Best of: Complete Portfolios

Emerson Krause Portfolio, Lutherville, MD

Reflective Letter

Dear Miami University Composition Faculty,

Growing up the daughter of an English major, I always believed to have a very firm grasp on linguistics and my ability to write. When placed in regular, rather than honors, English my freshman year, I was frustrated that I was unable to prove this to my middle school teachers; however, due to my own belief in my abilities and my unwavering pride, I worked throughout freshman year to get moved up to honors.

After earning a spot in honors my sophomore year, I was confident that the class had little potential to be a challenge as I considered myself a talented writer who had grown exponentially throughout my first year of high school. However, I was promptly bucked off my high horse following my first assignment; I had received a B-, and I was astonished, unsettled, and frankly lost. Luckily I was at the hands of Ms. Cox, one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and from then on Sophomore year became a year of rebuilding, restructuring, and relearning.

Following my year of writing transformation I had grown inspired to excel in not just analytical writing, but in a variety of types. Because of this interest, I began enrolling in extremely diverse English courses. From American Mosaic, a course with a concentration in American immigrant literature, to Jewish American Literature, my studies varied significantly in topics, and it allowed me to grasp not only how to analyze traditional American literature, but also how to write about more issues relevant to American culture.

Fast forward to spring term of senior year, and I found myself back in one of Ms. Cox’s courses. Like my classes junior year it was extremely untraditional; I was in a class entitled, “Reading Your World,” which was a course that examined popular culture through packages, ads, and other mediums. Similar to my previous electives, the subject and the writing style they demanded were foreign to me; this wasn’t literature analysis anymore, but rather the analysis of societal trends and marketing. It was in this class that I was fully able to comprehend my growth as a writer. Because of the work put in with Ms. Cox years back as well as the experience writing on nontraditional subjects compiled during my junior year, I was able to quickly adapt to the unique topics and required writing style, earning an A in the class. It was also in this course that I wrote some of my most impactful pieces--two of the pieces in this portfolio were written for this class.

The research paper I chose for my portfolio was my piece called, “Black Lives Matter.” This paper was written for my Elections and Politics class my senior year, and it is one of my favorite pieces due to my hometown’s background in the argument. I grew up in a suburb about twenty minutes outside of Baltimore City, and attending a private and part-time boarding school meant that many of my classmates lived in the city or at least over the county line. I was a sophomore when Freddie Gray died in police custody on April 19, 2015, so the protests, riots, and resulting trials were at the forefront of my life and the lives of those around me. Even from twenty minutes outside of the city you could feel the repercussions of the incident; riot warnings sent us home early from school; athletic events ended earlier so those students who lived in the city could get home before the mandatory curfew; some nights I couldn’t make it to my practice at University of Maryland due to protests or riots that interfered with our route. However, these things were nothing more than small changes or inconveniences. What was much more important and striking were the narratives of classmates around me who spoke of their own fears and experiences with police officers. Never before were many of us brought to consider fearing those who were meant to protect us, but following the death of Freddie Gray these fears worsened for many of the people around me. We all watched as our city erupted in anger and as what we previously simply watched on the news suddenly became reality around us. My Black Lives Matter essay is the result of experiencing a climate of unrest firsthand. The paper allowed me to write about one of the most divisive topics in recent news while having a better understanding of all of the details and emotions attached. In no way am I suggesting that I have an accurate sense of how those more closely involved must feel--I only mean to suggest that the proximity of the incident greatened my sense of sympathy as well as my knowledge of the details. My piece was written with the experiences of my classmates and my city in mind, and as a writer it taught me to be able to use personal experiences and views as a way of framing my opinion without creating an argument ladened with bias.

I chose my piece, “Lilly Ledbetter Would Drive an Audi,” as my analysis of a text. In Ms. Cox’s class, one of our assignments was to choose a television commercial and explain how the ad attempts to persuade the viewer to buy the product it advertises. The paper was assigned just briefly after the 2017 Super Bowl, so I chose an advertisement that I personally found to have a powerful and provocative statement--an Audi commercial advertising for the new Audi S5. Audi had recently launched their #DriveProgress campaign in which their advertisements focus on relevant political issues. In this particular commercial, they are promoting equal pay for women. Personally, I am a huge advocate for gender equality, so their message spoke to me, and I was able to see how Audi was narrowing in on a specific target audience. This piece forced me to accurately analyze what the commercial’s intention was, who their intended audience was, and how it fits into current social issues in today’s political climate. These objectives I found to be intriguing and unique to the type of writing I was familiar with doing. Instead of simply acting as a writer, the assignment forced me to act as a marketing and political analyst. This assignment tied in my love of political science with a type of writing that was extremely foreign to me, and it inspired in me a particular type of growth as a writer.

For my writer’s choice piece I chose a personal essay entitled, “Pasty Isn’t Pretty: How to Increase Your Self-Worth.” While writing this piece, I certainly would have never believed that it would be used in my portfolio, due to the fact that it was the toughest piece I have ever written. It was the last English paper assigned my senior year, and the difficulty it presented caught me off guard. It was a memoir, and our assignment was to write about an aspect of popular culture and its role in your life. The trouble I had with the assignment was the fact that I strongly dislike writing about myself, as I feel that the outcome often sounds contrived. Along with this, I picked a subject that was very personal. Many of my classmates chose simpler things to write about such as a favorite childhood toy or family car. However, I was grappling with a much more serious and thus more challenging subject matter; I undertook the challenge of describing how I subconsciously link the smell of self-tanner with sadness, due to the fact that both were present during a particular period of my life. To write a paper like this properly, one needs to undergo a great amount of self-reflection, work up the courage to open up to others, and portray one’s feelings in a way that is comprehensible without sounding obnoxious or self-pitying. I recognized immediately that this was no easy task, but excited to take it on, I began writing my paper on a Friday night immediately after it was assigned. I churned out about three quarters of my first draft that evening, but if I held that draft next to my current paper, it would appear to be two entirely different pieces. To finally master the certain voice I was aiming for in my piece it took around five drafts. I was looking for a voice that would portray the seriousness of my subject and the emotion I felt at the time while simultaneously voicing the dry humor that I like to incorporate in all aspects of my life. By the fifth and final draft the paper had taught me a lesson entirely separate from the assignment- it taught me how to write about myself with emotion without sounding artificial, how to make a personal experience reach a diverse audience, and that often when aiming for a more complex voice, it can take time to perfect.

While my pieces all differ greatly in their subject matters, when combined as a whole they represent many things that I learned as a writer throughout the years that helped me grow into the writer I am today. They taught me the importance of voice, patience, audience outreach, real life application, and perhaps most of all, diversity in writing types and styles. Thank you for taking the time to read my portfolio, and I hope you enjoy my work.

Sincerely,

Miami University Student, Class of 2021


Persuasive Research Essay: "Black Lives Matter"

“More than 1000 people were killed in police operations in the US in 2015, nearly a third of them black--despite the fact that black people are 13% of the population. A protest movement has grown up against that.”[1] Black Lives Matter is a movement that has taken the country by storm, beginning in early 2012. On January 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman for a community in Sanford, Florida, fired the shot that ultimately created one of the most popular and well-known movements in the United States. Zimmerman had called 911 to report a suspicious person in the Retreat at Twin Lakes community, and despite their warnings, got out of his car and neared the person. Due to the lack of witnesses at the scene, the next few moments are hazy; however, it resulted in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and a bloodied George Zimmerman. The jury was allowed to find Zimmerman guilty of 2nd degree murder, manslaughter, or simply not guilty, and despite the evidence stacked against him, he was acquitted.[2] This decision, which outraged many, prompted Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi to create the hashtag #blacklivesmatter and post it on Facebook.[3] The movement began then, and became more significant in 2014 with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Many, like in Trayvon Martin’s case, expected Brown’s shooter to be indicted for his actions, however, the jury did not decide to do so. Following the decision, the small St. Louis suburb erupted. What began as a protest outside of the Ferguson police department turned into buildings and cars being set ablaze and looting. The protests and riots lasted weeks, and worsened, causing police use of tear gas and rubber bullets. Even the Missouri National Guard was called and forced to step in.[4] Unfortunately, cases like these two go on and on, and seem to occur with increasing frequency.

