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Stephanie Wang

The allegory behind Black Mirror’s “USS Callister”

Author:
black_mirror_uss

By Stephanie Wang

WARNING: the below includes major plot spoilers for season 4 episode 1 of Black Mirror, “USS Callister”

Content note: Sexual violence, control

At first glance, “USS Callister” seemingly features some odd Star Trek-adjacent fantasy of a genius programmer, Robert Daly. And at first, viewers tend to sympathise with him – he’s clearly shy and used to being manipulated and walked all over by his co-workers at the company he co-founded. Despite coming up with the idea and code for the popular virtual reality game, Infinity, he receives little of the credit as the spotlight falls to James Walton, a man much more charismatic and likeable, but with no real knowledge of the technical side of the company.

While all the other workers treat Daly with as little respect as possible, the new hire Nanette treats him with the utmost respect, idolising his code and recognising him as the one who actually coded for Infinity. After being given even the slightest attention, Daly begins to stare at Nanette constantly during work, even eavesdropping on her conversations with other workers – basically, he’s giving off major stalker vibes.

And then, he digs through her trash and obtains a coffee cup and it’s revealed that with this DNA, he’s able to essentially create a digital clone of her. It turns out that this Star Trek-adjacent fantasy is not so fantastical – instead it features cloned copies of co-workers. These individuals still have the same personality and memories of their lives in the real world but are stuck on this ship, USS Callister, for Daly to control in the form of a modded Infinity game that looks like Daly’s favourite TV show.

In this game, he’s the one in charge and the one responsible for keeping peace in the galaxy, tracking down villains. On this ship, Daly can do whatever he’s too scared and timid to do in real life – whether that’s kissing the female members on his ship, choking or otherwise abusing everyone, or turning anyone on the ship who even slightly questions his leadership into a monster.

And it turns out, the smallest thing done in the office could land a worker into his controlling playground – whether it’s “insufficient smiling,” calling him out for “staring” at employees, or bringing him the wrong sandwich.

In these ways, “USS Callister” can be seen as a type of allegory for the abuses of power taken by the men in leadership roles in big tech companies. It’s no secret that in many of the big Silicon Valley companies, there’s a culture of harassment and sexual misconduct that’s often just pushed under the rug by the companies. In many cases, these perpetrators are never brought to justice as there’s either not a human resources department or if there is one, victims are simply told by HR that nothing can be done. And then there’s the threat of unemployment or for their career to be defined as a whistleblower, giving those higher-up the ability to do anything they want without fearing any sort of backlash.

In 2017, several women in tech came forward with their stories about sexual misconduct of those in Silicon Valley, and while companies promised investigations women say that there have been few tangible changes made by those in power. And still, the simple fact remains that the tech industry on the aggregate has done little to none that would systematically support women in an industry dominated by men because there’s “too much power, too much money, and too few reasons to change.”

Robert Daly is the classic “misunderstood, bullied coder” who uses that to justify the actions he takes. This draws similarities to the way Silicon Valley’s big players wouldn’t try harassing women in the “real world,” but feel free to do so in the workplace where they reign as king, unchecked and knowing that there, their actions have no consequences. And of course, this problem isn’t just limited to the tech world – it’s also seen with the dozens of women who’ve stepped out to reveal the awful abuses of power taken by directors in Hollywood as well as the other silence breakers of varying races, income classes, and occupations. It’s a problem that’s unfortunately prevalent in all aspects of society.

While Black Mirror is infamous for sad endings, “USS Callister” ends on a bright, light-hearted note. The happy ending of the episode – namely the prevailing of the digital clones in escaping to a space universe without Daly and his abusive control – is brought by a woman (Nanette) who comes up with the ingenious plan despite being initially underestimated both by the other clones and Daly. And while this episode, like other Black Mirror episodes, does warn watchers of the dangers of technology (it is technology, after all, that allows Daly to create the digital clones and create this warped world), perhaps the even bigger point is to be even more wary of the human players behind the technology – to keep those with access to technology and power in check.

Whether this same happy ending – the ending of a culture of harassment in both Silicon Valley and on the aggregate level – will occur in the modern world remains to be seen. And it seems like a good step is being taken with this anti-harassment action plan signed by 300 prominent women in Hollywood.

PBG’s Alternative/Indie Albums to Look Forward to in 2018

Author:
stephanie4

By Stephanie Wang

2017 was a great year for music, but it’s looking like 2018 may be an even bigger year, especially for alternative and indie fans, with highly anticipated releases from artists like Fall Out Boy, the 1975 and the Arctic Monkeys. While many of these artists have remained silent on the titles and/or dates, they have, at the very least, confirmed that they will be releasing a full-length album in 2018. Here are some that I’m most excited for:

EDEN – vertigo, January 19th

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Formerly releasing dance and electronic music under the alias The Eden Project, 22-year-old Jonathan Ng is now releasing music more subtlety electronic as EDEN. A sharp departure from other musicians, EDEN is a mult-instrumentalist who writes, plays, and produces all of his own music, writing and recording in his own bedroom and even going live on Periscope to play covers and original songs for fans.

