Is this Loss?

Wait just one goddamn minute…

Is this loss?

The format of the is astoundingly simple: Four panels. One figure. Then two. Then two once more. Then one figure upright, the second on its side. And that’s it. So long as the meme instance follows that basic format then it’s loss, a meme that has recently exploded in popularity.

2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of “Loss,” a strip from the webcomic Crtl-Alt-Del. It had begun during the early 2000s webcomic craze, and focused on gamer culture, and general “nerdiness.” A lot of its themes were pretty childish and, in some cases, outright misogynistic in its attempt to be funny. But that’s not what this is about. No, instead I’m interested in one of the first times that the strip tried to tackle a serious subject in the webcomic format.

In “Loss,” the character Ethan rushes to the hospital and discovers that his girlfriend Lilah has had a miscarriage. Is it the best way to depict the serious and difficult topic of miscarriages? Perhaps not. But it’s not inherently bad either. Granted, it was certainly a complete departure from the style and topic that the comic’s readers were used to. But taken on its own at face value, “Loss” itself really isn’t that joke-worthy. But of course, on the Internet you can never count on anybody to take something on its own at face value, and Loss almost immediately became the subject of ridicule and parody.

However, the trajectory that Loss took represents the unique and unpredictable nature of the Internet, and the culture of those who inhabit it. It embodies some fundamental aspect of the Internet and the unwritten rules that govern what’s funny and what’s not, and what’s popular, and what will fade into obscurity. On the Internet, memes that are popular, and things that are “in” at any given moment can often exist in a self-feeding cycle. They’re popular not necessarily because of what they mean, or what they represent. Instead, something can be popular simply because of the fact that it is popular

From Parody to Meme

From the moment that Loss was initially published, it exploded in popularity and took on a life of its own. Throughout various forums and discussion boards, the Internet took the Loss comic and made it their own. Sometimes swapping in their own characters, sometimes merely remixing the original, and sometimes just copying the basic format. And, at some point along the way, Loss became a meme in and of itself.

What’s especially interesting about the Loss meme is its original source, and how that source has absolutely nothing to do with what the meme has become. Though the original strip was a about miscarriage, virtually none of the instances of Loss as a meme touch on this subject. Instead, the meaning of the meme transcends that of its original source text. It precedes its original and creates its own meaning.

Of course, nailing down what precisely this new meaning is much easier said than done. Such is the fluid and unpredictable nature of Internet memes. Many instances of the Loss meme make very little sense on their own, or have so many layers of meaning it can become difficult to dissect all of its influences.

At one level, the entire joke of the Loss meme is the joke itself. That is, the reason it is funny and popular is because some people understand it, and others do not. It’s an inside joke on a massive scale. You either get it or you don’t.

And as more and more people learned about loss, becoming part of the inside joke, some individuals became increasingly creative with how they created instances to follow the Loss format. It was no longer enough for a meme instance to simply parody the original comic. Now, the humor was that of the bait-and-switch. Loss became the Internet’s new version of the Rickroll.

Promise the reader one thing, but upon closer inspection… yep it was Loss all along. Damn you Internet, you got me again!

That’s cool and all, but who cares?

Well, much like the Loss meme itself, everything I’ve written here doesn’t really matter that much. That is, taken on its own at face value. Much like many other Internet memes, Loss is just a silly joke that has taken off online. It’s popular merely because of the fact that it is popular. This self-feeding cycle has lasted this long, but it is almost inevitable that it will eventually be replaced by a new fad, and will fade away into obscurity.

But despite this, it is still worth taking a look at this meme and considering what it means because as has become all too evident recently, it is very easy for a meme to become corrupted and given a new, more sinister, meaning.

Loss represents a particular type of Internet meme with a new unique meaning. It might not represent a single specific ideology, but it does have a meaning in the sense that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Loss means nothing, and by extension of that fact, it also means everything about how the Internet and online communities operate. Memes represent the ability for an idea to rapidly evolve, and escape any connection to their origins. And this is what makes them so unpredictable, unique, and exciting.