During the protests over Darren Wilson’s lack of indictment, America was able to see what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri through social media and news outlets. In the words on Charlton Mcllwain, NYU professor and co-author of “Beyond the Hashtags: #Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter, and the Online Struggle for Offline Justice,” “Seeing tanks and armored vehicles to this degree in the small town of Ferguson was a show of force that’s usually reserved for war. It was a wake-up call to a lot of people who said ‘Wow, this is really a problem.’”[5] To an extent, this country has not realized the effect of the media on political issues such as the issue of race relations. The Black Lives Matter movement has become such a factor in our country that it was even been compared to the Civil Rights Movement. It began when Alicia Garza, an African-American activist wrote on her Facebook, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”[6] This was issued following the Trayvon Martin case, and as alluded to earlier, it picked up traction after the death of Michael Brown. However, not everyone is a proponent of the movement, despite its good intentions: its cry for attention to and action against the racial profiling against blacks, especially by law enforcement. Many try to counter Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter.” This is not always ill-intentioned, but it detracts from the point of the movement. Blacks have been subject to persecution since they arrived in the country, and despite efforts to level the playing field, they still face a great amount of racism and discrimination.

Since the original facebook post, Black Lives Matter has transformed itself from a hashtag to a social justice group. While it is recognized nationally, it is led locally. Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter is quoted saying, “We don’t get people onto the streets, they get themselves onto the street.”[7][8] The reason for this lies solely in the groups motive, which Cullors states is to, “push for black people’s right to live with dignity and respect.” The leaders of Black Lives Matter push the notion that they are not simply fighting against police brutality, but rather the inequality African-Americans face as a whole. And Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the movement, sees it becoming much more than it is today. “I would describe this moment for the movement as a real paradigm shift...But it also, I think, points to the agency that we have, collectively, to change our conditions. I think if we demonstrate a collective commitment and a collective practice to changing not just how police and policing happens in this country, but certainly to changing the conditions that black communities are living and existing in, then we have a real shot for living in a world that is more just, more equitable — in a world where black lives actually do matter.”8 This statement adequately and accurately sums up the movement as a whole. Black Lives Matter, certainly, is fighting the police brutality the race experiences as a whole, however that is just a subset of the actual movement. The fight against police brutality has been highlighted the most due to its tangibility, especially with the unfortunate number of examples. However, it is pushing for much more than that; it is pushing for equality socially and fiscally, which is something that blacks have not experienced in this country. In the words of Umi Selah, co-director of Dream Defenders in Miami, “This is about the quality of life for black people, for poor people in this country.”[9][10]

However, despite the good intentions of the movement, it is still rather contentious. Unfortunately, much of its negative image can be accredited to the media. During the Baltimore riots following the death of Freddie Gray, we were able to see personally how much this came into play. The most obvious example is the title itself; we don’t refer to it as the Baltimore protests, but instead the Baltimore riots. Granted, it turned into such, as late in the protests some began looting and burning buildings, but this was never the intention of the Black Lives Matter campaign. We, more than anyone, were able to see how there was much more than the media portrayed, and that it did not start off violently, but with civil, peaceful protests. But peaceful doesn’t sell. Peaceful turned violent, and that’s when the news stations began reporting. This is what is ultimately damaging to the movement. When those who are fighting for equality are portrayed as thugs it creates a disconnect between those of privilege and those seeking equality.

In addition to the media portrayal, there was also the Dallas tragedy that created a setback for the movement. On July 7, 2016, five officers were killed and nine others were injured. Micah Xavier Johnson, the perpetrator, had been influenced by the African American Defense League, who following the death of Alton Sterling, asked their followers to seek revenge. The group was calling on their followers to “..."Rally The Troops!" It is time to visit Louisiana and hold a barbeque. The highlight of our occasion will be to sprinkle Pigs Blood!" and told them to, “Attack everything in blue…”[11] According to investigations, “He also had visited the websites of the Nation of Islam and the Black Riders Liberation Party - which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers to be hate groups.”[12] Although this shooter was not acting explicitly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, he was lumped in with the social justice group, causing more negative press to come their way. Following the incident, Joe Walsh, former House member from the state of Illinois, tweeted, “3 Dallas Cops killed, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”[13] Tweets such as this one, one that came from an educated American politician, exemplify the repercussions violent actions have on what is supposed to be a progressive movement.

The Dallas shooting also sparked the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, which is seen as another detrimental aspect of the Black Lives Matter movement. Instead of fighting for the lives of African Americans, people began turning the movement around to fight for the lives of police officers. But said eloquently by President Obama, “When people say black lives matter, it doesn't mean blue lives don't matter, it just means all lives matter, but right now the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.”[14] In an interview with NPR, Patrisse Cullors, one of the leaders of the movement, was asked for a “response to critics who say the Black Lives Matter movement has created a less safe environment for police,” to which she stated, “I think all of us inside of this movement have a deep understanding that what happened in Dallas was a tragedy and that we also can hold the tension of what continues to happen in black communities, which is being brutalized, killed and abused by the state, often at the hands of law enforcement.”[15] Besides radical extremist groups, like the ones that inspired Johnson to execute the deadliest day for United States police since 9/11, no one is fighting for crimes against law enforcement. They are fighting for justice and equality for African Americans throughout the nation.

With the election of Donald Trump, it will be interesting to see what happens to the Black Lives Matter movement. While many may not have high hopes on how the president elect will handle the social justice group, one can still hope that he will bring an end to identity politics. Identity politics, though intended to create an inclusive country in which everyone is represented, actually creates an environment in which groups are pitted against each other, fighting for political representation and acknowledgement. Race relations is a fundamental problem in our country, and it will not be an easy fix. While it will never be perfect, we can still improve significantly. Identity politics holds this country back from improving as it doesn’t allow us to unite as one to solve a common problem. Black Lives Matter is a necessary movement for where we are in our nation’s history, and it will continue to successfully fight for a more equal and just environment for African-Americans as long as the movement remains peaceful.



[1] Mukul Devichand, "What Does the Slogan 'Black Lives Matter' Mean Now?," BBC News, July 08, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-36749925.

[2] "Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts," CNN, February 7, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts/.

[3] "Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement," NPR, July 13, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/07/13/485895828/black-lives-matter-founders-describe-para digm-shift-in-the-movement.

[4] "What Happened in Ferguson?," The New York Times, August 10, 2015, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/ferguson-missouri-town-under-siege-after-police-shooti ng.html?_r=0.

[5] Michael McLaughlin, "The Dynamic History of #BlackLivesMatter Explained," The Huffington Post,

February 29, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/history-black-lives-matter_us_56d0a3b0e4b0871f60eb4af5.

[6] Mukul Devichand, "What Does the Slogan 'Black Lives Matter' Mean Now?," BBC News, July 08, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-36749925.

[7] Ryan W. Miller, "Black Lives Matter: A Primer on What It Is and What It Stands for," USA Today, August

[8] , 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/07/11/black-lives-matter-what-what-stands/86963292/. 8"Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement," NPR, July 13, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/07/13/485895828/black-lives-matter-founders-describe-para digm-shift-in-the-movement.

