Oversharing on Social Media: The Dangers of An Overly Transparent World

by Ean Tam, May 6, 2022

In contemporary media culture, the more information we get and the faster we get it, the more satisfied we are. But at some point, we have to consider the consequences of sharing too much about ourselves. Oversharing is when someone excessively broadcasts personal information over social media.

What kind of information can be overshared?

A prime example is location—where you are and who you are with. Most social media platforms enable users to share location. For some platforms, location sharing has to be done manually by the individual. On Instagram, you can make a post and tag your location, so everyone who sees your posts can see where you are. On the other hand, sometimes your location is shared simply by using the app. For instance, if you enable the map feature on Snapchat, your followers can see where you are whenever you open the app again.

Another example of overshared information is family information. Family information includes birthdays, names of siblings and parents, or major family events (like a family member moving into a new house). Social media has its advantages in that it connects families and friends. However, posting family information becomes an act of oversharing if you let the public know the details of your family dynamics or personal information.

A third form of oversharing is indulging your followers with your personal thoughts and emotions. A study published in 2017 calls this “self-disclosure” because you are voluntarily disclosing your inner sentiments to the world (Zhang, 527). In these situations, an individual uses social media to convey their mental state to the public. Often, this happens spontaneously and in the heat of the moment. For example, a user may negatively comment on people they know such as coworkers or make an impassioned statement involving politics. 

A fourth form of oversharing is sharing the private conversations you have with others. This can be done by screenshotting direct messages and then posting these conversations elsewhere. For example, you can screenshot text messages with one person and then share this screenshot on Snapchat for your followers to see. This is oversharing because you would be violating the trust of the person you were having the private conversation with. By sharing private messages on social media, you are in effect, allowing others to eavesdrop on your conversation. You consented to this because you were the one who shared the conversation, but the others involved in the conversation may not have. 

Virtually any social media app allows for oversharing. This is because social media is inherently made for sharing information. The complication is that social media has become so advanced that information can be shared more easily. If you overshare information about yourself (such as your location), this may be considered primary overshared information because it’s about you. However, if you overshare information about someone else (like their birthday, or their child’s name, or a private message you received from them), this may be considered secondary overshared information because you are revealing information about someone else via social media.

Why do people overshare?

A prominent reason is stress sharing. A study found that adolescents may feel inclined to overshare information because it gives them a sense of freedom (Radovic et al. 7). There may be a variety of circumstances in a person’s life that make them depressed and bogged down, but being able to post whatever they want on social media grants some sense of freedom. It is a form of expression.

In addition, the urge to overshare may be triggered when a user observes something on social media that incites them into posting a passionate retort (Radovic et al. 10). We can think of politics as a prime example of sensitive subject matter that may trigger people to overshare their emotions.

We should also consider that people may overshare to seek attention. This is more complicated, because attention-seeking behavior may be the result of narcissism, or simply because someone is genuinely seeking help. In the former case, a person may overshare information about themselves to brag, or they might overshare information about others at the expense of other people’s privacy. On the other hand, if a person is genuinely seeking help, they may overshare information about themselves in order to attract the right support groups (Newman et al. 344; Zhang, 527). The more information they share about themselves, the more likely people will come to their aid and give positive reinforcement.

Goal-setting and a competitive spirit are also reasons people will overshare on social media (Munson and Consolvo, 26). People are more likely to achieve their goals if they make their goals public and well-known. A study has found that a person’s motivation increases if they believe their goals are known by people they deem to be superior (Klein et al. 372). For example, in college, there is a lot of competition and students may feel compelled to overshare their goals in order to increase their motivation to accomplish them.

Lastly, people may overshare in order to create a perfected persona of themselves. In one study, a participant displayed a lot of her athletic information on social media, including many pictures and statistics, because it helped her create a new brand for herself (Newman et al. 346).

What are the consequences?

The first consequence of oversharing is putting yourself in danger. This can be in the form of robbery or stalking (Velempini and Nyoni, 4). If you overshare your location, daily routine, and social activities, people can track you and have a good idea of where you will be and when. This happened to social media influencer and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian in 2016, when thieves reportedly used Kardashian’s social media activity to find her location in Paris and confirm when she was alone. With this information, they broke into her residence, restrained her, and robbed her.

Another consequence is damaging your professional prospects. If you decide to go on a rant on social media about your employer, you can be held responsible for whatever you say, because after all, you decided to post it. If your post is discovered by a colleague or your employer, you could potentially lose your job. 

In terms of reputation, some things are better left private, and oversharing can cause your private and public lives to collide. For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, had personal texts with his girlfriend released to the public. Reportedly, it happened because his girlfriend shared screenshots of their conversation with her brother. While Bezos didn’t lose his job, he went through public embarrassment as a result of his girlfriend’s oversharing.

How do we avoid oversharing?

Avoid posting on social media when you’re angry. Your judgment will be clouded, and your overshared information may not represent you at your best. Double check your privacy settings. If you want to post things like family-related content, make sure only close friends and family can see it, not the general public. Lastly, when crafting a social media post, be mindful of who sees your posts. But remember, people can always screenshot your posts and share it elsewhere, so take that into consideration. Unfortunately, private information doesn’t always stay private, but taking the steps outlined above as precautionary measures may lessen the likelihood of risky oversharing in a growing digital world.

Works Cited

Klein, Howard J., et al. “When Goals Are Known: The Effects of Audience Relative Status on Goal Commitment and Performance.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 105, no. 4, 2020, pp. 372–389., doi.org/10.1037/apl0000441. 

Munson, Sean and Sunny Consolvo. “Exploring Goal-Setting, Rewards, Self-Monitoring, and Sharing to Motivate Physical Activity.” Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare, 3 July 2012, pp. 25–32., doi.org/10.4108/icst.pervasivehealth.2012.248691.

Newman, Mark, et al. “It’s Not That I Don’t Have Problems, I’m Just Not Putting Them on Facebook: Challenges and Opportunities in Using Online Social Networks for Health.” Proceedings of the ACM 2011 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Association for Computing Machinery, March 2011, pp. 341–50, doi.org/10.1145/1958824.1958876.

Radovic, Ana, et al. “Depressed Adolescents’ Positive and Negative Use of Social Media.” Journal of Adolescence, vol. 55, 2017, pp. 5–15., doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.12.002. 

Velempini, Mthulisi and Phillip Nyoni. “Privacy and User Awareness on Facebook.” South African Journal of Science, vol. 114, no. 5-6, 2018, pp. 27–31, https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2018/20170103.

Zhang, Renwen. “The Stress-Buffering Effect of Self-Disclosure on Facebook: An Examination of Stressful Life Events, Social Support, and Mental Health Among College Students.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 75, 2017, pp. 527–537, doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.05.043.

Islamophobia in the Digital Age: The Rise of a Global Mental Health Crisis

by Farah Hasan, March 22, 2022

My phone lies face down on the table beside me, buzzing sporadically, but insistently. I ignore it, fanning myself against the mid-July heat as I attempt to concentrate on an assignment for my summer class. I drum my fingers against the desktop and whisper the words aloud to myself, trying to make sense of the convoluted sentences of the essay as the buzzing continues. What do they want? I think exasperatedly, assuming my friends are simply spamming me with memes from Instagram and funny Tiktoks. As I finish the reading passage and move on to the multiple choice questions that accompany it, I decide to spare a glance at my phone. Expecting to see Instagram direct messages (DMs) and text messages headed by my friends’ familiar usernames and contact names, I am shocked to instead see hundreds of Instagram comment notifications from unfamiliar usernames, all beginning with the common header “[Instagram user] mentioned you in a comment.” My heart racing in anticipation, I open the Instagram app and quickly scroll through my notifications. I had left a comment criticizing France’s April 2021 ban on hijabs (headscarves worn by women for religious reasons) for Muslim women under the age of 18 on a post advertising travel to the Eiffel tower, and now I see that all these comments are in response to mine. Some of them back me up, but others range from applauding France’s actions, to blatantly calling Islam backwards and incompatible with Western civilization, to attacking me as a young Muslim woman myself. I exit the app without bothering to respond to anyone and close my eyes for a second, my heart still pounding as the hate words flash through my mind repeatedly. Like me, young Muslims everywhere are exposed to Islamophobic rhetoric on the social media sites they use most, and chronic exposure to such hate inevitably takes a toll on their mental health. Online hate is not given the same coverage or attention that street-level hate crimes get, but the effects of the former may be exponentially more profound due to the wide reach of users that are present on online platforms. Actions should be taken to limit such hate speech on public platforms like social media to preserve the mental-wellbeing of users that are targeted by these remarks, even if it means limitations on the First Amendment right to free speech. 

