them to the Bay Area. About a week later, their mom was brought over and they were all together. They settled in a home in Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and have been there ever since. They both currently work at a Cheesecake Factory near their home.
Vanessa is a third-year student with an undeclared major but plans to declare as a Political Science major. Jessica is a fourth-year Latina/o Studies major with minors in Education and Philosophy.
It was decided that Jessica, now 21-years-old, would wait for Vanessa so they could apply for DACA together. The process took around four to five months – they needed to have various documents on hand. Luckily, their mother saved all their childhood award certificates so that they were able to prove that they have been here since they were very young. When it was time for Jessica to start applying for college, she realized her options were very limited. Since she isn’t allowed to apply for FAFSA, she could not accept going to Sonoma State University. Instead, she waited until the very last day to accept her state-issued financial aid (CA Dream Act) because she didn’t get her acceptance to San Francisco State University earlier.
The two recently noticed that the program is taking longer than usual to send them their paperwork to renew everything.
“It’s making us nervous,” Vanessa explains.
“Usually they send us the letter by now.”
They explained their frustration with not knowing what will happen in the near future.
“We don’t know if we’ll we be working for four more months or two more years,” Jessica says. “My only options would be to not work or to work illegally.”
The girl’s’ parents have told them that no matter what happens they will just have to move forward.
Jesus Peraza, 20, Psychology Student at SFSU
“I hope ICE gets us,” 20-year-old Jesus Perazasays. “I don’t like living here.”
This is what Jesus once told his parents after living in the U.S. for a short while. He was originally born in Sonora, Mexico and came to the U.S. about twelve years ago. He lived alone with his mother and aunt until he was about five-years-old, when his mother married his now stepfather. They traveled to the U.S. with a tourist visa.
Jesus was told by his mother and stepfather that they were coming to the U.S. for about three months,and would eventually return to Mexico. However, once they got there, he realized that wasn’t true because his mother enrolled him in an elementary school in Paramount, California. It was there that he was able to learn English; his teachers took extra time to help him which made it easier for him to pick it up.
“Kids would bully me and call me names,” Jesus laughed, “but I didn’t know what they meant.”
Though the name-calling didn’t phase him, he still felt like an outcast therefore he devoted himself to school. The language barrier was just one reason for Jesus’ culture shock, along with food and the way people communicated. Christmas in the U.S. wasn’t the same and even until this day, Jesus despises Christmas because in Mexico he was able to celebrate with his large family.
Jesus, now 20-years-old and a third-year psychology major at SF State University, is currently a DACA recipient. He hopes to continue school after his bachelors degree in order to receive his masters degree.
After hearing about Trump’s decision, Jesus did not go to school that day because he realized that this decision not only affects him and others just like him, but also his parents. Luckily, he just recently renewed his DACA paperwork.
Since Jesus is undocumented and is under DACA, he is prohibited from leaving the country at any time. This has prevented him from studying abroad and traveling the world.
“Even though I have this program that somewhat protects me, I still feel restricted. I feel chained up to a system that doesn’t allow me to be completely free.”
He has friends that travel and it makes him feel stuck, or as he says “frozen.”
“I stopped picturing my life in Mexico a long time ago… so it’s scary to think that I may not have the ability to work, get married, have kids,” Jesus continues.
Now when walking around campus, he starts to worry if he’ll even be able to continue studying at SF State. He also describes that his immigrant and queer identities have been attacked since now President Trump began campaigning. “They might take DACA away from me, but they will never take away my education,” Jesus says confidently.
Although there are several ways to get approved for citizenship here in the U.S., marriage was not an option for 18-year-old, Maya F. Ochoa. Soon after President Trump announced the want to repeal the DACA program, Maya’s lawyer emailed her with the recommendation of getting married soon so she can apply for citizenship.
“I couldn’t believe she told me that because I’m only 18… I shouldn’t be having to think about that,” she says, still stunned.
Maya, a first-year Chinese language major at SF State University, came to the U.S. when she was only five-years-old. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Maya, her brother, and mother also came with a visa on an airplane. They first established themselves in Whittier, California and her family continues to live there.
She is the first in her family to go to college.
In a non-marital attempt to get her U.S. citizenship, her father’s sister and her husband have offered to adopt her. However, she refuses because she would then have to change her last name and live with her new legal guardians.
Maya F. Ochoa, 18, Chinese Language Major, SFSU
At times, Maya questions if it is worth it to stay here and she sometimes considers going back but resents the idea of having to start her life over.
“I appreciate that my parents brought us here to have a better life,” Maya says slowly.
“And I’m not going to lie, we are more financially stable here than if we were to stay in Guadalajara, but I still feel trapped.”
Maya, just like Jesus, wishes she could travel and study abroad. With pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language, one part of learning a foreign language is the ability to use it in its country of origin, but Maya cannot leave the country.
Maya explains the reasons why people from all over the world, not just Latin America, come to the U.S. to escape horrible conditions in their own countries, such as war in the Middle East, government corruption in Venezuela, gangs in El Salvador, and drug cartels in Mexico.
“The government does not understand [these situations],” she said firmly.
“But if the script was flipped, they wouldn’t like to be treated the way they are treating us.”
One idea that Vanessa, Jessica, Jesus, and Maya came up with was the idea of not continuing school. This consideration did not come to their heads because they simply do not want to continue fulfilling the “American Dream,” but because they are not sure that they will be able to. Sure, they can continue and finish school but the same questions these four ask themselves is similar to “what will I be able to do with my degree?” and “will I even be able to find a job because I am an immigrant?”
Though the future of these young dreamers is currently in the state of unknown, they continue to study with the hopes of prospering and growing in this country because the U.S. is the country they call home.
Hip hop; it’s more than just a genre of music, it’s a culture, it’s a way of life, it’s what some people see when they look out of their window every morning, or when they are walking down their streets.
We scream the lyrics along with Kendrick as though we have lived life through his eyes, but we haven’t. We enjoy his art, what he is doing with the experience he has had, and his story-telling capabilities, but most hip-hop consumers haven’t lived it. When people who aren’t Black use the hip hop genre as the glue between them and an experience they could never understand that’s when problems begin to arise – a problem that involves the controversial usage of a particular word.
Let’s play a game: what widely used word can mean friend and homie, but can simultaneously be grossly offensive if used in a certain way against a certain group of people?
“I don’t like it, I don’t approve of it,” uttered Zemaye Jacobs, communication major and member of the Black Student Union here at San Francisco State University.
This was a popular reaction to the question ‘how do you feel about people who aren’t Black using the word?’.
If a particular word is coming to mind, ask yourself this: Do you use it, do you stop other people from using it, do you know its history, what in your life has contributed to your desensitization of the word? And yes, it’s that one that starts with an ‘N’.
Do you scream those Drake lyrics at the top of your lungs without a care in the world, or does your social consciousness help you refrain?
N***a, it holds a unique and even confusing duality; it’s safe and it’s not, it’s fun, even hip, yet withholds an immense ignorance if used in the wrong way. There is a less problematic solution, which entails not using it at all. However, there is no magic potion to eradicate the damn thing. Its roots lie in racism, anti-Blackness, and colorism, to name a few, all actively perpetuating systemic issues in this country.
Blair Thomas, an art major and member of BSU at SF State says, “It does not matter if it is a part of pop culture or not. It’s not a word for non-Black people, especially if you cannot respect actual Black people.”
“The attempts over the years to take that word and turn it into something else, have been failed attempts,” explained Professor Davey D. Cook, as he walked to his bus stop.
