Author Archives: ryn

The (Online) Self: The Future of Anonymity

For the final week of content and process posts, and more than that, the final week of classes, I decided to write about everyone’s (least) favourite musical TV program, Glee. The general love-hate relationship theatre fans have with Glee can be distilled into an equal amount of hate for the way the show progressed, from one foot in reality and one foot in the absurd to both feet in their own grave, and an equal amount of love for bringing musicals and diegetic singing to television. More than that, though, it also inspired the rise of high school show choir, and introduced countless young people to the performing arts, something I will always fight for and be grateful for when done in mainstream media.

In terms of course content, this week focused on the interaction of the online and everyday self, and furthermore how to reconcile the difference. I am particularly interested in the little blurb for the week on the POSIEL site. I know it’s not technically a reading, but it asks a lot of crucial questions about living in a technological age. Specifically Are the facets of human experience threatened? By now, my opinion on AI and a growing pertinence placed on the development of convenient tech that can be integrated into everyday life is all over my blog, but I really do think that it is so important to acknowledge how a technologically determined future will have ramifications on the facets of the human experience. The most recent publication of the Literary Magazine for the faculty I am minoring in deals with this subject directly, placing an emphasis on how the human experience cannot be commodified or technologized because the human experience cannot be synthesised. There is simply too much human experience in the world to distill into something digestible and authentic. 

Further, the final question the prompt begs: Does privacy matter anymore? It harkens back to the week 3 reading on the disinhibition effect and how anonymity emboldens controversy. I think privacy will always matter (especially in my position on AI), and that despite the new movement of putting your real name and real experiences and real personal information online, that is, to be genuine in your online persona, will begin to see consequences in the years to come. I think people will begin to become unmoored by the lack of separation of the online and offline self, such to the extent that in a couple years, there will be think pieces published about the benefits of online anonymity – something I look forward to digesting.

New Directions: How the Gleeful Rise and Fall of the TV Musical Gave Way to High School Show Choir

(s1, e22)

The massive cultural phenomenon that is Glee took the world by storm when its first season aired in 2009. However, this show – which brought the idea of the TV musical to the general public – also ended the cultural phenomenon that it started. Questions of why Glee stands alone as the only TV musical to enter and exit the zeitgeist abound. Did the writing deteriorate too much? Did casting choices affect the show? Did the audience simply get bored? Is it a combination of the three? And, perhaps most importantly, what effect did this show have on the youth at the time? My personal experience with this show and the cultural shockwaves it created will hopefully shed some light on this. 

A popular opinion towards the show (that I also hold) is that Glee massively overstayed its welcome, and I believe that its bloated run tired the general audience out from any concepts that revolved around a TV musical.  After the conclusion of Season 3, the narrative was essentially over. Many of the main cast were graduating high school, and so it seemed that there was simply no more story left for Ryan Murphy, the creator of the show, to write. Therefore, when the show came back for a 4th season, some previously main characters were now relegated to a supporting role, a choice that angered many of the audience, myself included. There was no narrative need to continue, and definitely no need to continue without the cast that audiences had attached themselves to over the first 3 seasons. Additionally, the writing of the show became noticeably worse in Season 4. Perhaps the exclusion of the actors who were able to mask the poor quality of the script brought its lack of quality to light. Either way, this cast and its poor writing was endured by the audience of the show for three more seasons, losing many fans along the way. These three factors proved to be a main reason in Glee’s downfall, and indeed the downfall of TV musicals as a whole. 

However, it is important to remember that while Glee was part of the zeitgeist, it inspired many of its younger audience to start theatre and start performing in general. American high schools experienced a surge in show choirs, and the many fantastic vocal performances in the show set a bar that many younger viewers wished to recreate. The resurgence of interest in theatre in the early 2010’s due to Glee is without a doubt one of the best outcomes from this show, and the fact that its overstaying of its popularity ruined any chance of new TV musicals gaining popularity for the near future is legitimately heartbreaking for the current generation of young potential actors. Despite this, what Glee was able to accomplish as an innovator and most popular example of a TV musical is no mean feat. It is just a shame that it had to ruin the solid foundation it had built for itself and others.

The Edge of Humanity: The (In)human Commenter

Content warning: mentions of suicide

The original content debate. Indeed a hot topic in the realm of PUB101 – especially surrounding the conversation of AI, but, for once, I am not going to turn my ire as a creator and literature major to the growing world of artificial intelligence. No, instead I turn my ire to adaptations (which still stem from the capitalistic desire for money, so maybe my ire has and will remain with how capitalism is dictating our lives.) I want to be clear that I am not against adaptations or jukebox musicals or anything of the like, nor do I think creatives are entirely to blame (we all have to eat) – just that I think that the market is becoming oversaturated with unoriginal content, and this is incredibly sad to watch, especially in the AI age where art is being translated into unoriginal synthesised versions of itself, this time by tech.

