Category Archives: Article

Rhetorical Analysis of Eve L. Ewing’s “Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts”

“Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts” is an opinion editorial written by the University of Chicago sociologist, Eve L. Ewing and was published in the New York Times on April 6, 2017. Ewing argues the Trump administration’s efforts to defund the arts, specifically in regards to the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, could be interpreted as one of the methods an authoritarian regime employs to moderate any dissent and criticism levied at it. Ewing claims that “artists play a distinctive role in challenging authoritarianism” and is attempting to educate her readers that if American art is allowed to only “serve the instruments of power,” American society may lose the benefit and freedom to criticize those in power.

Ewing says “we should be very afraid” there is a political war on the arts and it is in her declarative of “we should” that reveals who she is attempting to reach. With an affluent readership of 14.5 million subscriptions earning a mean of roughly $75,000 annually (“New York Times Audience,”) Ewing has carefully chosen (and been chosen by) her forum by speaking directly to this majority demographic of the New York Times. In a 2014 Pew Research poll, 65% of New York Times readers identified as politically left of center (“Where News Audiences Fit,”) a liberal audience assumed to be friendly to the arts and who identify with the belief that “lives other than [their] own have value.” Ewing is also counting on the New York Times’ 56.9% post-graduate college educated audience, (“New York Times Audience,”) to understand the implications stemming from some of the 20th century’s most notorious authoritarians who likewise viewed the arts and artists as a threat to their power, such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet who “tortured and exiled” mulraists, and Joseph Stalin who “executed all of the Soviet Union’s Ukrainian folk poets” (Ewing).

Ewing compares President Trump’s “public castigation of the “Hamilton” cast” in retaliation for their “fairly tame commentary” against the Vice President to Brazil’s authoritarian government blocking of a museum director’s exhibition because it contained a photograph “seen as embarrassing to the police.” Ewing further primes her audience’s concern of impending American authoritarianism by leading off the article with the example of the Nazi’s war against the arts, a war her audience will know began two years before Germany even invaded Poland. She explains how in 1937 a Nazi art exhibition was set up to promote the “ideal Aryan society” and to denigrate art and artists the Third Reich believed “could play a key role in the rise or fall of their dictatorship.” Ewing is banking on her audience’s education, socio-economic standing, beliefs, and political leanings to be in a position to understand how co-opting the arts can solidify the power structures of an authoritarian regime.

Thus, kairos is vital to Ewing’s argument as this opinion editorial was published fewer than 3 months after Trump was inaugurated. She is taking full advantage of the exigence of political turmoil surrounding his presidency to reach an audience who will not be able to resist making the connection between a candidate they did not support during the election with that of the authoritarian terrors of Pinochet, Stalin, and Hitler she describes in the article. She is attempting to educate her intended audience, to draw attention to the possibility that something as seemingly innocuous as defunding the National Endowment for the Arts or publicly feuding with the outspoken actors in a Broadway play could, in fact, be the “canary in the coal mine” (Ewing) of a larger, more ominous threat to contemporary American culture where political dissent and criticism should be practised without reprisal. Ewing’s credentials as a university sociologist may influence anyone still on the fence as to if there truly is a legitimate cause for concern over Trump’s actions. An astute audience will understand that if this topic already has the attention of a major news outlet as well as other university educated professionals, like themselves, then perhaps there is more to the argument than mere speculation.

Ewing’s goal is to utilize a major American forum to excite an already receptive audience into seeing the possibility that allowing authoritarians to “attack the arts” is actually a symptom of a regime unwilling to be criticized and that is attempting to “[create] a society where propaganda reigns and dissent is silenced” (Ewing). She also understands that many in her audience may also be some of the very same / sympathetic to those “who occupy marginalized social positions” (Ewing) and could be directly affected if their freedom to criticize was usurped by an authoritarian regime. Ewing tells her audience that there is still “a chance to see daylight again,” but her choice of the word “chance” assumes her audience will also intuit that there is an even greater probability they might not “see daylight again” should her argument not be taken seriously.


Works Cited

Ewing, Eve L., “Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts.” The New York Times, 6 Apr. 2017. Accessed Feb 2018.

“New York Times Audience.” The New York Times, Aug 2010. Accessed Feb 2018.

