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Book Nook: ‘Dune,’ two very different narratives

My summer project was reading Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”

The 1965 science fiction epic immersed me in its semi-supernatural world of complex space politics, family ties and religion. It focuses on Paul Atreides and his family who oversee a planet much like Earth but are soon forced by the interplanetary Emperor to move to the desert planet of Arrakis. They face several obstacles on this planet because of it formerly being “ruled” by their rival family, the Harkonnens. Though it has a slow start, the book soon becomes suspenseful and exciting as its protagonists navigate layers of intricate schemes devised by both their enemies and their allies.

The 2021 film adaptation of the first half of the novel is… different. It’s good, but viewers should not watch the movie expecting it to be the same as the book. The movie focuses on its cinematic elements, at which, obviously, it excels. The soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer, is beautiful; it creates suspense, sets the mood and captures the intensity of many scenes. The costume choices and the casting were on point, and the visuals, especially the vast landscapes, are stunning. The film completely immerses the viewer. I would recommend seeing it, especially in a theatre, because it truly is a work of art. However, unlike the book, I would never recommend it for the plot.

The film leaves out a lot of important details that make the novel a science fiction classic. Adapting “Dune” is hard for a number of reasons. After a string of bad adaptations, it was considered a novel nearly impossible to create for a long time. The 2021 adaptation is by far the best but suffers from some of the same problems as its predecessors.  

Because of the novel’s length and interweaving subplots, it’s very difficult to form a cohesive plot for a film. Splitting it into a two part movie instead of adapting it all at once is a smart choice — especially considering the first half of the novel, in both its plot and its characters, feels vastly different from the second half due to a jump in time.

The most glaring issue with the movie is that it fails to create a sense of the conflict between the Harkonnens and the Atreides. Much of this is conveyed in the novel through complex internal monologues, which are understandably difficult to adapt. Many of the tense conversations between characters that pertain to this conflict would seem tame if the reader wasn’t informed of the characters’ machinations through the omniscient narrator. Just adding this dialogue to the movie does not help viewers understand the veiled messages and hidden meanings that characters in the novel deciphered in their internal monologues from a few words of conversation.

The central conflict between the Harkonnens and the Atreides expands to include larger organizations in the second half of the novel. It is possible that the conflict was kept vague because of this shift, however, it leaves the movie feeling slow. The plot was moving at random without being driven by a central element.

The complex politics also felt glossed over. For example, the Bene Gesserit is a pseudo-religious political organization key to the novel’s plot. Its schemes have been drawn out for hundreds of years and have significant influence on every aspect of politics and Paul Atreides’ development, as he may or may not be critical to their end goal of finding a prophet-like figure. Most of what makes them important is barely mentioned in the movie. They come off as more of a shady cult than a powerful organization.

You should see “Dune” for its carefully crafted cinematic experience, however, don’t expect much from the plot.

Contact Caitlin Brannigan at cbrannig@nd.edu

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You are enough

In 2016, 15-time Grammy award-winning singer Alicia Keys gave up wearing makeup

“I realized I became addicted to it; I didn’t feel comfortable without it,” Keys said. After years of adorning a full face of makeup almost every day, she felt that the pressure to constantly look perfect took a toll on her self-esteem: “I was really starting to feel like that—that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.”

Although Keys still wears makeup on occasion, she has decided to solely wear it when it empowers her — not when she feels pressured to do so. It’s a courageous stand to take in a society where tabloids are quick to criticize celebrities who don’t adhere to unrealistic beauty standards or cover up every so-called flaw. These outrageous standards have deeply affected the physical and mental well-being of not only celebrities but also many young women. Feeling pressured to wear makeup is only one facet of the many difficulties women face regarding their self-image in the age of social media and filters. 

“We put so many limitations on ourselves. We put limitations on each other. Society puts limitations on us. And in a lot of ways, I’m sick of it. I’m over it, to be honest,” Keys said. In another interview, she clarified: “I love makeup! I love my lip gloss, I love my blush, I love my eyeliner. It’s not about that. At the same time, I don’t want to feel beholden to have to do it.”

