Categories
Viewpoint

What makes an icon

There are a few words in my lexicon that have snuck their way into my lingo much to my woeful resignation. They say the way a person speaks tells you everything you need to know about them — I like to think that I can play at some meek facade of depth and intellect when needed, with lengthy words I credit to SAT prep and the odd Latin saying that I picked up from movies. But the merciless grip of the stampede that is social media introduces at least a dozen outlandish pieces of vocabulary each month.

It starts with a commitment to irony. In mockery of the way the English language is slowly deteriorating, I’ll begin to use words like slay or dubs to hyper-exaggerate a situation. I swear, the innuendo here is that my use of the word comes with the precedent that I am joking. Until I’m not. 

One of the most humbling moments I’ve had in my college career occurred when I was visiting a professor for office hours. He very eloquently provided a helpful explanation for my questions, and between my mental scramble to make sense of what he was saying while jotting down every economic theory he had referenced, I had a eureka moment where the problem I had spent the entire day grappling with suddenly made sense. My excitement got the best of me. “Oh,” I blurted out. “Based.” 

The incredulous look he gave me is permanently engraved in my memory. Just like these words have a way of etching themselves into my daily dialogue, until one day you find yourself speaking to your highly-achieved, beyond-respectable professor the way you did last night with your friends while planning your Friday evening. To my professor, based is but a common English word usually used with some sort of subject or predicate. Movies are based on books. A company is based in Chicago. But by some arbitrary, collective judgment made by pop culture and the internet, another word that started off as an ironic joke is now one I unironcically use by habit.

Another word became a topic of debate for my friends and I at dinner the other day — iconic. The word is beat to death and reminds you of that girl on the Internet who rambles on about overhyped Manhattan restaurants that serve you subpar food for insulting prices. You’ll roll your eyes every time you hear it. Nonetheless, as we all reluctantly agreed, we can’t stop using it. 

What concerns and humors me is the fact that while we have decidedly significant beacons of generations past to refer to as iconic, our very own generation seems to offer very few moments of substance in comparison. This is in no way a belittlement of the strides we’ve made in redefining world views. I would sound like a broken record talking about how impressed I am of our generation’s conviction and resilience — that’s not what this is about. During our conversation, my friends and I reflected on the defining cultural moments that we could most easily recall from the last few years. While we cite The Beatles’ genius messages of anti-war in their music or the grace and elegance of Audrey Hepburn as iconic, the tokens of “Gen Z culture” are decisively more offbeat.

Perhaps I could argue that we actually live in quite riveting times. Scroll through any one of the seemingly endless variety of media platforms or eavesdrop on the next table’s breakfast chats at the diner, and it becomes all too apparent how fascinated our society is with topics that have arguably zero stake in our daily lives: Britney Spears, freed at last; Lady Gaga’s meat dress; the reception of Bennifer 2.0; the Oprah/Harry/Megan interview. We are, reluctantly or willingly, in the merciless grip of pop culture and the endless spawning of out-of-touch celebrity moments or reality TV shows that surely cost us a handful of brain cells as we sit through each episode. 

It’s the irony and hilarity of the idea of our children one day looking back at Lady Gaga’s said meat dress and calling it iconic, or whatever word would have popped up by then to replace it. Or maybe the romanticized, impressionable view we have of preceding times will translate directly to the next generations and they’ll start idolizing the pop culture moments we now find so ridiculous. If you asked me, though, nothing beats waking up in the morning to a New York Times headline debunking whether Lea Michele can or cannot read — I wouldn’t change that for the world. 

Reyna Lim is a sophomore double majoring in finance and English. She enjoys writing about her unsolicited opinions, assessing celebrity homes in Architectural Digest videos and collecting lip gloss. Reach out with coffee bean recommendations and ‘80s playlists at slim6@nd.edu.

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

Categories
News

Tech ethics faculty fear focus on banning TikTok is misplaced

Brendan Carr, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said the social media app TikTok should be banned in the U.S. The Council on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) has spent months negotiating with TikTok to determine if it can be divested by its Chinese parent company ByteDance creating bleak outlooks and the possibility of a ban. 

The main concern is the security of U.S. citizens. TikTok collects data on all of its users.  

