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Culture Tantrum

Stephanie DePrez | Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Well, my dear and fluffy readers (imagine yourselves in Easter Bunny outfits), we are nearing the end. This will be the last installment of “Culture Tantrum.” What, you say? No more weekly rants from a manic, obsessive music/film amalgamation of pop culture critique and devotion? Alas, mais oui, as with all good things, it shall end, so that new life might begin (namely mine, somewhere more like Los Angeles than Indiana).

With these last inches, I would like to say thanks, point out some memorable moments and, of course, throw a few tantrums.

First off, I want to extend the heartiest of thanks to every student participating in a ROTC program. Whenever I see you wearing your issued gear or in formal suits, I am filled with pride. You make me more proud of Notre Dame and of our generation. My father is a graduate of Stanford’s Navy ROTC program, and he has requested that we attend your Commissioning Ceremony over commencement weekend. The long hours you put into training while here, and the time you have committed to serving after graduation, are a strong example of the strength and honor that should be asked of every Domer. For four years you have inspired me.

Second, I would like to thank the guy that sat on the opposite end of the dining hall table from me about a month ago. We were both eating alone, and after you put your tray down, you made the sign of the cross, were silent for a moment, and then made the sign of the cross again before eating. Your moment of completely personal prayer showed me that there’s always some good in the world, even on one of the worst days of my semester.

Next, I want to say that the black posts are ugly and useless and I have spent the year going out of my way to walk on the grass because I am incensed that anyone would think it worthwhile to put up physical barriers where there has been a communal decision to create a footpath.

I want to thank the Waddicks community for hosting me and my wily band of academic misfits every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the past year and a half. What we cleverly titled “Waddicks Class” began as a haphazard meeting between classes and turned into a formal morning discussion that has been the highlight of my day every time. I know I’ve inadvertently forced some of you to sit through a dramatic reading of this column. May you be blessed with free coffee card stamps.

Special thanks to all the Joss Whedon fans on campus, as well as those who have unintentionally gained a hearty pile of Whedon trivia simply by existing in my realm. Fellow Whedonites, you’ve kept me going and reminded me that maybe one day I’ll be able to speak to Nathan Fillion again, but without making an idiot of myself.

I want to extend a thanks to everyone who walked between Crowley and LaFortune during any of my voice lessons. My teacher’s studio is on the corner of that bitsy quad, and if you’ve ever had the (mis)fortune of traveling past it while I’m squawking Schubert, I appreciate the aural tolerance.

For that matter, I want to thank anyone who has experienced my infamous “turkey call,” a cross between a whoop and yodel which I use to get the attention of anyone I recognize across the quad. It is an extremely effective and distinctive way of getting someone’s attention.

Finally, I would like to thank the staff of the Observer, especially the Scene department. My four editors over these past years have all been phenomenal. Freshman year I wandered over to the Observer booth at activities night because I wanted to write about movies, and I’m drawing to the close of a weekly column which has been one of the best challenges of my senior year. Thanks to everyone who pitched me an idea, and even more importantly, thanks to those who read them here in the center spread. I want you all to look at that lovely picture that accompanies this text and imagine my overly blonde, glasses-rocking (why did I ever wear glasses?) sophomore self looking at you and saying, “Thank you” (or, “You rock,” or, “I like pie”)

Remember, there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Observer. Stephanie DePrez can be contacted at sdeprez@nd.edu. 


The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Culture Tantrum

Stephanie DePrez | Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rain is an utter disaster on the day you get your new TOMS in the mail. Yes, gentle readers, I received a brand-spanking-new pair of TOMS for my birthday and they arrived on a day ridden with raindrops. How am I supposed to flaunt my eco-friendly, socially conscious, trendy, comfortable kicks when any venture beyond my dorm requires fording Lake O’Neill? I bemoan my current state! Oh, woe are my feet! Woe, I say!