“Where News Audiences Fit on the Political Spectrum.” Pew Research Center, 21 Oct, 2014. Accessed Feb 2018.

Cultural Reflection for “Her”

Since 2009 I have played the game World of Warcraft, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, MMORPG. And while the social interactions in the game are with actual human beings, the sense interactions with the game environment are completely virtual. This brings up an interesting situation where the game world, known as Azeroth, has become, in my mind, a place that is just as real as, say the student center, or the state of Wyoming.  I can just as easily find an alchemy vendor in many of the game’s cities as I can the nearest Walgreens in my hometown, and in both cases they involve just as much planning to get to and might even require an extra trip to the bank to make sure I have enough money (gold) to make my purchases.

Yet just merely interacting with this virtual environment is not the only benefit I’ve discovered. Some of my favorite actual memories are of moments within this game space. For example, when I first began playing I grouped up with a stranger to complete a particularly difficult task. We were able to complete our goal and then went our separate ways but a few months later (in real time) we ran into each other late at night in a rainy jungle environment (the zone of Feralas) and for over an hour we chatted about our game progress, what we’ve been doing since we last met, and what our plans were. In my mind that event didn’t take place in my living room in front of a computer screen but actually at the inn at the village of Camp Mojache in Feralas. In fact I have no memory of my physical self, only of the virtual setting and our two characters.

And it is this loss of “reality” and “self” within a virtual world that I find so appealing. After a long day of work or school, getting lost in an idealized environment full of monsters, difficult tasks, and real players is a relief, a stress reducer, and a chance to take on an alternate identity, which in my case is a Female Pandaren Holy Priest who rides a psychedelic dragon and is responsible for healing injured players.

There have been times when I’ve stepped away from the game for extended periods of time, yet my mind always recalls my experiences within it as if I had actually been an inhabitant of that world. I never recall my physical state, but always recall my experiences in relation to the virtual one. For me Azeroth is a real, living place full of real people (which is true, after all since all the players are being controlled by actual human beings). In fact I would go as far to say that Azeroth is more real (in my mind) than that of a fictional world of a novel. Perhaps because a virtual world allows you to actively engage in its environment whereas other forms of entertainment only allow for passive engagement is what makes the experience so much more realistic, but whatever the cause is the effect is uncanny. I have had dreams which take place within the game world, and more often than not have wished my real life and my virtual one could be swapped – at least for a little while.

And so the film “Her” captures this weird relationship between the virtual and the real and asks the viewer if an emotional experience gained from a fiction is any less valid than one received from the “real” world? My memories of World of Warcraft are real memories, and my experiences in the game did actually happen in that I performed a task using my computer to make the event occur, so why wouldn’t my emotions be just as valid as if I had, say taken a trip to Costa Rica and ran into an old friend in a small village one rainy evening as I waited for a bus? What really is the difference other than my physical body got to participate to a much greater degree in one example than the other?

I feel these issues need to be explored and addressed as technology advances and as the line between the real and the virtual grows even less clear if for any reason other than to help people cope with the loss that will eventually occur when the people who own and run World of Warcraft decide to shut it down and force everyone to disconnect from a virtual reality they have spent nearly a decade having real experiences and memories inside of. Being able to cope with an event like that by having our emotions of loss validated and not just brushed off as it having only been a video game will be important the deeper and more immersive the virtual realities become.  I have had real emotional experiences within a virtual world and losing that would cause me grief and distress, and so it’s reassuring to see artists and filmmakers explore this phenomena because it lets me know I’m not crazy for having such a deep connection with something that is not “real” – whatever that even means!

Reading Response for Ada Limón

Ada Limón’s reading was the most professional and polished reading I have attended so far for this course, and while I enjoyed her performance, I left with more questions than I began the evening with.

Ada’s presentation of her work and her ability to “work the crowd” reflected a strong and practised professionality. Ada is a well known poet and no doubt performs numerous readings so it is no wonder she is comfortable with her banter between poems (even during them!). Her overall presentation was engaging, she spoke with a clear and measured style, and she came across as a very “nice” person, someone who reminds me of that kind aunt whose visits are greatly anticipated.