The Invention of Lying (2009)

Ricky Gervais’ 2009 film The Invention of Lying is a unique comedy that offers the audience a glimpse of an alternate reality that is entirely different than our own. In nearly every way, the world of the film, and the characters that inhabit it, seem just like our own–save for one minor difference. The notion of lying, deceit, or dishonesty simply do not exist. As the film’s narration explains, everyone tells the truth 100% of the time. In our own world, lying is almost universally looked down upon. In fact, it is one of the first lessons that a parent is expected to teach their child: lying is wrong. But The Invention of Lying suggests that perhaps lies do have an important role in our society. Through hyperbole, the film shows us what a world without deception might look like, and through parody points out how some widely accepted ideas are nothing more than mere lies. In all, The Invention of Lying’s satire aims to call attention to the complicated and nuanced nature of lies, while simultaneously reminding us all just how widespread they really are. And as it turns out, that might not actually be a bad thing.

The most blatant and in-your-face aspect of satire is the film’s parody of religion. While consoling his dying mother, Mark is deeply saddened to see just how terrified she is of an eternity of nothingness. In response, he tells a lie and assures her that some form of heaven awaits her. What began as a white lie soon spirals out of control, and Mark find himself sharing with the world his stories of “the man in the sky,” the ten rules to follow–written on pizza boxes instead of stone tablets, and–eventually, at least–takes on Jesus-like imagery in the form of an unshaven beard, and wrapped in his bedsheets. On the one hand, this satire serves to point out the ridiculousness of religion and just how unfounded some of its principles are. But at the same time, it serves to demonstrate the potential positive aspects of such lies; if Mark’s stories of the “man in the sky” helps his mother be at peace, or encourages other people to be good to one another, are they really are that bad? The Invention of Lying doesn’t directly provide answers to this question, but at the very least prompts the audience to ponder it.

But beyond the satirization of organized religion, Gervais’ film does somewhat miss out on some of the more nuanced details of what deceit and lying entail. Namely, the film focuses entirely on lies that are told verbally–under the rules of the film, it is impossible for a person to “say something that isn’t.” But there are so many forms of lying beyond the verbal. For instance, there is distinct body language during Mark and Anna’s dates that seem to be at least a minimal form of deception. For instance, when Anna’s mother calls her during the date, Mark squirms in his seat as he listens to half of the conversation, but never says anything is specifically wrong or on his mind. This is somewhat of a lie via omission, but revealed to the audience through his body language. Even though the writers endeavored to remove all spoken lies from the script, lying seems to be so engrained in the human experience that is is impossible to ever remove every instance of it.

So while The Invention of Lying certainly points out that deception, lying, and honesty are not a simple black and white issue, it still falls short of identifying all of the ways in which telling lies is a complicated and nuanced issue. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that it is a mere comedy film, so it would be unfair to expect it to engage in a full philosophical and ethical discussion on the virtues of honesty. To that end, the film is a successful satire–it points out an issue, and prompts the audience to consider it further. It suggests that our commonly-held notions of lying are incomplete, and ought to be reconsidered. Take again, the earlier example of teaching children not to lie. Sure, this is one of the first moral lessons that a parent may try to teach their child, but at the same time, deception is an important indicator of positive brain development. It means that the child understands that their view of the world is different than others. In other words, it’s the same message that The Invention of Lying attempts to convey: telling lies is engrained in human nature, and perhaps it can actually be a good thing in certain circumstances.

Trump, Kanye West, and Twitter

What the hell is happening?

Every day, I look at the various things that are happening in my country – and in my nation’s politics specifically – and can’t help but think to myself that this all must be some elaborate joke. Maybe it’s a Truman Show situation, and we’re all just waiting for the big reveal. We’ve all been punk’d. I just need Ashton Kutcher to show up, point out the camera, say it’s all a prank, and free us from the insanity.

We live in a world where our President is tweeting stuff like this:


Apparently Trump and Kanye have a lot of history with one another. I had remembered hearing about this a while back, but didn’t really pay much attention to it. But I guess it’s back in the news now! And I have no idea what to think.

But hey, at least Kanye still listens to Kim, right?

Oh, and still likes Hillary. But also Trump. But not always. But kinda.

See, this type of stuff has come to be expected from Kanye West. It fits his character. Really not all that surprising. But what is surprising, however, is that Trump is getting involved in it now. Maybe that fits the character of Donald Trump, but it certainly does not fit the character of what I usually picture the Office of the President to be.