“No one is storing the nuclear secrets launch codes on Tik Tok, don’t get me wrong. But our behavior patterns, our interests, what we like and don’t like and how we watch consuming media. That’s a goldmine of information,” Tim Weninger, affiliated faculty of the Notre Dame Technology Ethics Center, said. 

Director of the Tech Ethics Center Kirsten Martin said other tech giants collect similar data but don’t receive the same amount of scrutiny as TikTok.

“The thing that’s odd that there’s such a fixation on TikTok is that that same type of data is available for foreign governments to take advantage of on Instagram or Facebook,” Martin said. 

Martin added that the issue goes well beyond TikTok and fundamentally lies in the current state of ad delivery systems.

“They can still get access to it because Facebook or Instagram or whatever, any social networks, will give them access by selling access to us, based on what our preferences and concerns are, who we’re friends with, where we spend our time, where we are, you know, all that kind of stuff,” she said. “I agree with the general concern. It’s just that it seems to be a misplaced concern on TikTok, when it’s a more general problem with the way the ad delivery systems work.”

Current attitudes toward China divert Americans’ attention to TikTok when it comes to the issue of data collection, Weninger said.

“The reason that we’re interested in it is not because it’s got fake news and stuff, I mean it does, but it’s because it’s owned by China, a Chinese company, and we’re deathly afraid that we’re sending a lot of data about our behaviors and activities and our interests, all the social media things to the Chinese,” Weninger said. 

Martin said significant regulations on collecting data through social media are yet to come in part because it benefits political campaigns.

“That’s one of the reasons why they don’t want to stop hyper-targeting, these political operatives use them all the time. And so it’s not a mistake that they haven’t stopped the collection and use of our data. It’s because it’s so useful when trying to micro-target for political reasons,” Martin said. 

Because a large portion of young voters on TikTok tend to vote Democrat, Weninger said the Biden administration would be hesitant to consider banning the app.

“So it will be Joe Biden doing this, it will be kicking off a bunch of 25 to 30 year olds who are on Tik Tok. I don’t know if politically that’s something that he wants to touch,” Weninger said.

Within this age of technology, some find it hard to believe that this would be feasible. They may be able to ban the app, but they will not be able to keep people off of it. Many kids nowadays understand how VPNs work and that they can mess with their locations to have access to technology, movies and television shows that are not available in a certain country.

Martin said she doubts completely banning the app in the U.S. is feasible. Virtual private networks (VPNs) allow users to appear as though they’re accessing the Internet from a different location.

“I can’t imagine anyone successfully banning a social network site from 14 to 24-year-olds,” Martin said. “I just think the technical ability of a 14-year-old to watch a movie pretending that they’re in Germany on a VPN is pretty good.”

Weninger said going to the lengths of setting up a VPN would discourage lots of users from browsing the app.

“Why is TikTok so popular? Because it’s easy and it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. Imagine trying to set up a VPN so you can browse this thing which takes no effort. I just don’t see it happening,” he said. 

The federal government needs to attempt to regulate the app before it resorts to banning it, Weninger said. Allowing the government to ban an app like TikTok would set a dangerous precedent, he fears.

“If the executive branch can just ban a site that hasn’t violated any laws, that’s a problem,” Weninger said. “It makes me a little scared because then what prevents the government from banning you know, some site that maybe you rely upon that’s maybe not bad.”

Contact Emma Duffy at eduffy5@nd.edu.

Categories
News

‘Studebaker Talks’ highlight South Bend’s people, progress

Freight trains rattled overhead and a double rainbow stretched across the gray sky as hundreds of South Bend residents gathered for the second annual “Studebaker Talks” in a room that once served as a factory floor for the Studebaker company. The once-abandoned venue, which now serves as the South Bend City Church, reflected the history of the wagon and automobile manufacturer based in the city for more than a century, employing thousands in South Bend until the plant’s closure in 1963.

The history of the space where audiences heard and engaged six TED-esque talks was something that organizers leaned into, according to organizing committee member Jacob Titus.

“That space has been reimagined in a way that you can definitely tell this was part of the factory,” Titus, a photographer and designer at the helm of a creative studio called Tutt Street Studio said. Titus is also behind the blog West.SB, which centers around South Bend history and culture.