[9] Ryan W. Miller, "Black Lives Matter: A Primer on What It Is and What It Stands for," USA Today, August

[10] , 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/07/11/black-lives-matter-what-what-stands/86963292/.

[11] Holly Yan, "Writing in Blood, Threats of Bombs: The Latest on the Dallas Shooting Investigation," CNN,

July 12, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/11/us/dallas-shooting-investigation/.

[12] Holly Yan, "Writing in Blood, Threats of Bombs: The Latest on the Dallas Shooting Investigation," CNN,

July 12, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/11/us/dallas-shooting-investigation/.

[13] Mukul Devichand, "What Does the Slogan 'Black Lives Matter' Mean Now?," BBC News, July 08, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-36749925.

[14] Mukul Devichand, "What Does the Slogan 'Black Lives Matter' Mean Now?," BBC News, July 08, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-36749925.

[15] "Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement," NPR, July 13, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, 

Bibliography

Devichand, Mukul. "What Does the Slogan 'Black Lives Matter' Mean Now?" BBC News. July 08, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2016. ​http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-36749925​.

McLaughlin, Michael. "The Dynamic History of #BlackLivesMatter Explained." The Huffington Post. February 29, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/history-black-lives-matter_us_56d0a3b0e4b0871f60eb4af5​.

Miller, Ryan W. "Black Lives Matter: A Primer on What It Is and What It Stands for." USA Today. August 08, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/07/11/black-lives-matter-what-what-stands/86963292/​.

Yan, Holly. "Writing in Blood, Threats of Bombs: The Latest on the Dallas Shooting Investigation." CNN. July 12, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2016. ​http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/11/us/dallas-shooting-investigation/.​

"Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement." NPR. July 13, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/07/13/485895828/black-lives-matter-founders-describe-paradigm-shif t-in-the-movement​.

"Trayvon Martin Shooting Fast Facts." CNN. February 7, 2016. Accessed December 12, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts/​.

"What Happened in Ferguson?" The New York Times. August 10, 2015. Accessed December 12, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/ferguson-missouri-town-under-siege-after-police-shooting.html? _r=0​.

Black Lives Matter Founders Describe 'Paradigm Shift' In The Movement," NPR, July 13, 2016, accessed December 12, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/07/13/485895828/black-lives-matter-founders-describe-paradigm-shift-in-the-movement. 


Analysis of a Text: "Lilly Ledbetter Would Drive an Audi"

Audi aired a commercial for the Audi S5 during the 2017 Super Bowl. The ad featured a father and daughter duo that is pretty stereotypical- both are white and appear to be middle class, dressed simply and practically in jeans and a t-shirt. The dad is middle-aged and appears to be about 30 or 40 and is shown relatively little throughout the minute long commercial. The daughter, however, is clearly the focus of the commercial. The daughter is about ten years old with tan skin and sun-bleached hair. She appears to be one of those kids who is out playing in the hot summer sun all day long, as she looks to be tough and rugged. The premise of the commercial is that the daughter is competing against male peers in a car race. The cars are metal and homemade, the land is treacherous, and overall, it looks to be challenging. Throughout the video of the young girl racing through the tough terrain against her male counterparts, there is a narrator in the background asking questions that all spawn from the initial question of, “What do I tell my daughter?” He asks questions that represent the inequality of men and women such as, “Do I tell her that her grandpa is worth more than her grandma?” and “Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?” At the end of the commercial, the girl comes through the finish line first, beating every one of the boys competing. After this occurs, the narrator in the background states, “or maybe I’ll be able to tell her something different,” while showing a frame of the girl holding her big gold trophy and walking back to their Audi after the race. Audi does this to advertise equal pay for women, a belief that they back by the quote at the end of the commercial that says, “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress is for everyone.” Audi’s commercial is supposed to be an empowering commercial for women that shows the strong morals of their company in order to create a positive association between the company and the values that are important to their target consumer audience.

Audi’s recent ads have had a similar tone, as most of them have been political. They have even had other commercials about gender roles, such as the, “Let’s Change the Game,” commercial. In this one, Barbie leaves her dream house in pursuit of something more--and she finds herself not in the passenger seat but in the driver’s seat of an Audi. Barbie goes on a night-long adventure and sees the world outside of her house for the first time, but then when it is time for the toy store to reopen for the day, Barbie can’t make it back quickly enough and is caught in the middle of the aisle in the Audi. A young boy picks up the car and says to his mom, “Mom I want this one!” to which she responds, “but honey, these don’t belong together,” and takes Barbie out. The screen then goes black besides this message from Audi that states, “Playing, just like driving, shouldn’t be a matter of gender,” then a voice cuts in that says, “what if we change the game this Christmas,” with “Let’s change the game!” written across the screen. Here, Audi is doing something similar to the #DriveProgress commercial. They are advocating for the eradication of gender roles within the car business, although in two different ways. Audi frames their commercial particularly cleverly in this one--when they say, “what if we change the game this Christmas,” they are not just referencing allowing your kids to play with any toys without being gender specific, it is also referencing how more women should buy or receive Audis this Christmas, as they no longer need to be in the passenger seat.

While Audi is no stranger to political ads arguing things such as equal pay, voting importance, and gender roles, many car ads are not like this. Many tend to stay out of such political issues, worrying that it will hurt their business as it is sure to divide their consumer base. Many car ads actually do the exact opposite of Audi--cars are generally seen as a more masculine interest than a feminine interest, so they target men. They do this typically by associating their car with sex, power, masculinity, and wealth. Often car commercials feature attractive men driving with an attractive woman in the passenger seat. They are both usually dressed in what would be assumed to be expensive clothes, and there is always a sense of lust and sexual tension between the two. This is how cars are frequently marketed, as they aim to attract men, however Audi took a different route in terms of their target audience and their method of persuasion. In order to reign in a more heavily female consumer base, they hone in on important, progressive social issues rather than the more typical ways of persuasion.

There is little doubt that in the #DriveProgress commercial the targeted audience is women or even the entire female gender. More specifically though, the commercial is targeting liberal women, with the ad’s use of an important social issue and the timing of their commercial being aired. The commercial literally spells out its intentions with the quote at the end that reads, “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress is for everyone.” In a different time, this may just be seen as an empowering, pro-women commercial. However, the recent political climate has allowed this commercial to not only become an ad promoting women, but an ad promoting liberal social values. While it isn’t necessarily an anti-Trump campaign or ad, it certainly is centered around women’s equality which is an issue that Trump has undermined in the past. From his comments about women alluding to sexual assault to his aims to defund Planned Parenthood, it is clear that he is not exactly an advocate for women’s rights. This is an aspect of his campaign that has been highlighted since the beginning, so due to the time of the airing of the ad, it is clearly a political statement.

The ad also attempts to reign in the father-figure audience too. The ad is noticeably missing a mother-figure and the only family members you see in the commercial is the girl and her dad. This combined with the father’s narration of “What do I tell my daughter?” creates the sense of the father-daughter bond that is felt by many. From the perspective of the girl, the race acts as an empowering equalizer that will give her the confidence to compete against her male counterparts as she grows up. But from the perspective of the father, his worries that his daughter won’t be able to make it in a world built for men are alleviated, and he feels a deep pride for his daughter and her accomplishments. Audi here is trying to get even their male audience to be sympathetic to the cause that they are pushing, even if it does not directly relate to them, by playing on the father-daughter relationship and bond.