Goddamn I wish this were all actually just a joke…

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Though it was released in 1964, and directly confronted the political situation of that time, the political satire of Dr. Strangelove nonetheless remains relevant even decades later. The film serves as a biting satire that showcases the bleak reality of nuclear war, as well as the ridiculousness of the people and institutions that are responsible for avoiding it. Irony and incongruity are employed throughout the film to highlight the huge disconnect between the reality of war and the perception of war, perhaps prodding the audience to consider more carefully their opinions of the nation’s policies and military action in other parts of the world. Even though we have since passed the Cold War era and the height of looming nuclear annihilation, Dr. Strangelove’s satire can still serve a useful role in identifying and pointing out that asinine nature of war that persists in the 21st century.

The film is packed with multiple details—some subtle, and some screaming in your face—that underscore the significant difference between how war is perceived, and what war is actually like. For instance, the Air Force base is plastered with the slogan “Peace is our profession.” An ironic statement given that everyone working at that base is quite literally paid to participate in war. Furthermore, the people who are actually in positions of power and make specific decisions about war itself are entirely separated from those who actually perform the war. At no point does the crew of the B-52 delivering its payload ever interact with the President, Ambassador, and Generals who occupy the War Room. In fact, the closest that the men of the War Room ever come to actual fighting is a small bout of fisticuffs between a General and the Russian ambassador, which is eventually broken up by the famous line, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room!” The separation between the decision-makers of war and those who actually fight in war is further defined by the character of Captain Mandrake. As the base communications officer, he was directly responsible for transmitting the command to the B-52s to begin their attack plans. However, when the base in later under siege, it is revealed that he actually has little combat experience whatsoever. By separating the decision-makers from those directly involved in fighting, Dr. Strangelove establishes a significant gap between the manner in which war is perceived, and the reality of what such a war actually looks like.

This satirization of war remains relevant today, even though the Cold War era has long since ended. Consider, for instance, President Trump’s continual use of the phrase “Little Rocket Man,” his promises to “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” and his recent description of Syria’s president as “Gas Killing Assad.” Though he his the Commander-in-Chief of all of the United States’ armed forces, he seems to have little understanding of what war actually means (outside of his “personal Vietnam” of avoiding STDs however). Even though the United States no longer stands on the brink of nuclear war with another major world superpower, the reality of war nonetheless remains. And as long as war still takes place, there will always be significant differences between how war is perceived, and how it actually unfolds. As such, the political satire presented in Dr. Strangelove will likely remain timeless, and always maintain a certain degree of relevance.

Content is Not King: A Measurement Study of Selected News Websites

During the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, the term “fake news” became a significant part of public vernacular and discourse. Fake news, it was posited, was used to spread disinformation and diminish the credibility of established news organizations in order to sow confusion about presidential candidates. In the months that followed the election, Donald Trump used the term to directly attack news outlets that published content that he disagreed with. In a heated press conference at Trump Tower, he directly told CNN’s Jim Acosta “You are fake news.” As a result of its sudden appearance in mainstream American politics, fake news as become one of the most significant topics among not just media researchers, but among the general public as well. It seems that virtually everyone is aware of the issue and accepts that fake news carries with it significant consequences, but it can be difficult to determine what specific effects it can have, and just how widespread they can be.

One of the reasons that fake news is such a significant problem is the fact that relatively small organizations and groups of people are able to easily produce partisan–and often misleading–news headlines and articles and spread them quickly via social media. This makes it possible for fake news to easily compete with large and established news organizations. Even though their content is not as well-produced or as high quality, the it is able to spread rapidly and reach a wide audience. In this study, I analyze three selected websites and examine their form, and style of writing–including both article content and headlines. I then compare those characteristics with the Facebook engagement metrics of the websites’ content to determine if there is a correlation between website content and overall online spread of said content. Though my study is limited in scope, the data suggest that even small partisan blog-style websites are able to compete with large established news organizations by tailoring their content to be shared rapidly and widely. It appears that the form in which content is presented is much more significant than the content itself. Perhaps it is time to move beyond the adage of many media producers that “content is king,” and instead confront the realities of the rapidly shifting media landscape.