“[It adds] a lot of weight to the conversations having this shadow of Studebaker,” he said. 

Friday night’s event donated all net proceeds to the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County, raising more than $2,500 in ticket sales. 

Jonathan Jones, director of recreation for the city’s department of venues, parks and arts, served as the night’s MC, introducing each speaker and facilitating discussion throughout the room in between each talk.

“Tonight we’re going to have an opportunity to celebrate ingenuity and progress that is happening in our city and for some of us, myself included, tonight might be the very night that serves as a catalyst for you to really be inspired to make that first step … that’s going to help make it a place where everyone can thrive,” Jones said.

The first speaker of the evening was Lety Stanton-Verduzco of the Boys & Girls Club, who discussed the needs of children in the South Bend community.

Lety Stanton-Verduzco of the Boys & Girls Club discussed the need for people to engage South Bend’s children. | Courtesy of Jacob Titus

“How many of you can honestly say that in your childhood, your youth, an adult made a positive impact on your life and because of them you are the person you are today?” Stanton-Verduzco asked the room.

She discussed her upbringing in Gary, Indiana as the daughter of a steel mill worker who had to feed his six children, often doubling up on shifts. 

“It was not uncommon for me to go days without seeing my dad. At some point he had to sleep. So that meant that school became an extended part of my family and therefore my teachers and my coaches also became an extended part of my family and made an impact on me,” Stanton-Verduzco said.

Stanton-Verduzco, who came to South Bend to study writing at Saint Mary’s, recalled working with local youth the summer before her senior year. She discussed current local crises of violence and mental health and a lack of support in public schools. 

“Kids need support, they need to feel valued. And only a person can make somebody else feel valued. So how do we do that? How do we fill the gaps? Everyone’s heard the saying ‘it takes a village’ but it’s more than just a saying, it’s a call to action,” Stanton-Verduzco said. “Every day, I see the collective ability of individuals to make an impact. I see the two dozen of my former club kids who are now current club staff. I see it in the faces of kids and volunteers who show up every week, consistently to read to kids, to engage with them, to talk with them, to listen with them.”

Stanton-Verduzco closed with a call to action.

“Every kid is one positive adult away from being a success story. And all of you already have everything it takes to be that one person,” she said.

The second speaker was Leslie Pinson, a podcaster and founder of the startup Local Spirit. Pinson, originally from Texas, recalled coming to her stepmother’s native South Bend as a child.

Leslie Pinson stands on stage in front a picture of her as a child in South Bend. | Courtesy of Jacob Titus

“This little Leslie loved Indiana, loved South Bend and Indiana sweet corn,” she said. “So she loved Indiana sweet corn, Rudy and the outdoor ice skating rink at Howard Park.”

Pinson, through a tale of grief and trauma and self-healing ultimately told the story of how moving to South Bend was the way in which she faced her fears.

“I moved to the place that represented my deepest fear, and that was boredom. I thought it was boring, and yet I moved here and, y’all, what happened? What happened is by embracing my deepest fear, I found my greatest joy. I found who I am. I reconnected to the magic that is within me,” she said.

Pinson recalled seeing South Bend on a list of dying cities and being upset at the “overplayed” narrative.

“Y’all, what if there was pieces of this city that needed to die so that the treasure could be revealed? What if the way we help South Bend find healing and become that full potential, what if it’s like we individually do that for ourselves? And we don’t do it alone. We do it together, in community,” she said.

Third, Zachary T. Nelson spoke. Nelson, an artist and “amateur archivist” discussed the phenomenon of going viral on TikTok because of the 100,000 photos and videos he had collected of his life, ranging from the mundane to the comical.

Zachary T. Nelson speaks to the audience about “nothing.” | Courtesy of Jacob Titus

Over the course of a rapid fire slide show that included fart noises and failed stunt attempts by Nelson throughout his adolescence, Nelson told the story of his life growing up in the South Bend area.

Ultimately, Nelson made a more emotional point, stemming from a TikTok comment he had received. The commenter was requesting Nelson show his archive from a certain date, a frequent appearance on his page. The date she asked for, however, was not random, or an anniversary or birthday.