In a case close to home, a Muslim student recently graduated from my high school in the summer of 2021 and was chosen to deliver a speech at the commencement. In her speech, she advocated for the need for understanding and peaceful coexistence during difficult times, and briefly mentioned the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. This part of the speech incited infuriated outcries from the audience, rude remarks shouting at her to “go back to Pakistan” as she walked off the stage, and the creation of a Facebook group as a space for angry parents to vent and express mildly Islamophobic sentiments. Due to the convenience and ease of access, social media is frequently defaulted to as a platform for these polarizing conversations. Certain social media sites, such as Twitter, are “better-designed,” in a sense, to perpetuate hate speech and to facilitate radicalized expression. Dr. Nigel Harriman, professor at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, and a group of researchers found that 57% of students that actively used the social media sites Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat had come across hate speech, and 12% had encountered a stranger that tried to convince them of racist beliefs (this was especially common on Youtube). Additionally, exposure to hate messages was significantly correlated to Twitter use and Houseparty use (Harriman et al., 8531). Twitter is a particularly convenient hotbed for such rhetoric, as victims that come forward to tell their stories to Twitter are simply told to block the hating account or delete their own account. In 2014, Twitter issued a statement claiming that it “cannot stop people from saying offensive, hurtful things on the Internet or on Twitter. But we can take action when content is reported to us that breaks our rules or is illegal” (“Updating Our Rules Against Hateful Conduct”). Twitter more recently updated its rules against hateful content in December 2020:

In July 2019, we expanded our rules against hateful conduct to include language that dehumanizes others on the basis of religion or caste. In March 2020, we expanded the rule to include language that dehumanizes on the basis of age, disability, or disease. Today, we are further expanding our hateful conduct policy to prohibit language that dehumanizes people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.

(“Updating Our Rules Against Hateful Conduct”)

Although Twitter has taken some necessary steps to limit hate speech, this form of harassment nonetheless still exists on this and countless other platforms, and more action must be taken to counter this.

As someone that frequents social media sites like Instagram and Facebook, I understand how detrimental the algorithms themselves can be to one’s self-esteem, but coupled with exposure to hate speech, mental health for those targeted is more likely to plummet. Although I ultimately ignored the hate comments on Instagram under the post about France, the occurrence bothered me for several days afterward, leaving me anxious, unsettled, and dealing with mild sleep difficulties to the point where I deleted Instagram for a few months. Research by Dr. Helena Hansen at NYU Langone found that victims of online hate speech are found to have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading them to exhibit a blunted stress response as well as higher rates of anxiety, sleep difficulties, and substance use (Hansen et al. 929). Dr. Brianna Hunt at Wilfrid Laurier University found that exposure to Islamophobic rhetoric is also a predictor of social isolation and loneliness, particularly among Muslim women in Waterloo, Canada. Furthermore, the dehumanizing aspect of hate speech also incites conflicts of identity in Muslim women of color, who feel that neither their religious nor their racial ingroups accept them fully, calling for the need to address mental health for more complex cases of intersectionality as well (Hunt et al.). 

In an effort to mitigate the destructive effects of hate speech on mental health, individuals have advocated for limiting such speech, but opponents of these limitations have expressed their concerns and dissatisfaction with this movement. In the 2017 case Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that hate speech, like regular speech, is protected under the First Amendment under the justification that “giving offense is a viewpoint” (as long as it does not directly incite violence) (Beausoleil 829). Thus, individuals opposing limitation of hate speech on social media argue that doing so would be an infringement on their First Amendment right. There is also the danger that limitations of this sort would be a step in the direction of mass surveillance and abuse of power, ultimately resulting in a power dynamic of large digital companies﹣and potentially the government﹣in stifling any and all dissent (Beausoleil 2124). Other supporting evidence includes the notion that some exposure to counter speech is needed for the development of stable mental health and that various studies have shown that limitation of hate speech does not correlate to improved social equality (Beausoleil 2125). In fact, Dr. Stephen Newman of York University points out that expression of this sort of dialogue may be integral to human personality development, and that exposure to robust forms of speech may actually improve societal dynamics by influencing democratic policy (Newman). Lastly, there is limited existing literature proving that hate speech limitation is beneficial, as regulations of this magnitude have not been implemented anywhere yet. Thus, this argument is largely based on studies that have shown the harmful effects of hate speech. 

In a growing digital age, where social media use is a part of daily life for adolescents, young adults, and even middle aged individuals, chronic exposure to hate speech such as Islamophobic rhetoric cannot be tolerated. The longer online sites and social media platforms delay addressing such sentiments, the more widespread and normalized they will become and the more detrimental the effects will be on affected individuals’ mental health. In regards to opponents’ concerns over First Amendment compromise, the First Amendment cannot be applied perfectly to the digital age, which allows for unprecedented and unanticipated reach of communication across borders, continents, and time, as posts can always be viewed and interpreted so long as they are not deleted (Beausoleil 2127). Restrictions on the right to free speech are warranted in this case, where the mental health of countless targeted individuals on a global scale are at stake. To limit the likelihood that these companies abuse their extended powers of speech limitation, restrictions should be placed on the companies’ extent of power as well (ie. restrictions should be placed on the restrictions). Rather than immediately deleting all posts and comments including hateful rhetoric (which may be impractical), social media platforms should specifically aim to disband or deactivate groups, chat rooms, and accounts specifically devoted to or frequently posting Islamophobic﹣and other hateful﹣rhetoric. On particular posts where the comment section becomes overwhelmingly belligerent and hate-fueled, social media platforms should either delete the post, delete the inflammatory comments, or disable the comment section entirely. Lastly, these social media platforms should issue public statements against hate speech like Twitter did, include them explicitly in their terms and conditions of use, and send automated warnings to users who violate conduct rules multiple times with the intent of suspending their accounts if hateful activity continues. 

Ideally, the extent to which media companies can regulate inflammatory speech should be overseen by the federal government. However, complications may arise due to matters of jurisdiction: for example, the US government may have limited say on regulation of content posted on the social media platform TikTok, as this company was founded in China. Thus, for the time being, regulations should remain on a company-to-company basis. In the short-run, it can be expected that consumer use and feedback will let companies know how effective and acceptable their policies are. 

Though many praise the advent of cyberspaces and the beginning of the digital era as a way of bringing the world closer together with connections never known before, it is difficult to fathom how connected we really are amidst the divisive and discriminatory rhetoric that is often perpetuated on the very same platforms. Hate speech is present in several different forms, including anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, gender discrimination, and prejudice against disabled individuals. As a Muslim woman, the recent increase in Islamophobic sentiments on social media have made me realize how pervasive their effects on young Muslims’ mental health are. Therefore, I strongly encourage social media platforms to limit hateful speech and promote civil and constructive dialogue instead using the methods outlined above, even if it means a slight compromise on First Amendment rights. By merely limiting and not completely eradicating hate speech, the extent of social media companies’ power is kept in check and the potential societal benefits of exposure to antagonistic speech mentioned previously may still be experienced. Taking actions such as deleting the Instagram post about France with the barrage of inflammatory comments would be steps in the direction of greater coexistence as the Muslim high school graduate’s speech earnestly called for and promoting the benefits of global connection that the digital era originally promised.


Works Cited

Beausoleil, Lauren. “Free, Hateful, and Posted: Rethinking First Amendment Protection of Hate Speech in a Social Media World.” Boston College Law Review, vol. 60, no. 7, 2019, pp. 2101–2144.

Hansen, Helena, et al. “Alleviating the Mental Health Burden of Structural Discrimination and Hate Crimes: The Role of Psychiatrists.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 175, no. 10, 2018, pp. 929–933, doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17080891.

Harriman, Nigel, et al. “Youth Exposure to Hate in the Online Space: An Exploratory Analysis.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, no. 22, 2020, 8531, doi:10.3390/ijerph17228531.

Hunt, Brianna, et al. “The Muslimah Project: A Collaborative Inquiry into Discrimination and Muslim Women’s Mental Health in a Canadian Context.” American Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 66, no. 3-4, 2020, pp. 358–369, doi:10.1002/ajcp.12450.

 Newman, Stephen L. “Finding the Harm in Hate Speech: An Argument Against Censorship.” Canadian Journal of Political Science, vol. 50, no. 3, 2017, pp. 679–697, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008423916001219.

“Updating Our Rules Against Hateful Conduct.” Twitter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2021.

Music Therapy: The Art of Psychological Treatment

by Sanjana Sankaran, December 20, 2021

Nearly 800,000 people die from suicide every year (Suicide Data). Approximately seventy percent of the American youth that struggle with depression requires treatment (The State). People with depression have a daily battle with themselves to prevent those feelings of despair and loneliness from taking over. Those living with mental health disorders may develop effective coping mechanisms to deal with their issues. Music therapy, a method of therapy and a de-stress technique for which the positive effects are not yet highly known, involves “the professional use of music and its elements as an intervention in medical, educational, and everyday environments with individuals” (Wang and Agius 595). Music therapy not only involves listening to music but also consists of thinking, analyzing, and playing it. Many people view music as a means of amusement and frivolity for those involved. Both mental health issues and the fine arts are often stigmatized in our society. In regards to mental health, several people feel the need to downplay their problems since many illnesses do not manifest with obvious physical symptoms. Hence, society issues out old cliches, suggesting that people need to learn how to ‘deal with their problems.’ In actuality, mental health can affect not only one’s mind but also one’s body and, if left untreated, can severely affect one’s quality of life. Over recent years, many have come to view the fine arts as an impractical endeavor since several jobs in this field may not lead to a stable job or income. Historically, humans have always turned to the arts to express their feelings, through music, visual arts, or the written word. Music can have a profound effect on the biochemical as well as the physiological aspects of the brain. More and more researchers today find that psychotherapeutic drugs are not as effective in treating mental health patients as they used to be, partly due to  drug tolerance. As a society, we must alter  our mindset away from  treating psychological problems exclusively through psychotherapy and drugs and must instead leverage the nontraditional method of music therapy for those  who experience daily stressors and mental health disorders.

