Behind the Filters

What filter will it be this time around? What is trying to be “corrected” today? Skin texture? Skin tone complexion? Eyes? Nose? Jawline? Face structure? Double chin?

Today, anyone has the power to alter what they look like on social media. Some use apps and filters for fun without thinking twice about why they use or post them. Others, however, overthink how they look and need apps and filters to enhance their appearance because of deep-rooted insecurities. Many of these insecurities stem from the unrealistic Eurocentric beauty standards that are portrayed in the media, but also through apps and filters.

San Francisco State University ethnic studies professor Wei Ming Dariotis, who is also the Associate Professor for Asian American Studies, is not surprised that filters and apps are geared towards Eurocentric beauty standards. In fact, Dariotis is disappointed.

“We might say it’s not overtly racist because they weren’t necessarily trying to exclude people of color,” Dariotis expressed. “But it ends up being racist because it’s so Eurocentrically focused that people of color are excluded by default.”

Filters are notorious for lightening people’s skin tones and smoothing the skin. Many filters tend to lighten skin, slim the face, enlarge the eyes, and even create a bridged nose. But are those who claim that filters are pushing Eurocentric beauty standards looking too deep into it?

Dariotis brings up the start of beauty pageants for Japanese-American women. Growing up, she considered herself a feminist and would think of beauty pageants as sexist, oppressive, and overall a waste of time. But with time, she realized that it was a way for ethnic communities to express and showcase their own beauty standards and values. She thinks it’s a beautiful thing to have a group of people embrace their culture, after being told by society that they are not good enough and “ugly.”

The ethnic studies professor does not think Eurocentric beauty standards just stop at filters and apps. She points out that surgeries are also done to live up to these unrealistic standards. From eyelid surgery, to nose jobs, breast implants, the list continues. Dariotis believes it is deeply damaging to not only an individual’s psyche, but also for everyone collectively. In a way, she believes people’s minds are “colonized.”

“Colonial mentality is: you’ve been colonized, and instead of fighting back, you kind of believe what your colonizer believes,” Dariotis explained. “As other ethnic groups in the U.S., there’s a strong tendency to succumb to that mindset, and that allows us to look at ourselves as ugly when we’re really not.”

SF State student Trysha Luu admits she uses filters often. She thinks they are fun and she feels generally positive about them. However, she does see the deep-rooted issues in their features and the impact it can have on the youth.

“I don’t think that filters themselves are racist, but they do strengthen the negative stigma around dark skin and people of color in general,” Luu said. “It simultaneously reinforces a Eurocentric vision of beauty already instilled in adults and teaches this vision to younger generations.”

But what if this idea of “white” beauty standards in photos and media never crossed your mind? This is true for Mimi Sheiner, an SF State design professor. She admits that her being Caucasian is probably why it has never been in her consciousness, and she says that in itself is an issue.

Sheiner edits photos to make meaning clearer. She has never altered anyone’s skin tone, body type, or facial features. She enhances photos and only removes blemishes when they are distracting to the point she is trying to get across. For example, she may remove dust or a crease on an old photo, or add some trees to the background of a photo where the main focus is the person.

But other than that, Sheiner thinks its “creepy” to alter images to the point where they are unnatural. She believes that it damages people’s minds.

“The whole super manipulated beauty thing is damaging,” Sheiner explained while cooking her dinner. “People have terrible self-image because no one can live up to it. Not even those models live up to it. It’s so manipulated. It poses a standard of beauty that makes everyone feel bad about themselves and makes everyone envious. And I think that in a way it’s the theme of our culture.”

Even though Sheiner never really thought of Eurocentric beauty standards being pushed on people through filters and apps, she does believe that people need to look deeper. She thinks users should not think it’s “all fun and games,” because it is not, and altering skin tones is a serious issue.

Skyline College graduate Armani Fuller has noticed how filters lighten the skin, but he never thought about it from a racial aspect. In fact, Fuller thinks it’s a long shot to say that filters and apps are being “racist.” He is confident that it has more to do with people being insecure, which is why they turn to filters and apps to “fix” what they want.

“Filters are like a temporary high to make someone feel good about themselves,” Fuller explained.

He knows that filters can be fun, but if someone is relying on them to feel and look better, the real issue is that they don’t accept themselves for who they are. Fuller stresses that there were “filters” even before the filters. He uses the example of people saying “get my good side” when taking a photo.

Even though our technology is advancing, there has always been a standard and look that people try to achieve.

Of course everyone wants to look their best when they are in control of what images get uploaded. Most people will not upload a photo of themselves where they believe it makes them look unflattering. Social media sites are just a curation of one’s life, and just because someone posts photos of themselves all dolled up and snazzy, doesn’t mean they look like that every day.

Alaysia “Frankie” Brown, a student at SF State, admits that filters give her confidence. She sees nothing wrong with using filters, editing, or adding things to give her photo the look she wants.

“I guess it’s just a way of seeing myself in a different way,” Brown said casually. “I’m okay with it. I like editing photos, putting cool stuff on my photos, so it’s fun for me.”

Brown does not think it is an issue of her being insecure, but does see an issue with the people who have comments about her usage. Brown questions why people are so judgmental towards her when they find out that she looks different in person than what her social media pictures show. To her, “a picture is a picture,” and should not be taken so seriously.

It has gotten to the point where Brown had to disable her comments on Instagram because people would comment about her appearance. She has people leave comments like, “But you don’t look like that in real life,” and the only fix is to restrict the option to comment on her picture all together.

Brown says it’s very common for people to get rejected in real life when they finally meet someone they met online. She explains how a friend of hers recently went out with a guy she met online. When they met in person, the guy told her friend that she did not look the same as she did in her pictures and he did not like the way she really looked. So he left.

Brown is convinced that people who regularly use filters and apps get cyberbullied more. She is disappointed that something that originally came from a positive fun place, turned into something negative.

“If you decide to post what you post, and if you feel beautiful with what you post, then it shouldn’t matter what anyone says,” Brown said.

However, she knows it is easier said than done. It has crossed Brown’s mind on why she uses filters. And she confesses that she has seen it from the race and insecurity point of view, but chooses to embrace filters and apps because they make her feel beautiful.

The “white beauty standard” is part of our history of colonialism. It tells us that white is the default, and what everyone should strive to be. Dariotis suggests that we do not wait for Hollywood to make these more diverse images, and that we make them ourselves. Whether that be making custom filters, or embracing one’s own culture and beauty.

“Filters are not in and of themselves evil or racist,” Dariotis said. “But the way the technology is focused right now, and the people that are making it, they need to be conscious of the fact that it can be used in a way that is harmful.”

Comedy Godfather, City Outsider

“Humans! Listen to my face hole!”

Tony Sparks has been on stage long enough to know how to capture attention. He stands behind the mic at a sparsely occupied bar on a Monday night. He is two acts into an open mic show.

“Hey, humans!” Sparks shouts from inside the spotlight. “Even y’all in the back at the bar, ignoring the shit outta me. I need for everybody to give this next guy the big love.”

Sparks hands it off to the next comic. Slowly, people are drawn in. The bar fills up. Some people even come to sit around the stage. Two hours later, just before the show ends, the place is hopping.

Sparks is known as the “godfather of comedy” in San Francisco. He has run comedy events throughout the Bay Area for years. He came to San Francisco in the early 1990s, enticed by the city’s reputation as a nucleus of the comedy scene. Instead, he found himself ostracized from the prominent clubs and people of the day.

“This town was a piece of shit,” Sparks says. “It was really cliquey. So I don’t ever want to be that way with people. Hopefully when people hang out with me they get a sense of, ‘okay, I feel accepted and I can do this.’ I don’t want to do to other people what was done to me.”

Sparks set out to develop a more welcoming community of comics. In April of 1999, Sparks started hosting shows at BrainWash cafe and laundromat in South of Market. Calling the place an eclectic venue would not do it justice. The stage was set up against the huge, wall-high windows of the front of the building. The food line cut right through the tables, so most of the audience was separated from the direct vicinity of the stage. People usually talked at the bar, ignoring the show completely. And people were also there to do their laundry.