“I want to see you lived the worst day of my life,” she wrote.

Nelson said that this opened his eyes.

“What I realized in this talk is that this is not the story of a guy who has 100,000 photos and videos of his life. This is the story of a guy who has lived 100,000 moments and you don’t need to photograph them and you don’t need to remember them for that to be important. I often wonder if by measuring our lives by the highest highs, we invite lower lows,” Nelson said.

He closed with an argument about the significance of those forgetful moments.

“If you’re doing nothing, or you don’t have a Studebaker talk to give … I just want you to know if it feels like nothing, nothing matters,” Nelson said.

Fourth on the stage was South Bend native Benjamin Futa of Botany, a plant store in northwest South Bend. Futa discussed the importance of access to plants, his years directing the garden at the University of Madison-Wisconsin as well as Botany’s work to build a public garden next to their store.

Plant shop owner Benjamin Futa highlighted a potential usage of South Bend’s “in-between” spaces. | Courtesy of Jacob Titus

“I was born and grew up in South Bend. I went to grade school downtown and on my way to school every single morning, we would pass these vacant decaying buildings and a downtown that has really struggled to rediscover and redefine what it wanted to be,” he recalled.

Those vacant lots and abandoned buildings are an opportunity for hope, according to Futa.

“So if you think about going to a normal public garden, you drive, you park, you pay the admission. You walk through a series of rooms — the rose garden, the herb garden — that tell stories. South Bend, though, has a series of rooms which are spread all across the city. Our front yards, our vacant lots, our alleyways, the nooks and crannies, the crevices, all of the in-between spaces that we haven’t quite figured out what to do with,” he said.

Futa said that plants and public gardens are the way to utilize that space. 

“I believe great cities need and deserve public gardens because they reconnect us to one another and because they reconnect us to the natural world,” he said.

Fifth, Jeff Walker of Life Outside Reentry Assistance, a nonprofit to help formerly incarcerated men and women resume life in South Bend, spoke. Walking onto stage, Walker peeled off his gray suit jacket to reveal a black t-shirt with the words “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.”

Jeff Walker spoke to the crowd about the challenges of reentry after serving time in prison, and how South Bend can build a more inclusive community. | Courtesy of Jacob Titus

Walker spoke about the barriers to community for people returning from time in jail, including difficulty finding employment, bureaucratic hurdles to jump through and social stigma.

“Returning citizens are the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our community. So what can we do? We can bring them in from the margins, to the center of our community. We can give them a helping hand. We can all walk alongside them throughout this journey. And we can open doors for them,” Walker said. 

He made a plea to employers and landlords to look beyond background checks and get to know former convicts as individuals “beyond this piece of paper.”

“We can help just by smiling, just by a conversation. Your presence in a returning citizen’s life can go a long way because returning citizens coming back to the South Bend community. They aren’t different than us. They aren’t even just like us. They are us,” Walker said.

Finally, Caitlin Hubbard of the yoga studio Bend Yoga, spoke. Hubbard opened her studio at the end of February 2020, seeking a community around yoga that had not previously existed in the city, while adjusting to moving to South Bend and learning her mother was dying of cancer. 

Bend Yoga entrepreneur Caitlin Hubbard discussed absence, and how that can be perceived as opportunity. | Courtesy of Jacob Titus

“Every restaurant I tried, every volunteer project I pursued, every gray and cloudy day left me feeling dissatisfied and stewing in my own unhappiness. I didn’t have anywhere to go to do some yoga to help me deal with all this,” she said.

Though the pandemic changed her business’s trajectory and offered a new challenge to Hubbard’s fledgling studio, she said there was something different about the grief she now experienced.

“But this time I wasn’t alone in those feelings. There was a communal sense of loss, and of loneliness and fear,” she recalled. “As we slowly started to emerge from our houses, some people came back to yoga and they looked sad and they looked scared. But after yoga, they looked a little bit better.”

To Hubbard’s eyes, the absence of a yoga studio in South Bend on her arrival was initially a challenge. But it did not remain that way.

“​​I now try to see absence as an opportunity,” she said. “I invite you to consider: what does the city need that you can offer?” she asked the audience.

