@EileenMyles: On the Social Media Habits of a Poet Rock Star

By Liz von Klemperer

On December 31st, rock star of contemporary poetry Eileen Myles bluntly proclaimed:

And she did.

Myles has remained faithful to this promise, and continues to post incongruous and disjointed content that has charmed her niche but slowly increasing fan base.

Unlike writers such as Salman Rushdie (1.13M twitter followers), Neil Gaiman (2.3M), and Chuck Palanhiuk (556K), Myles does not use social media as a career tool.  These big leaguers retweet fans, give updates about their tours, post book giveaways, and occasionally give a glimpse into their private lives.  (If you haven’t checked out Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer’s adorable offspring, here’s your chance.)  Their wallpaper backgrounds feature an image of their latest book, its on sale date, and a blurb of praise.  For these much-adored authors, social media is an extension of the marketable self.

Lesbian lit star Eileen Myles occupies a different corner of the Internet.  She has a modest Twitter following of 12.3K and a mere 5087 on Instagram.  The 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship Award winner’s Twitter background image is a grainy shot of an orange couch, but it’s hard to tell because it doesn’t quite fit into the frame.  In her Twitter blurb, promotion of the new edition of Chelsea Girls and her latest collection of poetry I Must Be Living Twice comes after the rather ambiguous statements that she loves both “economic equality” and “Ireland.”  NPR.com recently deemed her poetry “relentlessly casual,” the New York Times review calls her “both vibrant and sloppy,” and no place demonstrates this more than her social media presence.

Her pages act as space for unapologetic sketching, for capturing what exists in the quiet and often overlooked periphery.  For example, she attended the 2016 Golden Globes, and among the pictures she posted was a grainy, zoomed in shot of some abandoned beverages, and a non-descript image of anonymous, dress clad legs:

At first glance, Eileen Myles’s pages may bring to mind that time your mom joined Instagram and didn’t realize that posting five slightly varied images of the dog in the course of five minutes isn’t really how Instagram works.  Myles’s trademark posts are of mundane, haphazard, or non-descript subjects with no real focus, for example:       

What gives these seemingly drive by, pedestrian snapshots weight, however, is the haunting ambiguity of their captions.  Her text often serves as commands, warnings, and sometimes-snide sarcasm.

For example, this photo with the caption, “don’t miss the point”:

What point, Eileen?  Are your referring to the bike lock that’s been left undone?  If so, why is it peripherally lolling out of the frame?  Hey, wait, this is Instagram, it’s not supposed to be ambiguous, it’s supposed to be pretty pictures, weight loss gurus and the occasional inspiring story from HONY.  As followers, we are primed to read Instagram captions like taglines, pithy explanations of images, or clever advertisements for a listicle or product.  Instead, Myles has created a virtual space of dissonance between our expectations for social media and her stark images and phrases.

Her tweets are often nonsequiturs, for example this string text:

When you click on an Eileen Myles post there’s no ulterior motive, no further explanation or clarification.  The majority are unmoored insights with no punch line.  This is the task of poetry: to take language, the crude material of communication, and alter it by removing it from a utilitarian context.  Myles radically transforms a space for self-promotion into both extension of her art and a workplace for fragments.

But wait, the dissonance doesn’t stop there.  Myles is also acutely aware of the frequent vapidity of social media.  For example, she laments:

This sentiment harkens back to her 1981 poem My Cheap Lifestyle, in which she writes:

 

After a bourbon
I came in turned on the tube
Lit a joint and watched Monterey Pop
Nearly wept when Janis came on
Janis’s legs kicking on stage was a memorable sight
Janis does her sweet little Texas girl smile as
her act finishes.  She kicks her heels
And Otis Redding is so sexy.
Millions of young Americans experience religion for
            the firsttime
In their lives
Or so the cameras would inform us
I’m concerned about manipulation in this media
How one gains such wonderful power

Even before the era of social media, Myles has reveled in the immediacy of popular media, but has remained simultaneously wary.  She likens a television program to religion for millions of young Americans, but also claims that it is a manipulation.  Her followers see live her struggle with this duality of pleasure, the knowledge of its ultimate fabrication, and her attempt to subvert it.

For example, she posts this image to Instagram:

But is back with a slew of new posts almost immediately.

Perhaps this public expression of inner conflict is also a reflection of her burgeoning presence in Hollywood, as she’s appeared in the Amazon show Transparent in a variety of manifestations.  Leslie, played by Cherry Jones, is based on Myles. Characters recite her poetry, and Myles even makes an appearance as an extra.  She’s voiced mistrust as a consumer of media, only to become its muse decades later.

Ultimately, Myles has created an unabashed murk of drafts, moments of awe, and social commentary, all in service of a new breed of poetry for today’s digital world.