“It was more of a social hub than a great comedy spot,” comedian Hunter Stoehr says. “It was not a great place to do comedy, but it was a great place to hang out.”

“For people that were just doing open mics, it was the place you could go every single day,” comedian Graham Galway adds. “For people that were more established, it was a place to get an early set in. It was always a pretty large crowd, and it was a good place to meet people.”

Over the years, the strange hybrid establishment became a fixture of Bay Area comedy. BrainWash held open mics five nights a week, most hosted by Sparks.

“It was a great place. It was the foundation for the community,” Sparks explains. “If you needed to know what to do, and to grow, and where to go, you went to the Brainwash. The staff there was wonderful, the people were nice. They really took good care of me. It was like my family. I mean, c’mon, I spent nineteen years with them.”

 

In December 2017, BrainWash abruptly shut down. The cafe had been struggling to deal with a decline of customers caused by a large construction project next door. It closed with no fanfare, just a note on the locked door. It had been in business for more than thirty years.

The comedy community has been reeling ever since. There are other places that hold open mics in the city, of course, but none of them with the frequency that BrainWash did. Stoehr and other comedians describe the scene as “decentralized.”

“There was a huge gap, a void that opened up once BrainWash shut down,” Billy Catechi, manager of the bar Il Pirata, says. “That was a real shame. The place was one-of-a-kind.”

For the past twelve years, Il Pirata hosted monthly stand up shows. After BrainWash closed, said Catechi, Il Pirata decided to turn their monthly shows into weekly events. They asked Tony Sparks to host. The shows have been running every Thursday since early February.

Il Pirata sits on the corner of 16th Street and Potrero Avenue. Around 5 p.m. on a Thursday evening, Catechi brings a couple rows of chairs into the cleared-out lounge space and assembles a short wooden stage. In the room are several large booths, a spotlight, and a sound station with mixing boards and a big bank of speakers. This is the setup for the evening showcase of more established Bay Area comedians, which starts at 8 p.m.

Until then, there’s open mic out on the patio. The prep work for this event is less elaborate. Catechi pulls one table back a couple feet then plops a mic and speaker in front of the Jack Daniels dartboard. Mere feet away, traffic barrels by on 16th Street.

One-by-one, the comics come in and sign up for their four minutes behind the mic. Everyone who performs that night is a veteran of the process. Many of them know one another from the BrainWash. They mingle out on the patio until Sparks arrives just before six o’clock to kick the night off.

In addition to Il Pirata, Sparks also hosts a regular Monday night show (along with free pizza and videogames) at Milk Bar on Haight Street. The gigs he runs now don’t come close to matching the sense of camaraderie of BrainWash. Still, he continues to host shows, passionate about preserving venues for burgeoning comics to perform.

“What else am I gonna do?” Sparks says. “I’m an old man. I been doing this since I was 16 years old. I don’t know anything else to do.”

An open mic can be a brutal thing. A show is the only place for an aspiring comedian to hone new material. So they go out on a weekday night and try out their budding jokes in front of an audience made up mostly, if not entirely, of fellow comedians.

“There’s a lot of open mics where there’s no audience, there’s just other comics who have already seen most of your jokes,” comedian Travis Thielen shares. “And you only have a couple new things, so it can feel kind of disheartening.”

At Il Pirata, some do better than others. One comic’s tale about hiding pot from his parents as an adult garners some earnest chuckles, while another’s rant about millenials falls flat. Admittedly, the latter scenario is more common.

This is why the geniality of Tony Sparks is such a key to the success of the night. Even when he delves into darker personal topics, there is a buoyancy to him. Sparks has a way of delivering jabs that feel like both a roast and encouragement.

During a recent show at Milk Bar, Sparks addressed a comic who had just performed a set that was met with silence from the audience. The main factor for the icy response, perhaps, was a complete lack of discernible jokes anywhere in the routine.

“That was beautiful, although I didn’t understand shit you was saying,” Sparks said as he took back the mic. “Don’t feel bad. The rest of them,” he gestured toward the audience, “they were ignoring you very openly.” Then he turned on the audience: “You guys are bullies. He poured his heart out and you shit all over him.”

The ribbing is anything but discouraging. Comedian Tammy Clarke works at open mics and with Sparks to hone her craft. In August she will be opening for shows headlined by comedian and actress Mo’Nique.

“Honestly, I’ve gotten nothing, but love and support in this comedy sector,” Clarke says. “It feels good.”

The moment each comedian finishes their set, Sparks belts out an enthusiastic “Yaaaay!” and prods the room to break into another round of applause. When a brand-new comic comes up, Sparks leads the audience in a short chant of “lots of love” to build up the energy in the room.

“Sometimes there’s one thing that you do in life that just makes you so fucking happy,” Sparks explains. “When I host these shows, or when I get on stage, I’m so happy. I’m so incredibly happy. I have so much fun.”

Still, there’s no filling in the hole that the loss of the BrainWash created in Sparks’s life. His discontent about living in San Francisco hasn’t abated in the nearly three decades of his residency.

“I don’t trust the city, I don’t like it,” Sparks admits. “I don’t like the people. I hate everything about it. Everything. The only thing I loved about it is gone; that was the BrainWash.”

Sparks says he has gotten invitations from venues in other cities to go create his own BrainWash-type establishment. Still, there is something that, for now, keeps him in San Francisco.

As the open mic wraps up at Il Pirata, Sparks thanks everyone for coming out and congratulates them on their performances. Then he goes inside, hops up on the stage, and launches into his next comedy showcase.

Starving for Grades

“Hey guys, should I go broke and buy food? Or should I go hungry during class?” Someone behind me proposed.
No answer. Just footsteps beside him as they exited the Humanities Building.

“GUYS. Should I buy food or go hungry?” he demanded. After a couple of moments he grumbled to himself, and parted from the group.

I understood this student’s “hangry” frustrations. I wake up and scramble to get to class on an empty tank. As the day goes on, I regret not packing that banana with me to have it as “lunch.” Though I do have some money to spend on food at the student store, I often experience buyer’s remorse for spending more than three dollars on a package of Pop-Tarts.
I am one of thousands of students in college dealing with food insecurity, in addition to trying to maintain an organized adult life. Recent studies conducted by the California State University system concludes that 41.6 percent of students in the system have reported that they are experiencing food insecurity. But it doesn’t stop there.

A closer look at this statistic reveals that this number is divided between two categories: 20 percent reported they are experiencing low food security, while the rest of the 21.6 percent have reported really low food security.
Food insecurity and hunger are not the same. According to the USDA, low food insecurity is described as “reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.”

So schools are just starting to figure out we are all starving and we suck at eating healthy. What else is new.

Upon transferring to San Francisco State University from a small cozy town, I realized how much I took food for granted. I never noticed how much my parents shelled out to buy food for my family.

The first time I went to the grocery store, I was stoked. I went down the shiny aisles at Costco, filling my cart with whatever my heart desired, as well as eggs and orange juice to make an effort to stay healthy. But as I saw the items add to the total during checkout, I felt my wallet shrink with each scanned item.

Shit. Not only was I tight on cash afterwards, but at this rate I would have to figure out how to eat less to make ends meet.

Some of us have heard the phrase “Freshman 15,” meaning gaining fifteen or more pounds as a common result of going away to college during the first year. However, this isn’t about getting fat. The bigger picture is poor nutrition amongst the student population.

Rather than having Mom’s hearty home cooked meals to satisfy that pang during dinner time, it is usually suppressed with something small grabbed on the way to class or something cheap.

“So- I see a lot of Starbucks,” reported Wanda Siu-Chan, Dietetic Internship director and lecturer at SF State. She states that there is little nutritional value in drinks like boba or coffee, so allocating that money towards something more wholesome like soup, will give you much more energy than a temporary caffeine high. “I hope that people are eating rather than just drinking their lunch.”

In LA, I never spent much more than five dollars buying street food. With meals costing an average between eight and sixteen dollars in San Francisco, it makes spending four dollars on a bag of chips worth putting off my hunger that way instead of “treating myself” to a meal out in the city.
Skipping meals seems harmless at first, but this habit can have long term effects besides lack of energy or not being able to focus in class.