The ad creates a positive association between the product they are trying to sell and equal rights between genders as its form of persuasion. If the value that the ad is portraying is important to the consumer, (which they assume it will be), then the consumer will be more likely to back the company because they believe they have good values. So once the commercial illustrates the principles that are important to them, (which is rather obvious in this particular commercial), those who agree with it will then create a positive association between that and the company. Audi does this intelligently by using the state of American society to choose the value that they’d like to associate with their product. Due to the nature of politics at the moment, equal rights and pay for women has been an extremely important topic that many feel strongly about. The Women’s March on Washington, the day after the Inauguration, is a clear testament to this; over 500,000 people showed up to stand up for women’s rights including the right to choose and the right to equal pay. Audi picked up on this and used this to help its campaign--if people supported women’s rights and Audi associated themselves with that sentiment, then people would remember that association when choosing a car and pick an Audi first. Also, because of the timing of the ad, this power of association not only attracted those who are pro-women’s rights, but also by those who are anti-Trump. The timing of the airing of the commercial also acts as a strategy for persuasion, as it reigns in an audience that is disillusioned with the current political state.

The Audi ad reflects the changing gender roles in our country and the progressive society that we are living in today. Throughout the past decade, especially during the Obama years, the United States has made leaps and bounds in becoming a country that is accepting of different genders, ethnicities, cultures, and sexual orientations. These are values that many citizens hold dear and make America the special country that it is to them, and the thought of those values being threatened has many up in arms. The country voted for the upkeep of these values and America’s progression on becoming a more accepting country for all, but the electoral college did not. However, the voices of those who wanted progress were not smothered. On January 21st, it was clear that the voices who wanted things such as equal pay were still singing loud and clear, and the marketers of Audi used this to their advantage. Audi tailored their commercial to appeal to the 3 million more who still wanted the “change we can believe in.” In this, Audi had to recognize that they weren’t going to capture all audiences. But they honed in on a consumer base, primarily women and liberals, and went after it. This commercial was not just a pro-women commercial, but also a political statement that reflects the push to end gender roles and gender bias in our country in exchange for a more progressive, modern, and accepting society.

Work Cited

Audi USA. “Audi #DriveProgress Big Game Campaign:” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Feb. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6u10YPk_34.


Writer's Choice: "Pasty Isn’t Pretty: How to Increase Your Self-Worth"

One’s olfactory bulb, which is the part of the brain that analyzes smell, is closely connected to one’s amygdala and hippocampus--which are responsible for memory and emotion. Because of this, it is common that our sense of smell is very well connected with our memory, most likely more than any of our other senses. Often, smells elicit positive emotions such as the smell of pine reminding us of Christmas and a certain fabric softener reminding us of a childhood blanket. While these smells can fill us with feelings of comfort or joy, some do not create such a positive effect.

The distinct, potent smell of Jergens self-tanner wafts through the Baltimore-area high schools during the late fall or early spring, and it is impossible for me to ignore. As natural tans begin to fade with the onset of winter or pale legs begin to shed leggings at the beginning of spring, many girls with fair complexions such as myself will resort to an unnatural and pungent way of doing what the sunless sky cannot: darken their complections. However, this action no longer comes to me with no strings attached. Thanks to my olfactory bulb, I link this behavior, and its smell, to one of the most difficult parts of my life thus far.

My sophomore year of high school was not a happy year for me. No, there were no major life changing or tragic events that made it this way; in fact, from the outside, it appeared to be going extremely well for me. I was a three sport athlete and began the year by making the varsity field hockey team and was friends with much of the student body. But instead of belonging to a single group like most, I considered myself more of a floater. While I remained friends with the vast majority of the student body, I was close with very few. A feeling of loneliness and disconnect haunted me on a day to day basis, and it became so hard sometimes that it would be next to impossible to drag myself to school every day.

That September I began dating someone, and it was my first “real” relationship. In this time of social struggle and search for my identity, I felt as if my relationship with him helped define me as a person despite the fact that I was much more than that. While he certainly didn’t know it, I considered him to be my lifeline, and I felt as if he kept me afloat from all of the personal struggles and demons that constantly threatened to pull me under. However, this feeling of security was pulled out from under me by surprise March of my sophomore year. He broke up with me just a few days after my 16th birthday, and I felt as if my world had been turned upside down.

But since I had always prided myself on my stoicism, I decided I would do anything to make myself look as put together and under control as possible. My goal became to take to heart the saying, “it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look.” Instead of fixing myself and my emotional stability, I decided to try to look as pretty as possible. And for a sophomore in high school, pretty meant tan. Due to the timing of the breakup, a gloomy, dark, and frigid winter, there was no way to obtain this naturally, so I turned to Jergens as my outlet. But for me, its use extended beyond fixing my pale skin--I used it to try to fix my life.

Every night, I covered up my insecurities with thick, tan paste, carefully making sure to smear it on every square inch of my body. I would stop only when I was sure that every flaw was safely covered and that my self-doubt could not shine through my orange exterior. Upon application, Jergens gives off a vaguely fruity smell, which is most likely what the bottle alludes to when it promises that the product has a “great scent.” However, upon waking the next morning, the fragrance that the Jergens gave off the previous night is replaced with a strong odor, not unlike the smell of burning. This burnt smell followed me around everywhere I went, and soon the scent defined my year. My usage became a ritual--feeling dejected? Think people don’t like you? No worries, all of your problems can be fixed with this small brown tube. What I failed to realize was that rather than making myself a better person, I was simply morphing into a sad Oompa Loompa who had been rejected from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

As the year went on, I became more orange and more splotchy (as I was never any good at applying the self tanner), and most likely, more pungent. But my life continued to move on, and I eventually began to rebound from my pit of sadness. I had another interest besides looking like a leopard on a daily basis; I began to throw myself into my training and beginning my efforts to drop my mile time. Why exactly I began to take such an intense interest in this goal, I don’t know. Most likely it was an avoidance method--instead of confronting the fact that I was unhappy, I began to just make myself as busy as possible so I didn’t have time to think about it. Every night, in addition to my regular application of self-tanner to my already neon legs, I would excitedly pack my equally bright running shoes, already looking forward to the next day’s workout. I began to wholeheartedly throw myself into my training, giving every ounce of my energy to school workouts and taking myself for multi-mile runs, (which were more like sprints), on the weekends. I had found a passion and a distraction; in a time when I felt that I had little to nothing to show for myself, running became my new lifeline and I began to worry less about my appearance and the effect I believed that it had on my self-worth.

As my self-confidence improved, my use of Jergens slackened, and soon my usage was limited to about once a week rather than every day. The final end of the obsession came in early May when the track team won the IAAM championship. I had played a major role, competing and placing in both the varsity 1600 and 4x400. That afternoon when I ran my personal record in the 1600, it became clear to me that I didn’t need the self-tanner to save me from my own self-doubt anymore. Being a part of the championship team had filled me with pride, and I finally had what I had lacked for months: self-assurance. I didn’t need the Jergens to hide my insecurities anymore because for the most part, they began to disappear.

There may not seem like much of a correlation between the hue of your skin and your confidence and self-worth. However, growing up as a teenager in this generation, there is an immense amount of pressure to fall in line with today’s beauty standards, and often girls are taught or shown (such as through the beauty industry and their advertisements), that beauty surmounts intelligence and personality. For me, self-tanner acted as a temporary floatation device that would keep my head above water in a time when I was emotionally distraught. I believed that this product would shield me from me feeling my insecurities as well as others seeing them. However, this proved to be untrue; it was only when I began to devote myself to other activities and define to myself who I was that I was able to dig myself out of the hole of sadness in which I had fallen. Every now and then, I’ll revisit my old friend Jergens for events like Prom. But even to this day, my olfactory bulb punishes me with a pang of sadness whenever I catch a whiff of the signature smell of self-tanner as it reminds me of a time of great unhappiness in my life. 