Yet it was her measured and polished presentation, along with her easy and charming personality which left me confused. Her poems, most of which were from her book Bright Dead Things, did not seem to match up to the kind, funny lady reading comfortably in front of a crowded room where only moments before, in a posh lounge adjoining the hall, a piano player fingered away the sort of classical jazz you would hear in a private country club. Could this be the same poet who lifts up her shirt or squats to pee with a pit bull bitch in a garage? Is this sweet, impeccably (though still casually) dressed lady the sort of person who talks about her “first full-fledged fuck”?

And it was exactly this dissonance between poet and poem which I have been struggling with since I first read the entirety of Bright Dead Things. When I began her book I knew nothing of the poet and assumed she was a white lady from somewhere in California and Kentucky whose interests were fairly typical of the white, middle class experience: pop culture (“a big-voiced singer found dead in her London flat.”), people mowing their lawns, domestic affairs – to be honest I initially assumed this was the sort of poetry for the not-too-bad-off wine drinking ladies, a stereotype for sure, but my honest first impression. There did not seem to be a strong character in the book, and all the poems ended with a strong conclusion as if something had been figured out – as if the purpose of art was solving equations and writing platitudes.

Yet the more I thought about this disconnect between poet and book, and reader and poems, the more I came to realize that her very un-remarkability might be at the very core of what she is trying to express. Thinking back to my initial stereotype of whom the poet might be speaks to how easy it is to judge a person, how easy it is to assume that kind aunt of ours only spends all day drinking wine with friends who tip-toe through antique shops before going home at night to a few cats and an herbal tea. How generic I must think the people I’m more closely related to: middle class Americans. How have I had no understanding that these are the same people who fuck and piss like a “hard bitch”, who have fears and worries that, while not as dramatic as a march for civil rights or time spent saving children in Syria, are no less valid.

And so while I left Ada’s reading with more questions than I went in with, they are questions of myself, questions about what do I really know about what the people around me are going through, questions about why I want to placing more worth on some extreme display of civic demonstration over the simple life of a kind, well-spoken poet who has lost family members, lives in Kentucky, and simply just wants to live. Does all art, or in fact do all people need to spend all their energy fighting the system, is it not hard enough just to get through our own, simple lives without someone judging us for not doing enough, for not living up to some sort of unrealistic expectation?

I feel I have a lot of soul searching to do, and I am grateful to Ada Limón for reminding me of the struggle and complexity inside even the kindest, and most beautifully average person.

Cultural Response for “13th”

While choosing to be racist is a personal choice, so much of our society is structured to encourage racism that simply choosing not to be racist will not be enough to end the cycle.  In this essay I will examine the ways in which the structures that perpetuate racism could be changed, as well as explore the futility of public figures who have tried to “apologize” for instituting a system that devastated black communities and deepened the wounds of racism in America.

The big question is, “What can we do to end the cycle of racism?”. To say there is an easy or obvious answer to this question would be to ignore the 150 years of racial history since the end of the Civil War. And while racism is a way of thinking a person chooses to adhere to, other factors are at play, specifically economic ones which perpetuate this cycle. Being that we live in a capitalist society the very foundation of our society is based on business and money: the more money a business can make while at the same time minimizing the costs associated with running the business the more the stockholders and corporate leaders will benefit. As shown in “13th”, business interests then align with political leaders (through such organizations as the American Legislative Exchange Council) to enact laws which judge black and Latino communities as criminals in an effort to circumnavigate the 13th Amendment of the Constitution prohibiting slavery in hopes of having access to plentiful and cheap labor.

One possible solution could be disincentivizing corporations through either prohibiting lobbying via excessive campaign contributions, or at least outlawing certain businesses, such as private prisons to lobby for laws which provide the “criminals” for them to make money off of as cheap labor. And while this would not do much to immediately change the mindset of people who are racist, it would go some distance in removing one of the excuses racist’s trot out when defending their racism: that all black people are criminals who deserve to be locked up.

Next, let’s assume we can solve the structures that perpetuate racism. What then? What do we tell the communities and individuals who have been devastated by centuries of exploitation? In the film “13th”, politicians express regret for worsening the cycle, yet how can an apology genuinely be enough?  Yes these politicians are responsible for legalizing slavery in America, but these apologies from white men feel hollow because they are still in a position of power. The white man is behaving as if he is benevolent and can just handwave away the racism of people in power who look down on those with no power. An apology does not change the power structure in America.