“We [dietitians] see some of the obesity- hunger paradox, where people are maybe eating enough calories or excess calories but not the nutritious ones.” Wanda explained. She pointed out that student stores have a variety of sugary and salty snacks that are full of empty calories that can contribute to weight gain. “So over the long term, those [eating habits] can increase risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.”

The picture of malnutrition varies, just as eating habits vary. “Alot times when we think of malnutrition, we think ‘underweight and very thin’,” Wanda commented. “But malnutrition just means ‘poor nutrition’. You can be over nourished in some ways, and under in others”

With college students reporting their current experiences with food insecurity, they are starting to become a growing “at risk” population. So how did we get here?

 

A further look into the CSU Basic Needs Initiative reported that the combined top reason why students are struggling with food is we are broke, and we do not know how to cook. Brilliant.

The 70.4 percent that fall into this category gave the following reasons for being food-insecure:

  • 31.1 percent don’t have access to desirable food
  • 19.2 percent were unable to prepare a well-balanced meal
  • 10.2 percent forgot to eat
  • 10.2 percent were dieting

As much as I needed to eat, I hated going to the grocery store. Since I was getting accustomed to the city life, I wasn’t working, and so I pulled twenty dollars here and there to pay for the basic fridge staples.

Whenever I spoke on the phone with my mom, I avoided talking about what I ate because it was upsetting to know I was totally letting myself down. I did not think moving away would be like this. The hunger just added to the feeling of being homesick.

My mom, for as long as I can remember had always gotten up earlier than I did, and made me breakfast, had my lunch ready, and dinner on the table after a long day at school. It was not until I started trying to cook for myself that I realized how endless a mother’s love can be.

Finally, I fessed up to her that I was tired of eating the same cereal every morning, packing peanut butter and jellies, and choosing either chicken or beef to go with my rice.

“Mija, apply for food stamps,” my mom pressed. “There’s no shame in it. It’s there to help you pay for food. Your aunt has one.” She had been pushing for me to apply since I moved to San Francisco, but this was before I realized how much buying groceries would eat away at my savings. I just didn’t think I would need it.

The Human Services building in San Francisco is much like the DMV, with the exception of the metal detector. When you enter you grab a number, sit with a bunch of annoyed people, and wait until your number is called.

The first time I went, I had to gather documents I never heard of before, which made me nervous. Once I sat with my caseworker, fortunately I was eligible except for one little thing. I was not working the minimum of twenty hours a week or part of the work-study program on campus.

What the fuck.

My heart sank. How was I supposed to find a job right now or figure out if I can be a work-study student?

I thanked the case worker, and left the beige building defeated. When I called my mom and told her I was rejected, there was nothing she could say because, she didn’t know what to do from there. I was on my own to figure this out.

I took in the big skyscrapers around me and could not help but feel so small. My health was a bigger concern, so there was no way in hell I was going to keep paying for my food. I was simply a few hoops away from getting what I needed to become eligible.

After a series of emails with student services on campus and submitting more paperwork, I was given the thumbs up for work-study. Within that same week, I was practically skipping down to the Human Services building assured that would be the day I would get approved.

To my surprise, I received not actual stamps, but a plastic card that looked like an ordinary debit card that I could spend at places where it was accepted. So I was not limited to grocery stores like Safeway but, I could go to Costco again with some piece of mind that my wallet would suffer no more.

Studies show that less than half of CSU students are eligible to receive food stamps after factoring in dependency status, household data, federal work rule, and exemptions. Although there is a small number of students that qualify, 39.5 percent have never heard of this service, while 19.6 percent were convinced that it did not apply to them.

Max Schroder, President of the Student Dietetic Association at SF State took it upon herself last semester to help students apply for CalFresh, a federal program formerly known as “food stamps” that helps people with paying for groceries.

“I would actually do the application for them,” Max informed. By taking students information over the phone, the process of applying was reduced to just waiting on a phone call. “Just that extra push of having someone do it for you is signing a lot more students up.”

The service has changed since then and people can no longer directly call and help students on campus. So students must find out on their own time, if they are eligible.

Unbeknownst to a lot of students, there are other ways to receive help with buying groceries. Reports from the CSU system state that about half of the students either did not know that their campus had a food pantry or that information was not offered.

“Students were the ones to figure out they were hungry, not the school system.” commented Horace Montgomery, the programs and services director of Associated Students Inc. at SF State.

Every Monday about two thousand pounds of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other random goodies like cracker jacks or waffle cones are delivered to SF State’s Pop-Up Food Pantry by the SF Marin Food Bank.

Food pantries are a relatively new thing, however Associated Students members had their student body in mind when it came to health. “What do you call food insecurity at the time? They just want to be able to help their students” Horace answered.

Before the food pantry, there was the beginning of the AS all-organic farmers market established twelve years ago by Jeremy Nicoloff, a graduate representative on the board of AS. “He was hell-bent on nutrition and the importance of how we were able to eat and that affects how we learn,” Horace recalled.

Jeremy had gone out of his way to purchase a license to operate a farmer’s market on campus, as well as make it all organic.

“That was the first time that AS noticed that food was important to the education of this campus,” Horace added.

The idea of a pantry was introduced by Associated Student President, Phoebe Dye back in 2016, and the goal was to give students in need accessibility to fresh food. Once they partnered up with the local food bank they were able to launch in spring of 2017. Now having just completed a year of servicing students in February, their numbers have gone from 50 students to over 200 being served about twenty pounds of food.

Although students come and leave, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes that is incorporated into making this program successful.

“How do we figure out what need is?” questioned Horace. With some planning, a survey was created that is filled out when people sign up to self-report their needs.

Kevin Tan, a twenty-year-old biochemistry and Chinese double major, had just started using the food pantry this semester. With fruits and vegetables being so expensive, this service has made an impact on his savings as well as his overall eating habits.

“Before the food pantry I used to skip out on breakfast,” said Tan. “Right now the food pantry gives out some really neat snacks where I can actually eat some right before class starts.”
For Horace, fighting food insecurity through providing is only the beginning of the battle against hunger. “It’s a real thing,” Horace concurred. “It’s going to take a long-term effort, and a multi-pronged effort. The food pantry to me is just one way”

He believes that it is not enough to simply provide the food, because some students don’t know how to cook.

“I think we are only doing half of it,” admitted Horace. “Providing you all this stuff, but if you don’t know how to cook a damn Brussel sprout then who cares how nutritious it is, you didn’t get to eat it!”

We laughed at the thought of how much people struggle to cook the simplest things, but this is the reality of it.

In my short couple of years living in SF, I have seen some interesting alternatives to cooking. I thought back to my roommate who tried to cook a plain old potato by microwaving it in water, but then took it out and placed in the oven first without preheating it. She waited about an hour before it was done cooking.

And then there was my roommate a year and a half ago who got too lazy to cook what she had in the fridge–that is if you consider heating frozen food “cooking”—and decided to eat a whole bag of cuties for dinner.

Good lord, do we need knowledge more than ever.

Food pantry volunteer, and a member of Student Dietetic Association, Rebbeca Wan helps students get creative with the choices they’re given at the pantry.

“I share recipes on how to cook these items, and not just using one item per dish,” she mentioned. “Kind of variate it to not just make it lunch everyday, but you can make it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

The conclusive page of the CSU Basic Need Initiatives carries a list of what needs to be done in order to improve the current hunger situation on campus. One big point is to basically utilize our on-campus resources more until they come up with a long-term solution.

Well, thanks for shining the light on the obvious for fifty-three pages in a row.

The bottom line is that getting food is not enough, spreading knowledge of how we can eat, and eat better, is one of the few ways to fight off hunger, and conversely food waste.

“We have gone and said ‘hey providing this fresh stuff for you. This is important to eat this fresh stuff—but you don’t know how to prepare it.” acknowledged Horace. “We need to find ways to get to their level so they understand where we’re trying to go with it.”

With the help of others actively sharing tips or helping cook we can prevent malnourishment in students and enlighten people, like my roommate, on how to properly cook a potato.