Benjamin Wachtel Portfolio, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Reflective Letter

To the reader(s) of this portfolio,

Over the years, I have come to realize that both my personality and my writing process are quite binary, a sort of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome if you will. I can either write in intellectual abstractions, using denser, intentional vocabulary and perhaps even denser sources, or I can write as “myself,” casual, reserved, and contemporary. This sort of duality has plagued a lot of my interests, not only my writing. I consume quirky technical information as though it were the last drop of water on a desert planet, but also love to sit quietly and draw or design or write poetry, or simply take in beauty at a museum or a cinema. This change has come about relatively recently, and so I would like to present my three pieces as a sort of story of its own: the process of learning to integrate my two sides, old and new, past and present, intellectual and down-to earth.

For my persuasive essay, I chose a piece from my junior year. I had originally written it following a year of Medieval studies, when it had served as a sort of capstone to my year. Coming back to it with another year of reading and experience under my belt, I felt it was a fine candidate to be updated. Looking back now, I can see how this was partially influenced by my dual interests. My intellectual, history-loving side appreciated the old ways of thinking that the piece explored and my modern, analytical mind wanted to freshen it up with new sources and some more nuanced ideas. As a historically oriented piece, I naturally leaned into a focus on academia, as is evidenced not only by my sources, but by my structure, grammar, and vocabulary choice. This essay demonstrates, if nothing else, my affection for the world of ideas. My word choice may, at times, be a little alienating to the casual, popular reader, but it is intentional, if a little indulgent. I wanted to explore and bring back, if only in small part, the history and wisdom of our past.; After all, that’s the argument; I believe that the modern world has turned its back on much of our tradition and history, which has partially restarted our development. This is why I chose it as my first piece. It not only speaks on a topic that I am passionate about (which is necessary to any good essay), but it also presents a prime example of that more intellectual, anachronistic side of myself.

My second piece, the analysis of a text, explores the societal fears expressed in the epic poem Beowulf, as well as how those anxieties have persisted in today’s modern, ‘civilized’ world. I wrote this piece at the beginning of my Junior year, before I wrote my argumentative essay. In the case of this paper, I was coming out of a time when my teachers had been more lax, when I had been encouraged to write from my personality, and returning to a teacher who demanded a much more proper and academic style. As a result, this work houses my two sides a bit more equally. I used more popular and relatable examples, but still maintained an academic tone. Having been able to exercise my more personal and emotional side in the year before, I wrote with a greater concern for the modern applications. I gave the modern examples equal weight with the old ones and drew a more modern, perhaps even slightly nihilistic, conclusion. While I was still writing for an academic audience, this paper was more accessible than my later one, and demonstrates the early stages of my attempts to integrate my separate interests.

The third piece, the writer’s choice, is my personal website. I don’t call it a blog anymore because I don’t use it that actively. The site now is more of an outlet for me as I need it. I write some fun things there and some more heady ones, but the real point here is that it is the culmination, at least at this stage in my life, of the combination of my dual self. I write some posts on philosophy and some on movies. I take photos of old things, peeling, crumbling, and decaying, but also of new life, blooming, smiling, even laughing. I don’t deny on the site that I’m a hopeless nerd. I am. And that’s the beauty of it, I think. It’s my opportunity to bring the lofty down and pull the lowly up. Even the manifestation of this site as a website is a unification. It brings old ideas and old words to a new medium. The internet is a nerd’s paradise. It is full of technical demands, like SEO and coding knowledge, but also of softer, more artistic ones.

Now, you might notice that I referred throughout this letter to my more relaxed, more plebian side as my ‘personality’ or my ‘self’. I did this intentionally, even if it was a little deceptive. I have come to realize over the years that this description, that my casual side is ‘me’ and my intellectual side is fake, to be false. Both of my sides are equal parts of me and equally ‘me.’ It is demeaning to my intellectual part to claim that it is in some way not myself. So, as you read the essays that indulge more in that part of my head, please realize that this isn’t me trying to pander. It’s just how I think. And as you read the website look for the unification held there, both in the photography and the writing. I hope that as you read you will see the story of my search, not only for ideas and truth, but for self-discovery and development.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Research Paper: "Passion, Piety, and Love: Ideals of the Self Throughout History"

Throughout human history, each generation has looked upon its predecessors for wisdom, guidance, and caution. Some thoughtfully accepted the traditions of their forebears and thrived, thanks to the wisdom held within, while others followed blindly, failing to understand the reasoning and weaknesses that underpinned them, and fell prey to the inadequacies of their predecessors’ customs. Still other generations rejected those who came before, some with remarkable success and some with incredible misfortune. This is the tale of Western Civilization, full of tragedy and glory. The greatest western cultures borrowed the wisdom from the societies and generations that preceded them, while refining the shortcomings with the hopes of providing a greater whole for posterity to inherit. Much of this wisdom lay in discerning the responsibilities an individual had concerning himself and concerning others. The Greeks learned from their fathers the value of pursuing personal excellence, but fell prey to a crippling cultural arrogance. The Romans took the Greek ethic and yoked it to the state, calling its citizens to a life of duty and honor, but eventually crumbled under the weight of corrupt ambition. Finally, Christendom arose from the murk of the Dark Ages with order and love, but laid the groundwork for inequity and imperialism. The modern world, following these injustices, has broken away from the Western Tradition. Despite flying the flag of progress, much of modernity has in fact regressed by rejecting the foundational developments of the Greeks, Romans, and Christians and returning to a more primitive value system.

The cornerstone of the Greek ethos was best described as arete, a Greek word which encompassed any and all forms of excellence, but which was used by Homer and others to denote personal excellence in particular. Arete embodied the ethos of what a truly heroic Greek ought to be and do. Homer’s Iliad devotes itself entirely to exploring the fullness of arete in one individual: Achilleus. Achilleus, as the nucleus around whom the whole tale turns, is clearly Homer’s archetype of a Greek hero. His physical prowess and capacity for destruction are unparalleled throughout the tome. Fagles’s rich translation of the first line, “Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achille[u]s,” hammers home the core concept which drives arete: raw, unadulterated, emotion (Homer 1.1). Achilleus is a machine of war, suited only for destruction and conquest. He constantly puts the lives of others in danger for the sake of his own arrogance. Russell Kirk, in The Roots of American Order, considers the Greeks in the context of their political influence on the Founding Fathers, but his analysis of their nature applies here as well. He writes,

The Greeks had a word for everything, we say. One of their most important words was hubris – meaning man’s overweening arrogance, at which the gods grow wrathful. And no wonder; for fierce local pride, a ruthless lust for power, and arrogant individuality run catastrophically through the Greek history. (Kirk 53)

Homer sensed this catastrophic error too. He presents Achilleus not as some man of perfect moral character, for arete cared nothing for internal perfection, but rather demonstrates the fate that would befall not only Achilleus, but also the Greek culture itself, if it were to leave the arrogance of arete unchecked.