Vertigo will mark his first full-length debut, after releasing his 2016 EP i think you think too much of me and his 2015 EP End Credits. EDEN has already released three singles from his full-length due January 19th, 2018 – “start//end,” “gold,” and “crash” – all three deeply personal and emotional songs tackling themes like heartbreak, change, death and new beginnings. EDEN has said, “Releasing this body of work is terrifying and overwhelming for me. A lot of it is so personal. This album is not a coming-of-age story, but it caused one.” In support of his album release, EDEN will also be touring the US and Europe in 2018, with many of the dates already sold out.

BØRNS – TBA, January

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While Garrett Borns aka BØRNS hasn’t officially announced a date or name for his follow-up album to the breakout 2015 debut album Dopamine, in interviews he’s revealed that it’s set to release in January. Since releasing his debut album, BØRNS has gone platinum, sold out headlining theater shows, and performed at huge festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella. He’s released three singles from the album including “Faded Heart,” “Sweet Dreams,” and “I Don’t Want U Back.” About the sophomore album, BØRNS has said he’s tapped from a “futuristic Beach Boys register.” Typically drawing from older inspiration, namely 60s and 70s rock, he has said that this album is more orchestral and layered, and if the three singles he’s already released are anything to go by, it’s clear that his sophomore album will once again be filled with expressive indie jams.

Rhye – Blood, February 2nd

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Beginning by releasing several singles online without giving any indication as to their identity, Rhye’s origins were defined by mystery, particularly given the androgynous-sounding vocals complemented by synths and piano. With the 2013 release of Woman and resulting tour, the identity of Rhye is no longer a secret, and now, their sophomore album Blood is set to release February 2nd after a pair of two summer singles in 2017, “Please” and “Summer Days.” Three singles from the LP – “Please,” “Taste,” and “Count to Five” – have already been released, and from these songs, it’s clear that the sultry, R&B influence that distinguished their first album is still there. In support of their album, Rhye will be touring throughout North America and Europe in the spring.

Hayley Kiyoko – Expectations, TBA

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After teasing on social media that the name of her debut album was hidden in a picture, Hayley Kiyoko later revealed that her first album would be called Expectations and released in “#20GAYTEEN”. Formerly known as playing Stella in Disney’s Lemonade Mouth movie and Velma in the Scooby-Doo films, Hayley Kiyoko has since been releasing music determined to share her narrative as a gay woman.

What makes Hayley Kiyoko so different from other musicians is not just her background in acting- it’s also her portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters/relationships in several of her music videos and the authenticity of which she does this. She’s since released three EP’s – A Belle to Remember in 2013, This Side of Paradise in 2015, and Citrine in 2016. In 2017, she released three singles – “Sleepover,” “Glory Days” in collaboration with Sweater Beats (who opened for her on her One Bad Night tour in 2017), and “Feelings.” While she hasn’t revealed a specific date for which her full-length album will be released, one thing is sure: it’ll be an album to remember.

The Japanese House – TBA, TBA

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After releasing a series of EP’s (2017’s Saw You in a Dream, 2016’s Swim Against the Tide, 2015’s Clean, and 2015’s Pools to Bathe In) and touring with the 1975, the English indie-pop act the Japanese House is finally releasing a debut full length due in 2018. Known for moody minimalist electronic pop some have described as a mix between Wet and the xx found in songs like “Clean” and “Cool Blue”, the Japanese House brings a unique sound. When first listening to the her, many thought that the Japanese House was another project of the 1975 featuring the vocals of Matty Healy – most are surprised to find out that the Japanese House consists only of 22-year-old Amber Bain.

Potentially teasing the release on social media, she posted 24 photos numerically labeling each one, leading fans to speculate that the album may include 24 songs. In interviews, Amber has revealed that the album will be mostly newer songs, with perhaps one or two songs pulled off of previous EP’s.

Other 2018 Releases: Porches – The House (January 19th), Fall Out Boy – MANIA (January 19th), Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending (February 9th), Vampire Weekend – Mitsubishi Macchiato (TBA), MGMT – Little Dark Age (TBA), the 1975 – Music for Cars (TBA)

Artists who Plan to Have 2018 Releases*: CHVRCHES, Pale Waves – TBA, Florence and the Machine, Death Cab for Cutie, Courtney Barnett, Carly Rae Jepsen, Grimes, Arctic Monkeys, Bastille

*both name of album and date is unknown but band has said on social media/interviews that an album will be coming in 2018

Where Supergirl went wrong

Author:
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By Stephanie Wang

CN: mention of slavery

From being an unprecedented TV show focused on a female superhero and with a diverse cast, tackling issues such as xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia, season 2 of Supergirl, particularly the latter half, has morphed beyond recognition.