The Fight for Africana Studies

“We have to fight for everything we have in addition to the scholarship itself.” Dr. Ifetayo Flannery talks about one of the ways Africana Studies is such a unique discipline.

Fighting for rights and acceptance is no new concept to African Americans, or the achievements they work for the benefit of their culture.

Africana Studies has not been given a break in the fight to exist and to stay above water here at San Francisco State University and throughout the world.

Dr. Ifetayo Flannery is an Atlanta born professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University. Stoked about teaching on the same campus that 50 years ago created the very first Ethnic Studies concentration, Flannery reminds students in each class session that they’re in for a treat this semester.

As an undergraduate at Georgia State University, Dr. Flannery was encouraged to take an Africana studies class and according to her, “That one class had fundamentally changed so much.” From that point on, then Maria Flannery, started on an important journey.

“I learned that I wasn’t thinking on my own behalf as much as I thought I was.”

Flannery described one of the reasons that Africana studies appealed to her.

“To be able to understand who I actually was as an African American in the larger context, as an African person in the world, and all the contributions that people had made for me and others based on my lineage, shifted everything else.”

Africana Studies, once known as Black Studies, was the aftermath of civil rights movements in the Bay Area that eventually boiled over right onto our campus. Civil rights encouraged a broader perspective and a new way of thinking.

“The American story was different, my identity was different, how I perceived others was different, how I perceived problems and solutions in community was completely different based off my exposure to information that was actually coming from the Afrocentric perspective.” Ifetayo explains, reflecting on the  the previously stated perspective through the lens of Africana studies.

“Without Africana Studies I’d probably, no, I’d definitely be a completely different person.”

Dr. Flannery reflects on her journey, “My exposure to Africana studies influenced my success and my choices about graduate level education all the way up to terminal degrees, the PHD.”

In summary, the University of Kansas explains, “What is Africana Studies?”

In their statement, “Black Studies, or Africana Studies more broadly, is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to studying and understanding the experiences of African people and African-descended people across the Diaspora.”

K-12 programs teach history through one general perspective, that being the Eurocentric perspective. The University of Kansas’ African and African American Studies added, “…the goal of Africana Studies was to transform higher education… altering traditional curricula limited by Eurocentric paradigms.”

Those same paradigms were challenged in a boycott that shut down SF State for five months just 50 years ago. SF State’s current Africana Studies department chair, Dr. Dawn-Elissa Fischer, highlighted the battle fought right here on campus.

“We (Africana Studies Department) were born out of the longest student strike in history on a four year university campus.”

Although we are approaching the 50 year mark of the concentration, maintaining and expanding has been an ongoing conflict. Throughout Flannery’s higher education, she has observed the ups and downs of the concentration.

“Scholars in Africana Studies tend to have to work harder…” she pointed out, “We’re a very select group of people who tend to be extraordinarily committed and constantly bombarded with racism, underfunding, always threatened with reduction, offerings, all the things that you could imagine that people in other departments are not familiar with, particularly at the graduate level.”

In addition to underfunding at campuses out of state and the universities Flannery has attended, issues of underfunding and reductions occur here at SF State.

Dr. Fischer uncovered background from the 2016 hunger strike here at SFSU.

“It was essential for us to be able to hire Flannery; previous to professor Flannery’s employment with our University, we lost many professors; due to death, retirement, or leaving for another job.”

“Late March into April, even into May, I still wasn’t certain if I was going to receive the job officially because of a sudden budget crisis when it came to hiring two new hires.” Dr. Flannery reflects on the issues behind the hunger strike.

Although a number of professors were leaving the department, a balance was not created in the number of faculty members coming into the program. Fischer pointed out, “had we not been able to hire Dr. Flannery, we would’ve been without that faculty line… these are our permanent faculty lines and if they are not replaced when faculty members die, then it is an assault on the department and it is a disservice to students’ degree completion.”

 

So the students went on a hunger strike…

Although Flannery was not in San Francisco, during the hunger strike, she recalls, “…people had to protest, people wrote letters all the way up to the chancellor’s office about my hire, so it’s not a normal hire.”

“It’s definitely in the tradition of black studies,” she says excitedly. “Having to fight for any and every resource and expansion that we have. So it’s my great honor that they won…”

 

…We win.

 

The battle was once again fought, and more importantly, it was won.

“Africana studies is so important to me.” Flannery expressed. “It touches me at the core level. To me it has meant a freedom, a liberation of the spirit of the consciousness of myself and other people. Africana studies means better lifestyles, enlightenment, liberation to all African people, and by extension, people all over the world.”

 

Dr. Ifetayo M. Flannery is a marker of the Africana Studies discipline. Having double majors as an undergrad, focusing in psychology and African American Studies. She went on to earn her Master’s in Africana Studies and most astoundingly, she earned her PHD at the first campus to offer such a high degree in Africology, Temple University of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Fischer shared her appreciation of Dr. Flannery.

“We are very lucky to have professor Flannery, her PhD is in Africology and African American studies from Temple, therefore she is an example of the triumph of this discipline.”

Dr. Flannery shared her own appreciation of her position here at SF State by confessing, “I’m so grateful to be here and the significance is that, San Francisco State is ground zero for black studies, it is the institution that created the first black studies department in the world and in the academy.”

She concluded her reflection by saying, “It’s a dream, it’s an honor, and we had to fight for me to be here so I don’t take it for granted at all.”

Letter from the Editor

As a journalist, as a writer, you get used to the questions. Constant, prying, queries.

 

Who are you? Who do you work for? Where are you from? What did you do today?

Why does your voice matter? Who are you to tell me what to think?

Do you trust yourself?

 

If you take these questions, and examine them at their core- these are the thoughts that haunt us all. They are insecurities about our self worth, about the value of each individual thought. They are not bad questions to ask, but they aren’t necessarily direct. These questions provide solace from the qualms of being truly human, and to question everything- as well as ourselves.

As a publication, however, we are not here to answer that particular set of questions.

Instead, we would like to offer you a proposition: you ask, and we will answer.

 

Those curious about Veteran Healthcare in the United States, we will answer.

The filmophile who breathes for the freedom of film, we will answer.

For those who live for musical nostalgia, we will answer.

To the paw protectors, the Dogs’ best friends, we will answer.

Lovers of the spoken words and velvet curtains, we will answer.

The students who are struggling with the hull of university stress, we will answer.

For those who have gone through hell and back, we will answer.

 

XPRESS is a multifaceted, diverse, literary conglomeration of news and culture. We are writers who are defining our voices, writing for students who are finding their voices.

And what we ask of you, our readers, is the opportunity to be your eyes, your ears. To transport, to educate, to uncover.

We are here for you, and cannot wait for this new adventure.

Thank you.

 

Editor-in-Chief 

Xpress Magazine

Align the Body, Detach from Stress & Conquer Anxiety

The clock lingers at 1:49,  the deep breath before students are finally granted their freedom. It is the last class of the day and the only thing that sounds bearable is just, getting outside. Whether a windy trip down to Ocean Beach, or a hike at Fort Funston, located just across from Lake Merced. The sun is beating down during the San Francisco heat in the middle October. Blood pumping and fresh air sounds like the only thing that can relieve the pressure of school.

Classes are starting to get out of control with non-stop papers and uncomfortable presentations in front of groups of eighty odd students floating in the same boat as you in the abyss of stress.

Passing by people walking their dogs or flying their model airplanes, it seems they have their lives all together which feels like a slap in the face with all of the stress from school. However, the smell of the ocean and autumn leaves counteracts this effect. Finally having some time alone to think while walking up through the old army base covered in colorful graffiti, an eye-catching hole in the fence near the edge of the hiking trail starts to infect the mind with curiosity.

“It seems silly, but this hole in the fence changed my perspective on life and how to go about it,” chuckled Nick Marnocha, a 23-year-old business major at San Francisco State University. “I seemed to have stumbled upon what would be my sanctuary for the rest of my semester and the next.”

