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Election Escapism: Fan Fiction For The 2016 Candidates

Originally published on NPR.org

Fan fiction used to be reserved for the most die hard devotees of fantasy novels and boy bands – but it’s made its way into this election.

Fictional stories written about characters or real people can be found at almost every corner of the internet – subjects range from television shows like Game of Thrones,book series like Harry Potter, and celebrities like Beyonce and Jay-Z. Fan fiction websites are home to millions of stories – Archive of Our Own hosts over 2 million alone, almost a thousand of which feature politicians.

ven publications that aren’t normally associated with fan culture are starting to get in on the action – The New York Times Book Review published a work of fiction centered on the presumptive Republican nominee’s wife, penned by acclaimed author and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It plans on publishing another fictional political work later this year.

Peruse any of the more traditional fan fiction host sites and you’ll find writings about Sen. Marco Rubio discovering Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s inner monologue during the State of the Union, or an alternate universe where Bernie Sanders runs for president of the 8th grade at the fictional USA Middle School and encounters a new student and rival named Donald Trump:

“What could any of that possibly mean … Who was this strange, wealthy, balding boy? Bernie collapsed to his knees in despair. If Trump made a meaningless yet awe-inspiring speech like that in the election, he wouldn’t even need his mountains of cash. The presidency would be his.

Visions of a Trump-controlled class overcame him. Overpriced textbooks, expensive student loans, walls closing their classroom off from the rest of the school … A tear dropped out of Bernie’s eye. Just as the thought that he should give up on his campaign entered his mind, Bernie heard a voice.”

In another story, written in the style of a Western, Jeb Bush fights to protect a Florida school from a Sharknado.

“You think ‘it can happen anywhere,’ never realizing that it can happen anywhere.

A SHOT —

The shard of glass in Jeb’s hand shatters by the scrape of a bullet. Jeb drops the ground, rolls through the booze-soaked ground. He jumps up to a squat and whips out the old pistol and holds it to the bullet hole in the doorway. The engraved barrel shimmers: Gov. Jeb Bush.

Florida hasn’t been safe since the Sharknados started coming. When I was in my 40s, the kids used to tease about the swamp sharks. Gave me the heebie-jeebies over a plague of mutant sea creatures that roamed the Everglades.”

In the 2016 presidential cycle, where everything seems unpredictable, fiction allows voters to determine exactly what happens next – whether it’s set in the present day or some kind of alternate universe where sharks rain down in a natural disaster.

“I think to some extent it’s an opportunity to act out alternate realities,” said Amber Davisson, an assistant professor of communications at Keene State College. “A lot of the fan fiction I’ve studied seems to be people asking themselves, ‘What if we did this conversation a little bit differently?’ They’re playing with various scenarios to see what works.”

Fan fiction has developed a reputation for being sexual in nature, and while that be true for a great deal of what’s out there, political authors are using the medium to explore different aspects of the candidates’ personalities.

Paige Boulton, a teenage fan fiction writer who will be a first-time voter this election, has written about Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the current election cycle. She considers her work now satire, including one story where Republican candidates discuss their fears about a woman having the nuclear codes. She’s been actively writing online ever she was 11, penning stories about her favorite anime characters. “When I go to explore something, and I’m thinking about something, writing – and especially writing narratively – is one of the first places I go,” she said.

For 25-year-old writer C.J. Fisher, fan fiction is “a reflection of how completely insane this election is.” Calling the election cycle “not serious,” she said, “you click on Politico and you click on ‘The Borowitz Report’ and you can’t tell the two apart.”

One of her most popular political works is a one-chapter, 630-word story about Cruz being haunted by the ghost of Alexander Hamilton. Another notable story features Craig Mazin – Cruz’s former college roommate and one of the senator’s most vocal Twitter critics – as a protagonist. Both of these were written during the height of the“Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac Killer” meme and incorporated that into the plot. She said her material changes based on the news du jour.

“I think most of the political comedy we have now is more interactive,” Fisher said, noting that the internet is where a lot of young people are newly discovering the democratic process are. For those just under voting age, it’s the easiest way for them to participate.

“John Oliver has all the hashtags; Buzzfeed has all the ridiculous quizzes; Donald Trump is having a Twitter fight with Elizabeth Warren,” she said. “If you’re 15, 16, 17 and you exist in the digital age as we all do, then most of your political stuff is online. And if you’re already into fandom, then it’s not such a huge leap to combine the two.”

