Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Real Life Human Woman Trixie Mattel

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Brian Michael Firkus, better known as Trixie Mattel, is a drag queen who was a contestant on season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race before going on to win season three of Drag Race All-Stars. Brain is from a small town in Wisconsin, he is half Native American, and he suffered mocking from his stepfather, who would call him "Trixie" when he acted effeminate as a teen. Obviously this inspired his choice of drag name, and his look was also inspired by his childhood hero, Barbie. I chose Trixie for my post because she is breaking down boundaries of the entertainment industry. Her multi talented act is elevating drag from its status as a adult-only nightclub activity and bringing it into the spaces of stand-up comedy and country folk music. The title of NPR’s “The Record” says it all: “Trixie Mattel: America's Next Top Folk-Country Comedy Drag Artist”.

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It is clear in her interview for NPR that Trixie is very intrinsically motivated with her music. She says of her album “One Stone”: “I hoped that it would sell, and I hoped that it would chart. But when the day came out when it was at No. 1 on the [iTunes] singer-songwriter chart, I was like, Oh my god. I don't write the music to sell it; I write it for my own human fulfillment”. Trixie uses her fame as a platform to do something completely unexpected and completely authentic to her. Her music references her struggles with romance and family relationships, and documents her roots as someone who grew up in rural Wisconsin.
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Trixie’s feature in GQ magazine highlights her youtube series UNHhhh, which she stars in with fellow drag queen Katya Zamolodchikova. This comedy show was so wildly successful on youtube that Viceland decided to turn the show into an actual TV series, now called The Trixie & Katya Show. This article discusses more the collaborative aspect of Trixie’s career, which recalls the article by Uzzi and Spiro that we read earlier in the semester. Trixie and Katya (who both happen to be named Brian) have captured millions of viewers with their unscripted chats, an audience that undoubtedly would be much smaller if they didn’t have each other to play off of. Through their banter, they always end up somewhere unexpected, and it is always hilarious.

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Along with NPR and GQ, Trixie had been featured in many other major publications such as Rolling Stones and The New York Times. This is groundbreaking territory for a drag queen, to be so successful in so many fields and to capture the interest of people who are normally beyond the reach of the LGBT community. I believe Trixie’s presence in the comedy and country music world set a great precedent for the future, and I can’t wait to watch as more queens blur the lines of “normal”.


Rick Just Keeps on Rolling

Rick Riordan (link)
Rick Riordan’s written works (link)
Rick Riordan is an american writer best known for his adolescent fantasy series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a series most if not all middle school classroom bookshelves hold by now with over 30 million copies sold in the US alone (link). Riordan began as a middle school English and Social Studies teacher for 8 years, during which time he wrote his first novel, Big Red Tequila, the first in what would become his adult mystery series, the Tres Navarre series. In a genesis story reminiscent of J. R. R. Tolkien, he came up with the story for his breakthrough novel, The Lightning Thief (2005), from a bedtime story he started telling his son one night. Riordan had long brought the Greek and Roman myths and tales from his classroom to bedtime, but that night he had run out of stories and decided to create one of his own. He told the story of a boy in modern day New York City who discovers that the Greek gods didn’t disappear, but simply moved to America, and that he happens to be the son of one of them (link).

A twitter response to an angry parent (link)

Before he was an writer, he was a middle school teacher, and it’s clear throughout all of his works that those young students are who he writes for. Throughout his tenure as a popular children’s author, Riordan has been unabashedly dedicated to creating characters with diverse perspectives, creating characters with identities and circumstances most children’s authors wouldn’t touch, claiming the content is too “adult.” Throughout the Riordan-verse are characters of all races, with only the original Percy Jackson series having predominantly white main characters, with varying levels of physical ability, and of various sexualities and gender presentations. Even from the very beginning, he gave (almost) all demigods dyslexia and ADHD, as a tribute to his son who had recently been diagnosed with both learning disorders, and transformed them from deficiencies to strengths, dyslexia because their brains are hardwired for Ancient Greek and ADHD for better battle reflexes. Although it doesn’t speak as much to his creativity as to his goodness, one of the aspects of his writing that has inspired me since I, myself, was in middle school was his dedication to making every child feel like they could be a hero.