Marnocha steps through the rusted fence thinking nothing of it as he starts to creep down the side of the cliff until he reaches a steady platform of sand, salted rocks, and a patch of sea foam green grass just the perfect size for Marnocha to sit on and gaze out on the uninterrupted masses of blue. This is where water meets the sky. The Pacific Ocean rolled in and out creating intricate designs of white water marks grazing the shore and after a few moments of cloud surfing he shuts his eyes. Marnocha began to meditate for the first time in his ripe age of 23.

“I just began to breath and listen to the ocean, the wind and the birds,” Marnocha said with a smirk. “I thought I was sitting there for about ten minutes, but when I finally opened my eyes almost an hour had slipped by my mind. It felt amazing and helped me from that moment on to always stay present with what I am doing in school–or anything for that matter.”

According to a French study done last year in January by the Frontiers of Psychology, who took a total of 483 students and ran tests on their mental health and stress levels, they found that 79% of them were suffering or showing signs of anxiety, depression, as well as low self-esteem and little optimism.

“I believe in pronoia,” explained Christopher James a  graphic design major. “It’s just the opposite of paranoia where your perspective includes the universe always being in your favor with what you do in life, no matter how much it doesn’t seem like it’s going your way. This helps me with my stress, since I know whatever I do has a beneficial reason for what I am trying to accomplish.”

Be that as it may, factors of stress are not all as tangible as one would assume because there is something in our body that everyone has, but is frequently forgotten.

“Energy, like with chakras, can also be thought of like the flow of electrons traveling through the nervous system. I don’t truly believe in chakras, but I do think it is a helpful way for people to understand how to deal with stress,” explained Mark Wilson, graduate of Cognitive Science from SF State. “Similar to a chemical imbalance in the brain, I could see where chakras and their concept are very much alike.”

Indeed, we are living, but more than that, there is a life force within in us that has everything and everyone connected. Unfortunately, for the freaks and the geeks, we’re not talking about Star Wars and lifting rocks, but something less extreme, or even more impressing, depending on whom you talk to. Our bodies have energy coursing through us at all times, like snow melting from a mountain, turning into water. This water rushes down the streams and rivers for which, we drink, as snow again builds on top of that same mountain. It is truly a circular pattern that connects one to the top of this mountain.

“What helps with the flow of energy being transferred through our bodies does have to do with seven chakras located in different areas, including the mind,” Mya Ranngi explained, who has been based in West Portal as a spiritual consultant and adviser for over five years. “People who go through traumatic experiences or large amounts of stress are highly likely to block one of their chakras, which in the end creates blockage for the other six.”

Let’s take the analogy of the water flowing from the mountain again and compare it to one of the many students at SF State struggling with stress from their full time schedule. A massive tree falls from the side of the stream and ends up blocking a part of the river and begins to back-up all the “energy” that started from the top of the mountain. This resembles the stress of a test, or a roommate that you just can’t seem to get along with, and this can slowly intoxicate your body.

“Depending on what one is experiencing will affect a specific chakra. The first chakra is the root chakra at the base of the spine,” Ranngi noted.

Like any teachings of mindfulness, energy is similar, but also different in every single sentient being that lives on our planet. There is no direct way in finding out what will mostly benefit you on relieving stress, and theories range among thousands of different techniques.

“I don’t know too much about chakras, I’ve been going to a specialist for acupuncture ever since I graduated from SF State”, Campus Counselor Jenna Tomsky insisted, who gained her diploma in 2014. “My specialist has spoken to me about energy flowing through the body and how blockage is a main cause of stress as well.”

So where can find the other locations to the remaining six chakras?

“Moving up to the sacral chakra right below the navel, the solar plexus chakra in the stomach, the heart chakra in the chest, the throat chakra, the third eye chakra in the forehead, and finally the crown chakra at the top of the head,” Ranngi listed. “Emotions are extremely influential to all these areas and having control of your emotions is a huge step in gaining balance from within.”

Physical health is important, but with all the stress us students face, it’s just as important to keep yourself balanced with the energy flowing through your body, so that massive trees don’t clog up the water traveling down the mountain.

San Francisco State’s Dedicated Thespians

Everyone will always tell you to “do what you love”.

Whether it’s to be a tax attorney or Instagram model, someone will make sure to tell you to get a job that never seems like work. The students of the San Francisco State University Theater and Dance department live by this motto, and exemplify what it means to pursue passion, and wave away the confines of a mundane nine to five.

In the middle of campus sits the creative arts building, a treasure trove of performance spaces and thespians working to to master their craft.

“Our students are really open to constructive criticism, getting better, and checking their egos at the door.” says associate professor Laura Wayth.

Professor Wayth has been tasked with directing the department’s spring production of Hair, the revolutionary, counter-culture musical depicting the turbulent times of the Vietnam, hippie era.

According to department director, Todd Roehrrman, “This department always specifically chooses productions that looks at what’s happening in the world currently and speak to what’s going on socially and politically. Hopefully our productions hold a mirror up  to our audiences and ask them to examine what’s going on in their own world.”

Though the department is eager and excited to premier their production, there is a shadow cast upon this joyous occasion.

During the winter recess, one of the department’s most beloved and skilled professors, Mohammad Kowsar, passed away.

Dr. Kowsar was a seasoned actor and professor, having earned his PhD in acting from Cornell and having taught at San Francisco State for 30 years.

Kowsar was noted for his passionate teaching methods and love for theater and students.

“My office was directly across where he taught the Theater Backgrounds history class,” explained Professor Wayth. “Sometimes I would be sitting at my computer, typing, and ask myself ‘What is going on in there?’ He would be shouting, singing, and standing on his desk, it was really amazing. I would always sit here and think ‘I want to take that class!’”

Even without the presence of Professor Kowsar, the community of the theater and dance department is still lively and still looks forward to what they have in store for the future

 

The San Francisco State Production of Hair is set to premier in the Little Theater April 26th

Veterans Find Little Help on the Home Front

In 2014 there was a big scandal at one of the VA Hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona. The staff there were accused of falsifying appointment records to make it look as though patients were properly meeting their doctor within two weeks of their appointments. The F.B.I. and an internal investigation showed that the hospital had operated maliciously by lying about appointment wait times, and forty patients are said to have died waiting.

“When the news of a VA in Phoenix, Arizona first came out I remember my coworkers and I to be very shocked,” says Claudette Araula, who is a registered nurse at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “We were already overworked and constantly understaffed because we could not get new staff due to budget issues and another VA was trying to earn more budget by manipulating information.”

Together, veterans and nurses are saying that the Veterans Affairs needs to make changes in order to insure that wait times and access to their hospitals are up to standard. Not all veterans use their VA hospital because most are still young, live far away from one of the 170 medical centers in the country, and some veterans opt for private healthcare through their work.

It’s true that hospitals had financial incentives to decrease wait times from the administration, and falsifying those reports left some veterans and nurses to question the integrity of the system at the time. While there was good being done to make veterans feel welcomed and have their needs met, there was a possible schism.

In 1968 Earle Conklin, a United States Army veteran who fought during the Vietnam War, enlisted and traveled the world. Today he is retired and lives in Portland, Oregon. He was one of the originators of the “Take the Rock Veteran Swim Challenge” event, which is a combined swim meet that prepares veterans and their families to swim from Alcatraz to the beach. This is one of the joys Earle has after retirement, and he laughs at people who think it’s too cold to swim.

Healthcare, Earle iterates, has changed a lot since the 1960s. Communication and technology then was not as streamlined or as fast as it is now. While Earle remembers working in helicopters and helping soldiers get out of harm’s way and to medical assistance, he realizes how different the struggle is for him and his peers to find the best healthcare.

He stresses that “it is more of a question of economics than politics. Politicians will use this for politics.” Earle continues to express what a terrible situation 2014’s VA scandal was, and laments by saying, “I don’t know if it’s ever been cured.”

“Some of them, not all of them, are in it for themselves. A few people at the senior level of Veterans Affairs gained the system for only personal gain. And this happens in banking too and what you see happening at Wells Fargo creating fake accounts for profit,” shared Earle.

In response to the 2014 scandal, Congress implemented the Choice Program, which offered patients assistance with transportation and even helped patients find a hospital close to them.