Davisson agrees that there isn’t a huge jump between fan culture and political affiliation, whether you can vote legally or not. “We’re talking about voters who have a really emotional attachment to candidates. It’s the same thing you say when you say you’re either a Britney [Spears] or Christina [Aguilera] fan, as ridiculous as that sounds. I understand that these are two very talented artists, but it doesn’t matter: I’m on team Christina.”

Davisson also says that this mindset is complicated in a political context. “This is a space where we’re supposed to make reasoned, logical decisions,” she said. “So what we have is people who are making very emotional decisions, and then trying to rationalize them. You can tell people are kind of switching between their rational individual voice, and their ‘I am a fan’ voice.”

Although Boulton and Fisher use their work as social commentary, some political fan media is less snarky and more earnest. Fan art, and in particular fan videos — compilations pieced together using clips from speeches and events — are an example of that. “Birdie Sanders” art popped up Imgur and Deviant Art when a bird landed on the senator’s podium during a rally in Portland, Ore.. There’s a Hillary Clinton video set to punk rock music entitled “Rebel Girl.” And Donald Trump has inspired tribute videos of his own – including a well-produced play on video game trailers.

Davisson notes that fan media – videos included – are nothing new; they’ve been created since before the advent of YouTube. “Well before the internet, we have Star Trek fans who are sending videos back and forth, at home, the good old-fashioned way. And a lot of those fan videos actually went on YouTube very early on. The technology has made it a lot easier and a lot more mainstream.”

And Larsen says that’s totally normal that people would be connecting with and writing about this election cycle’s candidates. “I think to some extent it’s inevitable because they’re sort of in our faces for so long and there’s that sort of familiarity,” she said. “These aren’t people who are just passing through. We’ve gotten to know them in the same way we’ve gotten to know characters on a television show.”

Davisson agrees, and also has some advice for interacting with those who support a different candidate. “I try to remember that we are not always going to be rational and reasonable. That we are talking about things that we love, we are talking about things we feel very deeply about,” she says. “We’re talking about what we hope tomorrow is going to look like. I oftentimes remind myself to take off my ‘talk you out of it’ hat, and put on my ‘listen to you talk about something you love hat.’ and I think that’s how — when this is all over — we continue to respect each other.”

As GOP Courts Black Voters, Is Showing Up Enough?

Originally published on NBCNews.com

Eighty percent of success, as the famous saying goes, is simply about showing up. That’s also true in politics, especially when a political party is trying to improve its standing with African Americans after losing the black vote by a whopping 87 percentage points in 2012. Since that last presidential election, the Republican Party has:

  • reactivated dormant and chartered new College Republican chapters on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as part of the RNC’s “Growth and Opportunity Project”;
  • hired key staffers to do additional outreach to the African-American communities in 14 states, including North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida;
  • deployed RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to address key audiences like the National Urban League and the National Association of Black Journalists at their conventions last month. “We have become a national party that has decided that it’s OK to show up once every four years, five months before an election,” Priebus told the National Association of Black Journalists, acknowledging the GOP’s lack of engagement in the past.

“At the RNC, we’re optimistic and determined,” said Orlando Watson, the RNC’s Communications Director for Black Media. “Our goal is to compete for each and every black voter through non-stop engagement effort.”

Indeed, competing for African-American voters can pay dividends. One recent example is Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in his successful runoff race against Tea Party primary opponent Chris McDaniel. Analysts attribute his win to high turnout from African-American voters, whom Cochran’s campaign aggressively courted.

But Democrats and other African-American political experts argue that, in politics, the policy matters as much – if not more – than just showing up and asking for votes. One policy, in particular, that has irked a large part of the African-American community has been the GOP’s drive for voter ID laws, which some believe is intended to keep them from the polling places. Last year, a North Carolina conservative activist admitted that his state’s voter ID requirements were intended to hurt Democrats. “The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt,” he said.

Dr. Lorenzo Morris, a political science professor at Howard University, thinks the large African-American turnout for Democrats in 2012 was, in part, a reaction to these laws. “If there’s one thing middle-aged blacks remember well, it’s the Civil Rights movement. Even for young people it stands out as an image. So when they unintentionally mobilize people around this deprivation of rights, it did a lot to inflame participation on the Democratic side.”

