Reader Response Criticism-Romeo And Juliet

Reader response criticism gained popularity due to its staunch opposition to the Russian formalist style of analyzing literature. Reader response criticism places power in the reader and takes into heavy consideration the reader’s feelings and biases entering and during the reading of a piece of literature following the formula “Reader+Text=Meaning” (Bressler 74). Implying that meaning subjectively comes from the reader I plan to take a critical look at William Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet focusing on its views of love and view of life in the Renaissance.

Romeo and Juliet is said to be one of the greatest works of classic literature and the epitome of romance writing. . Though now personally I find the work a bit over-dramatic and an unrealistic view of love and life in the time period but can understand how depending on the age group reading this work and the personal experiences of the reader can drastically effect how the work is viewed.

I first read Romeo and Juliet my freshman year of high school when I was 14 years old, the same age as Juliet. I was with an older gentleman and I was convinced very much like Juliet that we would be in love forever and that only death would tear us apart. That was my first encounter with the work, and at the time I believed that it was exactly how love is and how love worked. It was my inexperience and naivety like Juliet’s that lead me to feeling that way. It took the harsh realities of living that showed me that love and life is not and cannot be like that. One relationship should not be worth dying for at such a young age. But I recall watching this play in high school thinking that was exactly what love was. This is how it should be. A girl and boy should easily be willing to die for one another and to protect their love.

I am now 21 years old, have been through a few more relationships have had a few more life experiences under my belt and reading Romeo and Juliet again it was only met with pained groans and a heavy amount of cynicism. What had changed? Why had my heart that was so willing to accept the concepts of love at first sight and a love so passionate that one would be willing to lose their life over suddenly turned to stone? Is it possible that this work is only effective when the reader is young and willing to accept these possibilities?

I personally do enjoy the play, I love the language and the diction and found the humor marvelous, but I also found it soppy and overly dramatic. Despite me having a current boyfriend I would never dream of dying for him yet alone to think of suicide if something were to happen to him. But the play also brought up several other personal correlations into my real modern life. In growing up with the Southern tradition of debutante the aristocratic society does not for me seem so far off. In fact, it was quiet familiar. Dancing with people that you do not know, being concerned for the family name understanding that rank is the only thing and that there are some people you are simply not to associate with. I understand the fear of being associated with someone the family considers to be a threat or just unworthy.

There are other concerns I had with looking at Romeo and Juliet the fact that this play happens in such a short amount of time, the play is said to take place in only one week. In one week this couple meets, marries, has sex, and die for each other. I doubt that was how things moved in the Renaissance, despite it being a much faster pace to courting than we in modern times are accustomed to. The courting process then and even in the Southern debutante tradition could be anywhere from weeks to months, formally about three months, still hardly enough time to form a relationship with someone worth dying over. Especially considering that the man is usually several years older than the female and the poor girl is often only marrying to make her family proud in both traditions, Juliet’s mother herself said she was married off when she was younger than Juliet to her much older husband.

I have a hard time stomaching the idea that a couple in one week’s time was infatuated enough to die for within one week. Though the people of the time especially in the upper class did believe in the concept of love at first sight, one week is hardly enough time to decide that this is the person worth spending the rest of your life with and then ending your life over.

Love at first sight was a concept I was willing to accept until recently. And even is talking with others about the topic some are willing to admit that they believe in it and others scoff at the very idea. Perhaps the issue is societal. That when we are young we are willing to entertain the notion of extremes in love and our society allows it. As long as we are between the ages of 12-16 years old it is perfectly socially acceptable to be infatuated in such a way and to fall in and out of love so quickly not only that it is almost encouraged. As if our society knows that all it will take is that first serious break up to snap us back to our senses and back to the reality that this is not how life works. We then snap out of it and our hearts harden. We then cannot accept the idea of love at first sight and a love so strong and so fiery that we are willing to die for it or cannot live without it.

In closing Romeo and Juliet is a fantastic work of literature written by the world’s most famed playwrights. This is considered to a classic love story but has been met with increasing cynicism and skepticism about its relevance in today’s society. Enjoying this piece through reader-response criticism allows each reader to draw their own personal conclusions and be affected by their own personal biases which create a unique reading experience from person to person.