Cook is a professor in the Africana studies department, who teaches a hip hop course at SF State.
“It’s still a pejorative and people use it as such even when they try to claim that they have somehow sanitized it.”
Let’s talk phonetics.
Most are aware that the original form of the word is Negro, which refers to the color Black, and is used in many languages besides English. To make a VERY long story short, during slavery it became popularly said as n***er, and now it’s popularly said as n***a. Oh how we have progressed.
Connotation aside, this is an example of tense vowels transforming into lax vowels, explained by linguistics Professor Chris Wen-Chao Li. Like ‘player’ being pronounced ‘playa’ to ‘fit in with the cool kids,’ so to speak.
“This is a pretty typical example of phonological reduction as part of grammaticalization,” Wen-Chao Li says.
Phonological reduction, or simplifying how words are said, happens all time and a lot of the time we don’t even realize. Wen-Chao Li provided this example: ‘Jesus’ turned into the expression ‘Jeez’, which then turned into ‘Gee’ as in “Gee, thanks.”
With that being said, the usage of n**** has been normalized immensely. Imagine being a fly on the wall at your favorite rap concert in the Bay Area, at the Oracle Arena, which holds about 19,000 people. Thousands of people are yelling n****s around left and right.
“I don’t give them [non-Blacks] a pass, but what am I gonna do, fight 50,000 people?,” Bryce Page, a local, commented.
It often becomes a matter of picking your battles, because so many people say it.
Many non-Black students feel the same way about the controversial word.
“I have some hispanic friends who use the word and there’s this controversy of whether it’s accepted for any person of color to use because we [hispanics] have suffered too,” said Rosa Gutierrez a biology major at SF State.
“…but I don’t think it’s right for us to use a word that doesn’t belong to us, so I don’t agree with my friends use of the word.”
When political science major, Alex Ayala, was asked what his response is when people around him are using it he said that he always stops it.
“Even if I’m that one person who maybe is ‘overreacting’, it’s just disrespectful,” Ayala states.
But does using it when rapping to your favorite rap lyric change the hundreds of years of history? As Black people gained more rights post-slavery, the word remained and still does. Consumers have allowed the word to have derivative qualities, which as a result gave many reasons to grant themselves access to the word.
“If I hear them say the word in a joking way or like playing around with friends, I won’t confront them about it,” says theater major and African American student, Alissa Harris.
“I don’t like the word period, even when other Black people use it,” marketing major and African American student Donna Tate says.
The Black response to its usage is of the varietal form. Ranging from not minding at all, to being fine with it as long as it’s not of a serious racial attack, to some not wanting to hear the word from anyone. Regardless of confrontation, it tends to make people feel some type of way.
“I think in the face of the type challenges many of us face as Black folks and the type of oppression people are dealing with daily… that’s the ultimate micro-aggression especially in spaces where you are not the majority,” Davey concludes as his bus nears.
I can only wonder that if we as Black people were united in how we feel about ‘n***a’, then would society, or non-Black peoples, also be on the same page when it comes to the usage of the word. OR if racism died with slavery instead of manifesting itself into a systemic form, would the word usage still be as impactful. Black people are about three times more likely to be killed by police force than any other race still today. The original meaning continues to exist and shows its ugly head with every pull of the trigger.
Once upon a time there was a world where any gender could walk into a clothing store and not have to worry what sex they were shopping for. As amazing as that may sound, for now it can only remain a dream that can one day hopefully become a reality. Don’t give up yet, there are still options!
When it comes to apparel now-a-days, I can say that I’ve seen it all. Women dressed in tailored suits, men in chiffon skirts, and kids in non-gender clothing. I grew up as a tomboy, so wearing my brothers big shirts and oversized pants were easy to obtain. This memory led me to question what it would’ve been like for me as a young boy trying to fit into my sisters clothes. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t of been able to fit any of it due to the way my body was built. Is this what goes through the minds of men who prefer to wear women’s clothes?
After interviewing some students from San Francisco State University, along with faculty and people from the San Francisco community,they said yes. The three main issues that were brought up the most when asked were the main audience being focused on women and femininity, the lack of sizes, and clothing stores sticking to the regular boy/girlsections.
Monét Panza, 19, Poses in Vans and baggy windbreakers. (Left and Right) Photos: Jazmine Sanchez
What really defines androgynous apparel?
For people like Aaron Steinfeld, 25-year-old graduate student at Sf State, and LGBTQ youth advocate at the Family Violence Law Center, androgyny means an ambiguous gender identity or gender representation, which can deal with either someone’s internal sense of how they think of themselves and or how they present that to the world.
“There definitely seems to be more gender/queer presentation in fashion, but I think that there’s a difference between gender identity and gender presentation, and someone who might have an ambiguous or androgynous gender presentation, and might as a cisgender person,” Steinfeld says.
“I’m trans and I like presenting feminine in society to lure the rest of the world, and how putting on clothes everyday feels very important to me to display an accurate representation of myself to the world.”
In fashion, androgyny has been seen more and more on the catwalk by designers like Gucci, Kanye West (and many more), and most recently at New York Fashion Week, Maison the Faux. So it’s no surprise that non-gender clothing has been making itself a big debut. According to 44-year-old Health Education Professor at SF State, Ivy Chen, a lot has been driven by the acceptance of it through Millennials and the new Generation Z.
“Millennials and Generation Z are much more open and accepting of all different kinds of identities, and therefore those types of attitudes about discriminating and feeling like you only can be this and that, those attitudes will die out,” she says.
Students like 18-year-old Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts major, Karla Orozco, feels that androgynous apparel is in fact favoring the female sex – that it is easier for women to find male clothing than for men to find female clothing.
“If it’s going to be something that’s for everyone then it should be for everyone you know? I think that’s definitely something that has to change in the industry,” Orozco says. Another student like Rosa Gutierrez, 20-year-old Biology Major also agrees. “I do agree that it’s harder for men to find clothes which usually leaves them without a section to look into,” Gutierrez says.
Aaron Steinfeld, 25, in pink velvet mini-dress.
The facts are that the “rules to fashion” have continued to change throughout the years and we’ve seen this through many advertisements, and also, on the fashion runway. But the real question here is has the industry limited itself to a certain audience?
“Millennials and Generation Z are much more open and accepting of all different kinds of identities, and therefore those types of attitudes about discriminating and feeling like you only can be this and that, those attitudes will die out.”
Of the bigger community, when seeing sizes range from only small to large, it shows that these clothing companies are limiting themselves and not serving the whole audience.
28-year-old graphic design professor at California College of the Arts, Juan Carlos, feels that fashion has always been portrayed for the skinny community.
Juan Carlos, 28, Graphic Design Professor at California College of the Arts
“A lot of the clothes that androgynous apparel companies make, and I’m happy it’s being made, fits mostly models that are super skinny, and when you’re bigger you have more restriction on what to wear, and it’s a lot harder to find clothes that fit,” Carlos says.
When shopping in the women’s section he is usually a size 10 or 12, and because of his size, he feels that thrift shopping offers a wider variety of things for everyone.
I find myself doing the same thing. As a hip-hop dancer, I’ve always enjoyed wearing slouchy clothes because of its comfort. I hate wearing tight clothes that don’t let me breathe, and because of my figure, I find myself making my own clothes. The same thing goes for Juan Carlos and many others.
Drag queen Jordan Isaac, also known as “Kiki Krazier,” finds himself making his own women-inspired clothes for his performances due to the lack of sizes being offered to him.