The standard practices of mental health treatment today involve two significant methods –  psychotherapeutic drugs and psychotherapy –  both of which, given the statistics of how the rate of mental health diagnosis is accelerating, are not enough. People with mental health disorders nowadays have a lot more options as to how to treat themselves: psychotherapy, medication, case management, hospitalization, therapy groups, alternative medicine, electroconvulsive therapy, and peer support (Mental Health Treatments). In the early- to mid-1900s, methods of curing mental health ailments involved lobotomies and shock therapy. Even with all of the progress made today, a recent study shows that approximately 10 million adults in America have suicidal thoughts,  have not been able to seek treatment or have experienced both. In the past six years alone, the population of youth (ages 12-17) with depression has gone up by 4.35%, and two million kids now have major depressive episodes and need to seek treatment (The State). A team of neuroscientists from Naples, Italy found that antidepressant drug treatments are mostly ineffective for major depressive disorders. (Fornaro e. al. 494). Inefficacy can be attributed to tolerance, an anomaly that occurs when depressive symptoms reappear after previous treatment with antidepressants” with the return of depressive symptoms of MDD occurring in 9–33% of patients across published trials” (Fornaro et al. 494). Drug tolerance can build over time as the body requires higher doses of the drug  in order to have the same effect as the initial dose once did, ultimately resulting in other biological side effects. Many antidepressant drug trials tend to last shorter than 52 weeks, contributing to the  lack of understanding as to how effective these drugs will be long-term. The National Institute of Mental Health stated that 25% of 103 patients had depressive episodes. Further these patients were found to have 43 out of 171 following depressive episodes and experienced drug tolerance after a 20 year follow up (Fornaro et al. 496).   

In the book, Music Therapy in Mental Health for Illness Management and Recovery, written by Michael J. Silverman, the director of the music therapy program at the University of Minnesota, he states that “ even when medications are effective in alleviating the symptoms of mental illness, they do not necessarily facilitate psychiatric recovery as pharmacological treatments do not contribute to the development of knowledge and skills necessary for a successful transition back to the community” (Silverman 55). The state of mental health is worsening – therapies previously used for decades are now proving to be not enough in curbing  the rampant increase in prevalence of depression and other  mental health disorders. Psychiatric treatment needs to implement  a new type of therapy, like music therapy, that includes psychological interventions to analyze how people’s behavioral and thought processes have improved over  time. By seeking new methods of treatments, specifically music therapy, society will move closer towards respecting rather than ostracizing mental health patients. 

Music therapy was developed post World War I and II as a way to ease the minds of many soldiers with PTSD (Craig). Since then, this field has led to a wide range of studies, all seeking to answer the questions of how music therapy works and its purpose. If we have many different types of psychotherapy, why are neuroscientists and psychologists seeking more holistic treatments for their patients that are not guaranteed to work? Let us start with what precisely music therapy is and the basis behind it. Music therapy includes two main facets: psychoacoustics and the appreciation and hearing of music. Psychoacoustics refers to how someone perceives and comprehends music. In contrast, the brain’s mechanisms of appreciation and hearing of music is something that is developed across an entire lifespan and is influenced by many environmental factors (Craig, para. 19-20). 

There are two main methods of music therapy: listening and active playing. When  listening to music, therapists will put on music for the patient, recommended by medical experts who know about the patient’s specific case (Craig, para. 41-42). Some therapists will go down the more analytical route of listening to music. Therapists may ask questions that evoke personal thought analysis and insight. Some may also follow the Bonny method of guided imagery and music. Bonny methods consist of a patient listening to a song and seeing an image. This leads to the therapist asking specific guided questions that lead to the patient talking about their thoughts and emotions (Craig, para. 43-44). Music therapy can change a person’s attention, emotion, memory processing, behavior, and communication. A combination of all of these changes can result in  changes in neural processing that can  effectively change the biochemical state of depressed minds and improve their lives 

  Many studies prove that music therapy has been effective in treating people with mental disorders. In a  study done by Sergio Castillo-Pérez MD and his team, he states that “depression remains a major health problem and, despite using pharmaceutical agents, patients continue to report high levels of unrelieved depression” (Castillo-Perez et al. 390). This group of researchers decided to study a group of low to medium depressed people receiving  psychotherapy treatment compared to music therapy. A group of 79 patients between the ages of 25 to 60 years old were split into the two groups of therapy. The subjects chosen have never taken any psychotherapeutic drugs or have any other neurophysiological problems.  All subjects were asked to self-report their level of depression with a well-known survey known as  the Zung depression scale (Castillo-Perez et al. 387). The subjects self-reported how they were feeling age week for eight weeks. The music therapy itself involved a 50-minute self-administered music session, and once a week the participants would have a group session with doctors and other patients to provide a comfortable environment. The study controlled for stressful environmental variables that may occur such as sudden noises, changes in temperature, any environmental change or trigger (Castillo-Perez et al. 389). 

The psychotherapy administered in this study was standard conductive-behavioral therapy (CBT). At the end of the tests, the researchers quantitatively analyzed the patients’ progress with the Hamilton scale (another type of depression scale) based on their behaviors  and their self-reported scores of the Zung scale. The people with significant improvement meant they had to have a Hamilton scale of 0 to 7. The Hamilton scale was used after the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 8th weeks. After only three weeks, within the music therapy group,  one person improved; however, none improved within the psychotherapy group.. By the end of the study, 29 subjects improved with music therapy, and only four did not. For psychotherapy, only 12 subjects improved with 16 people showing little to no improvement. These data from the Zung and Hamilton tests were also cross-referenced with the Friedman test, and showed to be statistically significant with a p-value as little as 0.0356 (Castillo-Perez et al. 389).  

As we can see, psychologists and neuroscientists today are doing more and more research regarding music therapy. Castillo-Perez’s study is just one of many examples in which music therapy has proven to improve the quality of life for people with depression more than psychotherapy. The three main methods of treatment for depression today are psychotherapy, antidepressants, and electroconvulsive therapy for severe cases. However, Perez and the rest of his team say, “Pharmaceutical treatments […] make no difference in the odds ratio of suicide attempts” (Castillo-Perez et al. 387). That is what needs to fundamentally change in how we treat and understand therapy for depressed patients. Pharmaceutical drugs will not influence the likelihood of someone committing suicide because there can be many sudden environmental circumstances and triggers. Musical therapy, on the other hand, aims to help depressed patients by trying to invoke the mesolimbic system, which correlates to positive and rewarding thoughts. As people living in  the 21st century, we can understand that there is something special about listening to new music by our favorite artists, or dancing and singing to a high energy song that can affect our minds positively. Songs can reflect how we feel and can heighten our current emotions, and this is something that medicine and therapy at a certain point cannot do as effectively as initially administered. 

As with many people who learn music from an early age, I found that playing a music instrument helped me relax and de-stress, especially after a long day of school and tests. After my piano lessons on Sundays and six-hour days at high school, I would hop on that leather bench and play Emile Pandolfi and feel my heartbeat slow down and my cheek muscles tense from all the grinning. Playing the theme from Harry Potter on the piano was my mode of artistic expression and relaxation. It is easily accessible, then, to imagine how music can help those who have severe emotional or mental disorders. To the parents of kids with mental health disorders, understand that music can be an outlet for kids to release their emotions and can have a tremendous effect on their functioning and behavior; to the kids who never seemed interested in playing music, that is okay. Part of music therapy merely involves passively listening to music in a relaxing setting. Society needs to alter its perspective on music from being misconstrued as a way of wasting time to a way of elevating one’s moods and taking a mental break.  

To truly get an insight on a student’s perspective of music and its effects on mental health, I interviewed a bandmate of mine from high school who has been playing trumpet since the fifth grade. Her lifelong appreciation of music started when she began taking piano lessons in the second grade. She then began taking trumpet lessons and joined the band in the 5th grade and has continued primarily with trumpet since then. When I asked her about her mental health, she said, “As someone who has depression and anxiety, a part of me is always anxious, and the daily fight is not letting it become a 100% of me, and using coping mechanisms to get out of it.” She had to move 350 miles for college and said that it was a difficult transition due to the workload and having to meet new people, making it difficult  to find time to relax. Being a part of the wind ensemble at her college allowed her to ease into the transition of a college student.  When asked how music has helped her with her mental state and journey, she stated, “playing music was definitely a double-edged sword. Although I had stress and anxiety from the responsibilities that came with being on the band e-board, the intrinsic joy I got from getting together with people I cared about and playing amazing music was amazing” (Anonymous). She found that listening to music gave her a sense of solace and tranquility. It allowed her mind to focus on just the music,  and in the process,  she forgot all of her anxieties and elevated her mood. The lyrics, instrumentation, and many other aspects of music therapy can reflect the emotions we feel and can elevate how we feel. Music can alter the state of chemical neurotransmitters in our minds and change our emotions – this is something drugs and psychotherapy cannot do as effectively.  

