Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Hey guys! So, the iOS 9 update for iPhone came out today and finally (FINALLY) we were blessed with the new emojis we've been promised for what seems like an eternity. After years of struggling to truly identify with any one emoji character, the day has finally come. Ladies and gentleman, behold: the sassy eye-rolling emoji.

third row down, second from the left

Sassy eye-rolling emoji is not to be confused with the shifty eye emoji. Just saying. Also, middle finger emoji, 'nuff said.

But anyways.

What does this have to do with structuralism, you say? Well, a whole heck of a lot actually.

Structuralism, which goes hand in hand with semiotics, is a theory that examines the relationship between concepts/things and how they are represented through language. Emoji is arguably its own language, originating in Japan as a mode of expressing unique cultural ideas and symbols.

The emojis themselves are what we refer to as the signifier, or the word, image, or representation that is used to designate the signified. The signified is the object or idea that the signifier is referring to.

For example, this is an emoji of a tree. An evergreen, to be more specific. This treemoji (see what i did there?) is the signifier, a symbol that represents the living thing that supplies us humans with oxygen and on occasion something that we put in our house and decorate. That bauble covered, lit up tree in your living room being the signified.

The "arbitrary nature of the sign" is the famous phrase that defines structuralism, coined by Ferdinand De Saussure. The phrase basically boils down to this: the sign has no real relation to the signifier or the signified. This addresses the question that I'm sure many people (including myself) have pondered: How are there so many words to describe the same thing? 

When somebody looks at the tree emoji, they know what that image is referring to. (If you want to be technical, yes, perhaps not everyone on the planet is familiar with this specific kind of tree, but they at least have a general idea of what the image is supposed to represent.) However, two people can look at the same tree emoji and exclaim either, "Arbre!" or "Arbol!" This goes back to Saussure's claim that the nature of the sign is arbitrary, as signifiers and the signifieds are not consistent across all languages.

Since we are on the topic of different languages, let's backtrack for a second and remember that the origin of emoji can be traced back to Japan. A country where they speak Japanese  and the culture is radically different than say the United States, where emoji are extremely popular. As anyone who uses emoji has probably realized by now, there are quite a few characters that the typical American isn't able to identify. Because the relationship between the signifier (the emoji character itself) and the signified (whatever that character is supposed to be representing) is unknown in this circumstance, the emoji takes on a life of its own, as determined by the user.

In an era that is driven and defined by technology and communication, language evolves quicker than ever. Emoji has become like a second language to those who communicate virtually, but this shift to a non-verbal way of conveying emotion and information is still very much consistent in the way it interacts with structural concepts.

until next time,

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Hey everyone! In this post I am going to be tackling the difference between the author and the author function.

In Critical Theory, we've been looking at Michel Foucault's article What Is An Author? which addresses the concept of authorship and how/why it exists.

When it is put into simple terms, it is quite easy to understand the difference between author and author function. The author is the living, breathing human being that writes. (We are speaking of the author in the present tense, however the author may be dead. Or alive. Or they might not exist yet. See, this is where it gets a bit complicated...)

This is a picture of the author J.K. Rowling, the very talented woman who wrote the Harry Potter series. The idea for Harry Potter came to her while she was stuck on a train and she started writing the prolific story on a napkin because it was all she had at the moment.

Now, author function is a tad bit more complicated to explain. While the author is/was a real person, the author function is a concept that perseveres long after the author is dead and gone. In other words, the author function in the context of this example with J.K. Rowling is anything that makes up the body of her work. So, the seven Harry Potter books that she penned, minor yet related works (i.e. books that exist in the HP universe that she wrote and released in real life like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Tales of Beedle the Bard), those horrific crime novels she wrote under a pseudonym (and for good reason).

More often than not, when someone is referring to Rowling they are referring to the author function and not the author. Perhaps if they are speaking of her personal life or her childhood, the person is referring to the author. However, usually when someone refers to Rowling (or any other author really...this example isn't limited to just rowling) they are using her proper name in a more generalized way, as if to say that Rowling is her work. As Foucault suggests, the text creates the author and not the other way around. So perhaps it is appropriate to refer to the author in relation to the works that they have created, as their authorship would be non-existent without the creation and preservation of their works.