I will, however, concede that rain is somewhat poetic, especially at this time of year. Spring-cleaning washes away the old, the rusty and the dusty. It forces us to re-examine everything — from our course load (finals on the horizon!) to our relationships (summer is coming, or more pertinently, graduation)

When April begins to turn, general academic panic begins to set in, but it always rides hand-in-hand with renewal. I worked out for the first time in a month (a month!) yesterday, after spending the weekend on a quest to see the top of my desk, which has been stealthily guarded by books, bananas and unopened mail for a few weeks. It was a tough job, but my healthy, cleanly mentality made me far more poised to meet the fast-approaching scholastic onslaught (and I’m sure my roommate appreciates it, too). So bah humbug, rain. But at least its symbol of seasonal renewal got me cleaning.

So where does the poetry of rain really get me? Though I am frustrated by it, it has left me better off. Which is, of course, the backhanded reality of poetry. Poetry riddles our lives, from the lyrics of songs on U93 to the hymns we sing in dorm Mass. Chances are, at some point in your Domer career, you’ve been “forced to analyze” poetry. (Or, if you’re an English major, you “received welcome invitation to revel in the structural complexity of a well-ordered vernacular.” See, now everybody’s happy.) 

I have a friend who I was convinced was incapable of understanding poetry. Early last semester at twilight, I said the trees in front of my dorm looked like someone had uprooted them and stuck their heads in the ground, leaving their roots sticking up. He said that was silly, because they are trees. I was horribly affronted, and proceeded to explain how the lack of a single poetic bone in his body would leave him ugly and alone. (Well, I didn’t actually say that. I shrugged it off and went into my dorm, thinking it loudly.) The situation struck me as a reality check — perhaps not everyone is prone to seeing things from the inside-out, or upside-down, as it were.

But then this friend of mine went to see a slam poet at Legends. Suddenly, he decided he wanted to write poetry. Scoff. Scoff, scoff, scoff from me. Oh, so NOW you think it’s okay to be poetic? NOW you want to step into the shoes of flavored text? Well, go to monsieur! See if I read your silly little poems! Which I of course did — I am weak.

I was sent a very long poem, co-written by him and a friend. They’d sent stanzas back and forth with no real set form. It did, however, have a very distinct form, because poetry lends itself to repetition. With a simple premise, “I am running,” repeated before every stanza, the poem covered everything from graduation to career discernment to God. And it was, dare I say, good. I mean, as good as one amateur can say of another. It drew me in, it went somewhere and it didn’t suck. I was slightly flabbergasted. My “trees only grow one way” friend had co-written something lyrical, rhythmic and quite poignant from one senior to another.

There was poetry inside of him, as in everyone, even if I dismissed it. Just because he can’t fathom the joy of reading a Shakespearean sonnet and stares at a book of collected Billy Collins poems like it’s a barnacle stuck on the table, doesn’t mean he can’t feel something deeply and express it with a beautifully laid out text — even if he says he has no idea what he’s doing. That’s kind of the point, though, isn’t it? If we all knew how to write poetry perfectly, there would be no need for rain.

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Observer. Stephanie DePrez can be contacted at sdeprez@nd.edu. 


The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Culture Tantrum

Stepanie DePrez | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

As many of you are well aware, my weekly tantrums tend to focus on quips about the music industry and qualms about television. Few may know, however, that my first geek title — before music geek or TV geek — is that of Lord of the Rings geek. Which if you are a Colbert Report fan who caught the James Franco episode last week, you will understand why my roommate walked in on me yelling, “Nenya! Nenya! Galadriel’s Ring of Power is Nenya, you idiot!” at my laptop in the middle of Colbert’s rapid-fire questions to challenge Franco’s Tolkien trivia superiority (Btw, Colbert pwned Franco. Fëanor and the Silmarils can get pretty tricky, if you know what I mean). So when I got the chance to interview Ethan Gilsdorf, who has quite possibly written the definitive book on fantasy geek culture, I was about as pleased as Pippen at elevenses.

Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons? (No). Do you have a World of Warcraft account? (Lost too many friends to it). Have you fantasized about taking off to New Zealand to be an extra in The Hobbit? (Uh…every day). But more importantly, would you ever admit any of this to your roommate or significant other? These are the questions asked by Gilsdorf — journalist, columnist, critic and author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.” He’s on campus this week talking to American Studies classes and speaking with students about his extended ruminations on geek culture, and I was lucky enough to get an interview with him:

Many of the “fan studies” books and articles are somewhat self-serving, because they’re written by fans, for fans. Your book comes from the point of view of someone who seems at first to be quite an outsider, looking in. What kind of freedom did that give you to evaluate freaks and geeks?

“My perspective is a funny one. I was into gaming, but not into fandom. I [long ago had] stopped playing and reading and putting on my double-edged sword, so I had freedom to approach it with a healthy sort of distance. I was very suspicious, and reluctant to admit I was into it [as a teenager]. Gaming was associated with a negative time in my life. The activity allowed me to escape.

“As a kid, I had a vague sense of who else outside of town was into this. I knew ‘Lord of the Rings,’ watched ‘V’ and ‘Star Trek’, but it was hard to reach out. I was pleased to enter as a forty-something and see geeks be a much more vibrant, healthy, open and non-apologetic community, from Harry Potter to anime. I think it has changed, your generation versus my generation, because of the internet. Opportunity for exchanges between fan communities is easier.”

Did anyone ever distrust you because you came from outside of their geek identity?

“I had to gain trust of people and allow them to open up. I had to communicate with people who are ‘normal’ — into online gaming, low entry, low-risk and no costume — and also people LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), who get a sword and run round around the woods beating the crap out of each other. There’s a certain risk on their part so you won’t make fun of it.

“The media has become very shallow. They’ve been made fun of, and haven’t been given proper respect and appreciation. I said, ‘I’m looking to tell stories about why you’re into this stuff.’ I gave myself permission to embrace this. It helps that I had a book contract and a reason to finish the quest.”

What was the most surprising thing you discovered on your quest?

“In the end, the most surprising thing was my own personal journey. I went into the project with my own personal demons to fight with fantasy. I had really not changed as much as I thought I had. Games like ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ fantasy, novels and interest in the auxiliary gaming community were always inside me. For the wrong reasons, I suppressed fear that people would make fun of it. But people don’t care. We’re more alike than we think, whether you’re interested in baseball stats or collecting books. Fantasy gaming is not much different from fantasy football. We all have a fantasy to bring us together and make us feel a part of something bigger, not as alone.

“I thought ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ would prevent me from becoming cool [when I was in high school]. But there is a clear path between fantasy as a kid and what I’m doing now. The imaginative space opened up in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and ‘Harry Potter’ is a kind of gift. You tell stories and imagine what it’s like to be someone else. That’s gotta be good for humanity.”

Who are the least or most welcoming geek subcultures?

Trying to break into the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) was pretty bureaucratic. They have press liaisons. It’s very hierarchical, [it is] organized around kingdoms and [has] a kind of political system. They are doing something that seems to most people to be the weirdest. They appear to do something completely outlandish. To gain official access was a complicated process.

“I went to visit the Tolkien Society in Chester. They had an attitude more like, ‘Wow, someone’s interested in what I’m doing!’ They were thrilled I was taking what they were doing seriously.”

Who are you writing for?

“There are two groups who will find this book interesting: people into this stuff, who can gain perspective to why it exists, and people who might have a spouse or a friend who plays World of Warcraft, but don’t understand it. My goal is to bring down barriers for someone who knows nothing about gamers. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t make fun of it.

“Your generation grew up hearing old stories in Harry Potter. So much of this stuff is based on a very specific time period, infused with magic and heroic deeds. Today, gaming allows for mutual achievement, like sports, except you’re not on the football field, but on a battlefield. There were civil rights, then gay rights, and now we have geek rights.”