“Most of my clothes are made, but if I do have to buy something, it is a bit unflattering on me,” he explains.
“For example, I have to make a dress out of an oversized shirt because I can’t fit a store bought dress. They don’t have that for men, they do not sell dresses for men. Most companies who say they want to offer androgynous clothing mostly focus on women. The truth is, if you want something that is tailored to your body, you either make it yourself or get it made for you.”
Companies like Targethave already jumped on the no-gender apparel bandwagon by switching up their Boy and Girl sections to just Kids. Is this what is going to pave the way for families to open up their mind on allowing their children to wear whatever clothes they feel comfortable with?
Chen explains that companies like Target are being very inclusive.
“For example, in the past you had a kid who would identify as a girl and you would only stay in this one section, and you’ve never even seen the boys section, that’s a whole half that you actually don’t browse and don’t have the opportunity to buy from.”
As a company, Chen feels that it is a smart financial move that will allow customers to see everything the company has to offer rather than just a single section.
Clothing companies like Kipper Clothiers in San Francisco have made a statement by offering women tailored suits to those who want it. Other companies like Sixty-Nine, based in Los Angeles, offer clothing that doesn’t fall under labels, simply clothes for anyone to wear. And there are many more following suit – the only thing is that although it is such a great movement, there are people that feel companies are still lacking on the aspects of gender, sizes, and clothing stores conforming to boy/girl sections.
The more we open up, have more visibility, and mainstream non-gender clothing, could possibly change what these companies are lacking to serve all sexes. An array of clothing items being displayed, ranging from multiple colors and sizes that anyone can pick up and take home, is a dream, for some, waiting to be seen in retail stores. The fashion industry has a lot to offer, and hopefully through time, it will be capable to offer this as well.
Featured Photo: Aaron Steinfeld, 25, dons eye-catching lipstick and
eyeshadow. Aaron is a LGBTQ youth advocate at Family Violence Law Center
We live in a time where most services are just a click away, and love is no exception. Well, that depends on how you define love. Over the years several dating apps have hit the market, and amongst the most popular ones is Tinder.
Since 2012 Tinders’ users, now over 50 million in more than 190 countries according to The New York Times, have been swiping left or right with the goal of a so-called ‘match’, or a mutual like. You basically go shopping for a potential partner, friend, or hook-up based on their looks and a short description known as a bio.
Tinder as a City Guide
Students at San Francisco State University, where over 1500 international students call home, use apps like Tinder to meet people even if just for a casual hook-up, but that’s not the only reason students are drawn to Tinder. Surprisingly, a lot of international students use the app for more than just a quick way to get laid.
25-year-old Hanna Grimsborn, a marketing major from Sweden, has found Tinder helpful but not in the way you think.
“I actually never meet someone from Tinder for a date, and I think it’s mostly boring to chat with people I don’t know,” she explains. “Recently I realized I could use the men I matched with to get recommendations on good bars, night clubs, restaurants etc.”
While Grimsborn’s method has resulted in various tips on stuff to do in the city, a lot of men still want to get something more out of a match.
“They usually respond friendly to my questions about recommendations and suggest me to go there with them. I never do, I just take away our match instead.”
Apps like Tinder can be somewhat of a meat market, and Grimsborn is very clear on why she has issues with this modern form of dating. In her experience men write stuff they would never have the guts to say in real life, which has led to both compliments and sexist comments. Men she has been matched with also seem a lot more interested in talking about themselves rather than getting to know new people.
“I’ll avoid those guys,” she says.
Fallon Salomon, a 23-year-old history major from SF State, went out to explore the world with Tinder as her companion. During her semester abroad in Amsterdam, she was introduced to the notion that dating apps can indeed improve the quality of her social life. Even though Salomon only lived in the Netherlands for six months, she had a four month-long relationship thanks to Tinder. She also got to learn more about the Dutch culture through people she met on the app.
While the relationship didn’t last, Salomon says she has had great experiences through Tinder, meeting people she wouldn’t have met otherwise.
When you move to a different country there are so many new impressions. The language is different, the culture is different, the food is different, even the traffic is different. Typically you will use every opportunity to get to know people so you don’t have to be alone. According to Salomon, it’s easier to make friends on Tinder abroad than at home.
“I think people are much more outgoing abroad. There’s a certain kind of curiosity there, that I just have not experienced here at home. I’m not sure why that is!”
The Culture Shock
Social culture variates throughout the world, and therefore people from different parts of the world will use Tinder in different ways. Today, the app has users in more than 190 countries, so using Tinder as a traveling tool can actually serve as a cultural journey.
“Some of my most important memories from studying abroad were born from the people I met on Tinder. I talked politics with all of them, and appreciated, and gained from their perspective,” Rebecca explains.
Rebecca, a 26-year-old international relations major from SF State, reminisces of her semester abroad in Israel, and the friends she made through Tinder.
“They were never really tour guides, but spending time with their friends and participating in their traditions was an invaluable experience of cultural immersion.”
For Rebecca, the dating app served as both a way to improve her language skills and to meet potential hook-ups. However, she says that American and Israeli women were treated very differently. For example, men would assume that American women are easier to get than Israeli women, and would experience more sexual comments, while Israeli women who were considered harder to get, were treated with more respect.
“They think because we are on a date, hooking up is expected or guaranteed, regardless of if there is chemistry.”
A New Dating Era
By now you might think that women are the only ones using Tinder for things other than sex. While research shows that men use Tinder more as a hook-up app, there are still some using it to make friends.
When Fabi Rausch, a 22-year-old electrical engineering major from Germany, traveled through Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, he found Tinder helpful for getting in touch with locals. However, he wouldn’t want to get a girlfriend through the app.
“Apps like Tinder can be very objectifying because you judge people based on their looks. I made some friends when I was traveling, but I prefer meeting people in real life” Rausch explains.
Dating apps like Tinder are being used for much more than one-night-stands. Instead modern technology can, and is, helping young people connect with new cultures and languages, especially while being abroad. Imagine being placed on the other side of the world without your main form of communication. It can be nerve wrecking to not know anything or anyone, and for a lot of young people dating apps take some of this pressure away. It’s an informal platform that helps you enter a new society. Bottom line here is that dating apps can be used for so much more than dating. Perhaps your new perspective on life is just a swipe away.
I remember that evening my dad woke me up to take me to the movies. I was eight-years-old and it was way past my bedtime. The theater was busy, as hundreds of moviegoers poured in at 11:30 P.M. on a Thursday. Star Wars: The Phantom Menacecame out at midnight. The magic of a midnight release showing was new to me then, but throughout junior high and high school it became an almost religious fixture in my life. Blurry eyes and beaming smiles filled every auditorium, because the silver screen deserved our attention. The theater held my imagination hostage and I was more than happy with my Stockholm syndrome. These days I struggle to remember the last movie I saw in theaters.
The night out at the movies is the cornerstone for Americans everywhere. The first movie theater in history was the Nickelodeon, built in Pittsburgh, Penn in June 19, 1905. The weekend event, the weekday matinee, the classic first date, the movie theater experience is one that most can’t imagine a world without. In 2016, theaters hosted 1.3 million moviegoers, outnumbering both sporting events and theme park attendees. Nonetheless, movie theaters seem to be facing an existential threat.
While silver screen isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, the way the cinema operates is taking a beating—and recent box office numbers show a disheartening trend for zealots of the theatrical ceremony.
Marlene Virelas, a former senior manager at Century at Pacific Commons in Fremont, California, offers some insight on how these bombs are handled at the the box office.