As seen in another documentary, “Scarface 4 Life Rykers Island”, countless black men leave prison violated and fundamentally changed to such a degree that one former inmate says prison was just “a gladiator school”. How can so many people who have been conditioned towards violence and mistrust ever be repaid and be accepted back into society? Compared with solving the causes of racism, this issue may be even more difficult to overcome and there may be no act strong enough to make up for the injustice done to literally millions of human beings. Even putting aside the legality of giving back the billions of dollars made off of legalized slavery in the prison system, what good would this money do for people who have been conditioned to behave as selfishly as the people who enslaved them?

The short answer is that there is very little that can realistically be done, at least not immediately. However, changing laws and disincentivizing business interests can go a long way to changing the structures that perpetuate racism.

James Baldwin said in his famous Cambridge University debate with the conservative William F. Buckley that racist people (white people) have been raised to believe “that no matter how terrible their lives may be, and their lives have been quite terrible … at least they are not black.” Perhaps then the only solution is allowing black human beings the dignity of actually being a human beings, that instead of treating black people as animals, or gladiators, or as slave labor, by removing not just the literal shackles of oppression but the metaphorical shackles too, can we free people from debasement. When we live in a society that allows those in charge – politicians, business executives – to manipulate the laws to oppress an entire race of people for their own greed and gain, can we be surprised those of us who are not part of the oppressed population would turn our eyes away and say “at least it’s not happening to me”? Leveling the playing field could go a long way to at least removing the excuses racist people have for their racism and force them to come to terms with how they view their fellow citizens.


Works Cited

13th. Directed by Ava DuVernay, Netflix, 7 Oct. 2016.

Reed, Troy. “Scarface 4 Life Rykers Island.” YouTube, 18 Nov. 2016,

“James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965).” YouTube, 27 Oct. 2012,

Reading Response for Fork Socket

The Fork Socket reading event at the Wolverine Public House was a lively and enjoyable experience. Not only were there readings from three CSU students, but the hosts also provided comic entertainment to create a fun and inviting atmosphere. In contrast to the previous reading I attended for Mike Lala, an event I found somewhat pretentious, the Fork Socket event was far more engaging, though the quality of the works read were somewhat uneven at times.

Our hosts kicked off the evening with a comedic commentary of the funny hand gestures used by Radiohead’s lead singer, Thom Yorke. An edited version of that band’s “In Rainbows” basement sessions was shown on the projector while the two hosts, flanking the screen and channeling a combination of their inner David Attenborough, Al Michaels, and Monty Python, labeled and explained each funny hand gesture and odd gyration. I enjoyed this routine a lot and it helped create a mood for the evening which was relaxed and no doubt helped to ease any potential stagefright for the student readers.

The first reader was Michelle LaCross, not Michelle Obama as her introducer initially promised. However, with the assistance of impromptu interpretive dance from one of the audience members we were quickly relieved of this initial disappointment.

Michelle read a work of nonfiction, a memory piece about how her mother would take her and her siblings on long car rides to the beach where they built campfires and spent family time together. The story was very pleasant, however, it never moved past the surface of nostalgia to really dig deep into why her mother needed these trips. There was mention of a father who was not invited on these trips, and later mention of a step-father – implying a divorce and remarriage had taken place – yet at no time did I feel the work was mature enough to really explore anything beyond how Michelle enjoyed the time spent in the car and at the beach. Perhaps if she explored the emotions of her mother further, if we had a better sense of what the family was escaping we would be more likely to experience this memory with Michelle rather than just hear her tell about it. A key image in the story was that of her mother’s “poking stick” so perhaps Michelle can use this image to poke harder into the surface of this memory.

As Michelle was reading I realized I was sitting in a very bad spot to take notes while the readings took place: front row, just a few feet from each reader. Since these were students, and possibly not used to much public speaking, let alone reading very personal work, I felt it would be “bad form” to scribble notes as they read. In the future I won’t sit so close..

The next reader was Megan Clarke who was also introduced with lively interpretative dance as accompaniment. Megan’s work was from a novel she is currently working on and in this chapter our main character is running away from home and takes a bus from Pennsylvania to Boston and the radio station where she had been conceived. Most of the action takes place on the bus as she is seated next to a young man who is on his way towards a potential ivy league education, a stark contrast to our lesbian, poor, runaway, teenage narrator.