The cast’s behaviour at the San Diego Comic Con this past weekend mocking an LGBT ship and fans’ interpretations of the show, as well as glamorising a planet known for its slavery, has cemented the problem facing the CW’s Supergirl right now. From replacing a kind, African American love-interest (James Olsen) with a disrespectful and abusive former slave owner (Mon-El), cutting out and reducing the roles of its POC cast members, and featuring clearly unhealthy relationships, Supergirl has lost its roots as a show celebrating diversity and girl power. Now, what first attracted fans to Supergirl is the very thing that is pushing them away from the show.

If the message of Supergirl was to show us exactly what an unhealthy relationship looked like—refusing to listen to what your partner wants, guilt-tripping someone into returning your feelings, and demeaning your partner constantly—then it has succeeded. Despite several signs of a manipulative relationship, cast members, showrunners, and even the media have touted this relationship between Kara Danvers (alter ego Supergirl) and Mon-El as healthy, normal, and cute. Chris Woods, the actor that plays Mon-El, has even said that what he loves so much about his character’s relationship with Supergirl is that he gives her such a hard time. Even worse, showrunners have said that the only reason why they split up James and Kara was because they’re both “so noble and heroic.” Apparently, putting her with a “flawed” character like a misogynistic slave-owner that would give her a lot of “trouble” would be more “dramatically rich.”

It shouldn’t be Kara’s responsibility to make Mon-El a better man and certainly a show as “feminist” as Supergirl should get that. For a show which originally had themes of independence and girl power, Kara saying that having Mon-El is “enough” and completes her, as well as focusing so heavily on Mon-El in to the point that it seemed like the show was centered around him, just seems contradictory.

Interestingly enough, what showrunners laud as heroic and forgettable seems to differ by gender. Despite Mon-El’s past slave-owning roots, he’s viewed as a hero even though he does practically nothing unless it benefits his own selfish interests. Contrarily, Lena Luthor, who hails from an anti-alien family but has always saved the day and done good, is constantly treated with suspicion and hatred and never given the credit she deserves. Supergirl’s intention seems to be to provide an example of women not getting what they deserve and men being recognised for virtually nothing.

But perhaps the final nail in the coffin is the fact that Supergirl’s cast has no qualms in demeaning and making fun of its fanbase. Supergirl, naturally, has a pretty large LGBT fanbase with the coming out of Kara’s sister, Alex Danvers, and her relationship with a Latina cop, Maggie Sawyer. And with LGBT youth commonly feeling their sexuality isn’t valid and searching for representation absent in mainstream media, for the cast to make a joke at their sake is rather despicable. It seems pretty obvious that it’s generally not a good idea to alienate the fanbase that is providing your paycheck, but maybe not to the cast of Supergirl.

While season 2 wasn’t all bad—the introduction of Lena Luthor, Cat Grant’s return in the season finale, and the epic fight scene between Supergirl and Superman—there were just too many missteps and hopefully Supergirl’s show runners learn from them in time for season 3.

Girls can’t what?!: sexism in STEM classrooms

Author:
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By Stephanie Wang

Sure, I see statistics on the clear disparity in the number of women going into STEM fields, hear horror stories of sexism in the workplaces of tech giants, and notice a difference in the amount of girls in math and science classes, but it’s another thing altogether to experience an overt form of gender-based bias at school.

Initially, I didn’t think anything much of the fact that AP Physics C was heavily dominated by boys, fully anticipating that we’d be seen as equals, with our accomplishments seen in equal light. Suffice to say, I was heavily mistaken.

For an end of the year celebration, we were challenged by our teacher to build a catapult and then use it to shoot a marble at a toy monkey more than 15 yards away. My group was the only group that was all-girl. When we asked our physics teacher for a screwdriver, one boy acted as if we couldn’t possibly know what a Phillips screwdriver was. This was despite the fact that unlike his group, we didn’t get a company to build the catapult for us, instead laboriously designing and conducting trials with our catapult. When we turned out to be the only group to hit the monkey, several of the boys – watching from 15 yards away – disputed it, saying it didn’t actually hit the monkey. This is despite the fact that our physics teacher, standing a foot away, vouched and said it did hit. Not to mention, we all heard the sound from the marble hitting the monkey.

Instead of accepting that they’d been bested by a group of girls, they demanded that we go again to “really prove it hit,” and obnoxiously crowded around the monkey and started to film the shot just to ensure that we couldn’t “cheat.” Perhaps the reason they felt like they couldn’t possibly trust the teacher’s judgment was that she was a female, and of course, a group of males with overly fragile egos know better than an incredibly knowledgeable physics teacher who used to be a college professor.