Many young women can relate to Keys’ struggle. I outright refused to put makeup on for many years because I could only see it as a way of covering up my imperfections — of rejecting who I really was — rather than a way of expressing myself. When I finally did wear it, it was stressful. I didn’t wear it because I wanted to. I wore it because I needed to “look pretty.” I felt like I wasn’t enough without makeup or a Snapchat filter. 

Many of my peers have echoed these sentiments, battling a similar struggle with their self-image. Where did this need to cover up these perceived flaws come from? All physical features are equally beautiful — who decided that certain features, like flawless skin, are essential to society’s beauty standards rather than others?  

With this in mind, I’ve recently begun reclaiming my own use of makeup. When I first started to wear it, it was out of the belief that I wasn’t enough without it. Now, on the occasion that I do wear it, it is because I’d like to highlight my own natural beauty. I used to utilize it to be someone I wasn’t, contouring my looks to exactly fit American beauty standards. Now, I style it in a way that I prefer, even if that way isn’t earning me a place on “America’s Next Top Model.” For me, makeup has become a method of self-care — an art form and a chance to express myself, rather than a chore to make myself presentable for the day. 

Although makeup and other beauty products can be empowering, it’s important to note that within both the professional world and the realm of social media, there is an unhealthy expectation for women to consistently look their best. 

According to the late Stanford law professor and author Deborah Rhode, “The more serious injustices arise when women lose jobs and self-esteem based on a failure to conform to our culture’s airbrushed ideals of female attractiveness.” 

She further cited Jesperson v. Harrah’s Casino, a court case regarding a female bartender who was fired because she did not wear makeup or style her hair per the casino’s requirements, despite her performance evaluations being “excellent without cosmetic assistance.” Her male counterparts were not subject to such strict regulations with respect to their appearance. 

Rhode asserted that “the world would be a better place if women were judged more on competence and less on appearance.” 

Wearing makeup and living up to impossible beauty standards exactly as shown in the media should not be an absolute necessity for women. It is incredibly disturbing that appearance affects perceptions of a woman’s competence. We are beautiful and strong and intelligent just the way we are, without needing to spend excessive amounts of time and money to reach an arbitrary and ever-changing standard of beauty. 

Beauty standards can be absurd and do fluctuate frequently. As a society, we should be well past the concept of glamorizing a select few features mainly for arbitrary reasons. You don’t need to change a thing about yourself to be beautiful — just by being yourself, you are, on the inside and out. You’re gorgeous with or without makeup and filters. You are beautiful as you are. You are enough.

Caitlin Brannigan is a sophomore from New Jersey studying psychology and English. She will forever defend her favorite young adult novels and is overjoyed to have a platform to rant. She can be reached for comment at cbrannig@nd.edu or @CaitlinBrannig on Twitter.

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On the banning of books

Virginia court case brought against Barnes & Noble attempted to restrict the sale of Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” and Sarah Maas’ “A Court of Mist and Fury.” Local legislators argued based on a poorly-worded Virginia law that the books would be “obscene” for readers under the age of 18. The case was recently dismissed. This comes at a time of much political discussion centered around which books are appropriate to read in the classroom. 

Equally disturbing is the removal of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a novel famous for highlighting oppression and injustice, from a few Texas and Kansas public schools for “review.” “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an influential work that is extremely well-written. It’s relevant today and will continue to be. Removing this book is an affront to a proper education. The book is so well-known and influential that it is hard to believe school officials are unaware of its content. What is there to review that they wouldn’t already know of?  

Restricting access to books is an obstacle to a well-informed public. Having healthy debates and access to information are crucial aspects of any democracy. Reading books about difficult subjects, like racism, leads to discussion of those subjects, especially in the classroom.  

On this, the author Laurie Halse Anderson said: “’By attacking these books, by attacking the authors, by attacking the subject matter, what they are doing is removing the possibility for conversation. You are laying the groundwork for increasing bullying, disrespect, violence and attacks.’”