Over the course of one month, I observed the content published on three websites: Politico, Eagle Rising, and Addicting Info. These three sites represent a opposite ends of the political spectrum, as well as one neutral baseline website for comparison purposes. Eagle Rising is a conservative-leaning website founded by Gary DeMar and Brandon Vallorani. Its self-purported mission is to “share breaking news … from a Christain perspective.” Addicting Info represents the opposite political ideology, and nearly all of its content has a distinctly liberal slant to it. It describes itself as a “resource to discredit all the lies and propaganda that the right-wing spreads.” Finally, Politico is an international news and information network that specifically focuses on politics and policy. Its stated mission is “to help sustain and vastly expand nonpartisan political and policy journalism.” Compared to Eagle Rising and Addicting Info, Politico is much more well-established and is generally seen as a credible news source.

I visited each website on five separate occasions: February 4, February 7, February 12, February 18, and March 2. Each time, I recorded metadata about the five articles that appeared at the top of each website’s homepage. These metadata included the article’s timestamp, authors, headline, URL, and total Facebook engagement. I also took general notes on the form of each article’s content, such as the tone of the writing, or the inclusion of external media and quotes from other websites.

To gather Facebook engagement statistics, I used the publicly available Facebook Graph API. This service enables users to request specific information about given Facebook content, including users, pages, and individual posts. It is possible to use an external URL as an input for a Graph API request, and receive data about all the times that URL was used on the Facebook platform. The data I was collecting was publicly available, so I was able to use my personal Facebook account’s API key as the authentication token for the following Graph API request:

GET /v2.12/?id={engagement}

I chose to record Facebook’s engagement data to serve as a measurement of the extent to which any given article had spread throughout online communities. Facebook engagement is the sum of interactions with that specific URL on the Facebook platform; this includes comments, shares, and all reactions (Like, Angry, Wow, Sad, Haha, Love). The number is not an entirely accurate representation of the number of times the article was read, or the dissemination of the URL via platforms other than Facebook. Gathering that information would involve using public APIs and analytics tools for many other platforms, and full viewership data would likely only be available to the website owners via tools such as Google Analytics. Those types of measurement are perhaps useful for understanding the full scope of a given article’s spread but is beyond the small scope of this study.


For each website, I recorded metadata and Facebook engagement data for 25 articles. Generally, the range of data that I collected was very large, and with both high and low outliers. This makes the mean an inaccurate measure of central tendency. For this reason, I have chosen to use the median for the purpose of comparison and discussion.

Facebook Engagement for Selected News Websites

  Politico Eagle Rising Addicting Info
Range 7216 1210 21617
Maximum 7233 1210 21798
Minimum 17 0 181
Mode None 0 181
Median 853 27 2145
Mean 1608.20833 122 2949.08

One important caveat about the collected Facebook engagement data is that is was gathered at the time of each observation. For each observation session I collected data for whatever each website’s top five articles were at that exact moment. This means that some data were collected only a few hours after the article was published, while others were gathered a full day after publication. Furthermore, Facebook engagement data for previously recorded articles were not updated during subsequent observations. Therefore these results and discussion are applicable to the short-term spread of news articles via Facebook, but should not be interpreted as an indication of the long-term spread of content.



Politico’s website has a large array of content types, from short informational articles, to much-longer thinkpieces. They have also had more “general interest” pieces that are less about specific news events, and instead focus more on broader issues – such as a federal minimum wage. All articles are still based in either politics or public policy issues.

Politico has a significantly large staff – with few repeated authors in the articles I pulled. Additionally, many of them contain photographs from their own staff, or licensed from other providers (and likely not just lifted from online). There are also often graphics and data visualizations that are also likely produced in-house. Most articles contain quotes that were obtained from actual Politico reporters on the Hill, and not just copied from other news sources and republished online.

The writing style is similar to that of actual print newspapers, and follows a lot of the “journalistic traditions,” such as the inverted pyramid model, specific style guides, and use of external quotes/reporting. Much of the articles are informative, and analytical – but not necessarily with a given agenda one way or the other.

