Why You Should Not Take the Alphabet For Granted.

Why You Should Not Take the Alphabet For Granted.

Humanity's salvation just might lie in a single letter.
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What's in a word?

A literal response to this almost obscure question would be letters. Letters make up words just as words make up these sentences. Now imagine a world where only one singular letter exists. Think for a moment. How would that affect one's interaction with the world, with society, and with themselves (besides a potentially limited ability to communicate effectively and efficiently)?

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Black Maria Film Festival here at Princeton - an event kindly sponsored by the Lewis Center for the Arts. Consisting of various short form documentaries and experimental short films, this festival's aim was to "celebrate the short form in all its permutations for its artistic challenges, aesthetics, and substance." From a funereal-like procession through the post-Soviet streets of a Bulgarian village to a marvelously made visual rendition of Cortney Lamar Charleston 's poem "How Do You Raise A Black Child?", Black Maria tapped into fundamental and very real and chilling human experiences. In celebrating the unlimited creativity of the filmmaker, the festival celebrated humanity (the individual and collective experiences). These films raised questions, challenged pre-conceived ideas, reasoned towards truth, and, ultimately, conversed openly with the audience.

One film, appropriately titled "A", was not only experimental in style but fearless in its claim. I couldn't help but feel unsettled. As soon as the film ended and the credits started rolling, I could not figure out exactly why I felt this way. After discussing its premise and quite startling ending with my uncle (who actually came down for the festival and had invited me to accompany him), I was able to piece the puzzle together. Note: I give credit to my uncle for providing further insight into this film. The analysis that follows is a combination of his insight/interpretation and my extension/refinement of this insight. I would be remiss not to acknowledge my uncle for planting the seed to this article.


"A" by Ecuadorian filmmaker Joseph Houlberg is a monochromatic film that seeks to explore (though briefly) a world defined by a single letter - the eponymous A. The narration immediately introduces us to the protagonist: a seemingly simple dispassionate mailman. Simple he may be, he seems to have in his possession an artifact that undoubtedly exudes wonder and - perhaps - harnessed power. Less than five minutes into the film, the camera draws our attention to a pyramid that he removes from his mailbag. He examines it for a bit, turning it over and over in his hand, and we are given a brief opportunity to find comfort in our confusion. Perhaps this one item will drive the entire plot? Perhaps we will soon discover its importance? The rest of the film follows the man's routes from house to bar to house to deliver letters; the various addresses have different rotated orientations of the letter A. What is established at the outset of this film is the overt lack of dialogue. Not a single word is spoken. Communication occurs through grunting, laughing, facial expressiveness, and actions.The film and characters don't draw attention to that "quirk", however. We - the audience - accept it is as natural and forgivable.

While the mailman delivers his letters to their respective owners, a shady man stalks him not too far behind, hiding behind corners and lampposts at each opportunity. In the culminating scene, the protagonist leaves his mailbag and bike outside as he enters one of the houses. (I mean, if the owner of the house doesn't respond to my knocks, I totally think it's a wonderful and perfectly acceptable idea to enter, especially if the door is unlocked). To his horror, he catches his once beloved wife having intercourse with another man. He runs outside, struck with utter dismay, only to be drenched by a sudden downpour (talk about pathetic fallacy). He attempts to mount his bike and take off but fails - the tires have been punctured. Suddenly, the shady man runs into him, steals the pyramid-like artifact from his, and darts off in the opposite direction. Your classic chase scene ensues - they run down the street, through a church, and into an alleyway, where they finally face off. In his built-up distress and anger, the protagonist kicks the shady man in the crotch, takes the artifact, and escapes. At the end of the film, we find him sitting on a stoop, closely examining the pyramid-artifact. He shakes it: A sound. He shakes it harder: It grows louder. Then...he opens it. A bright light emmits form its depths, and we are shown its contents: letters. Ts and Is and Us and Bs. The sounds turn into voices - the voices of the letters. It's almost as if they're singing; it's certainly melodic. Before the credits roll, the man smiles gleefully and attempts to sound out the letter "I" (It's a Spanish film, so it's more like the long "e" sound; i.e. beet). Then we understand.