“As a middle school teacher, it was critical to me that all my students saw my classroom as a safe, supportive environment where they could be honored for who they were and express themselves without fear.” (link)

A graphic from his website, depicting two of the main characters of his Heroes of Olympus series (link)
From that first bedtime story, Riordan has gone on to write and publish a plethora of books in the same literary universe reinterpreting not only Greek, but also Roman, Egyptian, and even Norse mythology through a modern lens. Todd I. Lubart in his article “Creativity Across Cultures,” discusses how the Eastern concept of creativity often extols and emphasizes reinterpretation of older traditions, while the Western concept of creativity focuses more on the creation of the novel. I, personally, believe that Riordan does both in his works. He reinterprets and reimagines the old stories and makes them feel new again all while creating his own world with all its quirks and corners. From turning Procrustes into Crusty the water mattress salesmen to creating a character who is at once the daughter of a Norse god and a devout Muslim, he brings together the more magical worlds of old and watches them play out against the backdrop of our own time.


If you have been rooting on the same uncompetitive, inconsistent, unimaginative, tantalizing, agonizing football team for your entire life as I have, you might be wondering how the Rams did it. The answer lies with their wunderkind coach’s process.
Sean McVay is the NFL’s youngest head coach at 32 years old. He was hired at 30 which made him the youngest NFL head coach ever. In 2017, his first year, he led the Rams to an 11-5 record and the best offense in the league. From the NFL abys, St. Louis to the City of Angels. In the process, he managed to rescue the careers of Jared Goff, his QB and former 1st overall NFL Draft selection, and HB Todd Gurley, two top talents who had struggled to live up to expectations since entering the league. This season his Rams have leaped out to an 11-1 record, and McVay has his team in the conversation for their first Super Bowl appearance since the greatest show on turf.
Football is a complicated sport with plenty of variables and moving parts. Rather than dreaming up crazy plays to run that look cool on a whiteboard, his scheme emanates from a central guiding philosophy and is far more reliant on communication and interdependence than hero ball. McVay encourages dialogue with all his players and is eager to hear their concerns about what they are being asked to do. McVay is receptive to these concerns and rather than being arrogant or stubborn, he engages his players and is willing to explain his reasoning behind every assignment. He devotes time to brainstorming with each player alterations to his game plan to make his players more comfortable in their roles. Ensuring all his players are on the same page and understand their assignment on every play allows his unit to act as one body: an extension of his football mind.
In this way, McVay is doing less coaching and more teaching-- even collaborating with his players. His future hall of fame left tackle Andrew Whitworth (who is 6 years older than him) explains it like this: “not only do I understand what to do, I understand why I would want to do it that way”, it’s never “I don’t care if you understand it or don’t, we’re going to run this play’”. This builds trust throughout the organization and helps it flow both up and down the chain of command. When the Rams are in a tight spot, his team knows he will call the right play, and he knows his players are fully prepared to execute.
McVay is not only a good communicator but has a tremendous amount to communicate. Current Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur describes McVay as “extremely intelligent, loves ball more than anybody I’ve been around. And he’s just brilliant. I think he might have a photographic memory. He’s just rare”. His ability to orchestrate high powered offenses stems from his uncanny ability to understand how an opposing defense thinks and subvert their philosophy. He knows exactly what his opponent wants to do, pretends he's going to do that, then at the last second with just the most delicate sleight of hand, jukes 11 grown men out of their cleats.
Watching the Rams doesn't really feel like watching football. It feels new.

Just ROWL(ing) With It

As I was snuggling up to escape into the Magical Wizarding World of Harry Potter by watching whatever movie I could find online for free, after a long couple days of essay writing and studying, I realized I had to write my blog post! So, what better topic than the creator of my happy place?

JK Rowling first got her idea for Harry Potter on a train ride from Manchester to London in 1990. It took her five years of planning on countless scraps of paper whenever she had the chance, in between raising a child alone on government welfare and dealing with the loss of her mother, to finally send out a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to publishers. She was rejected quite a few times but once she was picked up and published by Bloomsbury, JK Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise became a fast sensation.  

Rowling has been questioned countless times of how she came up with the magical idea of the wizarding world, and unlike how some people think creativity works, the whole series didn’t just pop into her head. In “Creativity Across Cultures,” Lubart describes the four stages of the creative process in Western Culture: preparation, incubation, illumination (Lumos anyone?), and verification. Rowling’s writing process follows this well with an emphasis on the preparation phase . It took her years of planning on handwritten tables of characters and chapters and subplots and spells before she even started writing the story. She created and meticulously planned a whole world that her stories take place in and has used it to write a seven-book series and multiple supplementary books.  