“If we knew movies were going to flop, or after they had bad premiere weekends the amount of showings were scaled down,” Virelas remembers.
“There’s a constant pressure on a movie theater to turn a profit because most if not all the sales from the box office goes to the studios, theaters really make their money from concession stand sales.”
ARTIST: DYLAN PEMBERTON
The sheer uptick in the amount of box office failures—commonly referred to as “bombs”—is staggering compared to previous years. In 2016 alone, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Allied, 2016’s Ben-Hur, The BFG, Deepwater Horizon, The Finest Hours, Ghostbusters, Gods of Egypt, The Great Wall, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Live by Night, Monster Trucks, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows all boasted losses of over $60 million.
Movies from 2017 aren’t spared either. Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword are already critically declared bombs, with the later suffering a loss of over $150 million according to Box Office Mojo.
For reference, 2015 had ten box office flops under its belt, 2014 only had one, and 2013 only had to claim five to its name.
American University film graduate Chelsey Cartwright offers a unique perspective. As a member of the millennial age group, she is part of the disappearing moviegoer, and yet as a film major she still tries to make it out to the movies as often as possible.
“Convenience and cost wise, it’s so easy to justify not going to the movies because I can watch a hundred things on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. I no longer go to the movies if I’m bored,” points out Cartwright.
“These days my trips to the theater are often to pay homage to a film that has plowed its way through the many stages of film-making and is being displayed gloriously on the big screen.”
It is obvious that there is a problem with Hollywood that is keeping moviegoers from putting their butts in seats. When you dig a little deeper though, the butts that aren’t seated seem to belong to solely the ever elusive millennials. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the 25-39-year-old group makes up the majority of film attendees with 22 percent, while the other 88 percent is spread among the other age demographics. The theater’s main demographic is steadily de-butting movie seats.
“I see videos everyday on my news-feed,” says Cartwright.
“I consume news and gifs and interviews and all things social media. I’m inundated with visual media, so off the bat the idea of a major motion picture isn’t as novel as it once felt.”
These days I struggle to remember the last movie I saw in theaters.
So where is Hollywood getting its money? The answer seems to rest in overall movie ticket prices. Complaining about rising cost of ticket prices seems have always been a constant, but acclaimed director Steven Spielberg predicted a breaking point back in 2013.
“You’re gonna have to pay twenty-five dollars for the next Iron Man, you’re probably only going to have to pay seven dollars to see Lincoln,” Spielberg told The Hollywood Reporter at the time.
“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”
It’s only been four years, but Spielberg’s words are quickly changing from prophecy into problems. Many movie studios have attempted to avoid the coming “implosion” by relying on big budget blockbusters. In the infamous email hacks on SONY, studio co-chair Amy Pascal emailed a note to her chief lieutenant Doug Belgrad. Assessing Sony’s lineup for 2015, she wrote, in all caps, “THERE ARE TOO MANY DRAMAS/NOT ENOUGH TENTPOLES/NO OBVIOUS BREAKOUT HITS.”
ARTIST: DYLAN PEMBERTON
These “tent-pole” movies are still massive risks. If a studio puts all their eggs into one basket and fails to draw in that millennial 25-38-year-old group, they’re stuck with an unfortunately ugly omelet. The less obvious casualty of this method of movie-making though is the makers themselves.
Hollywood directors are becoming a dime a dozen. Blockbuster director of Jurassic Park, Colin Trevorrow was set to direct the still untitled ninth Star Wars film. Just this past month it was announced Trevorrow was stepping down as director of the project.
“Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ,” Disney said in a statement.
“We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon.”
Since then, episode nine of Star Wars called back Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens visionary J.J. Abrams. It seems that franchises reign supreme in Hollywood right now, and no director’s vision can supersede a company’s need for profit assurance.
Famed director Christopher Nolan spoke with the Los Angeles Times recently about this pressure. When asked if he would ever consider doing another super-hero or “tent-pole” film, he made sure to weigh both options.
“The responsibility that comes with a large film at this stage of things is always very daunting. But having made tiny films and dealt with the flip side of that, which is just trying to get anyone to see your film, that’s awful in its own way, admitted Nolan.
“Any independent filmmaker can tell you, going to a festival, hoping a distributor is going to like your film and put you on ten screens somewhere — that’s very, very tough and very demoralizing in its own way.”
Echoing Chelsey Cartwright’s words on the movie novelty, Nolan also took time to unpack just what studios need to be looking for with breakout hits.
“What’s interesting about that whole paradigm is, you can’t fault the studios for looking to likely hits, for looking for areas where people seem to want more of something. But Hollywood and the studios have also always understood that novelty, freshness, is one of the magical ingredients of movies. And I don’t think the studios ever want to risk losing that completely,” says Nolan.
Still, the future of Hollywood may be found in the voices of those who criticize it. Cartwright has studied were movies are going with both pencil and popcorn. She thinks there’s a bright future if the box office can find it.
“The film industry is finally catching up in terms of diversity, like women in major leadership roles and expansion beyond white heterosexual plots. But it’s a slow going process,” admits Cartwright.
“If it wants to hold on to audiences, the movies will have to speed up. We’re smarter now. Twitter educates us on feminism, Facebook opens our eyes to police brutality, Reddit examines government corruption. Everyday people are coming to expect more out of the media they consume. People loved Wonder Woman. That’s a pretty solid example of people wanting a strong atypical heroine and a subsequent box-office smash. People are ready to push the limits.”
The issues that plague the box office are many, as are studio’s’ attempts to find a solution. The interesting piece of all this is its moviegoers – people who get to decide what technique works. Whatever movies people choose to actually go see, those are the types of strategies studios will continue to use. It is not impossible to imagine that studios just don’t quite understand what audiences want in these changing times, and new kind of relationship is still possible. Something that benefits viewers, producers and creators may be out there. The numbers don’t lie though, and Hollywood needs to find the answer soon.
Jacques Whitfield was 16 years old when he and his friend from hip-hop dance class went to their first ball. The vibe was intense and chaotic. Performers ran around the hall scrambling to find pieces of their garments, and everyone spoke over one another. A fight nearly broke out feet from their seats. Whitfield had no idea what to expect. All he knew was that he had to make it home to San Francisco from Oakland by his midnight curfew, and at 11 p.m. the party had barely started.
When the ball began, Whitfield absorbed the wonder of his surroundings. He was in awe of young people of color like him performing with unbridled confidence and a sense of self. “At that time I was still trying to get to know myself and figure out who I was individually, so for me to be around other people that knew who they were, or were coming into who they were meant to be, was quite beautiful to see,” Whitfield said.
He was also surprised to see the same people who had almost come to blows before battle it out on the dance floor instead.
A decade later, it’s clear that Whitfield is where he belongs. Since 2010, he has been teaching vogue, a dance style with elements of runway walking, gymnastics, and break dancing, at Dance Mission Theater, Oberlin Dance Company [ODC], and various events around the Bay Area. When he walks into the studio at Dance Mission Theater to teach his class, Vogue and Tone, he greets everyone with the same warmth as he would his best friend. Whitfield came from a competitive dance troupe background, where he said he had his fair share of “haters.” But now Whitfield is feeling the love, and he actively spreads it. He encourages his students through every pass down the runway. As he teaches, he shouts over the thundering beat of a RuPaul track, “A family that vogues together stays together, and always stays fabulous!”
According to Whitfield, there are very few vogue competitions or performances, called balls, hosted in the Bay Area. Whitfield and his professional partner, global street dancer Rashad Pridgen, created a dance troupe specializing in vogue performance called House of Prolific to fill their community’s void, and to educate people about the historical roots of vogue.