 

Sympathy vs. Empathy

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.png

If there was one concept I could just magically teach people when it comes to the matter of how to be more critical readers and more skilled writers, it would be understanding the difference between sympathy and empathy. And it’s a lesson that it took me a while to learn as a writer and reader, myself. There are apparently very few sage teachers in such a discipline. The two words are used pretty interchangeably in common speech but they are not the same at all and understanding that key difference makes for richer reading experiences, better movie watching and a better understanding of the real people around you.

Let’s firstly go over some basic vocabulary.

  • Sympathy
    • The fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.
  • Empathy
    • The psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

These definitions seem very similar, hence this little discussion. We’re going to boil things down here: sympathy is understanding a feeling while empathy is feeling that experience as well. I can sympathize with a person and not empathize with them and vice versa. I can sympathize with Erik Killmonger in Black Panther with his feelings of anger after the loss of his father, but I cannot use his grief to rationalize him being genocidal. I can empathize with Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, his use of pragmatism and cynicism to cope with the loss of his mother is almost exactly how I dealt with the loss of my own father and I could even sympathize with his decision making, even when it was less than ideal.

By now, you may be asking: well, why does it matter if these two words seem so similar?

It goes back to the theme of this year’s blog posts: framing.

Framing gives form and shape to empathy and can influence, force or even create sympathy.

Let’s take an example that I’ve beaten nearly to death: Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

Thanos’ motivations seem so rational, so easy to understand, his pain so real. Because Josh Brolin is an amazing actor and there’s fantastic writing behind his portrayal of The Mad Titan. And that is a huge problem. Thanos’ point of view is insane but clever writing made him seem like the most rational character in the damn film. That feeling of looking down the road and seeing only one crazy choice is one many feel now and for some reason in our hellscape of a current world: The Mad Titan’s plan doesn’t seem so mad. And that is bad.

Here’s one of the most interesting parts of this discussion: for the most part, it’s entirely subjective, too. I have the background of the average anime antagonist, so it’s easy for me to empathize with them and thus sympathize with them. It’s harder for me to wrap my head around characters that are more outgoing or optimistic; their motivations are foreign to me and thus, it’s difficult to build a sympathetic bridge to understanding them. Your world view changes how you feel about characters and narratives and it absolutely can change and grow over time. Characters that I looked to with great admiration when I was younger suddenly seem entirely too impulsive and egotistical now as an adult.

One of my favorite things is looking at a movie from my admittedly jaded worldview and listening to a friend who didn’t see or feel the same thing that I did during a movie. I may gloss over an issues that is morally repugnant to others. I may take immense umbridge with a scene that others think is fine. Our experiences shape how we view narrative but there is where writers and creators also have to be careful: writing is a powerful tool and a good story line and likable characters can turn evil into something not so deplorable.

I’ve used this example before but he really illustrates the point: Richmond Valentine from Kingsman: The Secret Service. Valentine’s motivations are straight up genocide but Samuel L. Jackson is so charismatic and his plan almost doesn’t seem like it’s so bad: hell, he seems logical and rational with his plan to wipe out a majority of the population and let the cream of the crop reign over a newly mostly emptied world.

That’s a problem.

Anime historically had a problem with making bad ideas sound great, Death Note despite being one of my favorite series has a major sympathy and empathy problem. If you were anything like me: too smart for your own good, cynical and bitter and angry at the entire world; Light’s plan of wiping people out using a magical murder diary sounds excellent. I was proudly Team Kira during most of my high school years. The work however does all it can to show that Light is the bad guy. We almost immediately meet L who calls Light exactly what he is: a murderer. And that shift in framing greatly dampens how easy it is to empathize with Light’s murder plan but by the time it tries to establish Light as a bad guy, many have already gotten on board with his delusional idea.

Let’s use a really tricky example and one that actually touches my personal life: Tony Stark.