Due to social media today, music has become much more prevalent in students’ lives and has influenced the way college students handle stressful situations.A significant reason explaining  music therapy’s lack of usage is because there are many misconceptions about the way music therapy works. Music therapy Director of University Minnesota Dr. Silverman, discusses the ill-conceived notions of music therapy, stating that “a common misperception of music therapy is that it is used exclusively to treat musicians” ( 55). Silverman emphasizes that music therapy was always used to help treat people with a broad range of neurological and psychological issues among a variety of adults, children, and seniors. Another common misconception is  that music therapy is not as effective because it is merely the act of passive listening to pre-recorded music. However, music therapy is not just listening to music. Director Silverman says that in a study done comparing two groups of depressed patients who underwent passive music therapy and active music therapy, the active music therapy patients stayed throughout the sessions. Active music therapy involved lyric analysis, recreation music playing, and percussional music therapy (Silverman 55). All of this active participation served as psychological interventions that helped alter the person’s mood, behavior, and mindset.   

In a survey I administered to fellow Stony Brook Students and my fellow high school alumni who have taken part in music since a young age, I discovered their opinions on the use of music in a therapeutic way.  Of the 57 people who responded, 79% played an instrument, 22% of people said they listen to jazz or a variety of orchestral or classical music while studying, 80% of people listen to music when stressed out, and 73% of people found music to be therapeutic overall (“Music As Therapy”). 28% percent of the people I surveyed have mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Even though the  majority of people surveyed did not have disorders, 80% of the people who deal with everyday environmental stressors choose to listen to music to cope. When asked on a scale of one to five (five being complete improvement in mood and one being mood unchanged), 31 people said they felt better after listening to music when they felt anxious, sad, depressed, or other negative emotions. 12 people say their mood completely changed for the better (“Music As Therapy”). Although these results are biased because many of these people have played an instrument, they show that a majority of students understand that music has therapeutic qualities and utilize it as a coping mechanism or a tool when experiencing stress, anxiety, or depressive thoughts. Music is a type of escapism that allows people to avoid focusing  on their current troubles and gives them the ability to focus all of their energy on one thing only – music.  

Having said all of the above, why do people still believe that conventional treatment methods are effective and do not want to change? Discussions of new treatment methods lack because people only know what is largely acknowledged in society. Mental health was and still is stigmatized because it affects one’s  mind and does not often manifest with physical symptoms like cancer. Only in the past few years has the topic of mental health been brought to the forefront. If many Americans do not wish to discuss their mental health problems, then how can new and more productive methods of treatment be used? Therein lies the existing problem that needs to change. Currently, in the time of self-quarantine, anxiety can run high even with people who have not been diagnosed with a  mental health disorder because we live in a time of uncertainty. In a time when the fear of virus spread is high and ‘stay at home’ orders are strict, quarantine serves as an obstacle for people who need weekly in-person therapy sessions. People need to utilize resources at home that are easily accessible to cope with their anxiety, like  music resources. If people are privileged enough to have access to the internet, there are a plethora of resources that can be used for music therapy, such as YouTube, Spotify, or an instrument if one has it. 

Society needs to acknowledge that music therapy is a method that has proven to be successful amongst a wide range of people with varying disorders and varying levels of depression. Well known music therapist Dr. Dany Bouchard eloquently describes how to handle anxiety during the time of COVID: “Music has a connection with memory, brings us emotions, all kinds of stuff. It is how you use it now in order to make it a music prescription” (Rowat, para. 15). Music can help with COVID-related anxiety by serving as a focusing tool that allows our mind to target what is going on now rather than worrying about an uncertain future (Rowat, para. 18). Being open to trying new modes of therapy can  be much more effective for anyone. As time goes on, some people with mental health disorders may have to increase their drug dosage due to drug tolerance that inevitably develops. At times, people who go to therapy may feel that it is not working, and can  revert to unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms. Mental health overall is something that affects people every day through their actions and their emotions. Treatment of mental health disorders is an important aspect of healthcare that needs to be improved;  it is a series of actions and behaviors one takes in order to see an actual result. Music can alter the state of someone’s mood and change someone’s behavior after prolonged daily music sessions. Additionally, the collaborative nature of music therapy allows people with mental disorders to have a massive support system on their path to recovery. Music therapy moves away from the idea persisting in mental health recovery that it is up to the person to improve themselves, and it is a solitary journey. Take 10 or maybe even 20 minutes per day to actively take part in something that involves music, whether it’s through such as playing, writing, singing, or listening.  People with mental health problems are in a daily battle  with their minds to prevent feelings of depression and anxiety from overcoming their thoughts. While psychotherapeutic drugs and therapy are helpful to an extent, music therapy can provide long term positive effects.


Works Cited

Anonymous. Personal interview. 15 April, 2020.

Castillo-Perez, Sergio, et al. “Effects of Music Therapy on Depression Compared with Psychotherapy.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, vol. 37, no. 5, Nov. 2010, pp. 387-90. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.aip.2010.07.001. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Craig, Heather. “What Is Music Therapy and How Does It Work?” Positive Psychology, 18 Mar. 2020: par 1-101, positivepsychology.com/music-therapy/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Fornaro, Michele, et al. “The Emergence of Loss of Efficacy during Antidepressant Drug Treatment for Major Depressive Disorder: An Integrative Review of Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Implications.” Pharmacological Research, vol. 139, Jan. 2019, pp. 494-502. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2018.10.025. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

“Mental Health Treatments.” Mental Health America National, Mental Health America: par 1-10, http://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-treatments. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Rowat, Robert. “We Asked a Music Therapist How to Relieve Anxiety Caused by Social Distancing.” CBC Music, 20 Mar. 2020, p. 1. CBC: par 1-23, http://www.cbc.ca/music/we-asked-a-music-therapist-how-to-relieve-anxiety-caused-by-social-distancing-1.5504973. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Sankaran, Sanjana. “Music As Therapy.” Survey. 15 April. 2020.

Silverman, Michael J. “An Overview of Music Therapy as a Psychosocial Intervention for Psychiatric Consumers.” Music Therapy in Mental Health for Illness Management and Recovery, Oxford UP, 2015, pp. 60-67. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198735366.001.0001.

“The State of Mental Health in America.” Mental Health America National, Mental Health America, 2017, http://www.mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

“Suicide Data.” World Health Organization, 27 Sept. 2019, http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Wang, Shentong, and Mark Agius. “The Use of Music Therapy in the Treatment of Mental Illness and the Enhancement of Societal Wellbeing.” Psychiatria Danubina, vol. 30, 30 Nov. 2018, pp. 595-600, http://www.psychiatria-danubina.com/UserDocsImages/pdf/dnb_vol30_noSuppl%207/dnb_vol30_noSuppl%207_595.pdf. Accessed 15 Apr. 2020.

Augusto Boal: The Madness Behind The Methods

by Marcela Muricy, December 13, 2021

“Theatre is the most perfect artistic form of coercion.”

-Augusto Boal

Theatre is universally considered an art form, a way to embody the trials and tribulations of human emotion and virtue, and a way to speak the truths of those far too silent. Konstantin Stanislavski, for instance, was known for being a visionary of emotional discovery. He taught his actors to become the character, almost to the brink of no return (Cohen-Cruz, 2010). Bertolt Brecht then had a completely different approach: isolate the audience from emotion, and ask them to judge the conflict from the viewpoint of logic and objectiveness (Cohen-Cruz, 2010). Both became the introductory means to using theatre as a form of social change, while one man became the true pioneer: Augusto Boal. Boal — a Brazilian theatre actor, director, and playwright — created a beautiful mesh of Stanislavski and Brecht he called “Theatre for the Oppressed.” His plays were interactive and discussion-based, emotional yet objective. He is known today for opening these forms of theatre all across Europe, North and South America, and even Africa, all of which have the unique ability of creating a sense of change through critique and unity (Cohen-Cruz, 2010). For those who know him well, it is easy to admire his groundbreaking take— but for those who know Brazil, it is far easier to view him (and his methods) as revolutionary. 

Boal’s popularity unfortunately (not coincidentally) rose right alongside Brazil’s difficult transition to a dictatorship in the 1960s— so that at the height of his career in Brazil, he was assaulted and exiled for his controversial practice (1971). It’s important to acknowledge, however, that his popularity rose for a reason: his styles and methods were skillfully designed to combat the political and social turmoil within Brazil, and continue to target those issues today. 