“The choice program is actually a good idea,” stated Claudette. “We have several vets who live very far away from any VA facility and can’t travel by themselves and this program helps them connect to a specialist or primary doctor faster, but it needs to be better regulated. I have heard vets complaining that the MDs they go to try to ‘make money off the VA’ by sending them to specialist of getting test the do not need. Wait times today is still long due to having to many vets and not enough VA facilities and staff.”

The Choice Program, which can help patients find private doctors, has already exhausted its funds twice since August of last year and Congress provided 2.1 billion dollars of emergency funding for both incidents.

There is a mixed response about the program and towards any privatization of services that are offered by Veterans Affairs. The problem some have is that the Choice Program would take away monies that would be appropriated to Veterans Affairs.

Michael Blecker is the executive director at Swords to Plowshares, a non-profit group that specializes in the counseling, housing, and job training of veterans, and he cannot be more clear about what he sees as an attempt by President Trump’s administration to privatize healthcare.

“The V.A. shouldn’t pay them for private care and I worry about the veterans in the VA who are seeing money being taken away.” Michael expressed. “Right now the Choice Program is taking 200 to 400 million dollars a month in funding.”

Michael has his own opinion on the scandal that happened at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix. Although it was sad, he thought the scandal was blown way out of proportion and used by some to vilify Veterans Affairs while creating the Choice Program in response to the outcry.

“Money shouldn’t be diverted from the VA but the media and others got it twisted.” Michael continues to say that the news coverage about how patients were dying waiting for their appointments was sensationalized.

Veterans and nurses like Michael and Claudette both praise how healthcare has stepped forward to treat those with post-traumatic stress and depression, even if they were a veteran who never experienced combat.

“We provide service to vets from WWII, Korean, Vietnam war- during these times mental health was not a main concern when the vets retired – they are our sickest patients and at times with multiple chronic illness,” Claudette explains. “The focus on mental health started more during the Iraq and Afghanistan War, this patient population are hit most with the wait times and connecting them with primary physicians. There are also those vets that are from non combat times.”

Michael sees better preparation happening for the veterans who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. He especially sees that colleges like San Francisco State University and student veterans are starting clubs on campus for veterans.

He views these outlets as one of the best ways to return service people to finding the resources while seeking higher education. Again, he says the awareness of the stress that this population experiences has been more proactive than it was in the 1980s. He still is weary about the funding from Congress to the VA and about what he sees as money being taken away by The Choice Program. He also sees that responsibility falling on the current presidency.

“I am disheartened by what the Trump administration is doing“,” Michael lamented. “It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

Richard Hui is both a Marine veteran and a registered nurse at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He knows both how to be a patient and a caregiver, and also sees a lacking of available hospitals.

“You can tell by the wait times,” Richard explains. “Palo Alto and San Francisco’s medical centers for veterans are very busy. Every time I pass by there I see it’s very packed. With long lines I can say there needs to be more hospitals.”

He’s familiar with wait times and how they often happen. Sometimes, he says, a patient will come in scheduled to be treated for one problem, but when the patient sees their doctor they can also say they are needing other treatment for other conditions they have. This is a common scenario that can increase wait times.

Richard details that appointments are sectioned, but that the appointments are not timed, however, fifteen minutes is sort of the average goal he says is given to each patient, and of course he says no one is turned away because they may have more problems after walking into the doctor’s office.

“I have the greatest respect for the physicians, and all the negative news we hear is usually about the administrators,” Army veteran Earle Conklin argues. “The care is exemplary, and it’s high quality.”

“As far as now, a lot of the Vietnam veterans, because of our age, are dying off,” Barry iterates “So now we’re looking at veterans after Vietnam.”

Barry never needed assistance from a VA hospital himself. Like many others he found healthcare provided through his work. As a San Francisco police officer, the department’s insurance paid for his medical treatment and the treatment for his daughter’s mitochondrial disease. He is thoughtful about the healthcare system today and only knows what he sees.

“They’re never the same when they come back. The entry back into society, you have to have a lot of counseling for veterans. And that’s expensive, so the VA is the one that has to do it,” the Army veteran affirms.

life goes on;

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section mentions suicide, which may be triggering to survivors.

Cocktails, laughter, friends and movies. Everything about the night was typical and telling of a girls night in. However, there was something hidden from the light-hearted fun. What the ladies did not know was that one of their friends had been very certain about one thing at that point in time: that she was going to take her own life.

On the topic of suicide most people, who generally have no clue what it is like to have to have a mental illness, believe the easy answer is asking for help. An accusing, “Why didn’t you say anything?” commonly follows, and is often easier said than answered. The truth is that most people do not even know where to begin asking for help.

During the winter break, this is what San Francisco State University student, Farley Moore, experienced after attempting to take her own life.

Let’s just be honest here, college is hard, life is hard…  and sometimes things become too much. It’s nice to get things off your chest and vent to a close friend or family member. That was a normal occurrence for Farley and roommate Ashley Nerland.

“There was definitely talks about wanting to end things, from my point of view and from hers… I didn’t really think ‘she’s more serious than she is putting off’, no one realized that it was that serious,” Ashley explains.

To those who are unfamiliar with mental illness, who have not personally struggled or known a friend or family member who dealt with this daily, often wonder what it takes to get to this point. And truthfully, there is no concrete answer. It depends on the person.

According to National Data on Campus Suicide and Depression, a study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among twenty to twenty-four-year-olds. And more than sixty percent of people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. However, that was not Farley’s case.

“It was more like giving up as opposed to depression building up over time,” Farley elaborates, while sitting comfortably on her bed with her legs crossed.

Farley, like many, experiences intense anxiety. Things began to take a turn when an ex-boyfriend reached out to her, saying that he wasn’t going to speak to her again, after making it seem like they were on the road to getting back together at the beginning of December.

“When I have anxiety I don’t eat, I feel like I can’t breathe and my stomach hurts,” Farley explains. “I get panic attacks, my palms are sweaty and I just can’t focus on anything else.”

A study by the American Psychological Association says that anxiety is a top concern among college students with forty-one percent affected, and depression is second in line with thirty-six percent.

 

“When it comes to anxiety there is more to it than people realize; it stems back to the earliest stages when we’re beginning to make different attachment bonds,” explains Nadine Agosta, a Childhood Development professor.

Her earliest memories of anxiousness began as early as eight-years-old, and involved traveling with her mom, who had a tendency to get upset when things did not go right or if given a wrong direction by mistake.

“…if your caregiver doesn’t make you feel good, it can lead to an insecure attachment, thus leaving a child to question ‘what’s wrong with me?’” Agosta continues.

“From there… it just spiraled,” Farley says looking off into the distance.

The anxiety resulted in four consecutive days of no food, eventually just over thirty pounds lost in two weeks, and a feeling of complete and utter hopelessness.

“I didn’t really know how to ask for help, so this was sort of my cry for help,” Farley takes a deep breath.

Ashley eventually contacted 911 after Farley admitted that she had been continually throwing up all night not from going too hard with the drinking, but from mixing numerous pills, such as hydrocodone and Prozac, with alcohol.

Fast forward and Farley is in the company of many adults who suffer from extreme mental illness that keep them from interacting with society at Mills Peninsula Health Center in Burlingame.

“Farley did not belong there, was my first thought,” Ashley recalls.

Being just one year over the age limit meant that she could not be in the youth area, which she felt would have been more her speed.

Fast forward a couple of days and Farley is out of psychiatric care and is set to have therapy meetings that would determine if she would need long or short-term care.

Following her being able to leave the hospital, both Farley and her friend Ashley got matching tattoos of a semicolon, which represents suicide awareness through a message that conveys life continuing.

Semicolon tattoos began in 2013 with a movement called Project Semicolon, started by a woman named Amy Bleuel. The project offers a platform for people to share their stories and aims to reduce instances of suicide all around the world. The semicolon is a symbol that illustrates where a sentence could have ended, but instead the author chose to have it continue.

Whether by finding people who relate to how you feel, seeking mental refuge in close family and friends, or professional help, the resources to help people create their own theoretical semicolons are out there.

On campus, counseling is offered Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and till 5 p.m. on Fridays. There are also various groups offered that are geared toward more specific topics: Feel Better workshops, and Self-Empowerment to name a few.