This week’s readings did not focus at all on AI or capitalism or synthesizing art, though, so I certainly didn’t choose an ideal time to write on this matter. Instead, the readings explored comments, specifically as a creator who receives comments, so that is where my focus will be redirected. The video we watched in lecture, about dealing with receiving negative comments is something that really resonated with me, specifically as someone who was semi internet-famous in my adolescence. My popularity didn’t pertain to my personal self, thankfully, as my online presence was marked by a pseudonym, but the comments I received about my person didn’t seem to care. Indeed, as a young teen (15-17 years old to be specific) I would receive comments body shaming me, despite never having posted a photo or anything of the like of myself, comments calling me talentless, worthless, demanding that I kill myself, all because of my old fanfics. Yes, indeed, I was a fanfic writer, and, honestly, a good one, if the statistics that are still growing to this day are anything to go by. At the time of receiving these comments (angry over a chapter I posted in which I took a position on the anti-black racism discourse surrounding the original work I was fictionalizing), I had just under 50k followers, and my chapter was enough to get the property I was writing about trending on Tumblr; which, as always, invited both an influx of positive community, and negative people who wanted me to die.

As a result, I feel like I’ve garnered a thick skin in regards to hate comments, mostly because I’ve grown up and gained an awareness of nuances in the people commenting. As Jon Ronson contends at the end of his Ted Talk “When Online Shaming Goes Too Far”, it is pertinent to prioritise the human rather than ideology. That is, it is important to remember that these opinions being expressed online do not exist in a vacuum, that there are real people behind them that have lived real lives that differ from one’s own in order to inform their opinions that may contradict our own. Now I don’t think this can be translated to all situations, for example, the homophobic people who decided I should kill myself violently for existing in a way that they didn’t like do not simply get a pass on their violent rhetoric that emboldens support for the eradication of marginalized groups, but for situations where opinions simply differ, where a consensus is not reached, and one party isn’t ideologically opposed to the existence of the other such to the extent that the beg a child to take her own life, it is so important to remember that humans are nuanced.

I don’t particularly look back on that part of my life with negativity, and I think that’s important to note, too. For every negative comment I received, I also received thousands of positive ones, encouraging me, disproving the hateful messages I was receiving, and complimenting the very writing so many people hated so much. There isn’t a way to please everyone, I’ve learned, but there is a way to be kind about the things we disagree with, and I think a lot of people would do well to remember that.

The Edge of Seventeen (& Seventeen & Seventeen): Why is Nothing Original Anymore?

The Original Broadway Cast of Mean Girls the Musical (ph. Joan Marcus)

It’s 2023. You open your phone to the news that Mean Girls The Movie Musical is in production, a movie adaptation of the musical adaptation of the movie of the same name. Do you follow? With the oversaturation of unoriginal content on the Broadway stage and in the surrounding industry, it calls into question why nothing seems to be original anymore; just a retelling of a retelling in a new form. 

In recent years, you couldn’t browse the titles on Broadway at any given time and not recognize at least one or two from movies, books, albums or other properties that already existed. Jukebox Musicals like The Cher Show, Jagged Little Pill, Ain’t Too Proud, MJ, and so on or adaptations of films like Mean Girls, Beetlejuice, Moulin Rouge, and the like permeated the market, translate well known and well loved properties to the stage. The question this engenders, then, is why? What makes original work so difficult to bring to stage? Why are we turning to preexisting properties in order to create theatre when original storytelling ins built into the medium’s history?

This, of course, can be answered like any other question in the postmodern world: money. There is ascertain guarantee of capital that reiterations or revivals or adaptations carry with them, either from fans of the original work, or the nostalgia factory that revivals like Company or Jukebox musicals like MJ provide. Ticket sales, then, are practically promised, and ticket sales means the longevity of the musical and the ability for the theatre to keep its lights on. Of course, theatre is a market, an industry, and it would be ignorant to suggest that art needs to meet some kind of moral or artistic standard in order to validate it. Indeed, to suggest that musicals need to be original stories in order to be good is simply wrong, however it is fascinating to see just how quickly the market has shifted away from original work to adaptation.

And they can’t be blamed for this pattern, either. Shows that do present completely original material  are often overshadowed by their big-named competitors or the preexisting fans of translated media. As a result, though, we are also seeing the translation in the opposite direction. Musicals like Mean Girls, Wicked, In the Heights, The Prom and countless others are either in the works or already released, bridging the industries the other way, and likely amassing much more capital than a singular stage in a singular city could ever. 

The thesis of my entire existence is that capitalism is the death of art, and I stand by that, however I would be remiss not to acknowledge the incredible art that has resulted from these attempts at generating capital. Indeed adaptation and translations of content can be some of the most influential and poignant pieces of art, allowing for material to find new life and a new audience. It is a little sad, still, though, to see media become an echo chamber of art that once was, leaving little room for the potential at something new, waiting to be born.