Megan has a gift for comedy and was an excellent reader – she commanded a strong stage presence, read clearly and didn’t drop a single joke. Yet the one aspect I struggled with was that her character was so similar to Holden Caulfield. So often I have seen in young people’s writings narrators and characters who seem to have too much figured out, who seem quick to judge everyone around them without much time spent looking within or how their “teenage attitude” affects the people around them. The characters seem more busy with posturing than being empathetic. However, since we were only given a single chapter from within a larger body of work I do not know if my reading of this character is too limited so I will not criticize too harshly. Megan is a talented writer who has created a strong and potentially interesting character even if that character feels like many I have read before.  

I would also recommend Megan do a bit more research. The final scene of her reading takes place outside the radio station in Boston where her character was conceived, but she lists the call sign as KMLX. Radio stations on the east coast do not start their call-sign with the letter “K”, rather “W” is used instead. While this a small detail, in a work which feels autobiographical as this one does this is the sort of mistake which can harm the credibility of the story.

At this point in the evening our hosts set up a large-scale game of Battleship for two random contestants to play on stage during the intermission. Wonderfully crude, handmade battleships laid out on a tarp with taped grid lines were set up and two names were drawn from a sandwich bag. Serendipitously, the reader whose character was poor and starving, Megan Clarke, was selected and won the game and was presented with a combination coffee maker and toaster oven / griddle.

The final reader for the evening was Leah White, MFA student and the TA of this class. Leah read a series of poems each simply titled “Example” which were personal images and memories of her mother whom had passed away not too many years ago. While each poem was brief, each was highly charged with specific imagery – I distinctly remember a pearl necklace – and Leah seemed very interested in the sound of each word, as if she was physically shaping her words as if they were gifts to the audience or as if she were performing an act of conjuring these memories into something more real. I admit to getting lost in each poem (hence my exact memory of each one being poor) and I was struck with how they conveyed the sort of personal details I found familiar in how I remember my Grandmother who passed away many years ago. Leah did not try to describe her mother whole rather she described the parts of her mother which meant the most to her. Perhaps why I thought of my grandmother is because Leah’s poems allowed me to reflect on the loss of someone I loved rather than being forced to imagine someone whom I will never really know, and in this way my grandmother and her mother became a sort of one, a singularity I could relate to at the most personal level. I was deeply moved.

Hombre: Reading Response for Mike Lala and Rachel Hall

I arrived early at the Gregory Alliar Museum for Mike Lala’s poetry reading and took a moment to wander quietly from painting to painting through the gallery as the audience filtered in. One painting in particular interested me, a simple rectangle frame with the image of a Mexican farmer bent over a field as he labored with a hoe. He wore jeans and green bowler, and his face was hidden. The plackard read Hombre Cultivando la Tierra, 1995 and that the painting was a promised gift to Polly and Mark Addison who, it seemed to me, were quite patient in waiting these 22 years for their art.

“I am on perpetual loan,” Hombre told me as we moved on through the gallery. “I go from museum to museum, staying a few weeks here before moving on to a new gallery.”

“You must be familiar with events like these?” I inquired.

“Yes. Art is my life, after all. I work very hard at it, day and night.”

I explained to Hombre that this evening we would be hearing a poetry reading from a New York poet named Mike Lala, as well as an opening reading from Rachel Hall, a professor of English who is also based in New York. Hombre was eager to join me and so we took our seats near the front row.

Rachel read from her book of collected and connected short stories titled Heirlooms, and though we were unable to catch the title of the specific story, it centered on a young woman living in France near the beginning of World War 2. Rachel read smoothly and clearly, no doubt a skill she learned from her years as a professor as Hombre commented, however, we soon found ourselves growing bored of the story.

“I’m not sure I understand what the point of this is,” Hombre whispered.

“I believe she’s trying to tell us about that feeling of uncertainty immediately before the war but through the lens of her first pregnancy and her family.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps this is what your English department would like you to say about this reading?” Hombre countered.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what the expectation is.”

“I think the expectation should be to honestly talk about how you feel.”