Disney’s Live Action Remakes: Creative or A Quick Move for Money?

As I filled up on turkey and mashed potatoes this past Thanksgiving last week, the usual chatter went about the table. We got to the topic of movies and my sister screamed, “HAVE YOU ALL SEEN THE NEW LION KING TRAILER?!” and everyone said yes and expressed their excitement for the movie. I couldn’t help questioning everyone’s excitement considering I can bet you any amount of money we have all seen it a minimum of 10 times each since we were babies. We know exactly what is going to happen, we know the entire plot like the back of our hands, and we know were all going to cry when Mufasa dies… AGAIN. So what is so creative about Disney right now? All they are doing is asking us to rewatch our favorite characters fall in love, die, and learn life lessons in a “higher definition”. So why do we go and spend literally millions of dollars in the theaters?

First let me say that there is no doubt that Disney is one of the most creative, if not the most creative, companies on this planet. It has been for decades. It is a global company that has touched everyone in one way or another. So why do they choose to remake movies that we have already watched in “live action”? Well there are two simple answers: nostalgia or money. Let us go through both answers. Nostalgia, aka that feeling of homesickness or bittersweet memories from the past, gets us all at one point. The majority of the movies Disney is remaking are movies from our (the 90’s babies) childhood. We are all in our twenties now so why do they expect us grown people to run to the theater? Nostalgia. Since we are 20+, we will go with our friends, parents, or younger family members. So we are bringing multiple generations to the theater just to relive that childhood moment. Remember that movie you and parent watched a thousand times and know all of the lyrics to the soundtrack? Disney bets you do. Wouldn’t it be so nice to relive that with them? Disney thinks yes. They are playing on our feelings to get us to enjoy their “new” movie.

The second answer, money, is the more pessimistic way to think about it… or maybe realistic. I can’t imagine all of the members of the Disney corporation are in their feelings thinking about us reliving our childhood. Some are definitely doing it for the money. Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the majority of us will drag a lot of people with us to the theaters. These days movie tickets cost around $15. Multiply that by a small family and you have got the answer to why each of these remakes makes millions every time they come out. Disney owns these stories, there is probably little to no money going into creating the plot. They do not have to advertise as hard as they would when creating a new Disney original to get people to the theaters. They put out maybe two trailers, a handful of movie posters, and we are all there because it is familiar to us. Also, these live action remakes bring in new members to the Disney fan club because of their amazing visuals. I would like to mention that I am in no way a finance major or know anything about a huge company and the way it profits. However, there is no denying that Disney definitely makes a good buck from these remakes.

So is it actually creative of Disney to remake these movies into “live action”? Depends on how you view it. We must also acknowledge that no matter the amount of nostalgia or money put into the movie, the audience stays because of the amount of creative work put into the live action remakes. Take the lastest Lion King trailer for example. The amount of creative design that must go into making the animals move, talk, and look the way they do is enormous. Disney brings today’s celebrities into their remakes because they know audiences will be intrigued to see how they play the rolls we are familiar with. Beyonce is literally Nala in The Lion King. BEYONCE! They are smart and in so many ways beyond creative with their process to remake each of these films. In the Lubart reading we were assigned for class, creativity was defined as a product-oriented, originality based phenomenon. In the reading it is discussed that creativity is bound to cultural context. I feel this goes perfectly with this because Disney is being creative through their remaking of their product.

However you view Disney remaking all of its movies, either as a quick way to make money or a creative way to bring back our childhoods, I will see you in theaters on July 19, 2019 to watch yet another Disney classic… again.


Hayao Miyazaki : The Walt Disney of Japan

Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki was born on January 5th, 1941 in the Bunkyo Ward of Tokyo. As a child, he expressed interest in manga and animation. Miyazaki first moved into the professional animation when he joined Toei Animation in 1963. Here, he worked as an in-between artist helping to produce films like Doggie March and Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon. In 1973, he moved and joined Nippon Animation and directed Future Boy Conan.