The median Facebook engagement for Politico articles was 853, ranging from 17 to 7233. However, there is no specific correlation in type of content for articles that received the highest levels of engagement. “White House aide Rob Porter resigns after allegations from ex-wives” received 7233 engagements, possibly due to the scandalous nature of the article, and recency of the event. However, the significantly less scandalous candidate profile “Is Conor Lamb the Next Big Democratic Upset?” received 7075 engagements, a similar level.

Politico’s Facebook engagement outperforms that of Eagle Rising, but is overshadowed by the consistently high  engagement levels for articles published on Addicting Info.

Eagle Rising

Eagle Rising’s website has a distinct blog-like feel to it, and appears to be built using a premade WordPress theme. The writing style mirrors this aesthetic; Eagle Rising articles typically have a personal and casual tone as well as include personal opinions. The website appears to have a very small number of writers. During my observation, I only noted three unique authors: Joe Scudder, Dale Summitt, and Keely Sharp.

The content of Eagle Rising’s articles is limited, and most published content is quite short. Generally the website’s articles contain only a few paragraphs of text, and fit within the space of a single screen. Furthermore, much of its content is taken wholesale from other websites and news agencies, such as Fox News. Generally, the headlines contain politically divisive language, but are not necessarily aggressive, or meant to serve as clickbait. Some examples include “NeverTrump Republicans Mock the Memo,” “Pelosi Tortures House with 7-hour Speech,” and “CEO of Goldman Sachs Vindicates Trump on Economy.”

Most Eagle Rising posts receive low amounts of Facebook engagements, and several articles received zero interactions whatsoever. However, this may only be an indication of the small size of the Eagle Rising audience. The Eagle Rising Facebook page has 688,000 likes, while Politico and Addicting Info have 1.7 million and 1.4 million, respectively. However, this means that articles with really high levels of engagement stand out. The article “Pelosi Tortures House with 7-hour Speech” received 175 Facebook engagements, and “Former Mexican President Blames ‘Racist Trump’ for School Shooting” received 1210. However, these articles contain little substantive content themselves, which possibly indicates that Eagle Rising’s content is intended to be consumed in small snippets in the Facebook News Feed, rather than on the full website.

Nonetheless, for articles with little substantial content, it is noteworthy that the URLs are still being engaged with so highly compared to other Eagle Rising articles. It suggests that the headline and presentation of the content is more significant than the content itself. Eagle Rising’s median Facebook engagement is lower than that of Politico, but some Eagle Rising articles outperformed certain Politico articles.

Addicting Info

Much like Eagle Rising, many portions of the Addicting Info website are written in an informal style, more like a personal blog rather than a traditional news source. In my observations, I only recorded four unique authors of Addicting Info’s content: John Prager, Shannon Barber, Conover Kent, and Tim Abel. Additionally, much of the website’s content is sourced from other websites. “Trump Staffers Desperately Want To Quit, But No One Else Will Hire Them” quotes Buzzfeed extensively, for instance.

Despite the small staff and low volume of content within its articles, Addicting Info handily outperformed both Eagle Rising and Politico in terms of Facebook Engagement, with a median of 2145. One of its articles, “JUST IN: Trump Campaign Chair In Kentucky Pleads Guilty To Sex Trafficking Of Minors” received 21,798 engagements, the highest amount throughout my entire study. However, removing this article from the dataset drops the range of engagement down to just 181, suggesting that Addicting Info’s audience is stable and enagages with its content on a regular basis.

Perhaps one reason that this website is so successful in terms of Facebook engagement is that many of its headlines seem specifically designed to grab attention and encourage other users to share and interact with the content on social media. This includes titles in all-caps, claiming that items are “breaking news,” and clickbait titles that tease the user with the promise of more content, such as “The Police Were Called Over Man’s Anti-Trump T-Shirt; His Response Is Perfect.”


The Facebook engagement for these three websites is a fairly small dataset, but nonetheless can provide some interesting insights to the current media landscape, which has been vastly shifting in the last several years. Eagle Rising and Addicting Info are significantly smaller than Politico, but thanks to social media are able to somewhat compete with its content, and draw their own share of online interactions. My study shows suggests that the current Facebook platform does not necessarily incentivize good content, but instead incentivizes content styles and methods that generate engagement.