The dictatorship, supported financially and politically by the United States, seemed ideal for many wealthy citizens who agreed with the coup. They were relieved to feel as though they could walk the streets without the fear of crime, protected by guards on every corner. For the poor or the dissidents, this was a different story entirely. People could not speak against the dictatorship, promote unity amongst the people, or offer critiques about the state of affairs. Anyone who chose to do so would be exiled, killed, or tortured for more information. (The dictatorship’s style of choice was the “macaw’s perch”, which involved tying and hanging the person upside down to wear out their limbs and rush the blood right to their head.) (Rejali, 2009). The dictatorship was not fair, not strategical, and chose personal profit over people at every given opportunity. Pablo Uchoa, whose father was a detainee, recalled these stories in a 2014 BBC article: “Many prisoners were also subjected to electrical shocks to their fingertips, genitals, and wherever else the sadistic imagination of their torturers would choose” (Uchoa, 2014). This was the setting from which Boal’s methods developed, which made them evolve from “How can we make theatre more entertaining?” to “How can we use theatre as a conduit to make a difference?” The concern of the people at the time was not entertainment— it was the pain and suffering they wished to fight against.

Boal’s theory is very involved, both mentally and physically. He wanted his audience to imagine themselves as the main character, just as many great directors do—to feel the pain, happiness, or desire that drives that person forward. Stanislavski reserved the right of “becoming the character” solely to the actors, whereas Boal wished to make everyone sense this feeling, so that the emotion became collective. His most famous method is known as “forum theatre,” during which the audience will watch the play once, consider how it could have occurred differently, watch it again, and—at their own discretion—interrupt it to suggest (or become) that change. That is, they may tell the actors how they wish for the play to be modified, or they may replace and become one of the actors themselves. The true embodiment he encouraged, it seems, is the perfect promoter of anti-military upheaval. The body’s connection to theory is what makes it powerful, as a symbol for dedicated change and action. It gives the audience a recognition of their body as power, each motion and act a new subjective lens to a complex situation. He not only wanted his people to become the characters, but to also become their own proposed solutions. In this sense, he wished for his audience to gain autonomy and independence in the context of the story and within their own lives. The Brazilian people subjected to the rule of the dictatorship—fearful of the outcome of disagreement—would have used Boal’s practice as not only a way to feel more comfortable, but also as a way to confront issues long gone unspoken. It was a way to unite the people in their mistrust, maltreatment, and dissatisfaction— all the while motivating action through reaction.

Today, Brazil’s social and political situation has not improved by much. After its shift to democracy in 1988, the nation has faced many issues with corruption, poverty, sexism, and racism. Each is as divisive and dangerous as the last, most particularly in the case of politics and corruption. In 2003, Lula da Silva ran for president, known for having had a very limited educational background and a very unfortunate life of pain and family death. This grew into a resentment of capitalism and worker treatment, and passion for politics. As a presidential candidate, he attracted people for his kindness, charisma, his humble background, and most importantly, for being someone they could trust. After years of allegations and suspicions, he was arrested for corruption in 2018 for accepting bribes worth a total of 3.7 million reais, equivalent to 1.2 million USD (Britannica, 2021). This led to riots and protests all across Brazil arguing about the validity of those allegations. They would spray paint it, scream it, put posters up, have custom door knockers, make it their wifi password, their phone case— everything: Lula Livre, they’d say. Free Lula. Or, if they disagreed, Lula Ladrão. Lula the Criminal. Jair Bolsonaro, the current president, is passionate about strong militarism and obsessed with returning to the Brazilian dictatorship (Reeves 2018). He has done countless things to incite anger from the public and believes criminals that live in favelas should “die on the street like cockroaches” (Phillips 2019). Many citizens, including Uchoa (whose father experienced it first hand) are terrified of this new reality—that Brazilians must fear the return of a dictatorship—but it is the reality of a politically, economically, and racially divided people.

“The purpose of Theatre of the Oppressed is to rehumanize humanity.”

-Augusto Boal

Methods such as Forum Theatre, then, never cease to become useful in their capability to not only change the flaws of society in the crux (government), but also the people. Boal would find random sample sizes of individuals at the park, restaurants, etc., and motivate them to theorize and discuss together, regardless of their opinions, beliefs, race, sex, sexuality, etc. They would become immersed in the theatre and feel a newfound sense of unity with one another, particularly after Boal’s “Games for Actors/Non-Actors” (Paterson 2013). During the dictatorship, the Brazilian people could discuss these issues with the cloak of just games or petty acting, coerced into developing a new sense of community identity and revolution against a dysfunctional government. These same people now, who struggle with polarization of class systems and racial exclusion, tend to remain silent and act as though they live in a racial democracy, incapable of racial tension or injustice. These same people more than ever do not understand each other’s lives and debate constantly on how to create a better future. The Augusto Boal Institute, made in his honor, continues to encourage constant reproductions or inspirations based on his work, holds panels of Boal’s relatives and colleagues, and shares important stories of his life and his time during exile. It keeps his message alive, his impact longlasting, and most importantly, it creates a space where theatre is synonymous with critique and release, with love and change, with power and unity— the very theatre Boal knew would never rest.


Works Cited

Cohen-Cruz, Jan. Engaging Performance: Theatre as Call and Response. Routledge, 2010. 

“Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva.” Edited by The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Luiz-Inacio-Lula-da-Silva. 

“O Instituto Augusto Boal – Augusto Boal.” Instituto Augusto Boal, 2018, http://augustoboal.com.br/o-instituto-augusto-boal/. 

Paterson, Doug. “A Brief Biography of Augusto Boal.” Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc., 13 Nov. 2013, https://ptoweb.org/aboutpto/a-brief-biography-of-augusto-boal/. 

Phillips, Tom. “Jair Bolsonaro Says Criminals Will ‘Die like Cockroaches’ under Proposed New Laws.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Aug. 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/06/jair-bolosonaro-says-criminals-will-die-like-cockroaches-under-proposed-new-laws.

Reeves, Philip. “With Memories of Dictatorship, Some Brazilians Fear a Hard-Right Turn.” NPR, 26 Oct. 2018,https://www.npr.org/2018/10/26/660984573/with-memories-of-dictatorship-some-brazilians-fear-a-hard-right-turn. 

Rejali, Darius M. Torture and Democracy. Princeton Univ. Press, 2009. 

Uchoa, Pablo. “Remembering Brazil’s Decades of Military Repression.” BBC News, BBC, 31 Mar. 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26713772.

The United States is Overdue for a Film Like Pixote (1980)

by Cassandra Skolnick, November 22, 2021

Press the “channel up” button on your television remote several times. Every channel you stop on features colonial concepts of gender and power, concealing relevant truths about actual lived experiences. This is how those in the status quo maintain systems of oppression; unchanged, unchallenged, and uninterrupted. We need an escape from political ideology in film and television, centering our focus on social problems, like the film Pixote (1980) did in Brazil, under the direction of Héctor Babenco. I intend to examine how Pixote created an uncompromised and devastating view of the lived experiences of street children in São Paulo, forcing people out of their comfort zones and to finally address social problems; supporting my argument that a film like Pixote is long overdue in the United States.

Set in the 1980s, Pixote brings attention to the social problems experienced by abandoned children living on the streets of São Paulo and falls under an artistic genre known as social realism. Héctor Babenco originally set out to produce a documentary, but after nearly a dozen visits to the juvenile reformatories he reported that “…the authorities closed the door on me” (Csicsery 3). Instead, he created a fictional film based on the experiences of the children he interviewed. Concerned that it would not be genuine enough, Babenco hired non-actors from the low-income regions of São Paulo. The boys were not given a script or screenplay and were encouraged to speak in their own language (Csicsery 3). They were only told about the situations in workshops and improvised genuine responses. The result is a film that highlights “…the dark side of life for abandoned children in Brazil” (Shaw 149). 

Beyond extreme poverty, street children experience abuse and exploitation at juvenile reformatories by the men in power, demonstrating an overarching depiction of toxic masculinity that filters down to the boys. Our first glimpse of this transference of toxic masculinity occurs when a few older boys at the reformatory violently gang rape a younger and weaker boy (Pixote, 09:29). The abuse waged against the boys by the men at the reformatory is also responsible for enabling a primitive survival instinct in them. The boys frequently showcase their strength to one another, as well as to the men running the reformatory. This survival instinct is clearly present when one of the boys is framed for murder, and he grabs a knife in the cafeteria and threatens the guards (Pixote, 52:48). The will to survive drives the boys to turn to drugs and criminal behavior as an escape mechanism.

Pixote is the central character, and the point of view in the film is often deployed through his eyes as he encounters an accelerated coming-of-age transformation from childlike innocence to deviant delinquent. Following an escape from the reformatory, Pixote and a few friends form a familial pact and engage in criminal activities to support themselves. This begins with thievery, stealing purses, briefcases, and wallets from pedestrians (Pixote, 01:05:44), and ultimately leads to involvement in drug trafficking (Pixote, 01:14:32), prostitution (Pixote, 01:34:13), and murder (Pixote, 01:30:52; Pixote, 01:57:20). 