“The origins of vogue comes from the African American and Latino gay male community,” Pridgen said. “The dance form came out of that community because they weren’t able to express their art form, their expression, out in the commercial world.”
The ballroom scene started in Harlem, New York in the 1930s as an underground scene for LGBTQ people, specifically of color, to freely and safely express themselves. In the 1960s, the performance and drag elements of the ballroom came into fruition, giving birth to the dance style now known as vogue in the 1980s.
This community found security in numbers, and formed “Houses,” which served as familial units for those who otherwise had no safe haven in the mainstream world. Houses would vogue competitively against each other at underground balls to see who could create the most beautiful costumes, walk the best runway, or pass as straight and gender-normative. In the 1980s, balls also became opportunities for people to teach and learn about safe sex practices at a time when the HIV/AIDS epidemic ran rampant.
“The culture and the history needs to be talked about,” Whitfield said, which he feels is his responsibility as a self-identified queer man of color. “Being part of a community, you need to know your history,” he said.
Hearing this history is how Chris Pietro first learned about voguing. He was shown YouTube clips of vogue dancers and at a party on an Air Force base where he lived in Okinawa, Japan. Pietro said he was instantly fascinated, and researched the legendary vogue performers on YouTube, and read about the historical significance of vogue as expression in the LGBTQ community.
“I like how there’s kind of a history and connection within the gay community, and I like how basically it started with people, homeless youth, being taken into different houses,” Pietro said. “Instead of getting into fights and getting into stupid stuff they would basically form these little families and take care of each other.”
Pietro thought he wouldn’t be well received as a vogue dancer because he is white and the Vogue community is traditionally comprised of people of color, but once he attended a class in San Francisco he said he felt supported more than anything. “If you’re good at it and you’re not an asshole about the dance style, then it’s all fine in the end,” Pietro said.
There are voices in the LGBTQ community and among people of color who would disagree. Ballroom culture was created out of necessity for the safety of queer men and transgender women of color. According to opinion writer Justin Allen in an article for The New School Free Press, when white people take up that space, it defeats the purpose of those queer people of color trying to take up their own space in a predominantly white world.
This viewpoint stems largely from Madonna’s popularization of the dance style with her 1990 single “Vogue” and the controversy it sparked in the existing vogue community. Pridgen acknowledges that “Vogue” brought attention to the style of dance and inspired people worldwide. “But it didn’t attach that this community had been doing it for a long time, that the African and Latino gay community created it,” Pridgen said.
Regardless, Whitfield said that he thinks voguing is for everyone, and his classes are open to people of all identities. “People should be willing to learn, rather than assume,” Whitfield said. With vogue coming back into mainstream culture — vogue dancer Dashaun Wesley choreographed Rihanna’s Anti World Tour this year — Whitfield said he feels like people are putting in the work to find out where vogue and ballroom culture originates. “Vogue is for everyone, just do the research,” Whitfield said.
The same is the case for House of Prolific. “The dancers are a variety of amazing, beautiful people of different ethnicities, different sexualities,” Pridgen said. “It’s a really eclectic group of folks that are inspired by the dance form and want to continue to perform and understand the roots.”
House of Prolific operates as a troupe so it doesn’t strictly consist of vogue dancers. The common thread that connects its members is Dance Mission Theater. “Dance Mission is kind of this hub for dancers that are taking a variety of different styles,” Pridgen said. He said Dance Mission Theater is like a community center for dancers, and they not only get a chance to learn new styles — vogue included — but also present their own work.
Pridgen and Whitfield both have extensive and varied dance backgrounds. Pridgen has trained in West African, hip-hop, and modern dance, but his passion is in street dance. Whitfield is trained in hip-hop, Afro-Haitian, jazz, and modern dance, and uses those styles in his vogue choreography. “It’s quite nice to have that family of just performers and artists of all different genres coming together as a house,” Whitfield said.
In the future, Whitfield wants to have balls in museums, and places like the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where everyone can attend. “I can see us doing collaborations with museums and different artists and different dancers,” he said. He said he also hopes that vogue and ballroom culture will one day be taught in colleges as part of LGBTQ or African American studies.
Vogue is a source of inspiration for Pridgen, and his goal is to give it a platform. “I’m passing on that vogue is a valid art form, and that it comes from a certain community of people, and that should be respected,” Pridgen said.
“We both know why we’re here,” reads a message from a stranger, “just come over.” Not sure what warranted that from a match but a new message from another stranger pops up before it’s given another thought. “To keep it light, I got a female but I think you’re cute af.” This is from a person who is supposed to be looking for a love connection.
These are just some of the messages that people on dating apps receive on a daily basis, and the messages become even more persistent from there. Whether people are looking for a hook-up or true love, there’s an app for that. Dating apps have become extremely popular among San Franciscans- there are even some apps that cater to The City alone.
According to the Pew Research Center, 32 percent of young adults aged 18 to 35 are involved in online dating. A survey conducted by Consumer Research in March 2016 showed that 57 percent of women surveyed have experienced some form of harassment. Twenty-one percent of men also revealed they have experienced harassment. The ever-popular Tinder and OkCupid apps had the highest number of reported harassment at 39 and 38 percent, respectively.
“Guys are like, ‘Oh, you know why we’re both here, just come over,” said Jera Reichert, a current Bay Area Tinder user. “I feel like that’s super sexually harassing and a lot of people say ‘Oh, that’s what you get for going on a dating app.’”
Women recieve a wide range of message with matches going as far as calling them “bitches” or “cunts” when they don’t respond or say no to a date.
“I think it has something to do with how quick it all is: you swipe left or right and there’s hardly any profile so it’s practically designed with only hooking up in mind,” said Tatiana Laurent, a former Tinder user in the Bay Area. “I got off Tinder a long time ago. It was just always messaging at late hours and saying, ‘Wanna hang out?’ Then they invite you to their place instead of a coffee shop.”
If agreeing to meet an online match, most women tend to take extra precautions in case the worst happens.
“I do feel kind of different when I go on dates with someone I don’t know because I have that paranoid thought in my mind,” Reichert said. “I might just be paranoid because I watch a lot of criminal shows but no one really knows who that person is. I would be super careful and tell my friends ‘Oh, I’m going out with this guy,’ and send a screenshot of him and tell them this is where we’re going.”
There are now numerous personal accounts on social media that are shedding light on harassment on dating apps as a way of taking control and spreading the message that harassment isn’t ok.
At 410 thousand followers since its creation back in 2014, the Instagram account Bye Felipe is dedicated to exposing the harassment people – mostly women – experience on dating apps.
“My main reasons for creating the account [Bye Felipe] were: A, Commiserating with other women (you can’t be a woman online and not get creepy messages from men); B, Letting men know what it’s like to be a woman online (it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows!); and C, To expose the problematic entitlement some men feel they need to exert over women in general,” wrote Alexandra Tweten, creator of Bye Felipe, for Ms. Magazine. The page currently has 377 posts, almost all from the encounters women face when on dating apps. The encounters are usually pleasant until the woman stops responding or rejects the match in some way.
“This is a problem I have always experienced,” said Sarah, a repeating commenter on the Ms. Magazine blog. “A guy who was old enough to be my dad messaged me on a dating site (Plenty of Fish to be exact), and I told him I’m not into older guys. He then proceeded to lash out at me, calling me names such as bitch and cunt and said I was too fat for him anyways.”