“They [social workers, and therapists at the hospital] didn’t seem understand properly and asked a lot of surface level questions,” Farley describes what it was like in the psychiatric center.

After having gone through this experience Farley is considering being an advocate for mental health, or someone who works at a psychiatric hospital instead of going to law school with her eventual Political Science degree.

“I can relate personally so I would be able to ask the right questions, ones that get to the root of the problem, whereas they are just checking for your state of mind right now.”

Some of those surface level questions included ‘rate your anxiety on a scale of one to ten?’

“Well what is a one to you, if you yourself have never experienced anxiety or mental illness?” Farley questions.

As painful as the experience was for not only her, but the people in her life, she believes that it was necessary in order to get the help that she needed.

 

 

Photography by Adelyna Tirado/Xpress Magazine

Cupid Hits Hard

Cupid Hits Hard at the 12th Annual Valentine’s Day Pillow fight at Embarcadero Plaza, SF.
Always tentative, and always fun, this event is more like a flash-mob with feathers than your typical Valentine’s Day event.

 

Photos and Video by Kyler Knox/Xpress Magazine
Edited by Janett Perez.

Vinyl’s not Dead

The albums not dead for me; I still buy vinyl albums.

Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin

 

The feeling centered around that nostalgia of unraveling the cellophane from a record, also known as a vinyl, or LP, is one of curious pleasure for many; both for past generations and more recently, the current generation. It is a feeling that has long since faded over the years, in part due to digital music downloads taking the helm.

If you want to get down to the romanticism surrounding that sentiment, just ask anyone who collects vinyl. Some will mention the obvious difference in the quality of sound, others may talk about the obsession of the album artwork fine-tuned within the artistry maintained in the confines of expression revolving around that artist. And of course, a few might tell you about the thrill of finding that deleted Kinks album, which for some is the holy grail of all LP finds.

There are over twenty-five independently owned record stores throughout the Bay Area. Each store has its own personal blend, not unlike your own neighborhood coffee shop; a place one can frequent throughout the week, hoping to sink into that broken-down couch in the back of the cafe. Or perhaps a favorite book store where hours can be spent perusing the seemingly endless bookshelves for irrevocable, unpolished bindings. The reality and similarities behind this passion is one of the many advantages of living in the Bay Area.

 

 

With the recent resurgence of vinyl, comes the sprouting of new record stores throughout the Bay Area. One of the more recent arrivals is RS94109, located in the Tenderloin, a store that’s been around for a couple years. It has spent this year remodeling and installing a bar and coffee shop.

But of all the vinyl stores throughout the San Francisco area, 101 Records has managed to maintain a more relevant and consistent customer connection, fulfilling the needs of its record-seeking and purchasing constituents. The tucked away Telegraph Hill vinyl shop has been in the city for over thirty-three years. It even succeeded to outlast the once booming International franchise, Tower Records, which used to be located a few blocks away, located on Bay Street, a fact which Christian Jung of 101 Records was not hesitant to vocalize.

Jung, being employed with 101 records for roughly eight years, has a fairly keen sense of what needs to be merchandised throughout the store, and more importantly, maintains an awareness regarding an undeniable changing of the guard within the music arena.

When first setting foot in the shop, your eyes are immediately fixated on the battered vintage musical instruments hanging from above. The outdated acoustic and electric guitars and brass instruments sway north to south, the tight squeeze single aisle with a myriad of phonographs; record players and other selections of timeless audio mechanisms, all lead to the basement of 101, a treasure trove that holds over 50,000 vinyl records, spanning from the 1920s to the present.

Jung, a fairly tall man sporting a mod look with a flat cap and goatee, is at the moment just opening the doors and resting vinyl crates on the sidewalk in the hopes of enticing onlookers to enter the shop.

Once he finished setting up the bait, we immediately broke into a dialogue, sharing thoughts about, “the state of vinyls,” the expanding number of vinyl consumers, and music in general.

I asked Jung if he noticed a spike in sales for LP’s in his store along with the current trend and interest of vinyl.

 

Christian Jung: Well in this store we’ve always sold vinyl, never CDs, but it’s been up the last year and a half probably more than before, but also because I curate and make it a little more accessible for the customers. I have more of a passion perhaps more than previous co – workers.

 

XPRESS: In your opinion, what’s the reason for the resurgence of vinyl and LP?

 

Jung: Well there’s the hipster element obviously and then there’s the people that are now aware that the sound quality is better than an MP3 any day, but they’re not comparing it with CDs. I mean if you actually had a quality CD player and a quality turntable and you compared the two, assuming you had the CD version and the same music of the original recording, yes vinyl is gonna sound better. But if the vinyl has been digitized, which now they’re doing because they don’t have the source material there, exists an ongoing debate with what will sound better. If you have a Crosley record player, know that your crossly is not gonna sound better. But it’s also the acuteness element, we don’t know if the younger generation will continue to buy music until there forty or forty-five. So the last seven years there’s been the guys and girls, the baby boomers that got rid of their vinyl collection and are now repurchasing them because either they gave the records to their kids, or the kids took them from their parents and are saying to themselves, “hey I wanna hear this the way it’s supposed sound.”

 

XPRESS: Can you talk with me about some of the audio elements surrounding that idea?

Jung: Well there’s the audio file boom and then there’s companies like MOFI Mofidelity, companies that specialize in audio files. Companies are even going so far as to redoing the sleeves and lamination on the actual vinyl, the same way they were done in the sixties.

 

XPRESS: Does that include the artwork and album artwork and décor, etc.?

Jung: Everything! It’s companies that license things, like certain jazz albums, Speakers Corners Licensed. For instance, they tackled the Riverside Catalogue, which consist of some of the sixties titles, then there’s companies like 4 Men With Beards who are based in the Bay Area. Up north you have Light in the Attic, who are also a reissue company who specialize in a lot of recordings. They track down whoever owns the rights to an album, reissue them, and possibly try and get a write up for that album. For instance, Cat Stevens is popular again, Walkman are popular again. Pop culture has an element.

 

According to statistics put together by BPI, which is a record industry council based in the United Kingdom, Billboard and Nielsen Music have shown that more than 14.5 million LPs were sold last year and sales are up by more than fifty-three percent. At the top of that list in sales is The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band, followed by The Beatles, Abbey Road, and Guardians of the Galaxy, which has sparked interest in younger listeners upon releasing the soundtrack on cassette. When mentioning this to the local record store RS94109 based in the Tenderloin, Austin, an employee, said that he was not all that surprised.

“We get all kinds of people coming in, some who have turntables others who don’t. But the ones who ask us how to operate a turntable out of sheer curiosity is always a plus,” shared Austin.

RS94019 has all of the elements of a hometown, closely-knit neighborhood record shop, attentive and knowledgeable staff, a bar and coffee shop, but most importantly the willingness to discuss each and every album spread throughout the store. The space also houses shows and events with DJs and bands coming through, along with supporting and purchasing LP’s from local artists to stack on the shelves.

With the spike in vinyl sales and having spoken to a number of record store owners and employees, there seems to be a mutual consensus. Perhaps it’s a younger generation that’s just curious about products that aren’t digitized, or maybe the possibility of hearing an analog sound storage for the first time is just too sweet to pass up. Or, if you are anything like me, the chase and likelihood of coming across a rare Janis Joplin album keeps me coming back.

Whatever the case, the curiosity across every board seems to be enticing more and more consumers to record stores, and just maybe for a few, they might come across that find that consumes them in every facet; that is what is so special about laying down a needle to vinyl.  

 

Photos by Christian Urrutia/Xpress Magazine

Freedom of Film

 

The night begins with music. On the screen, a man playing guitar transitions into a kaleidoscopic avalanche of political commentary. A cutout of the current United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, dances with a similarly non-human Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The two twirl around in dresses made of tinfoil.

The film projector stops and the whole room is plunged back into darkness. A smattering of applause, and the room collapses into animated murmurs.