Through attention-grabbing titles and divisive language, websites such as Eagle Rising and Addicting Info create headlines that draw in readers, despite the fact that the actual content of the articles is limited, and often simply just quoted extensively from other websites and news sources. Whether or not an individual actually reads the article is irrelevant; so long as people continue to engage with the content–commenting, liking, or sharing–it will continue to spread throughout online communities. It is by these methods that fake news, misinformation, and disinformation spread so rapidly. Even an established news organization such as Politico is unable to increase its online engagement simply by having higher quality, and more lengthy content; in the context of social media, it too is playing by the same rules as Eagle Rising and Addicting Info. The media landscape is still adapting to the proliferation of online communication technologies, and media researchers continue to feel out this new media environment and figure out just what the rules to this new game really are. However, the data from this study carry one significant implication–the possibility that content truly is no longer king.

#itsATideAd – the Evolution (and Risk) of Memes in Advertising

The Super Bowl is an enormous cultural event that is way larger and way more significant than just a simple football game. For advertisers, it is an opportunity to reach millions of potential customers within the context of an enormous and influential media event. Each year, countless individuals choose to watch the game “just for the ads,” and corporations recognized the Super Bowl as an opportunity to reach these viewers with creative and innovative advertising strategies. This year, one particular company has been widely regarded as having “won” the Super Bowl advertising game: Tide, with a unique an innovative #itsATideAd campaign.

The ad itself is brilliant in its simplicity, and absolutely devilish in its execution and influences. It begins with David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame) behind the wheel of a car, in the convention of any other typical car ad. Next, Harbour at a bar in an approximation of a generic beer ad. This goes on with Harbour mimicking the tropes of various ad formats, until finally revealing that the commercial is in fact an ad for Tide laundry detergent. (Look at those clean clothes! What else could it be an ad for?)

Finally, the audience is left with a leading question–does this make every Super Bowl advertisement a Tide Ad? By attaching the simple idea of clean clothes, something that every Super Bowl ad will inevitably have, with the Tide product, the company effectively hijacked every other company’s ad by forcing the viewer to question whether it might in fact be a Tide ad. Even when an ad was for another product, there was a lingering thought in the back of our minds, “wait, is this another Tide ad?” Advertising analysts were quick to tout the success of Tide’s campaign and declare it the “winner” of the Super Bowl ads. To a large extent, I agree with this general sentiment–the #itsATideAd campaign was a success, largely because it was able to utilize the mechanism of memes – a process I’ve written about extensively in my senior thesis. By attaching their brand to a set of images/videos and commonly understood conventions, the Tide ads spread virally within the mind of each viewer, and throughout online and offline communities as well. While this has led to commercial success for Tide, and will likely drive engagement with their brand and increase product sales, they have done so at a significant risk. It is only possible to “hi-jack” the meme mechanism for monetary gain in a limited manner, and for a limited time. Tide now runs the risk of their #itsATideAd expanding beyond their original scope, and evolving into a message that can no longer be controlled.

Continue reading

Y tu mamá también (2001) – Beyond a Roadtrip Comedy


After their girlfriends leave for Europe, Tenoch and Julio desperately search for some way to pass the time in their last Summer vacation before college. After just a few days the two teenagers from Mexico City have already grown bored of their lazy lifestyle, and jokingly invite Luisa, the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, to join them on a road trip to a fictional beach, Heaven’s Mouth. To their surprise, she agrees to join them after learning of her husband’s infidelity, and the unlikely trio sets off through rural and poor Mexico. Y tu mamá también is just as much about this rural Mexican backdrop in the context of the country’s globalization as it is about the trio’s road trip to the beach. During the trip, the boys pass the time bragging about their relationships and sexual experiences, while Luisa increasingly teases them and prods for more information. They do eventually reach a beach destination, but their journey is not without conflict and tension. But through those also complete their own personal trips of discovery; Luisa negotiates what to do with her immediate future, and Tenoch and Julio’s friendship evolves as the two boys continue their steps from childhood into adulthood.