Democrats and African-American leaders also argue that GOP efforts to repeal the federal health-care law – as well as not expand Medicaid to low-income Americans without health insurance – disproportionately hits the black community. And then there’s what they see as the Republican Party’s hostility toward the nation’s first black president. “African-American voters get the sense that there has been an historical hostility and disrespect words for this president that they don’t feel has been the same for any other president,” said Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher.

Belcher, who believes that some of the hostility is racially tinged, adds, “It leads back to the original conversation: You cannot persuade a community if that community thinks you are, in fact, hostile towards them.” Race also became a lightning-rod issue in that Mississippi runoff after McDaniel and his supporters complained of African Americans voting for Cochran. “There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats,” McDaniel said after Cochran’s surprising win.

What’s more, an anonymous caller interrupted a media call with Cochran’s aides in July and asked, “If black people were harvesting cotton, why is it OK to harvest their votes?”

When it comes to voter ID laws, Republicans counter that the goal isn’t to block black voters from the polls – rather, it’s to prevent fraud and cheating. “‘Disenfranchise’ is a dog-whistle term that Democrats use to insinuate that Republicans are frankly either suppressing the vote or are not working towards having free and fair elections,” said Tara Wall, the RNC’s senior strategist for media and engagement. “We are and always will work towards having free and fair elections and that everybody that has a valid legal vote will have the opportunity to vote.”

Her colleague Watson agrees. “When talking about this issue with voter ID, we have to deal with the facts,” he said. “A lot of what’s been said is pure speculation. A state like Georgia, for example, that passed voter ID legislation in 2006, in 2008 the black voter turnout actually increased and exceeded white voter turnout.”

As for the charge that the GOP is hostile towards the nation’s first black president, Republicans say that’s a distraction. “What the RNC is focused on is providing solutions that are addressing the community’s concerns. And you have to look at the actions and the policies we’re working toward enacting and what their positive impact would be in the community and give us a chance,” Watson said.

Wall also sees common ground between African Americans and the Republican Party on policies. “We have senators like Rand Paul that are talking about restoring voting rights for felons and prison entry programs under [former Virginia] Gov. McDonnell that are instrumental in some of our communities in getting people back on their feet, back into society, back into being responsible, productive citizens,” she said. “There are other initiatives that Republicans have really been bold about and championing and taking a front seat on that aren’t necessarily traditional things you think about when it comes to Republicans.”

But Priebus, the RNC chairman, admits that the GOP’s outreach may take some time to pay off. “I understand that this is not something that is going to change overnight by a few speeches and a couple appearances,” he told the gathering of black journalists. “And what I’m saying is that instead of getting 6 percent of the black vote in this country, if we get out there and fight can we get 15? And then 20? And then can we get 22 and 23?”

“I’m in this for the long haul,” he added.

 

Congress Tackles Unions in College Football

Originally published on NBCNews.com

The debate over student athlete unionization moved from the football field to the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, and it largely followed a familiar playbook: Republican vs. Democrat.

In a hearing before the House Education and Workforce Committee — entitled “Big Labor on College Campuses: Examining the Consequences of Unionizing Student Athletes — Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., said he was concerned about unionization’s impact on college sports.“If management and union are at an impasse, would players go on strike? Would student athletes on strike attend class?” he asked in his opening statement.

 By contrast, George Miller, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the committee, argued that college athletes do fall into the jurisdiction of unions. “The big business empire of college sports is doing very well. Its revenues are up 32 percent in the last six years, and many universities are hiking tuition and fees, turning to under-paid, over-stretched adjunct faculty and cutting student services,” he said. “In the end, this is a classic labor dispute.”

The hearing came after the National Labor Relations Board’s March ruling that Northwestern University’s football players are university employees and allowed to unionize. In April, the football players voted, but the results have been impounded until the NLRB hears an appeal to its March ruling.

This all comes after a bout of bad press for the NCAA and its relations with student athletes. Over the past year there have been rising concerns for the overall well-being of players. There has been a recent discussion on the impact of sports concussions, and University of Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier created a firestorm during the NCAA Basketball Tournament when he stated there are nights he goes to bed “starving” because of meal plan restrictions placed on players.

Ken Starr, the president of Baylor University, testified that calling student athletes employees of the university takes focus away from the academic aspect. “During the prior academic year, 86 percent of senior student-athletes at Baylor received their undergraduate degrees,” he said. “Student athletes at Baylor are first and foremost students of the University,” he went on to say.