J.K. Rowling is defined by her famous series and her legacy will live on through the books she has written. When she is long gone, Harry and his friends will continue to brighten the lives of those who embark on the journey of delving into his magical world.

until next time,

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Hey everyone! In my American Lit class we have sadly left the craziness of good ol' Salem behind (boo, though i'm actually going there tomorrow so that should be interesting...more to come on that) and we have moved onto the Great Awakening. This time period, which began in the mid 1700's in America, is known for being a religious revival of sorts. Though religious devotion and reformation is a common thread in the texts from Salem as well as from authors of the Great Awakening like Jonathan Edwards, the inclusion of emotion is what sets the latter apart from the former. Long gone are the days of snooze-inducing Puritan prose, as Edward's works like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God are fraught with fervent imagery, raw emotion, and maybe even some sexy stuff. In addition to looking at Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, we also examined Personal Narrative. The contrast between the two texts is stark, as one portrays God and religion as something to be revered and feared while the other suggests that he is beautiful and lovely. This contrast is especially blatant in the language used, and in the choice and repetition of certain words.

Word cloud for Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Word cloud for Personal Narrative

So, I decided to make word clouds for both of the texts we looked at. For those who may not know, word clouds are a visual representation of word frequency. Therefore, the bigger a word is the more it is used! Repetition is a theme that pervades Edwards' work, and it is easy to see when looking at these word clouds. As he was a preacher, it can be deduced that repetition is a kind of tactic to drive home a point. In Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, the most used words are God (woah, shocker there), hell, wrath, destruction, and pleasure. For Personal Narrative, those words are God (again), Christ, sweet, divine, glory, and infinite.

God and the varying emotion that one feels in relation is obviously the topic of both pieces, however the contrast in language between the two are what distance them from each other. Fire and brimstone or light and goodness, either way Edwards certainly portrays God in such a way that provokes critical thought but also maybe an eye roll for good measure.

until next time,

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Hey everybody! In this post I'm going to be examining a company that you may be familiar with, Maybelline. Though this website was born as a "beauty and fashion" blog if you will, I'm sure it has become quite apparent that is not the case any longer. (Totally not to say that I don't enjoy makeup or writing about it...but that's not my point here.) In Crit Theory today we were discussing language and the relationship between ideas/objects and the words that we use to signify them. So, my friend and I decided to take a look at the makeup brand Maybelline in order to observe this phenomenon.  

Diachronically speaking, Maybelline represents the “ideal” woman in American culture: one that is seen and not heard. In other words, she is revered for her physical appearance and not for her personal beliefs or opinions. Although their ads have changed over time in terms of appearance and marketing techniques (i.e. slogans and color schemes), the message has remained static: women are made into meaningful individuals by making themselves up with Maybelline products. In Maybelline ads from the early 1900’s, the message is blatant and woven expertly into the descriptions of the ads. However, in more recent advertisements the sexism is implied in the language rather than said outright.

When you look at this specific ad from Maybelline in a synchronic sense, you get the idea that everything women are doing is for men, not for themselves. Women are told through this makeup ad that men always want them to be perfect. However, they are only perfect when it comes to their physical appearance; women’s thoughts and ideas are clearly not as revered as much as say, her eyes. Even if the women’s man is away, she should look the way he thought she would when he returned.

 The word “makeup” itself leads one to believe that those who use it are hiding something. Makeup acts as a façade, a mask that covers up the truth, and “the truth” is that women are undesirable without it. Many of the advertisements feature words like “accent” and “perfect” imply that women need to use Maybelline products because their natural beauty is understated, boring, and in need of improvement.

These Maybelline ads speak to the nature of American beauty ideals: women need makeup because they are not pretty without it. Natural beauty is something to be ashamed of, and the façade that makeup provides becomes the “truth”. The language that these ads utilize is persuasive and steeped in sexism, aimed solely at generating revenue and perpetuating stereotypes of women.