During the independent film screening at the Artists Television Access building in the Mission District on Thursday night Feb. 1, 2018 (Diego Aguilar/Xpress)

The projector flashes back to life and the next film starts. It is a breakneck, dizzying travelogue through lost worlds and parallel dimensions led by the world’s worst janitor. (“It won’t be clean, but it will be done,” he says. Then, later: “By setting the mind’s equator with the distinct line of the horizon, you will become inseparable.”)

After some technical difficulties and shouting from the projection booth, the next film plays. This one is a part live action, part animated short titled “Ass Eatin’ Rock.” It features a tiered rock formation that happens to be just the right height for … well, you know. It’s sort of a surprise to see this one on the big screen. Normally it just runs on San Francisco’s public access channel.

Thus goes Open Screening night at the Artists’ Television Access gallery and microcinema in the Mission District.

ATA is a long-running collective non-profit, comprised of volunteer filmmakers, artists, and general creative types. On the first Thursday of each month, the group opens its small theater space to any and all filmmakers. There are no restrictions on genre or style, so long as each film clocks in under twelve minutes. What the pieces tend to share is an underlying desire to push boundaries. The films playing at the most recent Open Screening, on February 1, exemplify this ethos.

“We accept all films,” Arthur Johnson Weiss, an ATA volunteer and one of the evening’s showrunners announces at the top of the program. “As long as they’re not racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexual violence – none of that bullshit. As long as you’re making good things that are fun to watch.”

Arthur wears a red plaid button-up shirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal his tattooed forearms. Dark sunglasses perch on the bill of his camo baseball cap. He is a filmmaker himself, with a few experimental works under his belt. His day job involves grants management, but he declines to get more specific than that, out of fear that his films could get him fired.

“I kind of have a double life,” Arthur says. “My films deal with gay sexuality and dildos and, you know, crazy shit … I create a clear dichotomy between how I survive capitalism and the work that I make.”

The other showrunner of Open Screening is Tim Johnson. He wears a plaid shirt of his own, blue and unbuttoned to reveal a white undershirt with black lettering that reads, simply, “90’s.” Tim attends San Francisco State University, focusing on Liberal Studies.

SFSU student Tim Johnson setting film files to play during the independent film screening at the Artists Television Access building in the Mission District on Thursday night Feb. 1, 2018 (Diego Aguilar/Xpress)

He became interested in video in high school, when friends gave him a copy of “Sonic Outlaws,” a documentary film by indie filmmaker Craig Baldwin. Years later, after he moved to San Francisco, Tim searched for somewhere that embraced video art. He found ATA and decided to volunteer. When he knocked on the door, Baldwin himself answered.

Tim has volunteered with ATA for around four to five years, Arthur about a year and a half. Each month they run things in the projection booth. It’s a complicated process, as they’re constantly switching between formats, film and digital. They usually don’t know what they will be playing until someone shows up for the show with their film in hand.

“Since I’ve volunteered here, I’ve always been enthusiastic about making sure Open Screening happens, because I don’t know anything else like this,” Tim says. “Bring your work, screen it. … Bring your friends. You’re all going to watch whatever it is you came up with, and you’re going to watch what other people came up with. This is …” He looks to Arthur. “I don’t know, is it democratic?”

Arthur thinks for a second, then says, “It’s egalitarian.”

The allure of an open screening is the sense that anything can happen.

“We get a lot of folks who straddle all different genres. The common thread is that this is all artist made and all fairly experimental,” Arthur says. “It’s always weird.”

“It’s just a really cool idea,” filmmaker Dave O’Shea says. “I feel like so much of San Francisco, like the authentic, grimy underground of San Francisco, is just getting polished away.”

SFSU student Tim Johnson (left) and independent ffilm maker Arthur Johnson Weiss (right) discussing film line up during the independent film screening at the Artists Television Access building in the Mission District on Thursday night Feb. 1, 2018 (Diego Aguilar/Xpress)

O’Shea produces an irreverent comedy program for SF Commons public access channel 29 called “The Glory Hole” that airs Fridays at 11 p.m. He has been going to Open Screenings since last summer, routinely showing clips of his self-described “weirdo shit.” O’Shea is the guy to blame for the aforementioned “Ass Eatin’ Rock.”

“[Open Screening] is a cool way to meet other filmmakers and maybe get inspired and hopefully inspire other people,” O’Shea says. “It’s a very kinda open-minded vibe that I don’t see too much of anymore.”

Another filmmaker, JC Collins, has shown his films at one past Open Screening. His most recent work is “Silence,” a heartfelt, unflinchingly explicit visual essay about gay sexuality and shared longing for connection.

“[ATA] is one of the first places I sought out,” Collins says. “I think it’s a great place to get your stuff out there, test it out, see what works for you, see on the big screen.”

The production duo Boredom (Patrick Sean Gibson and Luke Lasley) premieres their music video for the song “Raindrop” by San Francisco’s own Hot Flash Heat Wave. It’s a dazzling, ’60s inspired blast of color and sound that weaves between elaborate animation and live action 16mm film footage. The two had been to open screenings before, but this is the first time they have presented a film.

“I think that the intimacy is super good for young filmmakers,” Gibson says. “ATA is legendary.”

ATA began in 1983, formed by a couple of San Francisco Art Institute students as a sort of punk art collective. Founders Marshall Weber and John Martin lived out of their converted storefront space in South of Market, before the area became trendy and the rent became impossible. Gleefully fueled by a blend of drugs and artistic fervor, the two set about creating their idealized workspace. The collective developed a following, grew in size, registered as a non-profit, and began to earn a place in the city’s cultural history.

Three years after it began, the whole place went up in flames.

After the fire, the crew relocated to 992 Valencia Street, in the Mission District. There they have remained, putting on events for the past thirty years.

Craig Baldwin has been with the organization for thirty-three years. He lives in the residential space on the third floor of the gallery and spends much of his time in the basement archives. He focuses his efforts chiefly on ATA’s Other Cinema, a regular screening of short films that is more focused and consistent than the open screenings.

Baldwin attributes ATA’s longevity to the fortitude of its members.

“It took really hardcore patience, struggle,” Baldwin says. “Ability to take hits, ability to pay a little more rent every time, ability to get ripped off from roommates when you hang out with slackers. Stuff like that. It’s really just being able to endure it.”

Audience captivated by first independent film of the night during the independent film screening at the Artists Television Access building in the Mission District on Thursday night Feb. 1, 2018 (Diego Aguilar/Xpress)

Today, the ATA building stands like a sort of anomaly, hiding in a dark crack that the surrounding shiny establishments keep forgetting to clean out.The neighbors are stores that sell two hundred dollar flannel shirts and display their selection of hats like they’re in an Apple store. The Mission has changed since ATA first came to town.

“Artist run centers like ATA are at risk in the city,” SF State art professor Paula Levine says. “The future of similar spaces and opportunities for artists are dwindling.”

Levine has a long history with ATA. She partners with the group to show student work in their gallery space, on the big screen.

Baldwin says he’s uncertain how long ATA will be able to remain in its current space. They’re halfway through a five-year lease. When it ends, there will be negotiations and an inevitable rent hike.

“I’d be broken-hearted if something happened to ATA’s space,” Tim Johnson says. “But the idea is that ATA will live on even if it’s not in the space it currently is.”

To Baldwin, the key component of ATA’s success is access to community.

“Our whole concept has to do with intercourse between the street and the place,” Baldwin says. “People have to know what’s going on and know the people and make films and come in and visit and show their work at open screenings. You know, that kind of dialogue. We’ve got that going.”

At the end of Open Screening night, after all the films have played, the lights come up and the audience mingles. Some of the filmmakers book it straight out the door and some stay to trade kudos and business cards. Eventually people filter out onto Valencia.

Tim and Arthur have gotten everything packed up. They kill the lights and lock the door behind them. Craig Baldwin is still inside somewhere, probably in the archives. Outside, the night’s showrunners chat with the few stragglers hanging out on the sidewalk. Soon, the conversation dies down and everyone goes their separate ways.

ATA’s screening room sits dark, and as the projectors cool, the space sits silent, empty; it waits patiently, for the creatives to return, and for the screen, yet again, to act as a canvas for moving art. 

Photos by Diego Aguilar/Xpress Magazine