Attendees dance at the ‘Studebaker Talks’ afterparty, outside of Studebaker building 112. | Courtesy of Jacob Titus

Contact Isa Shekih at isheikh@nd.edu

Categories
Scene

Fifteen seconds for fame

Music has become disposable. One day, you hear a new hit song, and then, a month later, it has vanished off the face of the earth. While this is not an entirely new phenomenon, the world of music has shifted greatly over the last decade. Instead of relying on record sales, downloads or touring to gain popularity, musicians are relying even more on the power of social media.

Now, before you criticize me for “putting my dad hat on,” or you accuse me of “shout[ing] into the void [about] how no one has good taste anymore” (like one kind online-commenter said to me two years ago), please hear me out. Trust me, I’m tired of writing about the evil relationship between music and social media, but someone has to say this. These ramblings are not intended to complain about my favorite indie bands getting popular online in attempt to “gatekeep.” This is simply to educate the world about the industry of mass-music-production. While I might miss seeing my favorite underground bands play in intimate venues, I want them to play in front of thousands one day. I want them to achieve the recognition they deserve and if that needs to happen via Instagram or TikTok, by all means, have at it! But, if reaching this goal requires an adherence to mainstream ideals, also known as the loss of originality, then they might as well be called “sell-outs.”

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are tools with an angel and a devil on each shoulder; a place where personal and professional promotion reign supreme. If you are unaware, “The Algorithm” (which we shall denote as its own entity) is a bully. The system is like Regina George from “Mean Girls,” if you don’t like [blank] then “you can’t sit with us.” This is true with any online platform, but TikTok and Spotify are the most brutal. (Yes, Spotify is not a “social media” platform by definition, but it is considered to be one of the most intimate platforms compared to others.)

TikTok has become one of the most influential platforms for shaping music taste. Consider the story of the band Vunadbar. Almost a decade after their first album “Gawk” (2015) was released, their song “Alien Blues” suddenly experienced a rise in streams; a snippet of their song had gone viral. Even though Brandon Hagen (their lead vocalist and guitarist) expressed how strange it was to be known for a song he wrote when he was 18, they embraced their new-found popularity with a new music video and a re-recording of “Alien Blues” on their most recent album “Devil for the Fire” (2022).

While this is a positive story of embracing the power of TikTok, there is a downside. These “sounds” on TikTok are only a few seconds long, so you’re only getting a little taste of the greater picture. It was strange to see them live and see the crowd get the most animated for only two lines — what about the rest of the song? What about all the incredible music they have released since 2013? This is true for almost all TikTok sounds, creating a big dilemma: the disappearance of the bridge.  

If you are not familiar with song construction, a bridge usually occurs after the second chorus, standing as its own musical element. A great example of a bridge is in Gwen Stafani’s “Hollaback Girl”: “This s**t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”  Because of TikTok’s format, despite the bridge being one of the catchiest parts of any given song, most clips feature either a few lines in the beginning or simply the chorus — it’s all about grabbing users’ attention. This strategy is also found to be true on Spotify, and it’s often called “The Spotify Effect.” There are two elements that go into the Spotify Effect. Firstly, if a song is skipped before it ends, The Algorithm will consider it to be less desired, recommending it less to other users. Secondly, Spotify won’t count a song as officially streamed unless it has been played for at least 30 seconds, so if it gets skipped in the beginning, artists won’t get paid. As a result, the combination of the two elements have forced producers and musicians to “get to the point” of the song, so they are less at risk of getting skipped. Today, music is made for consumption.

Now, you might echo my hate-commentor’s sentiments when they said, “Duh, it’s an economic game, what did you think would happen after streaming took away all of the artists’ revenue,” but none of this overproduced music is going to last. Vundabar, who have been working extremely hard to be where they are now, embraced their viral popularity while allowing their music to speak for itself. Many artists strive toward conformity because that is what is going to make them popular and get them paid, but no one is going to remember who they were in 30 years because they will have sounded like everyone else.  

I am not trying to tell you who or what to listen to; you should listen to the music that makes you happy. I simply want to educate you about the powerful relationship between music and the Internet. There are many cool things the Internet has done for music, but let’s make sure it doesn’t take too much control.