Stark as a hero is complex. He’s the first to say he isn’t actually heroic but his story is more universal than I think many give credit for. His descent into substance abuse and excess is not too uncommon for many who lose their parents and have the world in their hands. While we all may not be billionaires many of us who lost the thing that keeps them grounded are playboys and are addicted to something be it a substance or to a person. But many can see themselves in Stark, even if their pasts are not as dark or extreme as his. He’s charismatic even when he isn’t likable and there are rationalizations even when he makes the most reckless decision (another good comparison on that front is Peter Quill but I dislike the Lord of Stars so I rather not talk about him). And we see this come all to a head during Age of Ultron the hot hot mess that it is. Stark’s choices are the reason we have Ultron in the MCU (which is a whole other can of worms but back to sympathy I go) and he’s made bad choice after bad choice in the comics. But dammit it’s easy to let him off the hook because we can either  personally understand how grief affects judgement and decision making or we are willing to give him a pass because he’s just so damn smooth.

This liberal dosing out of passes is especially problematic when more troublesome matters in media are perpetuated. Comic books still have a major issue with trivializing trauma and exploiting the death of women as a plot point (looking at you, Deadpool 2), modern romance movies often end up being a series of stalking or downright blatant examples of harassment (looking at literally most of the romances Chris Pratt has been a part of film-wise [we’re touching on that, don’t worry]) and television continues to perpetuate a casual level of misogyny that is just gross (looking at you, Big Bang Theory, you loathsome toad).  But oh, those likable characters. It makes it so easy to gloss over their nonsense.

Speaking of Mr. Pratt…I want to use this time to explain just how much I can’t stand the movie Passengers and how we ultimately are held hostage by not only Chris Pratt but how passable movies and tricky writers can manipulate you into caring. If you haven’t seen Passengers, there’s a spoiler warning here. So long and short is Pratt plays a guy who is on an interstellar cruise from Earth to find a new planet. He’s in a stasis pod and suddenly, he is woken up years (hundreds of years) before he is set to. He is alone. No one else is awake on this cruise ship version of the S.S. Enterprise. He has a weird robot bartender friend but no other companion. All his physical needs are met by the ship and the ship’s robots but no one else to talk to. He spots a woman (played by Jennifer Lawrence at maybe her laziest) who is still asleep as she should be. Pratt wakes her up. He destroys her pod and wakes her from her beauty nap but he doesn’t  tell her that he did it. When Lawrence comes to, she asks what happened. Pratt lies. They spend blissful time together and try to solve the “mystery” as to why they woke up. And in the end, it is revealed that it wasn’t an accident that woke Lawrence and damned her to frightful mortality, it was Pratt and his selfish loneliness. She forgives him because movie has to movie and I left fuming at this. Pratt’s character ruins any chance Lawrence has at making it to the planet they are spiraling in space towards. His act removes her agency and choice but because Chris Pratt is such a nice guy and we spend so much time with him and we watch him struggle with being alone: it’s okay that he damned a woman to die because his sassy queer robot from wasn’t enough companionship for him.

That’s where sympathy fails us as an audience. Pratt is the villain of this narrative and any other re-telling of the story is irksome and troublesome. Sympathy bypasses the logic centers of the brain and allows characters to murder, rape, assault and more under the guise of romance or charm.

It’s why I much rather have an empathetic character. One that I can absolutely feel for but still can disagree with. I love Light’s world view in Death Note but I can agree that the way he wants to craft his new world is awful. I can admit that Samuel L. Jackson is the second best part of Kingsman but still say that his plan is terrible and also genocidal. I can feel Edward Elric’s loss and not let him off the hook for being abusive to those who care about it.

Empathy is just as subjective as sympathy but it brings with it the wisdom of hindsight. I get where Bruce Wayne is coming from as far as using trauma and grief to be the best version of one’s self and knowing that feeling from my own personal life means that when Bruce Wayne is a garbage fire of a human that I can recognize it even faster because during those times I was also likely a garbage fire of a human.