Hubris, with all its destructive potential, is the natural weakness of arete. It is Achilleus’s pride which drives him to say to Agamemnon, the Greek ruler,

“Never, when the Achaians [Greeks] sack some well-founded citadel Of the Trojans, do I have a prize that is equal to your prize. Always the greater part of the painful fighting is the work of  my hands; but when the time comes to distribute the booty

yours is far the greater reward….” (Homer [trans. Lattimore] 1.163-7)

Achilleus knows, here, that Agamemnon has full authority, as king, to divide the spoils of war as he sees fit, but Achilleus’s pride, knowing that he himself is the greatest warrior of the Greeks, drives him to rebuke his ruler. It is that same arrogance which drives the story towards the deaths of both Patroclus and Hektor, first by Achilleus’s proud negligence and then by his self-righteous fury. Hubris, then, must be considered the downfall of the Greek ideal. Arete’s incessant push for selfexcellence naturally turns the mind toward the state of itself, just as one who is devoted to exercise will become more concerned, or even obsessed, with the state of his body. This self-interest, if not balanced with humility, turns to arrogance and becomes destructive both to others and to the self. And humility was no strength of the Greeks. This of course is visible within the Iliad through

Patroclus’s and Hektor’s deaths, but it is also true of the Greek spirit as a whole. The Peloponnesian War and other civil wars that plagued Greece are clear evidence of the destructive power of unbalanced arete. Just as Kirk observed, the Greeks created an excellent society, abounding with men of achievement and skill, but it was torn asunder by the jealous in-fighting and hubristic pride that such an excellence produced.

The Romans, while equaling and sometimes surpassing the Greeks in warfare, rhetoric, and literature, were not so susceptible to the same problems. Romans believed in internal virtue before external accomplishment. Thus, their penultimate virtue, pietas, was excellence directed toward a purpose greater than personal glory. Pietas, from which English borrows ‘piety,’ bears today only the religious connotations of a word which, to the Romans, meant so much more. In its fullest form, Roman piety denotes a life of honor and selflessness. It is an excellence in service to deity, to country, and to community. Romans like Cincinnatus, Cicero, and Augustus were men of virtuous piety, but, just as with the Greeks, the quintessence of this ideal lives in the pages of epic poetry.

Aeneas was Virgil’s great hero, patriarch of the Roman people and the Roman against whom all others were measured. One of Aeneas’s crowning characteristics is his love for his people. When he comes to Carthage after a massive storm, seeking rest and resources for repairs, Aeneas quickly falls in love with the Queen, Dido. During his respite there, Aeneas agonizes over whether he ought to pursue his own desires or the best interests of his people. Eventually, with his ships repaired, he decides to forsake his newfound love, saying,

But now it is the rich Italian land

Apollo tells me I must make for: Italy,

Named by his oracles. There is my love;

There is my country. (Virgil 4.476-79)

Aeneas’s denial of his own desires stands starkly against Achilleus’s values. Gone is the rage, destructive and uncontrollable, replaced by a reverent drive, equally forceful, but more refined.

Later, in the underworld, Virgil, by way of Anchises, foretells and praises the achievements of the men who would strive to match Aeneas’s example. Here Anchises does not proclaim what great deeds these men will perform for their own glory, but what they will do for their country. He tells of Augustus, “‘[w]ho shall bring once again an age of Gold’” and Numa Pompilius “‘[w]ho will build early Rome on a base of laws’” and many more, all of whom are acclaimed for what they will do for Rome, rather than themselves (Virgil 6.1065, 6.1091). This was the ultimate connotation of pietas: one who acts for the glory and betterment of something greater than himself, whether his homeland, his family, or his deities. In this manner, the Romans tempered their own ambition for glory by yoking it to an outer source; when the city and her people thrived, so did the glory of her greatest leaders, and when she fell, so too did they. However, the development of virtue was not yet finished. Even piety, which proved more peaceful and more durable than arete, began to decay. The tethering of glory to selflessness, while it held hubris and her destruction at bay for a time, eventually reverted to a broken system based upon self-interest and personal achievement. The link between honor and power nurtured a hidden avarice for control. This hunger first manifested in the ancient Monarchy, with King Tarquinius Superbus, “Tarquin the Proud” (Livy 1.48). His selfish and tyrannical rule spurred the first Brutus, founder of the Republic, to assassinate him. Then, centuries later, the Romans, having learned little from their mistakes, witnessed Caesar cross the Rubicon, who was himself soon killed by the more famous Brutus. In another attempt at rebuilding, Augustus became the first emperor and his praises were sung by every citizen of that time and by many after. But then, after only one emperor, Rome’s preoccupation with power produced Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, some of the most negligent, lecherous tyrants that history has ever witnessed. Over time, the Empire grew weary and faded, and then, with its borders withering along with the pietas of its leaders, Rome itself was sacked, taking with it civility, culture, and virtue. Or so the Romans thought.

With Rome in ruins and the whole of Europe fractured into chaos, the West longed for security more than it had in centuries. This desire for order inundated the Middle Ages even after the rediscovery of Aristotle had revived Old Western thought. St. Benedict, one of the intellectual lights who led Europe out of the Dark Age and into Christendom devoted his mind to creating a structured monastic rule. In his Rule of St. Benedict, the monk argued that the “good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love” (Benedict, Prologue §47). So, was the highest Medieval virtue order, or was it love?  Love was clearly Benedict’s highest goal, and his mindset is supported by Scripture when Jesus speaks of loving God and others, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (English Standard Version Matt. 22:40). Dante, too, one of the greatest poets of the age, penned the last line of his magnificent Comedy in awe of love. He writes that his “will and [his] desire were turned, / as wheels that move in equilibrium, / by love that moves the sun and other stars” (Alighieri 33.143145). However, if love was the underpinning Medieval ideal, why was order so prevalent in Christendom? After all, the modern conception of a love-filled life is one of total autonomy, not one of submission to a social standard. Clearly, the Christian world viewed love differently. They believed that love must be cultivated and pruned with care. They thought that the passions of love, both romantic and fraternal, should neither become overgrown, nor be stripped out entirely. Pursuant to this, the Medieval minds believed that order was the blade which guided love on the journey from an unwieldy bush to a flowering masterpiece. In the Paradiso, Saint Bernard, speaking for Dante, addresses the Virgin Mary, “’greater than all in honor and humility,’” in a comparable manner,

‘Love, in your womb, was fanned to fire again.

And here, in this eternal peace, the warmth of love Has brought the Rose to germinate and bloom.

You are, for us, the noon-time torch of love.’ (Alighieri 33.2, 33.7-10)

Dante is here praising Mary, saying that it is her abundant love which allowed the Immaculate Conception to occur. But what “’fanned to fire’” this love (Alighieri 33.7)? It is her “’eternal peace’” brought about by her incomparable “’honor and humility’” which lays the foundation for her incalculable love (Alighieri 33.8, 33.2). Thus, Dante supports in poetry that which Benedict argued in simple prose. Love is the greatest virtue, but it requires an orderly life to bloom fully.

This dialectic between love and order in many ways represents a unification first sought by arete and then by pietas. Arete first tried, weakly, to bind heart to action, but its emphasis on individual action led to hubris and then to destruction for both the hero and the ones around him. Pietas hit closer to the mark. It pulled the focus away from the individual and towards a greater purpose, but even this crumbled and darkness fell. The Christians struggled to tear themselves from the Dark Age and succeeded by instituting order everywhere they could. They created incredibly strong governmental systems and even firmer moral expectations. For many years the monks were bastions of self-control and refined love. Kings, at their best, were benevolent caretakers, devoted to the safety and security of their subjects, acting with wisdom and restraint. The order of

Christendom produced a safe-haven where love could thrive. And so it did. With this secure space, and a strong moral system, the citizens of Christendom created works of unsurpassed beauty in poetry and architecture and even in humbler trades. But the golden light of Christendom, like the Greeks and Romans before, would not last. That once gentle, pruning blade of order was transformed into the biting weapon of tyranny. Monks and the clergy grew selfish, taking advantage of their positions for their own gain. Even Benedict saw such monks when he wrote his Rule (1.61.13). Kings turned into greedy, indulgent despots, concerned only with their own desires. These corrupted ideals penetrated beyond the Middle Ages, surviving as far as early Modern Imperialism and the Enlightenment, when a subtler fall took place.

