you can’t always take the analytical position

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Normal People.  In a scene from Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Connell Waldron finds himself feeling out of place at a book reading he attends. While everyone around him is gushing about it, Connell finds himself displeased with the experience and questioning its purpose. He thinks: “Literature, in the way it appeared at these public readings, had no potential as a form of resistance to anything.” Later, he gets home and reads notes for a story he wants to write and he feels an “old beat of pleasure”. He connects these pleasures to a variety of experiences: watching a perfect goal, hearing a bit of music from a passing car. Rooney writes: “Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.”

Moments like these are essential to Normal People which, like Rooney’s first novel Conversations with Friends, perfectly captures the tension between the political and the emotional. In this moment, although Connell finds himself incapable of connecting literature to the uneven world in which he lives, he can still recognize beauty and joy in the world. Normal People is full of social and political questions: Rooney’s characters discuss class differences as they talk about their romantic relationships; they question their access to money and the appeal for of it, the way it can be both “corrupt and sexy”; they discuss the Greek financial crisis at parties. However, the novel does not reject feelings for politics. As much as it functions as social critique, it is equally, maybe more, concerned with the ways we express our feelings, the way we shape ourselves to please other people, the moments we stay silent due to uncertainty. These things define our lives primarily, and Rooney is suggesting that they function simultaneously with the social, political and economic events that also shape our lives. It’s Rooney’s capacity to capture the tension within this relationship that makes her novels so appealing to read.

“A History of the Influencer, From Shakespeare to Instagram.” What do you think of when your hear the word ‘influencer’? Do you think about girls with itty bitty waists and big butts hawking fitness teas? Do you imagine Instagram shots of young women in six different outfits with a caption that includes the ambiguous term ‘#ad’? Can an influencer be anyone else? Laurence Scott thinks so. In “A History of the Influencer, from Shakespeare to Instagram” Scott explores the way in which influence works in our modern age. He suggests that “the social-media influencer (re: girl with the fit tea) has an eerie double in the hacker who covertly shapes political discourse” in that they are both “flourish in our increasingly networked world”. Put simply, influencers and their influence are everywhere, and take many forms. Yet many of us, including myself, resist the idea that we are influenced. Scott argues that this resistance stems from a desire to  maintain a sense of self. To accept that we are influenced in a neoliberal society is to admit that “we are neither entirely self-determining nor self-contained.” In modern neoliberal society, our greatest fear is the subsumption the individual (and his interests) to the group. Accepting that as individuals we are influenced feels, for many of us, accepting a loss of self. Discussing Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Scott suggests that “to be influenced is to be dominated--to experience an eclipse of personality.” That sounds terrifying. Yet the insistence that the individual exist their own without the interference or influence of others has failed to contribute to a well-functioning society. Adam Smith’s views on capitalism have not worked out the way he thought they would.

Resisting outside forces leads people to have a limited perspective. Over the past few years, we have seen how harmful existing in an echo chamber of your beliefs can be. It seems imperative that we open ourselves up. Maybe not to fitness teas and fast fashion brands, but to other people. At the conclusion of his article, Scott claims that the challenge we must now undertake requires us to “negotiate the inherent inauthenticity and cynicism of an influence economy” while preserving “our ability to be occupied, and perhaps changed for the better, by the alien ideas of other people.” Recently, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m influenced. I’m influenced by everything I read, watch, or listen to. But I don’t feel like my sense of self has been eliminated. In fact, I’m more aware of who I am and who I want to be. That may just be the potential of influence.

”Lie to Me” - 5 Seconds of Summer ft. Julia Michaels. Listening to 5 Seconds of Summer reminds me of being sixteen and finding joy in the most simple things, like listening to a band’s entire discography 24 hours before going to their concert. When their second album came out last summer, I was excited to regain that feeling again. But, after just one listen I found myself addicted to “Youngblood” and not much else. Recently, after succumbing to the suggestions of Spotify, I put the song “Lie to Me” (featuring Julia Michaels) on a playlist and have been obsessed since. “Lie to Me” is not revolutionary—it’s a breakup song filled with regret—but it has all the elements of the greatest bops, from lyrics that feel relatable to music that makes you want to dance at the bus stop. Add it to your summer playlist and thank me later.

INFLUENCE: TAVI GEVINSON

I, like most people, first heard of Tavi Gevinson from reading her profile in the New Yorker. At the time, I was 12 years old and was intrigued by this person that I could have gone to school with, but who was so different from me that I definitely wouldn't have spoken to if we did. But a few months later I found myself scrolling Style Rookie, her now infamous blog, almost daily and not really understanding why. My family had recently moved from our small town in Southwest Virginia to an even smaller town on the island of Trinidad, and I was going through a major identity crisis. Away from my friends and the sticky politics of middle school friendships, it didn't really matter if anyone knew that I was into listening to musicals or Jimi Hendrix. I started to create a world for myself--one that protected and comforted me in a way nothing else did. Tavi and Style Rookie were a big part of that. 

Because of Tavi's work and presence, I discovered beauty in a lot of unexpected things and began to tell stories based on combined visual elements. I learnt about designers, music, art and films that I'd never heard of, and learnt to explore and love art without embarrassment. And when she started Rookie things were even better. She was able to create a community that has been long lasting and that I connected to so many people through. 

I think it's easy to be jealous of Tavi, or compare myself to her, especially being in her age group. But when I think about it, I'm so appreciative of the path that she's carved for young creatives, the spaces she's made possible. As she's grown in the spotlight, she's continued to be honest and open, and I still love learning about new things because of something she shares on Instagram or in her extremely insightful Editor Letters for Rookie. Sure, it's easy to be jealous of her, but it feels so much better to be inspired by her. 

Influence: Rachel Nguyen

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I love Rachel Nguyen. I swear, I'm always talking about how much she inspires me and I've probably watched every one of her videos four or more times. I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it is about her that has turned me into the fangirl of the century, but there are a few things about her that I really love. 

What I love about Rachel's YouTube channel is that she puts a lot of effort into it, and it shows. Her videos stand out from the MASS of channels and videos out there, and she makes the everyday feel really exciting. Her video style is inimitable and I've never seen anyone perfectly replicate what she does. She's always trying new things, and although she always keeps her audience in mind, it's clear that she's making things for herself.

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