The themes of strength and survival showcased by the boys influence a third theme, sexuality, which is explored in an uncensored and often uncomfortable way throughout the film. The character Lilica, a transgender woman, is abused and sexually assaulted by the boys; rarely does she enter a sexual encounter on romantic terms. Sueli is a prostitute who sells her body for her male pimp, giving up her autonomy to support herself and her addiction. At one point, Sueli admits to Pixote that she got pregnant from one of her sexual encounters and gave herself an abortion (Pixote, 01:35:27). Pixote sees the aborted fetus discarded in the bathroom trash can. The boys also explore their sexuality, entering non-heteronormative sexual encounters. Dito, a boy who escaped the juvenile reformatory with Pixote and serves as a patriarchal leader of the group, engages in both romantic and sexual relations with Lilica and Sueli, exploring his sexuality and desire in the process. Pixote, on the other hand, never engages directly in sexual relations but learns about sexuality and desire through his observations of the other boys.  

The purpose of social realism is to illustrate real-life conditions and experiences of people living and surviving in society. Pixote accomplishes this by refusing to hold back on the life experiences of abandoned children in Brazil. In the United States, we have become accustomed to censored television and filmmaking, maintaining dominant concepts of heteronormativity, the nuclear family, and positive views of capitalism. However, I argue that a film rooted in social realism in the United States would challenge these concepts. Pixote showed how a group of boys can become family, incorporating common familial traits like shared responsibilities, unconditional love, financial support, and opportunities for learning and growth. This non-traditional nature challenges the dominance of nuclear families and also challenges concepts introduced in capitalist ideology, ideas that propose “…childhood as a separate and protected space of play and of learning” (Reimer 2011). The children are forced into accelerated coming-of-age transformations, leaving no opportunities for them to experience childhood.   We need films like Pixote to force Americans out of their comfort zone, to see the dark side of lived experiences in the United States. There has been some progress with filmmaking moving in a direction of social realism; Moonlight (2016), introduced us to the intersections of race, toxic masculinity, and sexuality in the lived experiences of Chiron, a queer Black boy living in Miami, Florida. The film was able to challenge the concept of the nuclear family, raising the question, “what is family?” Chiron finds himself supported and unconditionally loved by Juan, a drug-dealer, and his girlfriend Teresa; important traits than he rarely experienced from his birth mother. The film addresses poverty within Black communities, and Chiron’s transition to drug dealing for survival challenges capitalist failures in the United States. While this is a meaningful step in the right direction, we need more filmmakers to take the risk that films like Pixote and Moonlight took to challenge dominant societal norms.


Works Cited

Babenco, Héctor, director. Pixote. Embrafilme, 1980. 

Csicsery, George, and Héctor Babenco. “Individual Solutions: An Interview with Héctor Babenco.” Film Quarterly, vol. 36, no. 1, 1982, pp. 2–15, doi.org/10.2307/3697179.

Jenkins, Barry, director. Moonlight. A24, 2016. 

Reimer, Mavis. “On Location: The Home and the Street in Recent Films About Street Children.” International Research in Children’s Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1–21., doi.org/10.3366/ircl.2012.0040

Shaw, Deborah. “National Identity and the Family: Pixote by Hector Babenco and Central Station by Walter Salles.” Contemporary Cinema of Latin America: Ten Key Films, Continuum, New York, 2003, pp. 142–179. 

Illuminating the Web: An Analysis of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Moonlight

by Sophia Garbarino, November 11, 2021

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) explores the life of Chiron, a gay Black boy living in a low-income area of Miami. We follow Chiron as he struggles with his mother Paula’s drug addiction; as he meets Juan, his mother’s drug dealer, who quickly becomes a father figure; as he relies on Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa, who nurtures him as a mother would; and as he discovers his sexuality with his best friend, Kevin. Chiron’s peers constantly target him for being gay, eventually leading to a physical fight and Chiron’s imprisonment. Years later, we see Chiron went back to the streets after being released from prison and now sells drugs just like Juan. In the end, it seems Chiron has come to terms with his sexuality but has yet to find a welcoming environment in which to explore it. In this essay, I will demonstrate how Chiron’s relationships with Teresa and his mother are foils that challenge the concept of family while illuminating the gendered, heteronormative complexities of Black experiences.

Chiron’s mother suspects his homosexuality early in his childhood, and while she never physically harms Chiron because of his sexuality, he does not grow up in a happy home. Like many addicts, Paula’s condition breaks up the family, and she partially blames Teresa for providing the safe environment he needs, calling her his “lil play-play mama” (Moonlight). Unfortunately, Paula is one of many women of color victimized by a vicious cycle of racism and the housing and job discrimination that comes with it. She’s pictured wearing scrubs several times, indicating some type of medical occupation, but it is not enough to support her family and her addiction. As a woman of color, she is a member of the lowest-paid group in the nation, meaning she earns less than she would if she were a Black man or a white woman (Lorde). She and Chiron also live in a predominantly Black area where drug abuse and incarceration rates are high. As such, we can see that public racial conflicts enter the private home even without considering sexuality yet.

Heteronormativity – “the assumption that heterosexuality is the standard for defining normal sexual behavior and that male–female differences and gender roles are the natural and immutable essentials in normal human relations. According to some social theorists, this assumption is fundamentally embedded in, and legitimizes, social and legal institutions that devalue, marginalize, and discriminate against people who deviate from its normative principle (e.g., gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered persons)”

“Heteronormativity”

When we do consider sexuality and gender, the effects of heteronormativity and sexism are unmistakable. Like Paula, Teresa never judges Chiron for being gay, but unlike Paula, she can provide a safe haven for him when he needs it. She becomes his “chosen family,” meaning they are unrelated but support each other the way a healthy family should (Chu). Family, then, is not defined by involuntary biology and a two-parent household, but by the privilege of love and any number and gender of parents. In this way, Teresa and Paula are foils for each other: one is the archetypal bad mother while the other is the nurturing savior. However, Teresa is only able to be a positive mother figure because of Juan’s drug dealing income, and throughout the film, we are constantly reminded that Teresa is Juan’s girl rather than an individual woman. She and Paula are both oppressed as Black people, women, and more importantly, Black women.

Additionally, they would be treated worse had they identified as LGBTQ*. Despite their oppressed position, both women are also privileged by their heterosexuality; Chiron is not so lucky. Being Black and having few strong role models in his life leads him back to the streets after being released from juvenile detention, but being gay is what sends him to prison in the first place: he defends himself from homophobic bullies and is consequently arrested. The web of oppression is quite tangled and Moonlight’s ending, where Chiron reveals he has never had any romantic or sexual relationship except the single experience on the beach with Kevin, suggests that there is no simple solution. Paula, Teresa, and Chiron form a disjointed hybrid family, and while they share the trait of being a Black person in the United States, their experiences are not the same. These three characters demonstrate just how intersectional oppression and Black experiences are.


Works Cited

Chu, Kyle Casey. “Why Queer People Need Chosen Families.” Vice, 13 Nov. 2017, http://www.vice.com/en/article/ywbkp7/why-queer-people-need-chosen-families.

“Heteronormativity.” APA Dictionary of Psychology, dictionary.apa.org/heteronormativity. 

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Sister Outsider, edited by Audre Lorde, Crossing Press, 1984, pp. 1–6.

Moonlight. Directed by Barry Jenkins, performances by Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, and Janelle Monáe, Plan B Entertainment, 2016.

LGBTQ+ Representation and Visual Novels

by Marie Yamamoto, November 8, 2021

Visual novels are video games with a heavy emphasis on narrative. They are usually text-heavy, aided by visuals, and allow the player to interact with the story to some capacity, but beyond these elements, they can vary greatly in terms of gameplay, art style, and writing style. Likewise, visual novels encompass a broad range of genres from dating simulators, in which you play as a character romancing another character, to horror, in which you play as a character in a setting or situation meant to elicit fear. Some even take advantage of the player’s position or expectations to subvert genre tropes and break the fourth wall. Doki Doki Literature Club!—one of the most discussed visual novels of the 2010’s—is a great example of this. 

Video games can be a powerful storytelling medium, and as the world pushes towards social progress, more people are turning to them to see themselves reflected in the narratives they tell. Disappointingly, those in the LGBTQ+ community still often find themselves poorly depicted by game developers. For example, Atlus, a video game developer and publishing company most renowned for the Megami Tensei and Persona series, has spawned countless controversies for its mistreatment of gay and transgender-coded characters in games like Persona 5 Royal and Catherine: Full Body. Fortunately, in recent years, game developers have made a plethora of visual novels that put queer people—specifically queer people of color—in the limelight. Indie visual novels like Butterfly Soup, which follows two Asian-American girls as they bond over baseball and fall in love; one night, hot springs, which follows a Japanese transgender woman as she tries to navigate an outing at a public hot spring; and Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, which follows a single father that the player customizes as he tries to romance a colorful cast of other dads living in his neighborhood, tell heartfelt, authentic stories. Because of a number of factors, the visual novel format remains one of the best ways to highlight LGBTQ+ perspectives in video games.