The rise of the Enlightenment was the first significant step away from the Medieval ideals of love and order, even if they had grown gaunt over the years. Following the corruption and injustice which proceeded from the late Middle Ages, the Enlightenment thinkers called for a return to nature and a step away from the corrosive force of arbitrary society, essentially seeking to reconstruct society from the ground up. They believed that man, on his own, acted in perfect morality and harmony, but that when he was introduced to a society, full of contrary and conflicting values, he was corrupted into a creature of cruelty, subject to the most evil impulse: to encroach on another’s free will for the sake of his own gain. One of the clearer examples of this sentiment is laid out in the poetry of Thomas Gray. In the final lines of “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard,” he exalts the virtues of a life led close to nature, kept pure from the ambitions and evils of society. The last lines of the poem are an epitaph to a youth, which read,

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth

A Youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.

Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,

And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere

Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:

He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,

He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.… (Gray 117-121)

Gray, like his contemporaries, praised the simple life lived in intimacy with nature, emphasizing emotional authenticity over the ambition and glory associated with a more urban lifestyle. The attempts by the French to reconstruct everything from politics to the calendar serves, perhaps, as an even more blatant example of this reversal of convention. The French Revolution, the logical result of Enlightenment philosophy, stands as one of the primary catalysts of modern political, social, and philosophical thought. After this point, America, along with the British Empire and other major powers, began to take up this seemingly new and superior value system. The three centuries that followed have been marked by the rise of Enlightenment values. Locke’s writings on Natural Law, seminal pieces of Enlightenment thought, created the groundwork for the fall of slavery as well as the beginnings of the Feminist and Civil Rights movements. Following the triumphs of the 15th and 19th Amendments and the Civil Rights Act, it seemed that liberal Progressivism, the socio-political manifestation of Enlightenment beliefs, was an unqualified success.

While it is easy to see and celebrate the accomplishments of the past centuries, modern citizens have a responsibility to examine their current values and, especially, their current weaknesses in the context of historical wisdom. The belief that any society can truly start from scratch, as the Enlightenment proponents sought to do, is naïve and foolish. To reject the wisdom provided by history’s collective successes and failures would result in repeating the same mistakes over again, accomplishing nothing. In this way, Progressivism is, in fact, regressive. The modern world seems to think that the best and most ‘progressive’ way forward, is to dig away the foundation upon which Western Civilization has thrived. Even now, the culture seems to have regressed, circling back to the beginning of Western development. The Progressive emphasis on individualism today bears a far greater resemblance to Greek ideals than those of Rome or Christendom. Modernity is marked by deep divides both politically and socially. The 2016 U.S. election demonstrates more arete-like infighting and hubristic spite than pious loyalty or loving respect. Constant, heated protests between radicals from both Right and Left mar American universities and streets. Even foreign threats, manifested in the exponential increase in terrorism, bear witness to the divides that the modern world faces. The positive cultural emphases on self-discovery and self-expression, both inherently emotional pursuits, also bear a close resemblance to the passion of more primitive, arete-driven times.

If America and the rest of the Western world insists on rejecting its own history by taking up primitive, ineffectual ideals of the self once more, it is destined to meet the same demise as Greece did. This does not mean that all Progressive values must be rejected. To the contrary, new ideas ought to be examined with the combined wisdom of both modern and past experience. The cathedral of past thought ought to be expanded upon and revised, not demolished entirely. Every society has a fatal flaw. One might even consider America and the West fortunate that they have so clear an example upon which to look. If Western thinkers can manage to reconcile their modern longings for equality and individualism with the lessons which arete, pietas, and love offer, this generation may well experience an age of light and peace that has never been seen before. But one thing is certain: if no change is made, the modern West is fated to repeat the same tragic mistakes as their forefathers, and to suffer the same painful consequences.

Works Cited

Alighieri, Dante. Paradiso. The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.  Trans. Robin Kirkpatrick. Penguin. 2012. Print.

Benedict. The Rule of St. Benedict. Trans. Timothy Fry. The Liturgical Press, 1981. Print.

The Bible. English Standard Version, Good News Publishers. 2003.

Gray, Thomas. “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” The Oxford book of English verse, ed. A. T. Quiller-Couch, 1250–1900, 453. Oxford: Clarendon. 1919. Bartleby.com, 1999. http://www.bartleby.com/101/453.html. Accessed 23 Jun. 2017. Web.

Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. Penguin, 1990. Print.

Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Richmond Lattimore, University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.

Kirk, Russell. The Roots of American Order. Fourth Edition, Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 2014. Print.

Livy. The Early History of Rome. Trans. Aubrey De Sélincourt. Penguin, 2002. Print.

Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. Random House, 1990. Print.

Analysis of a Text: "The Stuff of Nightmare: Examining Social Fears from Beowulf to The Dark Knight"

One of the hallmarks of early British literature is the epic poem Beowulf. In this brooding ode to heroism, the author of the poem presents grotesque embodiments of the greatest fears his culture faced, namely the mindless and incessant violence of the times and the ravaging greed and need for control of many in power. He (or she) embodies these two evils and the fear they inspire in the forms of Grendel and a vicious dragon. Despite all the advances of modern times, we are still unable to escape these fears ourselves. Even in the modern day, Americans are gripped by intense concerns over random violence and the all too watchful eye of the government.

The author of Beowulf creates Grendel as the ultimate vehicle of violence. She/he introduces Grendel not by his name, but as “a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark” (85). The author does not stop here, but continues, calling Grendel “a fiend out of hell” (Beowulf 100). King Hrothgar himself “sat stricken and helpless… in deep distress” after his first encounter with the beast (Beowulf 130, 133). Even today, the thought of such a vile creature inspires a sense of awe and dread. As the tale continues, Grendel begins “marauding round the heath” before “set[ting] out / for the lofty house” of King Hrothgar (Beowulf 115-6). This meandering hunt superlatively reflects the chaotic violence of Dark Age Europe. War sprang up at a moment’s notice and, like Grendel, took many lives before anyone even knew it was there. It is precisely this chthonic chaos that inspires such fear in Hrothgar’s men and the poet’s readers. Grendel’s rampage demonstrates the culture’s pervasive fear of unpredictable violence, a fear which could only be assuaged by Beowulf’s heroic actions. After assisting Hrothgar, Beowulf heads home with great treasure and rules his own country well. It is only near the end of his life that he faces a beast rivaling Grendel’s darkness.

Many years pass after the events in Hrothgar’s hall, and Beowulf takes the throne of Geatland. In his last days, a final threat, this time to his own nation, rears its head. Like Grendel did to Hrothgar years before, a new threat, a dragon, wreaks havoc on Beowulf’s people. The poet illuminates the dragon’s wrath as he

…began to belch out flames

And burn bright homesteads; there was a hot glow

That scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger

Would leave nothing alive in his wake. (Beowulf 2312-5)

What drives the dragon to this action? A single “gold-plated cup” is stolen from his burrow (Beowulf 2282). This immense over-reaction sheds some light on the dragon’s nature. He “is driven to hunt out / hoards underground, to guard heathen gold / through age-long vigils…” (Beowulf 2276-8). He exerts immense control over his possessions, and when even one trinket is stolen from his vast hoard, the dragon thrashes out in uncontrollable rage. This villain, too, embodies a deep fear within the culture. The people feared not only the avarice of their rulers, which was abundant in a time of “treasure-giver[s],” but they also feared the unnecessary and paranoid control that these leaders exerted over their people in order to protect their riches (Beowulf 2311). When we look back at this time with a modern eye, it can seem as though the fears so prevalent in Beowulf’s time are a bad dream of the past, long since wiped away by the rationality and civility of the modern day. The truth is that these fears are much more pervasive than they seem.