Many other women commented on their experiences too, revealing their experiences to be similar to those of the original commenter.
“When I first discovered that other women were receiving the exact same messages I was getting, it made me feel more at ease,” said Tweten. “It made me feel solidarity with them, and like it wasn’t such a big deal, as I had thought before. I get a lot of thank you letters saying, ‘I didn’t know other women got these messages too!’ It makes me feel better.”
More and more companies are dedicating themselves to making women feel better about online dating as well. The Grade titles itself as “the female friendly dating app.” Though based out of New York, the app has gained popularity among young San Franciscans. The Grade’s mission is to make every user accountable for their actions by actually giving them a letter grade from A+ to F based on their behavior in three categories: message responsiveness, profile popularity, and peer reviews. People who receive an F are automatically disbarred from the site.
According to Tweten, the best way to prevent harassment on dating apps is for the companies to actually take the time to listen to the victims on their sites, to find more efficient ways to block frequent harassers so they aren’t just free to create another profile, and to have some sort of censor in their messaging system.
“Censoring these messages may help in the short term, but the messages featured on Bye Felipe are like an immortalized version of the catcalls and threats women receive on the street every day, just walking around and existing,” said Tweten. “Until we change the cultural atmosphere, women will continue to receive these hurtful messages online and in real life.”
It was in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, where five-year-old Alex Assefa had his first sip. His house was packed with relatives and his great grandmother was hosting a traditional roasting ceremony. She spent hours roasting and brewing fresh indigenous beans from her native region of Jimma in south-western Ehiopia, where the crop grows wild. It was Alex’s job to collect the small, handleless cups after his great grandmother served the third and final brew. When her back was turned, Assefa gave in to his temptation and took a drink from what was left in the cups he gathered. The flavor overwhelmed his taste buds, but Alex had satisfied his curiosity and found his true passion in life: coffee.
Thirty-one years later and he is sneaking sips of coffee to his children while his wife’s back is turned, hoping to develop their palate at an early age.
“I look back on it and I just have the greatest affection for the culture I grew up in, the greatest fondness for a lot of the values they instilled in us.” Assefa said. “It’s not easy, but I just hope for at least a portion of it to be passed on to my kids.”
The San Francisco coffee scene, with its corporate coffee chains and trendy cafés serving five dollar cups of coffee, was interrupted when Assefa and his wife, Belen G.yesus, opened Zo11 Coffee Traders, a modest café on Fillmore Street offering the authenticity of Ethiopian coffee culture at an affordable price.
“We offer a portion of the traditional coffee experience,” Assefa said. “A lot of it is… engaging people in the culture, the background, and the story of the farmers that grow the coffee and the effort that goes into it. It is building a deeper connection with people, other cultures and other customs. By its nature, it [coffee] lends to that.”
At Zo11, customers get a cup of coffee and a lesson on the geography, flavor and science behind the very bean that composes their beverage – all for less than the price of a gallon of gas.
“Everywhere you go now in San Francisco is just overly pricey,” G.yesus said. “We could have done that, but you have to include everyone. We still make profit but it doesn’t mean you have to charge an arm and a leg to sell your coffee.”
Like most cafes, Zo11 places great emphasis on their coffee, but it is their Ethiopian hospitality that sets them apart and stimulates their patrons as much as the caffeine in their Sidamo roast.
“When you have a very welcoming environment it doesn’t matter if you serve just water or if you serve caviar, people are going to come because they like the service. So that’s our main goal, aside from the coffee, to be welcoming because that’s the kind of environment San Francisco used to have in a café. We wanted to bring that old San Francisco back.”
Zo11 gets its name from the numbers “zero one one” that are dialed when calling out of the U.S., and in Alex and Belen’s case, the numbers they dial to order their shipments of the finest variety of beans from across the world. Whether from Ethiopia, Mexico or Colombia, the flavor of the bean is contingent on the way it is roasted. In this spirit, Zo11 also offers fresh green coffee beans for customers to roast themselves.
“We do a wide range of roasts, and in most cases we let the coffee dictate how it should be roasted,” Assefa said. “The coffee bean is basically a capsule. It captures the air where it’s been grown, the river and lakes it’s watered by, and the hands of the region that touched it. It [roasting] is like unlocking the coffee beans.”
According to Assefa, there are no regulations on coffee, so even though cafés claim a specific roast, they could be mixing a few, quality beans with a majority of inferior beans to yield a light roast. He aims to reverse this trend by providing customers with an opportunity to experience premium coffee as a bridge between cultures.
“We intentionally go out of our way for our customers to recognize, taste and remember where the coffee bean comes from,” he said. “You are building your palate and you are building your own library of taste. That’s the beauty of coffee–it takes you places. You become more intimate with the people and the cultures.”
There are other coffee shops in San Francisco, like Ritual Coffee Roasters, that are also pushing to spread coffee consciousness. Zo11 is not unique in its dedication to roasting fresh coffee, but it does provide a neighborly environment, emulating the familial traditions of G.yesus and Assefa’s heritage.
“In SF you kind of go to places to be seen,” Paolo Picardo, a regular customer at Zo11, said. “I’ll go to Ritual and everyone is hip and dressed very cool, but at Zo11 that doesn’t exist. It is a safe place I can go to and center myself. There is no real superficiality coming out of it.”
At Zo11, the customers are as diverse as the variety of beans the café roasts. On the average day, elderly Ethiopian residents come in to connect with their community and college students go to cram for their tests. Most people are regular patrons as the coffee keeps them coming back, and for newcomers, the experience is as enticing.
“Initially walking in you see a different environment and culture,” said first-time patron Sean Willard. “The coffee I picked was the Ethiopiano and I inquired about the background. I think it’s important because it adds a specific story. He does his own roasting here but he gets the stuff from Ethiopia so that’s more specific to me.”
It is the social exchanges, the cultural discussions about coffee and the customers’ response to the bold flavors that maintain Assefa’s fervor for coffee.
“Sometimes I will just pour a cup of coffee and look at the person taking their first sip,” he said. “Over time you become addicted to that constant reaction. It’s like being a singer and people screaming your name and applauding. It’s that type of feedback that’s the joy of it.”
Watching Willard take the first sip of his Ethiopiano, a smile blossomed on Assefa’s face. He had made a human connection with a stranger over a shot of espresso and some steamed milk. Assefa was living his dream–using coffee as a catalyst to build a cross-cultural community under the roof of his own business.
Forty minutes before showtime, the Naked Empire Bouffons were backstage at PianoFight, a bar in the Tenderloin, preparing to grace the audience with their grotesque humor for their monthly show, “Too Soon.”
“It’s nine fifty and we’re taking deep fucking breaths,” performer Darius Sohei said to his colleagues, sensing pre-performance jitters.
The six performers coated their faces with bright white makeup, and stuffed their costumes full of foam in places that completely distorted their bodies. For the next forty five minutes, they are not humans. They are the Naked Empire Bouffons.
The audience members settled into their seats, sipping their drinks, their conversations of anticipation echoing through the dark room. Their night was about to get rocked by the harsh realities these bouffons would smear across the stage. They would be mocked. They may be rudely awakened. Most would leave with a lot to think about and abs sore from laughter.
Naked Empire Bouffon Company’s founder and artistic director, Nathaniel Justiniano, stepped onto the stage, grabbed the microphone, and introduced the show. The Bouffons were backstage, manically giggling, stepping into the essence of their characters.
They danced onto the stage. With rhythm, they sung, “We read these stories on Bart, and now we’re making it art, I think it might be too soon.”