We listened patiently as Rachel’s story continued and we learned our character lost the child, that her neighbors read books about farming (and how unusual that was to them!), and that the bed sheets smelt stale which was probably some allusion to her marriage or sex in general being repugnant to her. We learned about all the material things in this character’s life: so many possessions, so many things to be tied down with: the pleats of a skirt, foods of all kind, and a fancy stroller, la poussette as it was always referred to in French, which was highly coveted.

She described barley as being “versatile” and I heard Hombre chuckle causing his green canvas hat to shake.

“I do not see the point to that story,” He said as Rachel stepped away and Mike Lala was being introduced. “It was very sad, but very non-specific. Nothing happened, there was no tension or drama, and though the writing was technically proficient, it all leads up to a lot of nothing.”

“I have very little,” Hombre continued. “I do not own the land and my labor is for the benefit of a wealthy landowner, much as it has been for thousands of years all over the world. And the work is very hard and I am hunched over at it all day. But I do not complain because what else will I do? I know how to till the earth, I know when to plant the seeds, and I know when to harvest. Who else will do this? And besides, I love it. Sometimes there is no harvest, sometimes the crops wither or are flooded and I worry I might starve. It is a hard life to dig all day, but there is truth and beauty in it, too.”

“And you didn’t see that in this story?”

“I saw a story that would get a passing grade from a university professor because it is crafted the way university professors require their stories to be crafted. I see this a lot in my travels. A lot of people show up to hear something they want to hear but they do not want to be honestly challenged. They do not want a real farmer who smells of sweat and earth and whose hands are raw from gripping a hoe in the sweaty sun, they do not want what is real, they want what is safe, what is nostalgic, they want what looks like art, but not real art. They want something to hang on the wall, something to advance their university career so they can graduate more people like them.”

Though I could not see Hombre’s face I could sense he did not have much hope for the evening’s main attraction, Mike Lala and so he sat with his head bowed, his face perpetually hidden.

Mike was a very good reader, and he had a smooth, yet breathless style to each of his poems. Often he would be out of breath and have to pause and gather in a fresh lung to continue. His poems were complicated, taking advantage of Google translate to create new poems from the original ancient Roman poet’s, Catullus with new, modern meanings in an attempt to compare but also contrast our two decadent and corrupted societies. Having seen his poems on the page he seemed interested in the form and physical structure of poetry, and I mentioned this to Hombre.

“I’m afraid this is not much better,” Hombre admitted after the final reading. “Our poet is too concerned with appearances and the material possessions of the world. In his final poem I was worried his breathless list of all those useless material things he saw on Elizabeth Street might actually suffocate him. Our poet has inherited Audre Lorde’s diamond from coal but now wears it like gaudy jewelry. What does it matter to want all these things, all these possessions? What is the point of all this experimentation of poetry if it only leads to so much naval-gazing and selfishness?”

As the audience dispersed I walked Hombre back to his frame. Hombre took his place bent over the hoe over the cracked earth of the Mexican prairie.

“Art is not for galleries,” Hombre said. “Art should be life, art should be struggle, art should be work and sweat and confrontation. Art does not need to be approved by a university chair and given awards by other university chairs in the hopes of creating more university chairs. Art is supposed to make us think and act! Art is the exercise of critical thinking for us to take into the world to change the world.”

“So you did not think what we heard here tonight was art?”

“I think our speakers believed it was art because that’s what they’ve been told is art. But the true way of art was lost tonight. If Seamus’ father could walk out of his potato field, or Blake could put down the sick roses he tends to, or if Gwendolyn could leave that empty house Sadie left her and see what has become of their efforts, I think they would despair. Art should work towards something, not just be a centerpiece for the wine drinking classes.”

“What should I write about this evening, Hombre?” I asked.

“Write the truth. Say you had a pleasant evening but that you found it lacking in anything real.”

“I don’t want to be rude, and I don’t want to be “that guy” in my English department who is always causing trouble by being overly critical of his colleagues hard work.”

“Than perhaps you might consider becoming a farmer?” He answered and then returned to his duties.

As I exited the gallery I wished Hombre good luck on his travels, an artist – a worker – forever on the road and never safe at home to just hang on a wall.

Hombre Cultivando la Tierra, 1995, Tony Ortega