Along with Alejandro Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron is part of the so-called “three amigos” of Mexican cinema. These directors have become increasingly popular for their work during the Mexican film industry’s transition from an independent player to a participant in the global cinema market. While Cuaron has produced global Hollywood blockbusters, such as Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Gravity (2013) he has also continued to produce relatively localized work within Mexico’s film industry and has helped to define components of the Modern Era of Mexican film. One such example of Cuaron’s work in this area is his 2001 film Y tu mamá también. Though it is frequently presented as a traditional road trip comedy, the film also serves as commentary on the issues of modernization, and the realities of life in rural Mexico. Through a combination of a “straying camera” and deliberate editing techniques, Cuaron produced a film that operates on two levels—as a lighthearted road trip comedy, and as serious commentary on the current conditions in Mexico as well.

Within Mexico, the film industry developed in a similar fashion to cinema throughout Latin America, and globally as well. It went through a golden age during which annual film production was an all time high. This has since died down, and the Mexican film industry has found itself competing with the American dominance of Hollywood films. It was only in the last few decades that Mexico has really entered the global market and has been competing directly with other nations in what has become known as the Modern Era of Mexican cinema. This is the context in which Y tu mamá también was produced and released. According to Nuala Finnegan, films from this era operate in a duality of marketplaces; they appeal to widespread conventions to find success in a global market, yet simultaneously remain localized and directly address issues situated within Mexico. With Y tu mamá también, Cuaron created for global audiences a comedic road trip film with two young boys and a sexy older woman, and for local audiences a critical look at the issue of Mexico’s modernization, and the role of rural areas at a time when cities and urban centers are continuing to experience rapid growth.

On the surface level, the film’s narrative fits well within the conventions of the road trip genre. The casual dialogue and jokes the trio fire back and one another is light-hearted enough that the film is able to stand alone as a comedy. The sexual tension that develops between Luisa and the boys is typical for many other teenage summer vacation films, as is the open manner in which all three characters are willing to discuss, and even joke about, their sexual experience. It is entirely possible that barring MPAA regulations, many US road trip and teenage vacation films would unfold very similarly to Y tu mamá también. Additionally, Cuaron employs the use of a expansive soundtrack throughout the film, using music to bridge both time and space throughout the course of the road trip. In this sense, Y tu mamá también generally adheres to the conventions of the road trip genre. However, there are many instances where Cuaron breaks from the conventions of the road trip genre and utilizes the backdrop of the trio’s trip—rural Mexico—along with specific cinematic techniques to develop a sub textual meaning that confronts the audiences with the difficult role of rural spaces amidst the ongoing modernization of Mexico.

One of these techniques is what has been described by some critics as a “straying camera.” Thoughout the narrative, Cuaron allows the camera to drift away from Luisa, Julio, and Tenoch and instead move the frame to show something else that is happening within the scene. For example, during the wedding scene, the camera pans away from the primary characters to follow a waitress as she takes food to bodyguards waiting outside the venue. In another instance, the trio is waiting inside a restaurant in a rural city; the camera moves from the three sitting at a table into a back room, where the family that owns the restaurant is preparing food and washing dishes, all within the same space that they live. Finnegan suggests that this straying camera technique demonstrates to the audience “that there is more to see” and has the effect of creating the “confused portrait of the nation that emerges by the end of the film” (38). Highlighting Finnegan’s argument is another example of Cuaron’s straying camera in which the trio’s car drives past a police checkpoint, and lingers behind to show another car that is stopped and being searched. This shot lingers much longer than would be expected, remaining centered on the police search. It is only after the boys’ shouts of “no mires, no mires” (don’t look, don’t look!) that we cut back to the car that has long since continued down the road, almost as if to provoke the audience into questioning if the police checkpoint was something they were allowed to be looking at, let alone something they should pay attention to for the narrative. In other words, the use of the straying camera makes it difficult for the audience to know what is important to focus on, and what is just background information. By doing so, Cuaron showcases bits and pieces of life in rural Mexico while simultaneously developing a sense of uncertainty.