The topics they’d depict over the course of the show would be the Brussels bombing, North Carolina’s House Bill 2, Alex Nieto’s death, gun advocate Jamie Gilt’s four-year-old son shooting her in the back, and the ridiculously real ways people use tech and social media.
The Bouffons think it is necessary that we visit our biases and preconceived notions about these topics, among others. They had spent the previous ten hours researching and developing these topics into what they consider, “Rich dark chocolate laced with razor blades.”
The Naked Empire Bouffon Company was founded to combat — or “fart on,” as its website says — apathy. What’s less apathetic than putting an intense social issue like discrimination against North Carolina’s LGBT community directly in the spotlight to play with, poke at, and deride the ways we, as a society, think about it?
“They celebrate, they’re shameless, and they mock; not individuals, but societal dysfunction,” Justiniano said about The Bouffons. “Tragedy, bullshit, blind spots — they unveil, they unearth, they bring it up, and they don’t judge it.”
The term “bouffon” is a modern French theater term that was re-coined in the early 1960s by Jacques Lecoq in Paris to describe a specific style of performance work that focuses on the art of mockery.
Master bouffon teacher, Giovanni Fusetti described the art form on his website: “The bouffon represents elements of his or her society in an amplified, distorted, exaggerated way, therefore provoking laughter or outrage… Bouffons don’t have opinions, and don’t protect any side from their mocking. Their purpose is to have fun mocking humans and therefore they use everything they find.”
Fusetti taught Justiniano bouffon at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Humboldt County. After Justiniano completed his MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre, he moved to San Francisco to pursue an internship with a group called “SF Buffoons,” now defunct. One year later, he founded The Naked Empire Bouffon Company.
Since its foundation in 2009, the company has created multiple works that tackle issues like homophobia, racial profiling, gun-violence, and much more. Through mockery, candor, and utter hilarity, The Bouffons present commentary on a culture that trivializes serious topics.
That night, during “Too Soon,” the stage became a men’s bathroom in North Carolina. Two performers lined up for their governor to enforce his newly passed bill, House Bill 2, which bans transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex.
“We’re here at the Red Lobster men’s room,” performer and program director Sabrina Wenske said. “I’m just doing my civic duty. Just passed this law into effect; hb2. Door check here, pat-downs with Pat McCrory.”
The crowd laughed and groaned.
“Freeze! Pull out your dick,” Wenske said. “Woah! He’s really packin’! Come on in,” as she slapped the side of performer and artistic director Cara McClendon’s inner thigh.
His next stop was the women’s room at Olive Garden in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“Freeze! I’m doin’ a pat-down,” Wenske says as she feels for performer Michele Owen’s breasts. “There’s nothing there!”
“No!” Owen said, “ I’m an A-cup!”
“I’m going to have to do a full on inspection,” Wenske said. “I’m goin’ in!”
They celebrate society’s unintelligence until it’s completely masked by comedy, then they drag it through fresh mud and serve it to the audience on a gold platter. Bon appetite.
Naked Empire also holds weekend-long intensives, where those interested can come learn and practice the art of bouffon. It is the only company in the United States that is dedicated to the research, expansion, and popularization of this socially responsible practice. They prompt conversations about things that matter, and emphasize the things society is avoiding.
The Naked Empire Bouffons cannot consider inconvenient truths low priority. Crass assumptions about serious topics incite The Bouffons’ mania.
“People have walked out,” McClendon said. To audience members who find her work offensive, she says, “We’re not making this shit up, it’s all based in truth, so when we’re throwing these things at you and you’re getting offended, you may be offended at our format or that we’re not coddling you, but this is true.” She invites the squeamish to evaluate why they are responding in such personal ways.
McClendon spent four years as part of an all women’s circus in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, she was literally rescued from her dark depression by discovering clown, and got the idea to pursue clown for a living. She attended Dell-Arte in where she was introduced to bouffon, but ended up pursuing clown in the Bay Area. After spending two years injured, in pain, and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from being hit by a city bus in Emeryville, McClendon re-entered the performance business and found Naked Empire, where she took Justiniano’s weekend intensive and found her true calling for bouffon.
“I realized I could turn that darkness into laughter and make it a joke,” she said, “My cynicism had a place to go.”
The third member of the company is the program director, Sabrina Wenske. After graduating from University of California, Berkeley, she attended Dell’Arte, where she was introduced to bouffon. She heard about the man in the Bay Area who had a business called The Naked Empire Bouffon Company, from where she too, took Justiniano’s intensive and discovered her love for the art form.
“Bouffons wield silence like a knife,” she said, “They just know exactly when to make people laugh and when to make people sit in silence with them.”
She quickly became a key asset to the company by putting together monthly shows and getting butts in seats.
The Naked Empire Bouffon Company sources its performers mostly from trainings. The performers build shows on a consistent basis for the months ahead, but these monthly “Too Soon” shows are built the day of the show. That Saturday, they worked from eleven in the morning to nine thirty at night with less than an hour break in the evening for a nap. They took the stage at ten thirty sharp.
“They were so toasted, so exhausted and I was feeling honestly guilty about putting them through this,” Justiniano said about the performers. Next month, he’s looking to have more bouffons to create more content at a faster rate, and also wants to structure the practice differently so that the performers get started earlier in the day and get a nice long break before the show.
“I’m just so proud of everybody,” Justiniano said. “I feel like [this show] was a smart thing to do for the company … This is my little baby from 2009, this little seed of an idea that I wanted to play with forever. And people are game.”
As long as there is tragedy in the world, there is a need for education around societal dysfunction. The Naked Empire recognizes that it’s easier to come to terms with this dysfunction through humor rather than shame, though many will leave the theatre feeling shameful about racial profiling, and questioning why officers at the San Francisco Police Department shot at Alex Nieto fifty nine times.
She’s been performing for 35 years and she’s not worried about stopping in the middle of a performance and announcing she’s done. Though she might not have the energy anymore Collette LeGrande-Ashton is far from done for the night.
Though retirement is an option, for LeGrande-Ashton, drag queen and cocktail waitress at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, this won’t be happening anytime soon.
LeGrande-Ashton, 65, is one of the oldest drag queens in San Francisco and has been working at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge since 1998. She has been performing for over 35 years. LeGrande-Ashton performed in her first drag show in her late teens in Santa Barbara. During 22 years of that time she was also working in customer service at AT&T until she retired in 2002.
At Aunt Charlie’s, LeGrande-Ashton goes in every second and fourth Wednesday of the month and works every Friday and Saturday.
During an evening inside Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a gentle pink light from the neon sign over the bar illuminates everything. Thirteen people sit at the bar while the other 30 patrons are seated at tables, enjoying their evening.
LeGrande-Ashton and Aunt Charlie’s manager, Joe Mattheisen, chat with those sitting at the bar while they fill out orders. LeGrande-Ashton herself walks around the limited space of the lounge to make sure everyone has a drink. As the evening goes on, the lights start to dim and everyone’s attention is brought to the back of the bar, where a curtain keeps the performers out of view.
As the host of the evening, Ruby Slippers, is introduced and the first of the performers go on, LeGrande-Ashton makes her way to the back. After the first couple of performances, Slippers introduces the next act and once the music starts playing, LeGrande-Ashton emerges in a completely different outfit.
Aunt Charlie’s Lounge is one of the oldest LGBTQ-friendly bars in San Francisco. Despite the changing times the bar has remained open while the former neighboring bars have all closed. According to the manager this can be attributed to the fact that Aunt Charlie’s is owned by a single person and doesn’t.