The Decline of Western Compassion

By Ivana Rihter

Courtesy of Facebook

Courtesy of Facebook

The temporary Facebook profile picture filters give you, a social media user, the opportunity to identify yourself as an ally, a socially conscious member of society, and a practitioner of solidarity with a variety of causes. The core of this phenomenon is deeply problematic because it entirely ignores the complexity of issues surrounding human rights and acts of violence. These filters suggest that these truly complex nuanced issues are binary questions of “with us or against us.” While these filters are capitalizing on the brilliant tendency to express compassion, they do so in a way that is problematic and creates a persona rather than a standard of everyday living.

Solidarity with causes, tragedies and social movements is an absolutely gorgeous thing. I am moved by the empathy and profound human ability to feel so deeply for those suffering, those silenced and those grieving. They may be far from us in distance and in circumstance, but the power of feeling and acting for something larger than yourself is never to be undermined. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I see in the world around me but its practice can be imperfect like anything else. Solidarity in its most basic form is unity between individuals with a common goal. These goals change over time and move in conjunction with social justice causes as the infringement of rights, safety and basic human freedoms continue to be a part of every generation’s struggles. The images of solidarity are something so immediately recognizable that they characterize the struggle of the time. Flowers in gun barrels and nonviolent marches toward armed state troopers evoke the periods of activism from which they emerge.

These images evoke the beauty of standing in solidarity at the time that change was dire, thus making them meaningful and important. They tell the stories of the oppressed, the undermined and the marginalized as a snapshot in a time where that conflict was kinetic. These narratives are indicative of our society’s imperfections and to stand in solidarity with them means a hope for change and empowerment in the future. However, that stand must come at a time when support is relevant rather than reactionary.

Being an ally is solidarity in motion, it is the actions you take supporting the feelings you have. The filters are not an action being taken, they are stagnant. I want to fight the notion that any exposure is good exposure because when you are using your voice to speak for the voiceless, there is a incredible need for sensitivity.   

In our modern world, it has become the most simple action to declare that you care about a cause/candidate/spooky feminist comic book as it is done with a minuscule and thoughtless amount of pressure of a forefinger on the click pad. It should not be as easy to summarize ones stance on a complex global issue as it is to “like” your high school friend's shitty pop punk band. Liking that band’s fan page even though the band sounds like trash to you, is done out of obligation or worry about your social standing and on that kind of issue, ambiguity is fine. But on issues that call into question people’s human rights or the culpability of nations in times of crisis, the implications of your "like" betrays the notion of informed dialogue. This decision, no matter how physically easy for your fat and drunk-with-power human hand, should not be done thoughtlessly. My thesis is this… 

The way you express your solidarity should not be:

   mindless.

   temporary.

   under-researched and under-represented.

   because you think it would make you look like a sick socially conscious activist but you have no actual intention of ever getting involved with a social movement.

   overdramatized.

   disrespectful.

   inaccurate.

   in any way influenced by sponsored social media ‘suggestions’ brought to you by corporations whose job is only to make sure all trending things show up in front of your beady little eyes.

   about you.       

The first appearance occurred when gay marriage was legalized across the nation, a monumental step in a wonderful direction for the LGBTQA+ citizens of this country. The function I have trouble with is that the filters are temporary and can be set as an addition to your trendy profile for 1 hour, 1 week or 1 month. This allows you to choose how long you would like to publicize the support of basic human rights before your profile goes back to normal. Everyone has a right to celebrate in the way they choose, but this does not represent a full reaction of what it meant to a systematically oppressed community since this was only the beginning of a long-fought and messy battle for recognition and rights.

The filters appear much more of an accessory than a stance against oppression, because there is no active role they play other than informing friends and family that people whom are not straight should also be able to do things. Being an ally to the LGBTQA+ community is not an identity to be had or an exciting piece of information that is added to the 160 character bios on social media platforms. Allyship should not exist only in the public eye to be preformed and propagated through saturating your senior year prom photo in the rainbow flag for a week. A recent term that explains this phenomenon is known as ‘ally theatre’ which basically follows the trend in recent years of HUGE social media presence sharing, liking, commenting and declaring allyship as a sort of performance for a reward rather than actual support of the cause or oppressed group because then it becomes a form of theatre.

 Opinions and attempts to speak out in solidarity are inherently valuable because people are having them and expressing them and that is better than an apathetic mass of 20-somethings sharing highly specific and problematic BuzzFeed articles about the “16 types of guys you will throw up near on your vacation to the Florida Keys” or “What sexy handicapped former Olympic athlete are you?” These I have yet to find a stitch of progressive fiber in, but maybe their time will come as I am an optimistic person with a generally open mind. 