Analysis time:

I had said before that the film establishes a lack of dialogue will be consistent throughout the rest of the film. It's not that this is a silent film - or that the characters see no need to express themselves through words - it is not that at all. They can speak; and in fact, they do speak. They communicate through the only way know how to: with the letter A. In anger and frustration, the protagonist screams (Aaaaaaa!). In the church, a choir passionately sings (AaaaaaaaaaAAAAaaaaaAAaaaa). In the bar, men laugh (Ha! Ha! Ha! minus the H). To us, it's just the letter A. To them, it's their language. That is all they know. They express themselves - their whole range of emotions: their anger, their agony, their amusement, their love, their praises - through the single letter A. Through this letter, they communicate their thoughts and navigate the world.... through this letter, they exist. What do I mean by that?

A single letter shapes their existence, their experiences, their perceptions. The letter A is the lens through which humanity sees out of. The protagonist finds his wife committing an act of adultery (Spanish: adulterio); he finds himself an adversary (adversario) in the shady thief or stalker (acosador), the pyramid mimics the shape of the A. In essence, this is a film about the power of language (How many times have you heard that argument before?) Going further, one of the main concerns of the film is how much/and to what degree are our lives shaped by language. If a language only had one letter, how would our perceptions change? This is a question of linguistics. The classic problem of linguistic relativity vs. linguistic determinism. How much does language shape or affect our understanding of the world? I believe this film explores an extreme case of linguistic determinism, which asserts language determines how one thinks and approaches the world.

There are indeed flaws to this view, however. If there exists only one letter - namely the letter A - then how could one understand the world "adultery" if it is clearly spelled with other letters in the alphabet? How could one conceptualize multiple ideas with one letter? Although there is no simple answer to those questions - after all, there exists no such language with only one letter or sign (please correct me if I'm wrong). This is an idea we cannot fathom. That does not matter, though. We don't have to fathom it, but the inhabitants of Houlberg's world certainly do. They live it. They breathe it. The exist in it. "A" defines their world.

Now, why should we care? What implications do these questions or insights have on our world? If we're looking at this from a linguistical standpoint, then it's important to consider how we fit in. After all, we all speak some type of language, don't we? As aforementioned, language may, in fact, affect how one sees the world. Yes, we're all human. We all have shared experiences, emotions, understandings, etc., but our native language may indeed play a role in how we deal with these experiences, emotions, understandings, etc. This is also true on a societal level. Depending on the rhetoric and language we grow up around, our views on the same matters may vary slightly or differently altogether. Sometimes it feels like we're speaking many different one-letter languages. If A defines my world and my approach to it, and B defines your world and your approach to it, then we have a problem. There is no way of understanding each other. I'm not saying differences in opinion and viewpoints should be discouraged. In fact, that's one of the most beautiful aspects of the human experience. I'm just saying that it may help to gather up the rest of the letters - to seek out the pyramid-artifact of talking-singing letters - so we can all piece together a common language for effective communication. Even with a common complete language, there will always be disagreement. At least with a full alphabet, we can make progress towards understanding and secure a safer and better future.

Language is beautiful, it is not monochromatic. It has the potential to express the totality of the human experience. It shapes us, it allows us to shape others. It lets us form bonds, it is the fundamental tool for learning, broadening our horizons, expanding our view of the world. If all you know and understand is "adultery" and "adversary," then it would do you good to learn the rest of the alphabet. For your sake. For the sake of future generations. A life defined by one letter is a life troubled and incomplete.


Cover Image Credit: Magictorch.com

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Dear Shondaland, You Made A Mistake Because April Kepner Deserves Better

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I'm sorry, but there's nothing creative about doing the exact same thing you've done to all the other characters who have left the show. We've endured the loss of many beloved characters when you chose to write off George, Henry, Mark, and Lexie. We even took it when you did the unthinkable and wrote McDreamy out of the show - killing off one half of the leading couple. (WHO DOES THAT???)

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She may no longer be with Jackson, but she was so much more than half of Japril. While most of us hate that Jackson and April are over, we probably could have dealt with it if April was still on the show. Now they're done and you think there aren't any more stories to tell about her character. Why? Because she'll just get in the way of Jackson and Maggie?

How could you not see that she was way more than Jackson's love interest?