Strive for empathy in your critical watchings and writings. Strive to understand motivations while also being able to admit something is troublesome. Call out troublesome things in media: things only get better the more we express being tired of stalking as romance and the girlfriend in the fridge. Be critical of everything you ingest media-wise and hold your characters accountable, even the ones you didn’t create yourself.

 

A Letter to 2005

I found an old diary on a disc in an old box full of other pieces of nostalgia and since it is my birth month, I’ve decided to be a little self-indulgent. I’m going to write a letter to my younger self: you may learn something about your humble author.


Greetings, Amanda!

Who am I kidding, it’s 2005. You’d respond only to Aiko. You barely used your Western given name at all during those years. I am from the future: 13 years into the future, in fact. I found your diary. I wanted to address some of the concerns you had in that little novel. You filled page after page with feeling, with heart and with anxiety. Your diligence is admirable: the best I can do now is update a blog somewhat regularly.

Firstly, thank you for all for all the references you kept in your diary. You were very worried that I’d stop liking anime by the time I was older. I have good news for you: you’re still a huge anime fan. If anything, being older probably only made you a bigger otaku: nothing like a little bit of regular spare time and a bit of disposable income to fuel a raging anime addiction.

I hear you loud and clear. Back then, your family life was…something. I have some news about that. Be prepared to watch your relationships with your aunt completely flip upside down. Not everyone who is your enemy stays that way and your biggest allies may not remain that way. You were in so much pain back then and you felt so alone: things do improve. It isn’t always easy but things do improve. You do the thing you are best at: you build a family wherever you go.

You still cosplay: if anything, you may be better at it than you ever were back then. You still get harassed but things are getting better. You have an excellent set of bodyguards now.

You still write. You didn’t stop and I kept my promise to you that you would write for as long as you are able. It’s a little less fiction nowadays but don’t worry, that part of you hasn’t gone forever.

That boyfriend you kept writing about…well, he’s no good. You do move on and you do find other people who will come to mean the world to you: you get really close to happiness. You aren’t there yet, trust me, I’m doing my best but being secure and healthy is better than being in a string of toxic relationships.

Speaking of toxic relationships, your friends. I am sad to say that many of them didn’t make the cut. But you have built a network of friends that are very important to you and would never betray you. You found a family and you love them: you are not alone. You also are getting more comfortable with silence: I know back then that was scary but now it isn’t so bad.

The future is…well, there’s a lot more to do. But your interests sort have remained the same. You’re still the same Madame President you used to be: you panel now. You’re actually pretty good at it. You are an ally and a proud feminist (you get over some of that misogyny grilled into you).  You find words for the feelings you’ve had about yourself for years: they’re valid and they explain a lot.

I’m happy to say you do achieve your goal of being taller than Edward Elric: I’m 5’2’’ now. I’m quite proud of that, figured it would be good news for you, too.

You don’t get any less wonderful or weird as you get older. If anything, the older you get, the truer you are to yourself. So those worries you had about selling out and being your aunts, no need to worry.

You do join the Bruce Wayne Orphan’s Club. You’re handling it okay.

The current world is a scary place but so was 2005! But we’ve made tons of progress since 2005! We had an African-American president and he was great and almost had a woman president but we’re not going to talk about that. Same-sex marriage was legalized and it’s never been easier to be who you are…most of the time. You are as free and as liberated as you want to be.

And that’s a pretty hopeful vision of the future.

Little one, if I could put your mind at ease, I would. I remember feeling that helpless and scared. But you are so so strong. You are doing the best you can. You did the best you could even back then.

Thank you for this time capsule. Thank you for letting me see who I was back then and seeing who I am now.

Thank you for writing down even the mundane things like having lunch and the weather and what you were listening to.

I promise to take good care of this diary.