 Maybelline’s “target audience” is arguably white, heterosexual upper-middle class women. While this demographic is likely the main consumer of these products, it is important to keep in mind that there are a multitude of individuals (of varying races and ethnic backgrounds) who are consuming but not being represented. The ideas that construct Maybelline as a brand were once stable and static as women were trapped in a singular role by society. However today, as women continue to stand up for themselves and defy social norms, those ideas are outdated and fail to accurately support women as a whole.

until next time,


Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Hi everyone! It's fall now (in New England, anyways) and that means colder weather, chunky sweaters, and watching the 1993 Disney film Hocus Pocus on repeat. Shoutout to Halloweentown, also a fantastic movie, but for the purpose of this blog post we're sticking to the former. I've loved Hocus Pocus since I was a wee child along with all of my peers. Even more so, I've been a little bit obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials for years now as it is of significant interest to me. Perhaps my interest in this subject was solidified by it's unusual and macabre nature, however I'm inclined to believe that the media's portrayal of this event is too what peaked my fascination. 

Why is the media so fixated on this particular historical event, even in today's popular culture? Are we fictionalizing it to the point where it becomes an unauthentic representation of "history", where real people are mere characters and their trials and tribulations become the plot of a dramatized soap opera of sorts?

Going back to Hocus Pocus for a brief moment...oh, quick little tid bit. My professor Robin shared with all of us today during her lecture on the trials that the Salem "witches" were not officially pardoned until 1992. Hocus Pocus came out the following year...coincidence? Although this is not quite relevant to my ultimate point, I think it is interesting to highlight the fact that this movie is still very much relevant, namely at this year's Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness? I want to high five whoever did the casting for this show, especially for Winifred, because they were all SPOT ON. Sadly, I highly doubt any of the young kids that were watching the show even know who the Sanderson sisters are, let alone have any idea about what the movie is meant to represent historically. Seeing as it is a children's movie, elements like death, evil, and witchcraft have a comedic spin put on them. However, applying comedic tropes to a serious and grotesque historical event, in this case, seems to mock instead of providing relief.

While Hocus Pocus is a funny anecdote about three fictitious witches, WGN's scripted drama Salem takes a more serious approach to the subject of the witch trials. First of all, check out the kick ass intro:


Wicked creepy and bonus points for using a Marilyn Manson song. Props! Anyways, in my opinion, Salem is a hybrid of sorts. Yes, it most definitely has some historical truth in it and visually it provides a sense of what living in 1690's Salem would have been like. But, considering the fact that there is still so much uncertainty and mystery surrounding the Salem Witch Trials, the show is able to take creative license regarding the extent to which they dramatize the stories and how far they delve into the realm of the supernatural. Some of the characters, like Cotton Mather and his father Increase, are based on real figures during the trials but most are not.

In saying that Salem is a hybrid, I am saying that it is part historical drama and part cheesy soap opera. As Salem was a wholly religious community with an emphasis on purity in all aspects of life, it is difficult to swallow the highly sexualized nature of the society (and its relationship to witchcraft) as it is portrayed in the show. The sex seems out of place in a show of this nature and it is all too obvious that the inclusion of the sex is only an attempt to keep Salem on the same plane as other popular sexualized TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Tudors. With all that being said, I wholeheartedly enjoy Salem. In my opinion, it is perfectly acceptable to like watching this show despite all of problems that encapsulate it, because in this case the outcome of consuming the media's representation of an event such as this is pure entertainment rather than edification.

People still flock to Salem, hundreds of years after hysteria engulfed the Puritan community that resided there. The tourists flood the city especially during the month of October, Halloween dredging up the screams of the afflicted and the accused alike. Modern culture, most notably literature and film/TV, too continues to dredge up this story, or parable if you will, but for what reason? To prevent the masses from forgetting the atrocities that occurred? To preserve a classic example of the battle between good and evil? To act as a drama in which we insert fictitious individuals into history to warp and distort the truth?

Regardless, the Salem Witch Trials serves as a moral paradigm and grotesque defining event in American history that will forever live on in Salem proper and in modern culture.

And that makes me very, very happy.

until next time,

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