Dystopian literature has become vastly popular in recent years. The success of books like The Hunger Games demonstrates this. So, what evils do dystopian authors offer us? They display worlds without freedom, without any choice at all. Take Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. She crafts a world of total subjugation, where children are forced to compete in a battle to the death, which the government televises nationally. The state builds an arena for these Hunger Games in which no one can hide from a camera. On top of that, the architects of the games have complete control over the environment, to better orchestrate conflict. But this fear of control is not new; George Orwell’s 1984 places the reader in a world of total observation and both physical and mental subjection. Readers find this pan-optical world so unnerving because of the lack of autonomy it provides. The information leaked by Edward Snowden, the recent revelations of the N.S.A.’s data gathering, and the general hostility toward nations with intrusive governments all provide the touch of realism that makes these works even more potent. This fear may have a new and modern face, but it is ultimately little different from the fear of the dragon’s careful gaze. As citizens, we can sometimes feel as though we are the hoard that the dragon watches incessantly and fear the power and control which our draconic government exerts. Interestingly enough, modern society seems to fear the inverse of this control as well.

Even before Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was released, the Joker was feared by many a comic fan. But his film portrayed so sinister and chaotic a villain that he has been emblazoned in the minds of all of modern America. But what makes him so frightening to us? He is a force of pitiless chaos, and, indeed, his unpredictability unnerves me every time I watch. But the cultural fear of disorder takes form in other ways. Take, for example, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. The film begins on D-Day and it is not an easy scene to watch. Spielberg forces viewers to observe the true horror of war. Men lie on the beach, limbs severed and organs spilled. But what adds even more to the scene, is its utter confusion. Each man is just as likely to take a bullet as another while they scramble to find any shred of cover. Like the helpless men of Heorot Hall fleeing Grendel’s wrath, they try to find any semblance of safety they can against the unpredictable hail of bullets. Even this fear, tragically, exists outside the realm of fiction. The rise of ISIS, the inexplicability of mass shootings and terrorism at everyday places like Pulse Nightclub and the London Bridge, and the randomness of horrors like 9/11 foster such fears in the hearts of every American.

Society not only fears completely losing their freedom, but also, inversely, crumbling into anarchy. The violence and resulting increase in surveillance that plague America and other nations do nothing but promote these fears. No aspect of society can be summarized so swiftly, but, despite the many other fears our society faces, few are so primal or so widespread. The fear of unpredictable violence and subjugation have beset every generation. This is a tragic, but unavoidable fact. It is a part of human nature to fear, just as there is a part of human nature which produces the objects of our fears. The true sign of wisdom and civility is not the demolition of these fears in our society, but rather our ability to live with them and to fight, like Beowulf wrestling with Grendel, to overcome them. It would be unrealistic to anticipate that someday these trepidations would fade away, but it is not too much to hope that, one day, our fears might not control us.

Works Cited

Beowulf, a New Verse Translation. Trans. Seamus Heaney. Norton & Company, 2000. Print.

Writer’s Choice

Websites are a great many things to a great many people. To some they are a tool for selling or connecting. To others they are a way to teach and to convince. For me, though, my personal website is a way to process, a way to think. It’s ironic that I should use such a public tool for such a personal goal, but it really does help me. I’m a visual thinker and a verbal processer, so both images and words are very important to me. On my site, I use both of these to explore and ruminate on my ideas and beliefs. I take the time to try to express them coherently and convincingly, not so much for others as for myself. It’s not that the public nature of my writing is unimportant (if it were I would just keep my writing to myself), but instead I use the openness of the internet to keep myself in check. The open nature which the online world brings forces me to make sure my ideas are firmly founded before I post them, but it also gives me some amount of anonymity and freedom to express my ideas as I see them. In many ways, it’s a double-edged sword.

I’ve found that my generation is often too complacent and too willingly supports whoever shouts the loudest or whoever makes the most compelling emotional appeals. With my writing, I want to encourage anyone who may stumble upon my site, not necessarily to change their opinions to the ‘right’ ones, but to pursue the truth with thoughtful consideration. I’m tired of seeing Republicans and Democrats parrot out the party line because it will get them donors and votes. I’m sickened when I see the evil lurking behind movements like the Alt-right and Antifa. I want to see my culture changed into one more like that of the Founding Fathers’ time, when everyone, while they certainly didn’t agree with one another, were considerate and thoughtful enough to balance their logic and their emotions. They ultimately wanted the country to change for the good of everyone, not just for themselves or those who agreed with them or who looked like them.

I don’t pretend to know everything, or to even be well practiced in this thoughtfulness I want to see in myself and others. That goes back to my personal reasons behind my site. I want to learn thoughtfulness myself, not simply preach it. So, I write. But I also post photos, so what does that have to do with anything? I don’t believe you need to be some stoic to discover truth. In fact, I think there can often be truth in intangible things like beauty and sorrow and anger and love. I don’t think these things should outweigh reason, but I also don’t think they should be wholly neglected either. As humans, we contain a natural divide. We long for truth which is concrete, indomitable in the face of our fears and our opponents. But we also long for things we cannot see. We desire love and friendship and escape from mundanity. So, I write and I create. I think and I feel. And, while I know I am no Plato or Ansel Adams, I do this in the hope that I can make a change in both myself and others, so that we can find in our futures a world with fewer threats and smaller divides, but no less filled with mysterious wonder and profound truth.

You can find my website here: http://benwachtel.wixsite.com/benjamin-wachtel


Notes from the Directors

An excellent portfolio exhibits the writer’s ability to write well in a number of genres and is not predictable or clichéd in approach, style, or subject matter. Containing a wide range of essays from persuasion, research, textual analysis, philosophical questions, personal reflection, and description, both Benjamin’s and Emerson’s compositions demonstrate the writer’s ability to engage with complex ideas and integrate sophisticated language, primary and secondary sources, critical thinking, and creativity to construct well-supported and thought-provoking work.

In the first piece of their portfolio—the reflective letter—Benjamin and Emerson both provide important contextual background for their essays (e.g. genre, audience, and purpose) and also describe the external factors that influence their writing process. Through this reflection, they help us understand how each essay was composed (e.g. detailing the invention and revision steps, the rhetorical choices made) as well as their ongoing relationships with writing.

In the second piece of the portfolio—the persuasive research essay—both authors take different persuasive approaches. Benjamin draws upon ancient philosophy to make a statement about the modern world, while Emerson offers a nuanced viewpoint of the Black Lives Matter movement. Both writers are passionate about their research topics and treat their issues with the complexity they deserve, showing how there are multiple facets to these positions. They use a variety of sources well, utilizing them in support of their own positions, rather than trying to have the sources speak for them. This leads to compelling, persuasive, and informative work that is interesting to read and inspires the reader.

In the next piece—analysis of a text—Benjamin analyzes the role of fear in popular literature over several centuries, and Emerson discusses the feminist message of the Audi #DriveProgress commercial. Both writers offer insight on how these texts use rhetorical devices to persuade and appeal to audiences, and both Benjamin and Emerson pay attention to the context in which their analyzed texts were produced.

In their final essay—the writer’s choice—Benjamin and Emerson chose very different types of work to include. Benjamin discusses and shares his personal website, which offers the reader not only insight about his creativity, but is also a representation of multimodal digital work. Emerson’s narrative of her high school experience with sunless tanner connects with readers emotionally and delivers a message about self esteem. In both cases, the reader is presented with insight and reflection about the lives of the authors, as shown through their own eyes within their writing and composing.