Historically, many books of great literary merit have been challenged in the United States, including J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” “Ulysses” was burned in serialized form in the United States. The road to getting it published in the U.S. was long and arduous due to its “obscene” content. In England, the book was mass burned before it was legally banned. Yet, it is also regarded as a literary masterpiece. “The Catcher in the Rye” was challenged and banned in multiple US classrooms, mostly for profanity, despite its status as one of the greatest works in the American literary canon. It’s difficult to argue nowadays with the sheer amount of praise and literary analysis both works have received that access to them should be restricted or banned, as people have tried in the past. 

In trying to ban books like “Gender Queer” for its “obscene” content, a similar mistake is made. Books of great literary merit, which are a joy to read and foster intellectual discussion, could be wholly removed from the classroom. This decreases the quality of literary education. Going further by restricting access to books at booksellers like Barnes & Noble is devastating and begs the question: What is worth more, quality education or censoring books certain readers may find “obscene?” 

Deborah Caldwell Stone, the American Library Association’s director of office for intellectual freedom, sums it up perfectly: “If you focus on five passages, you’ve got obscenity. If you broaden your view and read the work as a whole, you’ve got Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved.’”

It’s so important to have a diverse selection of books to read because the real world is just as diverse. Regardless of whether a book is set in a fantasy world or is pure nonfiction, there are many life lessons to be gained from books. They are a resource for people of all ages to learn more about the world, oftentimes from the point of view of characters they can relate to rather than simply learning information from a textbook. This connection draws the reader into what they’re learning about. For example, “Gender Queer,” a memoir of Kobabe’s life, explores sexuality and gender identity. “Beloved,” another book that has historically been challenged, highlights the pain and devastation of slavery. These books can educate readers about serious material. Trying to censor these books, through removing them from classrooms or otherwise, does not erase the books’ subjects from reality. Students will eventually have to confront these topics. 

Specifically in classrooms, there exists an argument that certain material isn’t age-appropriate for students. There are certainly books that would not be appropriate for elementary school students and as such aren’t taught to them; the issue is trying to remove books from high school curriculums. For example, in a campaign ad for governor of Virginia Glenn Youngkin, a mother declares that she would like “Beloved” to be optional instead of part of her son’s required high school curriculum, as a result of its “explicit content.” Some content in “Beloved” is difficult for very young children to read, but this book is widely recommended for the high school-age reader and for good reason. Censoring this book does not mean that its historical content disappears — the issues the novel confronts must be addressed eventually. Teachers can help students understand the difficult topics in these books and productively learn from them. Students will become more informed and better equipped to discuss difficult issues, an important life skill.   

To ban a book from a school, a library or a bookseller is to cut off the public’s access to information and quality literature. Books are important for the development of the mind. Censoring books is not okay. We cannot ignore real world problems by trying to silence books that discuss them.

Caitlin Brannigan is a sophomore from New Jersey studying psychology and theology. She will forever defend her favorite young adult novels and is overjoyed to have a platform to rant. She can be reached for comment at cbrannig@nd.edu or @CaitlinBrannig on Twitter.

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

Caitlin Brannigan

Contact Caitlin at cbrannig@nd.edu

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Beauty in simplicity: Children’s television

I had only once seen the 2002 Disney classic, “Lilo & Stitch,” as a child. Although I eagerly watched (and rewatched!) Disney movies as a child, all I could remember of this particular movie was thinking it was adorable. Upon rewatching it as an adult, I expected a lighthearted, feel-good film about a young girl adopting an alien.

Instead, I was greeted by the heart-wrenching story of two sisters rebuilding their lives after the tragic loss of their parents. Like many of the greatest children’s films, “Lilo & Stitch” excels at communicating heavy, adult themes to children while maintaining its entertainment value as a cartoon about a cute alien and his companions. The value of children’s television like “Lilo & Stitch” to people beyond its target audience cannot and should not be overlooked. 