The overwhelming majority of the visual novel community is welcoming towards queer game developers and fosters an inclusive, encouraging environment around the content they make. From a historical perspective, the first overtly, canonically gay character—the lesbian detective Tracker McDyke—is actually from a visual novel published in 1989 called Caper in the Castro. This game, made by nonbinary artist C.M. Ralph, was charityware that pays homage to the queer community in San Francisco and was received with praise in the underground LGBTQ+ bulletin board systems it was distributed in (Shaw). Other visual novels featuring same-sex romantic relationships were published as early as the 1990s in Japan (Chan). However, over the past thirty years, visual novels that feature queer people and stories have drastically rose in both quantity and popularity both in the United States and overseas. Places like itch.io, an online storefront for indie game developers, have hosted annual queer-themed game jams since 2015, and Steam, a cloud-based video game distribution service, highlight games with LGBTQ+ themes, many of which are visual novels. While other sectors of the gaming industry are beginning to have been taking steps towards inclusivity on this front in recent years, queer people have always had a prominent presence in this particular space.

On that note, making a visual novel is arguably one of the easiest types of games to make. A game developer is not required to create stunning graphics or intense, innovative game mechanics to create a good visual novel. Likewise, there is a plethora of software available specifically for making visual novels that require minimal to no background knowledge of coding like Ren’Py, Tyranobuilder, and Suika2. Therefore, while making one’s own game comes with its own obstacles, there are fewer barriers for people to tell the stories they themselves want to read. Queer people who may not necessarily have money to spare or experience with game development can still make affecting content and represent themselves through their work. 

The story-driven nature of visual novels also gives creators the opportunity to humanize and flesh out their characters. Although many mainstream video games have gay and transgender characters, the genre of the game or the game’s writing may sideline these aspects of them. While it is not necessary for good gay and transgender representation, focusing on how the specific identities of LGBTQ+ characters affect them can be a great way to explore individual experiences. Likewise, should they wish to, queer game developers have the power to tell messier LGBTQ+ stories and highlight flaws of LGBTQ+ characters, which is not often seen in mainstream media. 

Historically, the sphere of visual novels in gaming has been a safe space for queer game developers to express themselves and continues to be so today. For gamers who are seeking to understand the LGBTQ+ experience, visual novels that are written by queer game developers may be a good place to start. As mainstream gaming continues to diversify across its sectors, game studios should look to queer people to tell their stories, for they have been telling them through this medium for years. Regarding this visibility, Christine Love, a renowned indie game developer known for her romance visual novels with queer themes, notes that “by an outside perspective, you’re making art that is different and is interesting and isn’t just representing the same sort of well-off white male nerds with a certain history…. You are getting perspective outside of that and as a result, you get better artwork—because I feel like art is just always elevated by being able to pull from different influences and different people’s perspectives” (Wade).


Works Cited

Chan, Harriette. “The History of LGBTQ+ Visual Novels.” TechRadar, 23 Jan. 2021, www.techradar.com/news/the-history-of-lgbtq-visual-novels. 

Shaw, Adrienne. “Caper in the Castro.” LGBTQ Video Game Archive, 22 Jan. 2021, lgbtqgamearchive.com/games/games-by-decade/1980s/caper-in-the-castro/. 

Wade, Jessie. “Christine Love on Creating Visual Novels – Humans Who Make Games Episode 3.” IGN, 30 Jan. 2019, http://www.ign.com/articles/2019/01/30/christine-love-on-creating-visual-novels-a-humans-who-make-games-episode-3.

Can Lying Ever Be Justified?

by Ayesha Azeem, October 29, 2021

As the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant once asserted, “there is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will” (Kant 9). Kantianism focuses on motives rather than consequences. Kant introduces the idea of a categorical imperative, an absolute rule of conduct that cannot have any exceptions and must be followed regardless of our desires; any action against this is immoral. Kant uses the categorical imperative to support his belief that it is immoral to lie; if we lie, we make ourselves the “exception” to the universal moral law, holding ourselves in a different standard than everyone else. Though it is easy to deem an action absolutely immoral, this is impossible due to the fact that not everyone’s moral conduct is the same, and there will always be rightful exceptions to any “universal law” proposed. 

Kant supports that lying is immoral with a famous situation: if a murderer knocks on your door, asking for your friend, it is your moral duty to tell the truth and expose your friend to the murderer. Kant argues that if we choose to lie, even if it was to save a friend from murder, we would violate the categorical imperative, an immoral act. However, the morals of lying are not as black and white as Kant wants them to be. Though lying is sinful in most cultures, one needs to consider the circumstances in which lying may be better. Lying may prevent a situation from becoming worse – in Kant’s example, lying would actually help your friend survive. Rather than ruling lying as absolutely immoral, it is important to compare one’s options and determine which would be beneficial for the majority. For example, during the Holocaust, a situation similar to Kant’s famous example was experienced by many Jewish refugees and the heroes who courageously hid them from torture. If they had followed Kant’s philosophy, they would have surrendered the Jewish refugees to the Nazis, adding to the brutally inflicted crimes against humanity. The moral guilt resulting from being an accessory to murder is far worse than the guilt accompanying the decision to lie; in situations like these, lying may be more moral, and thus should not be ruled out completely. 

Though Kant is right in that we should not make exceptions for ourselves, moral decision-making is not as straightforward enough to have universal laws because one’s sense of morality may be different from another person’s. This holds true especially when one considers how influential a person’s culture is on their moral reasoning. Kant’s ethical theory of deontology is primarily concerned with one’s intentions – the actual consequences of the action don’t matter. Though lying should be considered morally wrong, exceptions should be rightfully made when the motive is genuinely benevolent. This is seen in Lulu Wang’s movie The Farewell (2019) when a family hides the truth about their grandmother’s cancer diagnosis from her to ensure that her last days are filled with only happiness. The family visits their Nai Nai, the Chinese term for grandmother, after years, with the excuse of a wedding, in order to spend their last moments together. Though Kant would argue that even a situation like this does not justify lying, it is clear that the family’s intentions are pure – they just want to prevent as much emotional pain as possible to Nai Nai. In this case, lying to Nai Nai would not have made the situation worse – she was going to die, whether she knew about it or not. Telling her the truth would not be beneficial, as it would only cause more heartache for everyone. Lying was the more morally correct choice, as Nai Nai actually lived longer than the three months the family expected. This may be because she was not emotionally burdened with her diagnosis; the family made the right choice, even though lying is morally wrong under normal circumstances. 

The Farewell depicts how our culture often influences the choices we make. The movie is mostly set in the point-of-view of Billi, a Chinese-American woman morally conflicted between two cultures, Chinese and American, each promoting different sets of values. When she travels to China to say her farewell, Billi often questions her family’s choices. In one scene, Billi asks her parents why they are keeping the diagnosis a secret. Billi, who has lived most of her life in America, does not understand how the family is so willing to lie – she worries that Nai Nai may have unfinished business that needs attending to before her death. Billi’s mother sternly says, “Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die. But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear” (The Farewell). This is a Chinese tradition that has been passed down through generations – Nai Nai lied to her husband about his diagnosis until he was on his deathbed. The reasoning behind this was so that he would not be plagued by the worry of leaving his family behind. 

When Billi expresses her hesitancy in lying, saying that this would not be acceptable in America, her aunt reminds her that they are in China, where morals are different. In some cultures, we are taught not to question the legitimacy of traditions. For example, South Asian culture often forces “compromising,” especially on women, during a marriage. This began with the notion that the couple should communicate effectively to move their marriage forward. Over generations, however, the idea of compromising has instead led to many women suffering through domestic violence due to fear of societal backlash if they go through with a divorce. South Asian culture often blames the woman if there is a divorce between a couple, claiming that it was her fault for failing to compromise. Parents still teach their daughters to tolerate any “obstacles” (though domestic abuse should not be considered an obstacle, but a physically and physiologically scarring reason to leave) during their marriage. Mothers who have suffered through trauma throughout their marriage and fail to get a divorce tell their daughters to also “compromise.” While this has been ingrained in South Asian culture for generations, this does not mean it is morally correct. 

To establish a strong moral foundation, we must think about the moral reasoning behind our decisions, and why we believe we made the right choice, regardless of what our culture may preach. Though lying may be immoral, context is always needed before we can deem a choice to be moral, which Kant fails to account for.


References/Works Cited

The Farewell. Directed by Lulu Wang, Big Beach Films, 2019.

Kant, Immanuel, et al. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Security vs. Free Will in Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report

by Nora Rivera-Larkin, October 26, 2021

This is an analysis of Philip K. Dick’s short story, ‘Minority Report’.