She's so much more than you imagined her to be. April is the headstrong, talented trauma surgeon no one saw coming. The farmer's daughter started off an ugly duckling who became a soldier because she needed to be one and turned into one big beautiful swan who constantly has to fight for her coworkers and family to see her as such.

She's proven to be a soldier and swan on many occasions. Just take giving birth to her daughter in a storm on a kitchen table during an emergency c-section without any numbing or pain medication as an example. If she wasn't a soldier or a swan before, how could she not be after that?

Yet, you - the ones who created her - still see her as the ugly duckling of a character because she always had to take the backseat to everyone else's story and was never allowed to really be seen.

But we see her.

She's the youngest of her sisters who still think of her as the embarrassing little Ducky no matter how much she's grown.

This swan of a resident got fired for one mistake but came back fighting to prove she belongs. Not only did April Kepner belong there, but it was her talent, her kindness, her strength that made her Chief Resident. This simply wasn't enough for Dr. Bailey or her other residents so she fought harder.

She endured the pressure but always ended up being a joke to the others. When she was fired yet again, your girl came back a little shaken. She doubted herself, but how could she not when everyone was against her.

Despite everyone telling her she couldn't, she did rise and no one saw her coming because she remained in the background. She went off to Jordan broken and came back a pretty risky trauma surgeon.

We've watched for years as she was handed promising stories that we never got to see fully develop because she was in the background. We never got to see her rise. We get the beginning and the end, but hardly ever the middle.

I thought we were finally going to have an amazing story arc in season 11 when she loses Samuel, but what did we really get? Two or three episodes of her coming to terms with the loss of her baby and then April's disappearance from the show while she's grieving off screen so that Dr. Amelia Shepherd can shine her first season on the show. Where is April's life-changing surgeries? What does April get? She's background music.

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Before her story is even wrapped up, you announce that this season will be her last. So we're forced to realize that the only reason we're getting this story now is that you're writing her off.

No matter how you end it, it's not going to do her story justice. If you kill her off to end her crisis of faith story, you're not reaching the many Christians who watch the show. If you have her leaving Seattle and taking Harriet with her, you didn't know April. If you have her leaving Seattle and abandoning Harriet, you really didn't know April. So anyway you choose to end her story, you lost out on one great character.

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Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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7 Of The Best "Bad B****es" To Rule The TV World

These girls ruled their shows with an iron fist and a snarky attitude.
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Everyone has a favorite character on a TV show. Sometimes it's just the “attractive one” because you like looking at their face (or other things). Other times it is the person that has had the most character development.

My favorite character is what is known as the “bad b***h.” These people, usually girls but not limited to girls, kick ass and take names, and also look good while doing it.

1. Alison Dilaurentis (Pretty Little Liars)

She took no bull and gave looks that could melt ice. She would put her friends against each other, and she was not afraid to get her hands dirty. Let's not forget how she played dead for several seasons.

She seriously was vindictive and manipulative, but as you learn later in the series, she has a kinder heart than you originally believe.


2. Katherine Pierce (The Vampire Diaries)

She only cared about herself, and she was able to throw everyone under the bus to get what she wanted. She used her vampire powers for evil, always.

She tried to pin Elena and her friends against each other, and she actually ended up killing a decent amount of people, as well as starting a lot more drama than the Salvatores needed. In the end, however, she eventually learned that her life shouldn’t be worth more than others' lives.


3. Fiona Gallagher (Shameless)

This girl gets s**t done. She takes charge and takes care of her whole family while managing to keep them afloat by working several jobs. She also doesn’t hesitate to kick someone's ass when they deserve it.


4. Cat Grant (Supergirl)

She is very critical and very negative around Kara at the beginning of the series. She knows how the news industry works, and she was very comfortable with telling someone off for the right reason.


5. Chanel Oberlin (Scream Queens)

Very self-centered. Very moody. Very rich. Not afraid to let you know it.


6. Clarke Griffin (The 100)

Clarke did everything to save her people, but she also didn’t give a f**k about how she had to do it as long as her people survived. She would go to the ends of the Earth to save her friends or her family and kicked ass while doing it.


7. Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story)

Even though AHS’s most recent season featured Paulsen in a “weaker role”, other seasons like Asylum and Hotel she featured her as a strong woman who fought for herself and who was easily able to steal the show.



Who is your favorite "bad b***h" in television today?

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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