Much like the LGBTQA+ social media filters, movements themselves like Black Lives Matter should not be thrown around as a fun, reformist and progressive part of one’s personality. Social justice movements are not accessories to be wielded publicly in order for a persona of tolerance to be complete and active online. Interestingly enough, Facebook has not yet endorsed a temporary profile filter for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of national protests because that would be much more controversial than one in support of a state football team during the championships. These filters must be looked at critically because they are sponsored by Facebook and suggested to the general population in the same breath as the push to like your favorite bands and upload creative cover photos in order to express your authentic self online.

Most recently came the banners of blue, red and white in solidarity with the absolute devastation of the Paris attacks. I followed this horror closely and consumed all the media I could in the form of news updates, personal testimonies and editorial pieces on all the attacks that day. The places targeted were Paris, Beirut, Lebanon, Kenya, and Syria all suffering injuries and fatalities in the most barbaric way to take human life, with fear and unfathomable violence. Sadly, many were unaware of the death tolls in other places because social media took to Paris, not that the coverage was inherently negative, but it left entire countries unrepresented and Facebook followed suit. To disregard any tragedy is inhumane, but to do it in order to remain relevant in pop culture trends is incredibly disrespectful to both the represented and unrepresented sites of horrific loss. This perpetuates only the dominant and most simple narrative, being played to a dumb audience that I don't think is dumb. The option to support anything other than THE story of the day is not present and that is where the immorality stems from. It is inattentive hashtag activism in a deceitfully appealing facade.

There is a better way to support a cause than a 5-day cosmetic change to social media appearance because that is not meaningful or thought-provoking or worth anyone’s time. The filters make these worthwhile causes about the individual rather than a collective working tirelessly against injustice. Causes are not meant to be worn like garments, only taken off after it starts to feel stale. These movements have death tolls and victims and decades of systemic oppression in the soil from which they rise. The impulse is there and good, but the choice that lies is between static or kinetic energy, and how we use all of the human excitement fueling as an insatiable need to uproot injustice in this world.   

On Human Communication and Closure: The Necessary Dialogue We Refuse To Face

By Rivka Yeker

Courtesy of Morgan Martinez

Courtesy of Morgan Martinez

Experiencing your friend’s vivid details of their most recent Tinder date, or their obsession with a stranger on OkCupid can get overwhelming, whether it’s asking them the vital questions of, “So when are you going to hang out?” or “Do they like the same bands as you?” while simultaneously trying to keep up with every person that passes through their life, nonchalantly and swiftly.

What I have been noticing as of late, though, has been the stump we hit when we aren’t sure if we are actually enjoying our date’s rant about his favorite German Expressionist film or the time he saw some generic indie band at Lollapalooza. It’s that moment when the excitement about someone actually being attracted to us starts dimming slowly, where we realize that we aren’t actually having a good time. The minute that feeling sinks, we are stuck and we are unsure how to move.

Each time I tell my friends that they have to lay the facts down, they automatically respond with, “What do you mean I have to tell him that I’m not interested? I’m going to hurt him!” Yet, they aren’t thinking about all of the times they’ve been on the opposite end, subtly rejected and ignored until the epiphany strikes and they recognize that they have been ghosted. Yes, completely and utterly rejected.

We’ve all been both victims and perpetrators, trying to hold onto something that is entirely unreciprocated or exiting unwanted flings by fleeing the scene and refusing to reply. But regardless of how much we know that “ghosting” is bad, regardless of how much we’re aware that “communication is key” and that it is the better route, we are still terrified of facing someone and telling them the honest truth, whether it’s that we are not interested at all, don’t feel compatible with the person, or are genuinely terrified of commitment, like most of us are. Even the excuse can be slightly altered, as long as you give the person the closure they deserve.

As the person that decides to ghost, you are given leverage, some kind of power that the other person doesn’t have. You have chosen to disregard this situation, to act as if it had never happened, as if you had never went out on a date or had sex, as if this person wasn’t somehow impacted by you or left to feel vulnerable in one way or another. You have decided that this situation doesn’t matter to you, even if the person on the other side feels excited about what they thought was a connection. And this isn’t a matter of whether your feelings are valid or not, because your feelings are perfectly justified. It’s a matter of whether you can discuss those feelings with the person you became involved with, regardless of how casual it may be.

As the person that has been ghosted, you are left with nothing but yourself, which gives only one person to blame. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, this can leave people to feel negative thoughts that continue to damage their self-esteem, especially if they’ve been struggling to get out and date in the first place. When you are ghosted, you are forced to question every single word you said, every facial expression made, every bold opinion stated. It feels like it’s your fault and your fault only, that there are no other possible options for this, like that they may be very busy at the moment, they didn’t feel a connection, or they’re looking for something else at that point in their life. All of those excuses are understandable, but as someone who was recently ghosted, every thought become irrational and self-deprecating.