So there you have it, folks. The boy who swore to abandon fantasy gaming in order to grow up became the man giving a lecture on Hobbits. And I, for one, couldn’t be more grateful. Ethan Gilsdorf will be speaking today at 7:00pm in DeBartolo Hall, room 138. His lecture is titled, “Hobbits, Heroes, Gamers, Geeks.” See you there (I’ll be in the cape).

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Observer. Stephanie DePrez can be contacted at sdeprez@nd.edu.


The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Culture Tantrum

Stephanie DePrez | Thursday, April 7, 2011

It has come to my attention through a number of encounters and conversations that there is a negative sentiment growing like a weed in the hearts and minds of collegiate uprights everywhere. At first it seems absurd. But I have heard through the grapevine something that goes far beyond anything I could ever imagine to conceive during my tenure in college. It is just this: Facebook is bad.

Let us back up a moment. Let me take you to Texas, a quaint little state I had the pleasure of visiting over Christmas break. While there, I met an intriguing young man with wide musical tastes and graphic design skills as impressive as my knowledge of Lord of the Rings trivia. After a lengthy conversation I mentioned that I’d find him on Facebook. Did I jump the gun? Assume too much? Apparently I did, because he responded, “Oh, I don’t have a Facebook.”

What? Who are you? Go back into the hole in the ground from whence you came! Who doesn’t have a Facebook? But that’s not what really shocked me. The true shock was the flippant irreverence for the line he spoke, as if his hipster juice were so strong that I should have smelled the non-Facebook vapors emanating from him the minute he walked into the room. Touché, I could hear him think. She thought I was a slave to social media, but unlike her, I have defied it! Now, let’s examine this reasoning for a minute.

It is true that millions of students including us spend copious amounts of time on Facebook every day. Gotta’ get a bowl, gotta’ get serial updates about what everyone was doing between the hours of 2am and 8am, etc. The worst part is when people are on Facebook in class. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes. You do not need to comment on your friends’ dance pictures in the middle of Philo. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Welcome, therefore, to the end of the thought process.

People abuse Facebook all the time. Too many people treat it like alcohol, and binge to the point of making themselves sick. Except with Facebook, you don’t get physically sick, but it is your grades/social life/relationship with your roommate that is infected by your inattention. This is wrong.

Facebook was created as a social networking site. As Aaron Sorkin spent too many millions of dollars informing us, it is the social network — singular, all-encompassing and substitutes need not apply. If you need to find someone in class to ask a question about a day you missed, you look them up on Facebook. If you want to tell your friends from high school that you’re going to be in town, you post on their wall. If you want everyone to know how much cooler your weekend was than theirs, you change your profile picture to show it off.

When you accept friend requests you literally make them part of your network — which can help with business and beyond. This is a useful tool and is essential today. You need to have a presence on the Internet, a little corner where people can go to when they want to initiate communication but don’t have the means to find you any other way. Facebook itself is not bad, wrong or evil. It is your inability to use it properly that has caused you such distress and, in the case of my Texan friend, distrust.

If you cannot pull yourself off Facebook for three hours, you are the problem, not Facebook. It’s not making you look at it. It doesn’t pop up in front of your paper and say “Check me, Please right now! Oh please, oh please!” No — you pull it up. You have to click on it, or enable it to receive chats. If you had the self-control to close the tab, to sign out or to move away from your computer completely, this wouldn’t even be an issue.

It isn’t a glory moment when you inform your friends that you’re “off Facebook” or haven’t ever had one. Someone who doesn’t drink isn’t morally superior to someone who drinks in healthy moderation. When you declare yourself free from the confines of Facebook, that’s fine, but don’t act like it’s a demonic enterprise set to suck up your life and time.

Facebook allows you to message former teachers with new questions, post pictures for your family to see (your mom’s got a Facebook, get over it) and post articles and videos on the walls of people who you think would enjoy them. Don’t blame Facebook for your inability to leave it alone. Instead, use it for its benefits and have some self-control.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Stephanie DePrez at sdeprez@nd.edu