The age-old conflict of what is more valuable to a society: security or free will. In the futuristic society of the Minority Report, crimes are stopped before they begin, with a triad of machines called “precogs” predicting crimes and forming majority and minority reports based on the possible timelines and likelihood of the crime being committed. This allows the police force to put the would-be offender in a detention camp before they can commit the crime. The idea of stopping crime before it happens is idyllic and a tactic highly sought after in government and military forces. But it presents a moral ambiguity about the true guiltiness of the supposed criminal and raises the question of whether this regimented oversight is simply an abuse of power.

The idea of Precrime, the police agency that deals with stopping crimes before they happen, presents an interesting moral conflict to the reader, regarding whether or not someone is guilty of a crime they did not yet commit and how far the prosecution should go based on suspicion. In today’s society, planning out a crime or thinking about a crime is not illegal until you act in some way on the thought. But Precrime takes the calculations and predictions of machines as a guilty verdict and punishes people before they even do something wrong. This system eradicates the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” and does not even inform the person of their supposed crime beforehand, denying them the ability to even go against their predicted future and make a different choice. Even John Anderton, the head of Precrime, admits, “We claim they’re culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they’re innocent. And, in a sense, they are innocent,” (Dick, 229). This system lends to the idea of a heavily controlled military state, where even supposed dissent is met with a sudden end, no matter your true innocence.

Along with the debate of suspicion of crime vs. actual crime comes the issue of abuse of power. The police, and certain army officials, are presumably the only people with definitive access or use of this technology. This raises the issue of malpractice and misuse by these people. Giving a government force complete access and power over a citizenship that has an overall blind belief — but no actual access to a technology that could imprison any one of them — is a life of fear and control, and an example of informational inequality at the expense of the people. The idea of abuse of power is further developed when Anderton is able to evade law enforcement and his supposed rightful fate in a detention center due to a prediction that he will murder someone. He has the ability to deny that the murder is in his future, and the ability to believe he is being set up, because of his powerful influence and access to the technology, a liberty that was not afforded to any of the people who had been detained prior. He directly represents the privilege of the government and of individuals with overwhelming power: the ability to question his own future and the ability to make a choice of who he wants to be and what he wants to do in his life, something not afforded to other citizens.

Precrime deprives the would-be criminals of their free will and of their choice in a criminal action. People are criminalized for something they have not yet done and are not given the true information on the system that puts them in a detention camp. The society is kept safe, by keeping its population in check with the elimination of free will and cognitive liberty. Precrime provides them with a safer community, but at what cost?


Works Cited

Dick, Philip K. “The Minority Report.” Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 2002, pp. 227–264.

Not A Gimmick: The Lack of Diversity in Theatres

by Abbie Cawser, September 24, 2021

Cameron Mackintosh is a well-known name in the UK, but this is less true in the US. While you may be unfamiliar with his name, his work is much more recognisable – Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton. He is a producer for some of the most famous and longest-running West End and Broadway shows in the history of theatre. With his reputation of featuring progressive themes of inclusion, revolution, and community in these shows, one would think that he’d be a proponent for the advancement of theatre into the 21st century, but recent comments have led him to face backlash throughout the theatre community. 

Recently, when asked about the potential for transgender actors in theatre shows, he responded, “you can’t implant something that is not inherently there in the story or character… to do that, it becomes gimmick casting. It’s trying to force something that isn’t natural.”4 This exclusionary mindset separates trans actors from the rest of the theatre community, suggesting that an artist who happens to be trans would not be able to play a role as effectively or convincingly as a cisgender artist.

Unsurprisingly, this faced a significant amount of backlash from a community largely based on acceptance and tolerance. Alexandra Billings, a transgender actress currently starring in Wicked on Broadway, asserted that

“I am an actor…I am these stories because I am part of the human fabric and no one has the right to take any this away from me.… I am an actor, Mr. Mackintosh, not a gimmick…. We have been playing these musical roles in the theater for centuries. The only difference is, now we are becoming visible. And that’s frightening. That’s upsetting. This is about you and your fear and the fear of many others, but it is not about the trans community.”

– Alexandra Billings

She was far from alone in this: countless actors from Mackintosh’s own shows, as well as the entire cast of a recent production of Rent (a show that features multiple trans/non-binary actors) stood up against his words, demanding an apology and highlighting the work that trans actors have done within the Broadway community.4

On September 6th 2021, there was a Trans March on Broadway, protesting Mackintosh’s comments and claiming that it should be transgender artists who lead the conversation, not Mackintosh.5 There are also plans for a concert entitled You Gotta Have A Gimmick, the goal of which is to put the spotlight on trans artists and allow them to share their talents separately from the discriminatory comments.

Following the backlash, Mackintosh posted another statement, apologising for his comments. He claimed that his words were misinterpreted and that it wasn’t transgender artists he was against, but simply their presence in classical shows; instead, he suggested, new shows should be written focused exclusively on trans issues. The problem with this suggestion, aside from the fact that it still gatekeeps classical roles from transgender actors and limits the subject matter that he sees as suitable for them to partake in, is that the creation of new musicals is not such a straightforward solution. Plays and shows have already been written with specifically transgender roles in mind, such as Jagged Little Pill, and Breakfast on Pluto.3,2

The issue? These roles are still being played by cis actors. 

By claiming that classical roles are not suitable for trans actors, whilst also casting cis actors in trans roles with the claim that fiction should be open to anyone, producers create a hypocritical paradox that only serves to exclude transgender actors. Additionally, certain new shows such as Tootsie (a show in which a male character adopts a female persona in the hope that this advances his career) create storylines that “profit from transgender stereotypes while casting cisgender performers, to share their experiences in the business.”2

The expectation that progress will come through new shows is an excuse that has allowed for the lack of diversity within classical theatre for decades. The majority of casting in older, more renowned shows is predominantly White, with the expectation that newer shows will create roles more “suitable” for actors of colour, actors with disabilities, and trans and non-binary actors. This lack of representation is far from limited to just sexuality and gender identity – race is also massively underrepresented. 

While the issue of needing more diverse actors is a frequently occurring one, an important discussion that is often overlooked is one of writers. In the last 3 theatre seasons, over 80% of plays and musicals on Broadway were written by White creatives, as outlined in “The Visibility Report: Racial Representation on NYC Stages,” which was published by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition.1 Given that diversity is supposedly meant to be enhanced through new art (which has occurred to a certain extent, with shows such as Hamilton and Hadestown casting much more diverse artists, but has still not come close to resolving the imbalance), it seems unlikely that this will be possible in an industry where even new art is staggeringly under-representative. In 2019, a study done on gender representation within Broadway revealed that there were only 4 artists who openly identified as non-binary, with non-gender specific roles making up just 7.1% of all characters on Broadway.6 When this study was released, actor Shakina Nayfack wrote that she “just want[ed] to be playing good roles that don’t necessarily have anything to do with transness.” In short – roles don’t need to be written specifically for trans actors because they should be able to occupy any space and role they choose on Broadway.

While diversity is starting to emerge within shows, without the hiring of actors in classical shows – given these shows’ reputations of prestige and their security as a symbol of Broadway, especially amongst older audiences – progress will be slow, as these actors will still believe theatre isn’t a place for them. The responsibility shouldn’t be on young actors and writers to create roles for themselves when existing roles should be open to them.

(Dates and artists for You Gotta Have A Gimmick have not yet been announced, but follow @youcancallmesis on Twitter for updates)


References

  1. Asian American Performers Action Coalition, Racial Representation on New York City Stages 2018-2019’, American Theatre Wing, 2019 (http://www.aapacnyc.org/uploads/1/3/5/7/135720209/aapac_report_2018-2019_final.pdf
  1. Annie Lord, ‘Actor felt forced to quit musical after man was cast in trans woman role’, The Independent, March 2020 (https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/news/trans-actor-breakfast-pluto-cillian-murphy-kate-odonnell-a9396421.html
  1. Christian Lewis, ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Broadway’s Jagged Little Journey Toward Nonbinary Inclusion’, The Brooklyn Rail, April 2021(https://brooklynrail.org/2021/04/theater/One-Step-Forward-Two-Steps-Back-Broadways-Jagged-Little-Journey-Toward-Nonbinary-Inclusion
  1. Greg Evans, ‘Trans Actor Alexandra Billings Blasts Producer Cameron Mackintosh: “I Am An Actor, Not A Gimmick”’, Deadline, Aug 2021(https://deadline.com/2021/08/alexandra-billings-cameron-mackintosh-trans-casting-not-a-gimmick-1234824340/
  1. Michael Appler, ‘Transgender March on Broadway Protests Cameron Mackintosh Casting Comments, Calls For Greater Representation’, Variety, Sept 2021 (https://variety.com/2021/theater/news/transgender-march-on-broadway-cameron-mackintosh-1235057686/ 
  1. Sammy Gibbons, ‘Trans, nonbinary musical theater pros make ‘a place’ for their work that Broadway hasn’t’, Rockland/Westchester Journal News, Lohud, July 2021 (https://www.lohud.com/story/life/2021/07/12/transgender-nonbinary-theater-pros-fill-broadway-gaps/7811342002/