Throughout the entire experience, my group mates and I could only feel shock at the overt sexism we experienced. Here, we saw a clear example of the struggles facing women in STEM. Really, it was an incredibly apt metaphor for how women are expected to do twice as well to gain the same respect and credit. We were all fully aware that had this been an all-boy group that had won the challenge, the class would have congratulated the group, never expecting the group to go again and repeat the accomplishment amidst cameras and jeers. We were all fully aware that had we been boys, we never would have been subjected to comments from teachers and peers throughout high school that they “didn’t see us as engineers.” We were all fully aware that had we been boys, there never would never be comments that we only got an opportunity or got into a school because of our gender. These types of things, in the moment, just seemed to be a fact of life. Even worse, we knew that what we had experienced was practically nothing compared to the bias and prejudice other women in STEM have faced in their careers.

While it’s certainly disheartening, it’s not going to stop us, and to all the girls interested in STEM, it shouldn’t stop you either. If girls don’t continue to study STEM and pursue STEM careers, nothing will change, with the misguided belief that STEM subjects aren’t for women only prevailing and propagating. Pursue your passions, not the career stereotypes society pushes onto you.

My group mates and are using this experience to further fuel us, as a source of motivation to be successful in engineering. And that’s truly the reason why I’m sharing this story: because I hope this will inspire in you the determination that even against odds, that you will hold true to yourself, your passions, and your beliefs. My group mates and I; planning on double majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Foreign Affairs, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Computer Science and Economics; know the opposition we’ll face and we’re determined to change both mindsets and the world.

Your college decision doesn’t define you

Author:
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By Stephanie Wang

Decisions are hard, I know. Soup or salad? Cake or ice cream? Cookie or brownie?

Really, even making decisions on something as easy as what to eat can be difficult, much less where you’re going to spend the next four years. For the other high school seniors, uncommitted, terrified about the choice you’ve just had to make, I know it’s scary taking the plunge.

Perhaps you were rejected from your dream school, or, debatably worse, accepted to your dream school but unable to afford it. Perhaps you think you know where you want to go, but you’re worried about this and that, and what if everyone there hates you there and you have no friends and you fail all y–

Relax. It’s all going to be okay.

As someone uncommitted just a few days ago, I can undoubtedly relate, especially when it seems every one of your options is good and holy crap, how does someone just step on a college campus and know that it’s a perfect fit? How can someone possibly stomach a binding Early Decision, knowing where they want to be as early as November? If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “What’s the secret? How do I know where I’m meant to go?”

First and foremost, please remember that college is not the end destination; college is not where you should be peaking. No matter what college you choose, more times than not, your happiness and success at a college is a result of self-determination. A result of you, standing up and resolving, “I will be happy and successful.”

Perhaps, most importantly, remember that college is a personal decision, a decision that can’t be decided by your parents, friends, or for that matter, absolute strangers that think they know your best interest. It’s you that’s going to college – not your Aunt Sally or your mom. It’s you, and you better be invested in your own education.

Go to the school you think you’ll be the successful at; not the school with the highest ranking or the school that everyone wants you to go. For me, personally, that was Vanderbilt University, but I sure know that much of my family and friends, including my mom and dad, wanted me to go to MIT or UChicago instead. I’m sure many of you reading this are thinking the same.

But for me, it boiled down to a couple things: for one, flexibility. It’s at Vanderbilt where I would have the most flexibility and the opportunity to explore as many of my interests as I would like, particularly since there’s no limit to the amount of AP credit I can use. As someone excessively indecisive, Vanderbilt made the most sense for me to attend. Instead of being pigeon-holed in a humanities-centered or a STEM-centered school, I’ll be attending a good school with both humanities and STEM. And, like many other of my peers, it also boiled down to money. Perhaps my biggest concern was regarding where I would fit in socially, but it only makes sense that I can find my group anywhere – in a school with over 6,000 undergraduates, it only makes sense you’ll find your crowd.

To conclude, the answer to “What’s the secret?” is that there simply isn’t one. Forget US News rankings or arbitrary assignments of “prestige.” There isn’t a “wrong choice” or a school that will set you up for failure – it’s what you do at the school that makes the difference.

I argue that there isn’t a school that’s a perfect fit for any student; realistically speaking, there will always be something about the college that you don’t like. Think about your college decision in the scope of trade-offs and opportunity costs: about what school requires you to sacrifice the least and grants you the most opportunities, not just now, but further down the line. Write your thoughts down, considering the pros and cons based on you, not what someone else thinks. Don’t think about how you’re “letting someone down” if you choose this school over another school; keep in mind only your own happiness and future.

I wish all you seniors the best of luck, not just in college, but in life. College isn’t the end destination; it’s the beginning of a new adventure, and I hope it’s one filled with happiness and success. For you juniors beginning to embark on this college journey, I wish you only the best (and also, please remember that a college decision does not define you).

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