Sincerely,

A

Why I’m On My Phone While On The Bus

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ― Albert Einstein.png
There’s a woman on the bus route I take into work because I refuse to drive and face the evils that is downtown traffic. She’s an older woman and she’s very nice. When she catches me before the sun rises on my way to work, I’m normally on my phone, with my headphones on. She usually compliments my dress: I have to pause my music to address her and we smile and nod and go about our day. One day as she praised one of my many dresses, she said something that stuck with me.
“Go back to your little world.”
That phrase hit me like a ton of bricks and not just because it was dismissive. It did so because if you were anything like me as a teenager: you’ve heard this before. My aunt would often chastise me for being on my phone or listening to music (then with the help of an iPod or CD player, yes I know I’m old) in car rides or during any time of stress. There was a lot for me to tune out back then.
So hearing that from another person honestly was emotionally hurtful. I never mean to appear aloof (except for all the times I do). And in that spirit of explaining myself because this blog is where I air my laundry, Here are a few of the reasons if you see me in public that I may be on my phone.


I’m Avoiding Unwanted Attention
I’m fortunately enough to be only passably attractive which means I do not get catcalled often but the times that I have were exhausting, demeaning and tiresome. If I’m on the bus early in the morning, I do not have the time or energy to deal with a man who wants to chat with me or a woman who wishes to chat about the wonders of a certain flavor of Jesus.


The World is Loud
There is a certain social contract that reads if the sun is not up, thou must not rant about thine boyfriend’s sister’s hairdresser. The world is noisy and loud and by the time I lug my undead corpse from my apartment, I do not want to deal with such things. I face enough noise in an open office: my morning and evening bus rides are a great time to decompress and get ready for the day or for bed.


I Am Anxious
I’ve joked about getting one of those little vests that some small dogs get that say “I am Anxious”. I would love one of these. I’ve been very candid about having anxiety and the world is terrifying. The noise is scary, my own thoughts are scary, existence is scary: Swedish EDM and Pokemon Go make the world a little less scary. It gives me something to do. I can sync my heart to the beat of the drums and I can focus on catching Pidgey rather than did all my bills get out okay or if my parents are resting comfortably in the afterlife.


As a social media manager, I’m always worried that I am not present enough. I worry that I’m too attached to my phone because I know proper etiquette means not being on my phone all the time. I give my little cousin a hard time for being on his phone while also swiping messages away from my smart watch. I want to make memories that last and sear images into my mind that will remain with me for the rest of my days. I also want to play Jurassic World Alive and save the dankest of memes.
I will continue to try and find a balance between staying alert and protecting my mental health. In so many ways, the screen is just another buffer. One of the last arguments a former friend and I had was over the fact that I was active on Twitter while I didn’t talk to him. I flat out had to say it didn’t take effort to post on Twitter while it did to speak to him. Introverts like me do not gain a ton of power from people and noise is exhausting and takes up a huge amount of my energy. I regain some of that power by disengaging via podcasts, audiobooks, writing, reading or playing games on my phone.
Escapism isn’t new but that doesn’t mean I will be rude. If someone does address me, I speak to them. I remove my headphones. I make good eye contact and I do all I can to keep my phone off while at meals, especially if I am with someone else. I don’t play Pokemon Go unless I am with someone else who is playing or I am by myself and I tend to only reply to messages and then promptly turn my phone face down on the table again. It’s a good compromise just in case I need to answer a call or message urgently (a hangover from having chronically sick family members all my life) while also forcing myself to be present in the moment.
So, to the woman on the bus who told me to “go back to my world”; I will, happily. Like Alice in her return to Wonderland, I will return to a world that is more comforting than the one I currently face. Like the teen I was who used music to hide cruel things said by family, I used a tool to help ease some of the pain of my current reality.
There’s a little bit of insight as to why, if you ever catch me out in public, I may be on my cell phone if you do.

On Celebrity Suicide

_Let not the friends of these poor melancholics.png

I’ll take this moment to say that I know this topic is difficult to cover and I struggled with this all during the process of writing it. But know that I would never post something without giving in a great deal of thought and I think it’s a narrative worth exploring. I am sorry for those who are affected by topic negatively and my goal is never to cause emotional pain. I’ve been touched by the specter of suicide in my life, I’ve lost someone close to me this way; know that I am not writing this for the sake of a hot take or just because I can. I gave this post time to become what it is. I left it, came back to it and returned to it before deciding it was worth discussing. Once more, I apologize if this post finds you in crisis and I sincerely hope that you find healing and comfort.