“What’s helped us here is it a sole proprietor,” said Mattheisen. “It’s not a corporation. It’s not a partnership where it needs to bring in enough for three or four people.”
Mattheisen also contributes the bar’s success towards the fact that the bar has handled its own problems, which made getting their entertainment license easy.
“The whole time the bar’s been here,” said Mattheisen. “It’s handled its own problems.”
Their customer base is mainly regulars, but they receive a lot of out of towners who want to see the drag shows the Dream Queens Revue and the Hott Boxx Girls.
“If you’re gay or straight it doesn’t matter,” said Mattheisen. “If you’re going to be a jerk you’re not staying.”
Many of the employees at Aunt Charlie’s have been there since its opening in 1987, and most of the queens have been there since 1998 when the drag shows began. The last time this bar hired a new queen or employee was six years ago.
“The drag shows really bring people in,” Mattheisen said. “Bachelorette parties and birthday parties.”
Over the course of LeGrande-Ashton’s career as a drag queen she has been Grand Duchess two times for San Francisco’s Grand Ducal Council (GDC). Becoming apart of the the GDC similar to presidential elections, nominees put their names forward and must campaign around the city to gain votes.
The GDC is a non-profit fundraising organization that does work for various charities. Despite no longer being part of the GDC, LeGrande-Ashton continues to attend and do fundraisers for different charities.
“At Aunt Charlie’s I pretty much have a routine. We do five or six of them a year there. I’ve started most of them,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “Did one for Magnet which provides services for HIV people and stuff like that. Did another a couple of months ago for St. James Infirmary. That’s for sex workers since there’s a lot of them in the Aunt Charlie’s area.”
Not as young as she once was, LeGrande-Ashton explains that she sometimes feels un-energized but continues to work at Aunt Charlie’s and attends various fundraisers and charities when they ask her to.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of how I feel that day other than that I have to gear my mind to do it now,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “Years ago I could just do it in five minutes and think nothing of it, but now I sort of have to have a routine,” she said about getting ready for a night balancing drag and cocktail serving at Aunt Charlie’s
In addition to having lower levels of energy, LeGrande-Ashton has also developed some minor health issues, but that still hasn’t dissuaded her from going in.
“I’m developing a bit of arthritis in my feet walking the cocktails,” LeGrande-Ashton said. “But I’ll keep doing that until I fall over”
Ashton’s attitude to keep working is not too surprising. According to a survey conducted by TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies found that a majority of “sixty-somethings” and older plan on or are still working. While others plan on at least working part-time.
“Even if I don’t feel like it I’ll drag myself in there. I owe that place a lot,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “It gave me place where I made a lot of new friends and met a lot of great people. The only days I’ve ever missed at Aunt Charlie’s are days when I have an event.”
Ruby Slippers the hostess for the Dream Queen Revue has been a longtime friend of Collette and has attended various fundraisers and charities with her doesn’t believe Collette will ever retire.
“She’s not going to give up,” said Ruby Slippers. “Never. Never! I don’t care what she says, because she loves it!”
Cole Emde, the master brewer at Black Sands Brewery on Haight Street in San Francisco, pours himself a pale ale that he brewed and is sold in their brew pub on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (Ryan McNulty/Xpress)
By Steven Calderon
[dropcap size=”50px”]C[/dropcap]lad in denim jeans and calf-high rubber boots, two men stood over stainless steel vats of boiling water and quickly built up a sweat that bled through their thin t-shirts. A potent aroma rose from barrels of grain that smelled like crushed saltine crackers and boxed cream of wheat. They wore backward hats and paper masks to cover their mouths.
“It’s to prevent from inhaling grain dust,” said Cole Emde, master brewer at Haight’s Black Sands Brewery. “Inhaling grain dust all day every day is not a good thing.”
Emde and home brewer Alex Magill were making a batch of Imperial Pale Lager from Magill’s own recipe at the brewery.
During the mashing process, Magill, 26, stood on a short step ladder and stirred while Emde used a plastic ice scoop to drizzle grains into the vat. He did not pour it straight out of the scooper but instead, to prevent clumping, sprinkled the grains out of the side, much like how a baker might powder fresh doughnuts.
Emde and Magill are part of a subculture of homebrewers in San Francisco, many of which started brewing beer in college, some in high school and others who picked up the hobby when they moved to the city.
Magill got his start in college about three years ago when a friend invited him over to help brew a batch.
“It started as me going over to help out a friend,” Magill said. “And it quickly turned into me just getting drunk and having a good time.”
Magill quickly immersed himself in beer culture and soon came across Black Sands, a one stop shop for brewing equipment, ingredients, recipes and lessons. Magill said his most recent batch will be served at the brewery and he is looking forward to seeing what both fellow homebrewers and non-brewers think of his beer.
While Black Sands is a meeting place and learning environment for aspiring brewers, many other beer fanatics attempt to brew independently in their own backyards.
Upon moving to San Francisco in 2008, Chris Cohen was introduced to the craft and became hooked on making his own beer. He realized there were no beer brewing clubs in the city so he decided to create his own.
“I really wanted to meet more people and talk about it with other people and learn from each other,” Cohen said.
That was the beginning of the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild, which now boasts about 170 due paying members according to their website, one of which is Black Sands. Cohen said homebrewers in San Francisco are as diverse as the city itself.
“In a SF spirit I wanted the club to be open to everybody, not just the white man stereotype,” Cohen said.
Cohen acts as a judge during his club’s beer tasting competitions and this year SFHG will be hosting a statewide competition in late October.
“There’s a real artistry to beer design,” Cohen said. “And you know what, shit, it’s a really fun thing to do with your friends. Just invite your friends over and have everyone brew their own beer.”
Not all brewers are as inclusive, however. Shaun Chan, a biochemistry major at San Francisco State University, said that while having an extra hand is helpful when brewing, he avoids inviting a lot of people over so he can make sure his equipment and work space is clean. He said that sanitation is one of the biggest challenges when brewing.
Chan is from Humboldt County and has been brewing with his friends since high school. He said that part of the reason why he brews his own beer is simply because he enjoys drinking beer and can’t afford to buy it all of the time. Making himself a batch saves him money and a few trips to the store. He is a fan of Indian Pale Ales and his favorite recipe is an all-grain pale ale brew which requires plenty of fresh hops to mimic an IPA taste.
While Chan started brewing to have beer on demand and Magill was introduced to it through a friend, some brewers picked up the hobby through pure curiosity.
Ivan Real, 23, works for Keysight Technologies in Santa Clara as a manufacturing engineer and lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. He takes Caltrain to work, and as a result finds less time for brewing than he did when he started a year ago.
“I started brewing beer my senior year in college with my roommate,” Real said. “We got into it because of curiosity. We both loved drinking beer so we thought we might as well learn the brewing process and understand what exactly went into this bubbly intoxicating substance.”
Real brews about five gallons at a time and said he prefers to make ale because it is more “forgiving” and tastes better to him. He said because ales can be fermented at room temperature, it is easier for him logistically since he can let the batch sit and brew anywhere in his home, as opposed to buying and squeezing an extra fridge into his small apartment.
Real said he enjoys the camaraderie that comes with making beer in San Francisco. Cohen’s brew club, Emde’s brewery and homebrewers like Chan bring the community together to keep beer culture alive in San Francisco.
“Brewing is a great way to get people with a common interest together,” Real said. “Ideally if others brew, everyone can bring their newest batches of beer to share and trade with others while we drink and talk.”