Princess Mononoke 
After going from studio to studio, he decided to start Studio Ghibli in 1985. Here, Miyazaki directed a slew of well adored animated classics such as Castle in the Sky in 1986, My Neighbor Totoro in 1988, and Porco Rosso in 1992. All his films were successful, garnering positive reviews. His first real claim to fame was with Princess Mononoke  which some called "the Star Wars of animated feature."  Princess Mononoke was the first animated film to win the Japan Academy Picture of the Year Award. Princess Mononoke  was also the film to greatly increase the popularity of Studio Ghibli in the West.

Spirited Away 
In 2001, Miyazaki released Spirited Away , his most successful production. It received the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards and considered one of the best films of the 2000s.

Miyazaki continued to release films through Studio Ghibli, such as Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, and The Wind Rises. He retired at 72.

Miyazaki entered his projects blind, letting the project grow organically by taking inspiration from multiple places rather than building upon a predetermined narrative skeleton. He drew upon his own life ,especially from his childhood,  and those around him for ideas concerning character creation and events taking place in the movie. For the setting, he would often stare at different landscapes and develop a story just from those pictures. This loose approach to creation can be attributed to how Miyazaki observed children create art. He said," children make great art just by doing. They don’t think, they do and do, make and make, wasting shocking amounts of paper and art supplies, indifferent to quality, but fearlessly making art in a state of playful, Seussian quasi-thinking."
Miyazaki Thinking

While the following statement might seem contradictory to the previous portion, Miyazaki loved just to sit and think. In an interview with Vice, he said ," My [creative] process is thinking, thinking and thinking—thinking about my stories for a long time ... If you have a better way, please let me know."He also utilized the subconscious to resolve writing block he experiences stating ,"I try to fish out my own dreams by dangling a fishing line into my subconscious, but they don't catch very well. When I get stuck on ideas, I have to dig down deep into my subconscious, past the surface of my mind that no longer seems helpful, to find some interesting way to resolve the drama in my films."

Miyazaki has been extremely successful in his career as a result of his childish approach to creation and deep relationship with his subconscious. For more information about his creative process, check out the documentary Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki out on December 13. 



A Lucky Pup With a New Skull Thanks to a Creative Vet

A 9-year old Canadian dachshund named Patches had a little bump on her forehead for many years. Her owners were unsure what it was, but not too concerned due to its small size (The Bark). However, once it grew to a huge size, Patches’ owners took her to the vet, who diagnosed her with a skull tumor. It was massive, and removing it would require the removal of 70% of her skull. However keeping the tumor in place would be fatal, as it was pressing into Patches’ brain and eye socket. (Time) Luckily for Patches, she was referred to Dr. Michelle Oblak, a Veterinary Surgical Oncologist at Ontario Medical College. Dr. Oblak knew the tumor had to be removed, but she also knew there had to be some kind of covering over Patches’ brain.
Patches before her surgery 

Dr. Oblak reached a stroke of inspiration. In recent years, large veterinary hospitals have been utilizing 3D printing technology for a variety of treatments from jaw reconstruction to ligament replacement. (New York Times). However, 3D printing has been rarely used in small, private clinics due to cost. However, Patches’ treatment was covered by a private Canadian group, and provides hope that someday 3D printing will be cheaper and more widely available for clinical use. Dr. Oblak reached a very innovative idea for Patches: to 3D print a titanium plate to replace the portion of the skull removed. Dr. Oblak noted the usefulness of 3D printing especially in dogs, “because their skulls vary in shape, from the flat snouts of boxers to the long ones of greyhounds” (New York Times).
A Happy Healed Pup!

Dr. Oblak’s decision to use a 3D printer needed help to be successful. In order to make the titanium plate as effective as possible, Dr. Oblak collaborated with an Engineer. Using the Engineer’s technical skill to make the 3D printing as precise as it could be, as well as Dr. Oblak’s medical knowledge, they were able to successfully make an artificial skull to fit Patches’ head. (Time). Patches even got up and was running around a few hours after her surgery! The collaboration that Dr. Oblak used to successfully help Patches is beneficial, as outlined by Brian Uzzi and Jarret Spiro. Uzzi and Spiro note how creativity increases when collaborators have a “small world,” where connections lead to other connections and deeper collaborations. For example, hopefully the decision by Dr. Oblak to collaborate with a medical engineer will someday lead to a Doctor collaborating with a Medical Engineer to similarly 3D print a skull, and the creative choices will keep snowballing from there.