June 8th, I got a lot of messages on my phone. It wasn’t because I was paneling, it wasn’t because I was at A-Kon, it wasn’t because I was back in my corner of Texas: it was because one of my idols died. Anthony Bourdain meant the world to me. Even in death, he still does. But I got messages from those I love and that love me asking if I was okay. There’s a bit of a terse statement that suicide is contagious and in so many ways, it is. It’s like a virus, a miasma that lingers in the air and poisons those who are most vulnerable to it.

I wanted to talk about celebrity suicide in an attempt to help me work through some of my own grief.

Celebrities ending their own lives is not new or recent. Unfortunately, many famous people leave us through accidental means like car wrecks and accidental overdoses. But far too many leave us intentionally. And when I say “celebrity” I’m willing to be very open in this definition so this covers anyone who is “famous” and “important”. Bourdain’s death hit especially raw after the recent suicide of Kate Spade.  And the flood of support that comes and then quickly leaves after the suicide of someone famous is almost just as exhausting as the grief that comes with that loss. Suddenly, folks who normally would have much more puritanical views on suicide and mental health are “advocates” only to return to their staunch views once the zeitgeist fades and moves on to another Kardashian storyline. And that’s what makes celebrity death so frustrating. When Chester Bennington died, I was distraught. His music helped me work through some of my own dark demons and knowing that he suffered so much in plain sight was disheartening.

But there is one thing that the recent string of celebrity suicides is that it has brought to light a very ugly aspect of supporting those that are mentally ill: sometimes, the illness is too much. The suicide rate in the U.S. has been steadily ticking up for the last several years and the amount of celebrities that unfortunately take their own lives helps shed a light on the countless others whose death did not make a large ripple in the pool.  It’s one of the reasons 13 Reasons Why is so intoxicating, to people that are not mentally ill, it’s a valid and important part of the conversation. To people who are mentally ill, it’s just another television show that does a damn good job at glorifying suicide which is a dangerous game for anyone who has danced with those thoughts before.

This time seems different, though. This time around seems different. It has seemed different since Robin Williams died. We lost such a funny and bright man. How could he experience any sadness at all? But his death reminded us that oftentimes, it’s the people smiling the most who hurt inside. Bourdain was similar: so many said that he had never seemed happier.

Even writing this post was really difficult and I had to ask more than one person about the ethics of writing about such a thing. It always seems a little egotistical to write about such a subject after someone dies. It’s the main reason there’s an Avicii post deep in my document cloud that will likely never be published: it all just feels like a way to turn tragedy into narcissism. That isn’t my goal, however. I’m a big believer in fighting stigma by confronting the evil (most of the time) note that I was glamorize or glorify the act but I will continue to prop up the people who we have lost. Because each death is a tragic loss. There is a void left behind knowing that Anthony Bourdain will not be able to enchant us with tales of exotic lands. There’s a void left knowing Kate Spade will not design another piece that perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a woman on the go. I am sad knowing Robin Williams won’t make another generation laugh like he did mine and the one before mine and I am heartbroken knowing that Linkin Park will never be the same. That pain is valid and sure, it’s egotistical going through and writing about it but I am hoping that  in talking about it candidly will start a conversation and in my opinion and experience: a conversation can be life-saving. Check on your friends. Check on all your friends. Be there for everyone that you know and love.

Know that I am here for you even though I’m far from a professional.

I’ve seen this sentiment echoed a lot recently so I’ll mimic it here: I won’t share the hotline number. If someone is really in danger, they can find it. It’s not wanting to find it. Instead, I’ll offer again my love, my support and my empathy. I’ll offer my heart.

And to Mr. Bourdain, god, I am so sad that there will be many who don’t get to see your special brand of cynicism, wit and humility.

I’ll end on one of my favorite quotes of all time, it’s one of yours, Mr. Bourdain; and it’s one of the few quotes I’ve ever considered permanently putting on my body.

“Happiness is the absence of cynicism.”

Rest well, Mr. Bourdain and to all the others that have joined you in your rest. The world is a little less awesome because of your collective loss.