Lilo, 7, and her sister Nani, 19 — struggling financially and emotionally — stumble across trouble with otherworldly authorities when they adopt an alien named Stitch. Lilo, believing Stitch to be an injured dog, buys him from the shelter as a pet. Much of the conflict throughout the movie, on the surface, centers around Lilo and Stitch’s escapades in Hawaii. 

However, many moments in the film allude to heavy emotional conflicts in a way that children would understand, but might not read too much into. For example, at one point Stitch contemplates leaving Lilo and Nani. As she watches him go, Lilo clutches a photo of her sister and parents, saying, “If you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you, though. I remember everyone that leaves.” 

The message is simple and easy for a child to grasp: Lilo is upset about Stitch leaving, and it reminds her of her parents’ tragedy. The movie goes on, however, and the conflict between the aliens and Stitch recaptures the young audience’s attention. This kind of storytelling makes the movie’s darker themes accessible to younger audiences; scenes like this clearly convey Lilo’s sadness to children, even if they may not fully understand how Stitch represents her grief and fear of abandonment. The movie moves past its emotional conflicts to scenes of Lilo and Stitch goofing off or high stakes physical conflicts with the alien authorities — quickly enough for younger audiences to appreciate the movie for being fun and cute, while still understanding the emotional hurdles the protagonists face.

This is a huge part of what makes children’s television like “Lilo and Stitch” so great. Other major hits like “Avatar: The Last Airbender and “Steven Universe” employ similar tactics to convey real-life problems, like LGBTQ+ issues, ableism and colonialism to children using fantasy elements to metaphorically represent and mirror the problems that many people face both now and in the past.

Simple constructs can convey so much to both children and adults in a way that is entertaining and fun. For example, in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a character named Toph is smothered by her parents, unable to leave her home and enjoy the world because she is blind. Toph is also an “earthbender,” a superpower within the show that she uses to control and essentially terraform the ground, rocks and even sand. Unbeknownst to most people, she understands the world around her by feeling the vibrations in the earth, which she refers to as her own way of seeing. 

Her parents believe her to be “fragile” because of her disability; however, it is one of her greatest strengths. Because she has learned how to feel the vibrations in the Earth, she is one of the greatest earthbenders and fully capable of protecting herself. Despite this, many people refuse to acknowledge her talents because she is a blind young girl. Toph’s struggles are the narrative of a girl constantly confronted with ableism and sexism, always proving those who doubt her strength wrong. 

Toph’s story, like “Lilo & Stitch,” is entertaining to both children and adults. But more than that, it’s important to show narratives like this in children’s television especially, both to teach children about real life issues and to empower young members of communities that have been repeatedly discriminated against. 

At a time when LGBTQ+ representation was not prevalent in children’s television, “Steven Universe” creator Rebecca Sugar fought to feature queer and nonbinary characters in the Cartoon Network show. 

“As I’m writing about this, as I’m pitching this, I’m also getting a lot of pushback,” Sugar said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This was not considered acceptable material for children at the time. … [But] who is speaking to a generation of children about why they deserve to exist? About how they deserve to exist? I wanted to be able to do that.” 

Sugar perfectly describes why representation is so important in children’s television. Media is an integral part of our culture; having role models like the characters in “Steven Universe” is incredibly important to support young children and make them feel accepted into a society in which there is so much conflict about people’s identities. 

Children’s television may not be considered by society to be important to a child’s development or entertaining to adults, yet many works contradict this sentiment. The genre’s ability to convey difficult topics like grief and trauma to a wide range of audiences cannot be ignored, as well as its power as a tool to teach young children about real-world problems. Works that feature underrepresented minorities can be empowering for young children in a society that discriminates against many communities. For these reasons, the value of children’s television cannot be understated.

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

Caitlin Brannigan

Caitlin is a sophomore from New Jersey studying psychology and English. She will forever defend her young adult novels and is overjoyed to have a platform to rant. She can be reached for comment at cbrannig@nd.edu or @CaitlinBrannig on Twitter.