But economist Andy Schwarz argued in favor of unionization at the hearing. “College athletes undertake the rigorous twin tasks of being a full-time student and also being a full-time athlete, and I do not envision that either a free market or a union solution to the current NCAA collusion will likely change that — being great at something requires a tremendous investment of time, and time is a scarce commodity,” he said.

“What a market or union outcome would do is provide athletes with a voice in determining how best to make that trade off.”

Marriage Isn’t Just for White People, Study Says

Originally Published in The Afro

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not harder for educated Black women to find men, according to a new study.

When researching the number of Black males in prison versus Black males in college, researchers found that one subject in particular kept popping up again and again: black marriage and dating.

Dr. Ivory Toldson, an associate professor in the School of Education at Howard University, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Negro Education, recently released a study about education and the black man in America along with Bryant T. Marks, director of Morehouse College’s Male Initiative.

They will join political and educational leaders to discuss their findings at the “Presidential Symposium: Beyond the Stereotypes—Academics, Athletics, Character and Black Male Achievement,” Sept. 7, as part of a series of events leading up to the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic between Morehouse and Howard.

The study debunks highly popularized theories about the lack of marital options for Black women. For example, the research cites a story from ABC that states only 54 percent of Black men would be considered “adequate to marry” taking into account the Black men who lack a college education, are in jail and are unemployed. In his study, Toldson points out that such reports don’t take into account overlapping of this data.

This “phenomena” of the single and successful black woman as well as the crumbling of the Black family has been covered by many news outlets. MSNBC, NPR, the Washington Post and countless bloggers have had stories with headlines such as “Marriage Alludes High-Achieving Black Women,” “Black Women: Successful and Still Unmarried” or “Marriage Is for White People.”

Many assumptions on Black dating are based on misinformation, according to Toldson. Even on the small scale of a university, inflated numbers are considered common knowledge. For example, Toldson debunked the ratio rumor on Howard’s campus.

“At Howard University, a competitive university, the ratio of females to males is a little bit more skewed towards females,” he said. “If you go to the average Howard student and ask what the ratio is, you’ll hear things like 10 to one or 15 to one. That’s nowhere close to the truth. The actual ratio at Howard is just two to one.”

But even though there are more Black women in college than Black men, men still bring in more money than women, laying to rest claims that Black women are having trouble finding men in the same socioeconomic bracket, Toldson added.

“Black women do outpace men in graduation,” he said. “Black men still get paid more than Black women. Those extra degrees have not brought about economic parity.”

Money continues to be a major factor in marriage and relationships. More and more Americans are getting married later in life to save for and afford a certain lifestyle. Black Americans are no different. Eighteen was an appropriate age to begin calculating marriage rates back in 1960, but now that practice may be dated.

“The reality is that cities like D.C., New York and Atlanta are very expensive to live in,” Toldson said. “In reality, it would take a quarter of a million dollars to achieve that living standard in a city like New York.”

Although marriage rates in general are lower, Black women in particular have received the brunt of media coverage. According to Toldson, this is because throughout history whites have been seen as the “norm.” “When we look at show like ‘Sex in the City,’ they’re talking about this issue,” he says. “They’re talking about four women that are very successful, and their success seems to be competing with chances of finding love. But it was never discussed as a white issue.”

Overall, Toldson hopes that this dialogue will open a door for discussion, rather than add to more panic about the state of black love. “We need to really start challenging the information that is brought to us.”

In addition to Toldson, panelists at the symposium will include actor Isaiah Washington, author and talk show host Michael Eric Dyson, Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, and Presidents Sidney A. Ribeau and Robert M. Franklin of Howard and Morehouse, respectively. The symposium is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Cramton Auditorium at Howard University.

 

Update on Annex Assault, Incident Raises Safety Concerns with Students

Originally Published in The Hilltop

On Friday at 3:41 p.m. the Howard University Police Department issued a crime alert about a sexual assault in the Bethune Annex.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the attack happened at 1:15 p.m. when 19-year-old Demarco Myles walked into the Annex and assaulted a student at knifepoint.

Myles was arrested and has been charged with sexual assault in the first degree for Friday’s incident.  He has also been charged with intent to commit a first degree sexual assault while armed.  According to police, Myles forced his way inside the apartment of a woman in Northeast D.C. in mid-October where he attempted to assault her.  When she resisted, she was stabbed multiple times.