This uncertainty allows Y tu mamá también to exist as a comedic road trip film, but while simultaneously presenting a more serious subtext that address a wide array of complex issues related to the new role of rural spaces in the current state of Mexico’s development. While Cuaron doesn’t provide any answers to the questions and issues that he raises throughout the film, the use of a straying camera technique enables the audience to at least become aware of the realities of life within those rural areas, and question what their future may be as Mexico continues to develop as an economic power in the global market. This situates Y tu mamá también well within the contexts of the Modern Era of Mexican cinema. It identifies and critiques actual issues local to the country, but without necessarily claiming to have the solution to the problems. There are two Mexicos presented in Y tu mamá también and within reality as well—one that has developed into an economic power, and another rural version that has largely been left behind. Cuaron’s ability to showcase both Mexicos within a road trip comedy cements his place among other great directors as one of “the three amigos.”

Works Cited

Cuarón, Alfonso. Y Tu Mamá También. 2001. Film.

Finnegan, Nuala. “So What’s Mexico Really Like?” Framing the Local, Navigating the Global in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También. pp. 29–50.


The Mall

Like many other kids in the third grade, I really enjoyed drawing things and using simple markers and crayons as an outlet for my active imagination. For some reason, I became obsessed with creating and drawing imaginary storefronts and the various items that each of them sold.

Over the course of about a year, my friends and I drew countless different storefronts – some based in reality, others entirely imagined. I visualized our creation as a giant mall of sorts, with each storefront physically connected to other stores that we had created. I envisioned a giant network of stores, and wanted to find some way to connect all of our drawings and represent their actual spatial relationships. Unfortunately, third-grade me lacked the technical know-how to actually make this happen, and my idea sat unfinished in a small folder tucked away in a my parents’ garage.

Fast forward 18 years to me visiting Colorado for Winter Break. I’m digging through boxes of my old stuff – at the request of my parents to finally “get this crap out of here” – and stumble across my old third grade project. Seeing as I had some time to fill, I started Googling some HTML5 and JavaScript network visualizations and cobbled something together.

I tried to connect each image to the correct neighbors, but it turns out that third-grade me was actually pretty awful at creating a sensible organization structure… Any nodes that are unconnected are stores that we forgot to connect to another one. Nodes without images are store names that I found references to, but no actual drawing.

Eat your heart out, younger-me

YouTube Rewind 2017: All Hail Our Corporate Overlords

At the end of each year, YouTube releases a “rewind” video – a compilation of popular videos, music, and trends from the previous 12 months. A collaboration with hundreds of YouTube content creators, each year’s YouTube rewind ends up being a rapid-cut montage of song, dance, and celebration. However, this year’s YouTube Rewind broke slightly from this format, resulting in a strange and disjointed effect. While the seven minute video does conform to previous years’ YouTube Rewinds–with hundreds of popular YouTubers and popular music from the year–the entire feeling of the video changes about halfway through. In a break from the general positive feeling of upbeat and energetic reflection upon the previous year, there is a 45 second montage of very serious and tragic events that occurred during 2017. As if in an attempt by YouTube to acknowledge and engage with the negative aspects of the year as well, the audience is subjected to a rapid-fire sequence of low points from the year before being thrust back into the happy song-and-dance sequence. Not only does this trivialize complex and nuanced world issues by presenting them as yet another “trend” from the past 12 months, the treatment of these serious and tragic events by YouTube Rewind 2017 also raises significant questions about the ever-growing role that media giants such as YouTube play in our daily lives.

Continue reading

We are at War

The political situation within the United States has become interesting, to say the very least. Our president is provoking Kim Jong Un via Twitter toward a nuclear confrontation, has interjected himself into a small conflict with LaVar Ball after he wasn’t thankful enough for getting his son out of a Chinese prison, and is the center of several sexual harassment allegations (much like the rest of the GOP as well). Of course, all of this is occurring against the backdrop of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into any connections that the Trump campaign may have had with Russia, including possible collusion during the campaign.

While all of these things are certainly important topics to pay attention to, I fear that we have become blind to another pressing issue that is happening right in front of us. Our very institutions of American democracy have been attacked, and continue to be assaulted on a daily basis. But I fear that we are becoming complacent and not taking this threat as seriously as we should be. Russia has, and continues to, undermine our nation through online attacks and disinformation campaigns, and we seem to be unwilling to even acknowledge this fact. The United States and Russia have entered a new stage of warfare, one that takes place not in battlefields but on social media. We are at war with Russia. And we’re losing, badly.

Continue reading