Contact Willoughby Thom at wthom@nd.edu.

Categories
Viewpoint

You are not the main character

You are not that guy. You are not Him. You are not a “girlboss.” You are not the main character. And that is fine. Neither am I. Neither is anyone.

Thinking of yourself as the main character in some sort of extravagant movie is a mindset that I find both annoying and problematic. But before I nail my 95 theses into words, I ought to explain the context before the student population of main characters motions to excommunicate me.

The main character trend finds its origin in social media on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, where influencers produce videos romanticizing their lives and encourage the audience to do likewise. Often, these videos follow the format of “a day in the life of a (insert occupation),” a mock public service announcement to do something or even self-help vlogs. More specifically, influencers call their audience to find seemingly mundane activities or routines and add a Hollywood-esque aesthetic to it. In essence, living as a main character in your own movie entails putting on the rose-colored glasses. Under this internet pretense, you might find yourself eating avocado toast inside a cozy brunch café on a sunny Sunday morning. You did it for the aesthetic. The phone eats first, right? Take a step back from your hypothetical seat by the window and realize what is going on. You paid $13 for two slices of avocado toast, though you do not like the taste of avocados. You queued 45 minutes outside sweating, waiting for a table to open. You along with every other main character seated in the café were independently engaged in a scene from their movie. Turns out you happened to be just like everyone else.

What I am insinuating is that the whole main character mantra is unrealistic — flawed. It suffocates the subscriber in a cloud of toxic positivity. “Your life is a slay. You ought not worry about what others say about you because they are simply haters, side characters, really. You only live once.” My life is, in fact, not a slay. There are struggles, disappointments, triumphs, frustrations and everything in between. It is vital to acknowledge both the good and the bad and contextualize their significance in the grand scheme of things. Although haters do exist, educated criticism is a healthy means of gauging, even regulating, one’s life. If I am acting foolish, I hope that my friends will hold me accountable on the grounds that they care for me. It is true that one only lives once, but that acronym carries a loaded connotation: glorifying haphazard actions on account of limited opportunities. I am not shooting down taking risks or doing dangerous things. I simply propose an alternative to YOLO, one that emphasizes a more focused attention to what really matters in our short lives. We ought to attend to our relationships because those really do matter.

Relationships with others and oneself is a concept that the main character trend jumbles. Assigning everybody but yourself the role of side character is not only a utilitarian outlook but also demeaning. Thinking that others only serve their purpose by their utility in benefiting your life is a flawed mindset. It has it that another’s value is inherently lower because the story does not directly follow them. Their lines are scripted and numbered. After they perform, a director pulls them off set and they vanish in relevance to the production. With respect to oneself, perceiving yourself as a main character tends to border on narcissism, a dubious outcome for a seemingly good intention. And I get it, people place their lives into a movie narrative because they desire to assert a degree of control over a chaotic world that seems uncontrollable. A movie is a structured form of media that has a plot characterized by exposition, rising action, climax and denouement. Attaching oneself to that sort of stability is a reasonable endeavor, a noble one at that, but I find assigning an inferior value to others truly problematic.

I pose a solution to the main character issue: Be real with yourself but more importantly, be real with others. This is quite the opposite of the fiction fairyland of positivity supported by this trend. Embrace authenticity, like when you find yourself cruising down an empty highway at midnight blasting music with your closest friends on a breezy summer night. Forget the Instagram story that convinces, in vain, your followers of your perfect lifestyle. Think about how grateful you are for life itself and that time spent with such close friends. That was not a main character moment, but it was a core memory shared among the people dearest to you. The accumulation of these times spent with other human beings is what we will ultimately remember when we lie on our deathbeds, not the multiple occasions of avocado toast dates with your phone.

And if you are the demographic that I have hypothetically targeted, I apologize for creating such specific hypotheticals. I invite you to think about the prospect that you can live a truly fulfilling life without being that guy, Him, a “girlboss” or the main character.

Jonah Tran is a first-year at Notre Dame doubling majoring in finance and economics and minoring in classics. Although fully embracing the notorious title of a “Menbroza,” he prides himself on being an Educated Young Southern Gentleman. You can contact Jonah by email jtran5@nd.edu.