According to the update sent by Campus Police the following day, additional steps will be taken to secure residence halls and they also encourage residents to keep their doors locked.  Counseling services will be available for all who need it, the update sent to students’ Bison email accounts read.

Despite these measures, students are still shaken after the incident.

Ashley McLean, a sophomore Biology major, was unsettled by it.
“It’s really scary to know that someone was even able to sneak into the Annex,” she said.  “That dorm is considered one of the safest on campus, so it puts students like me on edge because if the ‘safest’ dorm isn’t safe, then I never feel safe.”

Sophomore Marketing major and Annex resident Raven Harrison feels the same way.
“I think it is a shame that we are not safe in our own dorms,” she said. “You would think this is an issue we would have off campus.”

Harrison feels that students may need to begin taking matters into their own hands.

“Even though campus is supposed to protect us, we still need to take initiative in protecting ourselves and being mindful of our surroundings.”

Residence Life declined comment on the day of the incident because of what they said was a lack of information.
Campus Police refused to comment on any details of the case and referred The Hilltop to the Office of Communications.

Later that evening of the incident at 9 p.m. the university provided a response.

“Earlier today we became aware of a troubling incident in the Bethune Annex. The Metropolitan Police Department with support from the Department of Public Safety are investigating an alleged assault; it is premature to further discuss this case. We will provide counseling and related services to students as needed. We also encourage students to secure their doors at all times,” provided via Kerry-Ann Hamilton, the University’s spokesperson.

The Annex houses 550 female undergraduate students.

Students and Faculty Arrested in Troy Davis Protest

Originally published by The Hilltop

Twelve students and one professor were arrested yesterday at a protest for the clemency of death row inmate Troy Davis.  After news of the arrest hit social networks, the group was referred to as the “Howard 13.”

According to Sgt. David Schlosser of the U.S. Park Police, 12 were arrested for violating a lawful order and one was arrested for crossing a police line. “We were simply enforcing demonstration regulations,” he stated.

Those arrested were taken to the U.S. Park Police holding center, where they were later released and fined $100 each.

Police arrested them after asking the protesters to stop sitting in front of the White House.  All but the 12 students that were taken into custody got up. Dr Tony Medina crossed police lines to be with the students.

Dimen Clark, a junior legal communications major, was one of the arrested students. “I personally thought about my aunt who was murdered and the fact that no one stood up for her,” she said.  “Troy Davis should know that someone cared; that someone stood up for him. We just thought, ‘If we don’t stand up, who will?’”

Still, Clark doesn’t want the hype to distract from the point of the protest. “Honestly, I don’t like the name ‘Howard 13,’” she went on to say.  “The bigger issue is the death penalty.  This was just a catalyst. It’s up to us to make sure we stay active. If we don’t, it will turn into just another Howard trend.”

Medina, who says he was the only faculty of Howard University to attend to the protest, hopes that this will lead to more proactivity, “I think the brave students that did get arrested set a good example. Hopefully it will inspire more students to stand for what is right. It’s in the Howard tradition.

“We didn’t plan on being arrested, but given the opportunity to bring more attention to the case, we couldn’t turn it down,” he went on to say.  “When we were coming back from jail, people on the Metro recognized and congratulated them.  Protests have sparked all over the world. We should be proud.”

Students also weighed in on the arrests.  Senior legal communication major Amber Meeks was moved by the actions.  “It was an unforgettable experience,” Medina said. “The demonstration of courage, selflessness, and solidarity by my peers did and will continue to inspire me.”

And though a sizable and vocal number of Howard University students supported the call for clemency, there are some that don’t feel that way. “I do feel sorry that he’s getting the death penalty, but I do think it’s deserved. There is some doubt to his guilt, but at the same time the man is not innocent,” junior political science major Travis White said.

Protesters gathered around the flagpole at noon for the demonstration, where they rallied around Howard University Student Association President Brandon Harris.

The movement sparked from Twitter, after Harris contacted the head of HU Reaction, Antoine Griffin.

From the flagpole students marched from Yard, down Georgia Avenue, and onto the White House, standing outside and chanting.

Davis was convicted for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail in August of 1991. During his 20 years on death row, his execution was delayed four times after receiving appeals.

He was put to death at 11:08 PM September 21, 2011.

 

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