This is why this conversation is unbelievably crucial. People are horrified of dating for these exact reasons, because rejection is one thing and it hurts, but to be left without a reason, without any explanation as to why this isn’t going to work out, feels like hell. As humans, as people who are capable of communicating and experiencing connection, we deserve closure, whether it’s positive or negative.

So as we grow with our future dates and flings, we must take the time to discuss our feelings when needed, when they should be discussed, even if we claim ourselves to be closed off or nervous, sometimes it isn’t about you, sometimes it’s about the person you could unintentionally scar. Redefining what it means to be “uncomfortable” and taking steps towards fluid conversation is how we will navigate vulnerability in a light that isn’t as terrifying as it currently is.

The Fresh Traditionality of Stephen Colbert

By Joe Longo

Courtesy of  Charitybuzz

Courtesy of Charitybuzz

This week, January 25-29, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will feature former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Senator Rand Paul, and host of CBS News's Face the Nation John Dickerson. For The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Kate Hudson, Sia, and Dan Patrick all will be stopping by. Tune in to CBS for politics and NBC for Hollywood? Is that how it goes? While Colbert will also host thespians Sarah Paulson and Chris Pine this week, Fallon lacks the political guests his counterpart has in doses.

In switching from the character “Stephen Colbert” of The Colbert Report to the human Stephen Colbert host of Late Show, many remained skeptical about this transition. Ultimately, the hype fizzled quickly as Colbert embraced the traditional format of late night television where a (historically white) man sits behind a desk and interviews an ever-rotating guest.

Yet unlike his Comedy Central character’s tendency for the dramatic, the new Stephen Colbert revolutionizes through subtly and intracity.

Take January 14, 2016; DeRay McKesson made his talk show debut on the Late Show. On the surface this sounds uneventful. Countless guests have sat in adjacent chairs to a late night host. But it is important to know who this man is; Mckesson is a leader of the ubiquitous Black Lives Matter movement. Now that’s an accomplish itself for late night. How often do we get political leaders, let alone black political leaders outside of Spike Lee and Reverend Al Sharpton on talk shows? During his eight minute segment, Colbert held an honest discussion with McKesson about police brutality and white privilege. Notably, Colbert challenged McKesson.Through a series of tough questions, McKesson spoke about the problematic nature of saying “All Lives Matter” and what truly “white privilege” is. By having McKesson explain white privilege on his show, Colbert used his said “privilege” (his talk show)  as a platform for others to succeed. This type of frank, serious political conversation on late night network television is an anomaly--yet a highly welcomed one.

Notably, Colbert’s “fresh” traditionality debuted during an an election season. With political discussion is at its most culturally relevant for the next four years, 2016 presidential candidates eagerly appear on late night shows hoping to showcase their “relatable” personalities. While the effectiveness of these public relations polys remains highly debatable, these appearances present a prime example of the varying approaches to political discussion on late night. Donald Trump spoofed himself as host of Saturday Night Live, and Jeb Bush played one of Jimmy Fallon’s notorious games on The Tonight Show.

But then, again, there is Colbert. Having already hosted all major 2016 political candidates within the five months following his September 2015 debut, there is a notable tonal shift. While Hillary Clinton chastised the republican candidates on Jimmy Kimmel Show, thus supplying the wanted doses of celebrity conflict, she remained serious for Colbert. Questioning the influence her relationships with Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will have on her potential presidency, Clinton distinctly noted that her campaign is her own and not anyone’s third term. Departing from the expected publicity stunt akin to a celebrity promoting their latest movie, Colbert presented a serious yet comfortable discussion of politics.

Yes, Colbert has always been political.  A former correspondent on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, his roots are in satirizing politics. But Colbert is no longer a face for the edgy Comedy Central. Rather, as anchor for CBS’s flagship late night, a new, wider viewership manifests. According to a 2015 Pew Research study, millennials (defined as ages 18 to 34 in 2015) surpassed baby boomers (ages 51 to 69) as the largest living generation in the United States. This on its own does not mean much. Yet millennials too make up the primary demographic for late night cable television. When combined together, Colbert must cater to a young and aging demographics.

In supplying a new zest to the age-old late night talk show format, Colbert seamlessly enhances and informs his widened audience. Often, the general public hesitates to support new political ideologies. Yet in allowing political leaders like McKesson and Clinton on his show, Colbert is using his platform to highlight imperative topics. He is driving a cultural, political zeitgeist through his beloved flare of comedic honesty and transparency. And most importantly, he expects the same from his guests.