No Queer Representation Without Queer Voices: Trans Discourse Surrounding Jagged Little Pill (2019)

Lauren Patten as Jo in Jagged Little Pill (ph. Matthew Murphy)

Theatre has long since prided itself on its acceptance and advocacy for queer people and the LGBT+ community, marking the industry with a number of queer individuals both in executive and creative positions. This acceptance has defined many aspects of the medium and the people who partake in it, however, like any industry, it is far from perfect. One of the most recent controversies surrounding the portrayal of trans characters and trans actors, specifically, is the 2019 jukebox musical Jagged Little Pill, a show constructed around songs from Alanis Morissette’s album of the same name. The character Jo, originated by Lauren Patten on Broadway, was the source of this controversy, particularly in regards to the apparent erasure of their trans identity through the process of the production’s move from Atlanta to Broadway. (For the purposes of this article, Jo will be referred to with they/them pronouns, however current productions of the show do insist that she is a female character who has “always been” female, despite this being empirically false.)

Indeed, scripts of previous iterations of the play as well as clips from its off-broadway run always and exclusively present Jo’s gender dysphoria as an overt aspect of their identity, having their climatic and emotional fallout with their best friend be based around this best friend misgendering them. In the Broadway version, this fallout has nothing to do with their gender identity, instead shifting the conflict to their interpersonal troubles rather than transphobic ones, and furthermore redirecting all of Jo’s struggles throughout the play away from their gender and leaning into their sexuality. 

But why? Why create a trans character whose transness is intrinsic to their story and then erase this massive aspect of their identity? This is a question many trans theatre fans have been asking, demanding a kind of explanation to the erasure and silencing of trans stories. The accepted answer is simply this: to keep a cis actor employed.

I don’t want to contribute to any hateful rhetoric directed at the actors themselves, but I think the executive team saw the work that the cis female actor put into originating the role of Jo, and made the decision to make Jo cis in order to remove the responsibility they would have to re-cast the character as a trans actor. It is incredibly baffling that a production that seems to so strongly stand for justice for marginalized individuals would willfully remove a trans storyline in order to benefit cis narratives, but the executive team has not presented any alternative to this reasoning, instead evading answering the question or addressing the issue by purporting Jo to have always been intended to be a cis woman. 

More than this, though, for a show that ostensibly takes pride in depicting marginalized people and disengaging with harmful rhetoric such as rape culture and addiction stigma, its treatment of other LGBT+ characters is also incredibly problematic. Not only are trans narratives being overshadowed by cis means, but the only bisexual character in the play is presented, of course, as the stereotypical cheater, one who engages in sexual relations with multiple people (of different genders) at the same time. These harmful biphobic and transphobic rhetorics that this play leans into for plot purposes directly contradicts the show’s message of inclusivity and amplification of marginalized voices. No longer are they stories about young people making mistakes, but stories that echo harmful rhetoric for the communities involved. 

As such, Jagged Little Pill becomes the topic of discourse surrounding portrayals of LGBT+ narratives on stage, an unfortunate and unforgiving misgiving that contradicts the industry marker of inclusivity. My opinion on the inherent transphobia of the Jagged Little Pill transfer from Atlanta to Broadway is that it is something that necessitates a response from the creative and productive teams. The show’s transphobia and minimization of trans voices is the result of intentional actions to peddle cis success, brought to light by many trans voices, and it demands acknowledgement at the very least.

Gender and Media: Transcending Boundaries

While Jagged Little Pill (2019) strived to do much in terms of packing representation into the production, it ultimately fumbled the bag when it came to LGBT+ representation, particularly that of trans and bisexual people. Resultantly, my article this week highlighted this misstep with a specific interest in the transphobia of the show’s trans erasure. This is a topic that is especially important to me, as an active and avid advocate for LGBT+ justice and as a member of the community myself. As such, this article is probably one of my most passive writings in a long time, but informed, I think, by a real justification for this impatience.

Additionally, this week I have decided to make a plan to integrate more multimedia posts in my blog posts. My blog posts, for the most part, are pretty formulaic: a text post with a header image. While there is the occasional post that differs from this pattern, like the audio files of songs I’ve recorded, these are few and far between. Moving forward, I’m going to try to at least integrate more images into my posts, laying them between paragraphs of text so as not to lose the reader’s interest. I also think I want to start introducing more audio posts, since this blog is about performing arts. As well, if I have the time, and, let’s face it, the confidence, I might post a video of me dancing, but it has been a long minute since I last put on pointe shoes, so we’ll see if I stick to that plan.

However, ultimately transmedia posts aren’t really something that aligns with the content of my blog. As this week’s process post prompt implores me to think about transmedia, I think its appropriate to say that transmedia storytelling is actually something I am a big fan of experimenting with, and a topic I explored in one of my media literacy classes many semesters ago, but truly not something that is foreseeable in the future of The Stars, Too. I don’t actually have any transmedia platforms to post my content to and thus grow my readership. My dabble with social media ended when I was semi-Tumblr-famous as a teen, and I have not created a social media account since. Thus, while multi-media is definitely something I can lean into, transmedia poses more of a road bump.