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The best TV you will watch all year: Four series to binge watch

(01/25/16 10:51pm)

Let me begin with this disclaimer: I watch a lot of TV. When people ask me, “Have you seen this show?” And I have, I try to brush it off casually, as in “Oh, I have passively watched a few episodes, but I definitely didn’t see the entire three seasons in one binge session on Saturday night, when I should have been socializing, or eating or otherwise experiencing life outside my bed.” But I’m coming clean.

Summer does not equal an internship

(04/15/15 10:21am)

Spring: the season of rain, Beer Bike and Easter. But most importantly, the time of year when students scramble to find something, anything, to occupy that daunting, empty time without set classes, club meetings and term deadlines — summer. Springtime is a breeze for those who already have internship offers, study abroad plans or prestigious pre-professional jobs, but for those who don’t, it can feel like being the only senior without a prom date. Perhaps I’m exaggerating. But I have heard multiple stories of anguish and despair over finding the perfect summer internship. You know, the one that seems cool to friends, bolsters your resume and pleases your parents? Yikes. What a lot to ask out of a summer. What strikes me is the fact that I hear of very few people who actively choose not to pursue a traditional internship or research position. For many of my non-Rice friends, a job at a pool, coffee shop or restaurant is the norm. Granted, many students attend Rice with the goal of running headfirst into the professional world, so it makes sense that they would pursue internship opportunities over the summer. But this tendency alienates students who don’t want or need to spend their summer with this kind of position. Alternative summer experiences, aka those that don’t involve working at a nonprofit, Fortune 500 company or research lab, can be just as valuable to students as internships.Take, for example, students who love exploring new cultures. Maybe they can only travel through a baseline job in a foreign country, like a tour guide or a hostess. These jobs provide them with the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture and potentially reflect on their experiences in a meaningful way, but they choose to pursue an internship instead, because, well, that’s the default option. Many Rice students undervalue or even completely overlook non-academic summer experiences. They disregard the potential of experience for the sake of experience, which is understandable given the temptation to fill one’s resume with appealing, professional-sounding titles. But if you’re doing something — virtually anything that requires getting out of bed and interacting with the world — your experience probably has some value to you and your future self, whether it promotes self-reflection, earns you some extra cash or simply makes you feel fulfilled. Internships are not the only way to prepare for the future.In no way do I mean to devalue the “traditional” internship experience or discredit those who truly love these kinds of opportunities. But I want to say that those who don’t want to spend their summer working their butts off in an office or lab shouldn’t feel like they are less hardworking or ambitious than their peers. After all, I can say from personal experience that some physically intensive jobs can be just as taxing and just as rewarding as hours of research. Pursue opportunities you think will add value to your person, not your resume. Your future employer won’t think you’re a bum because you chose to spend your summer on an organic farm. Internships can be an awesome way to prepare for the future, but they aren’t the only path to productive experience. 

KTRU prepares for 24th annual outdoor show

(04/08/15 5:15am)

In the wake of announcing its return to the airwaves, Rice’s official student-run radio station, KTRU, now prepares for the 24th Annual Outdoor Show, which will be held on April 11. KTRU prides itself on exposing local, underground artists, and the 2015 show promises an indie-electro beat with headliners Objekt, Bok Bok, GoldLink and Ex Hex. Fat Tony, Stalls, Deep Cuts, Heaven Spacey and Battle of the Bands winner Fire Alarm. Returning artist FLCON FCKER will be providing visual entertainment. Concert manager Jake Levens said his goal for this year’s show is to incorporate more electronic music into the lineup, something the station hasn’t done in years past. “One of the things that I had in mind this year was bringing in more representation of electronic music,” Levens, a Will Rice College senior, said. “In the past we’ve had XXYYXX and FLCON FCKER, but in general, it’s skewed more toward indie rock. There were a lot of reasons to do that in the past, but this year, I thought, what if we explore some different options?”Levens predicts that the headliner GoldLink will be a crowd favorite. “GoldLink, I think, is going to be one of the biggest hits at the show,” he said. “[GoldLink] calls it ‘future bounce music,’ and basically it’s these really wild beats that he kind of just flies through rapping. It’s a lot of fun and it’s really high-energy.”Accompanying the EDM will be local visual artist and musician FLCON FCKR, who played at last year’s show.“As soon as it gets dark enough to be projecting, we’re going to have some weird, glitched-out madness going on behind the artists,” Levens said. “It’s especially important because we’re using [disc jockeys], and that’s a major audio-visual experience.”Levens hopes that the risks KTRU is taking with the EDM lineup will pay off. “We’re taking some risks this year with the lineup by having Objekt and Bok Bok there,” Levens said. “But ultimately I hope it works out, and that people stick around and watch the whole thing.”In addition to the music scene, the show will also feature student organization booths, sponsor booths and food trucks. Outgoing station manager Sal Tijerina said KTRU has plans to make this year’s show especially attractive with the food truck lineup.“We are aiming to make this a huge event,” Tijerina, a Lovett College senior, said. “We’ve got some really awesome food trucks, like Oh My Gogi, that everybody loves. So that could even be an attraction in itself.”According to Tijerina, KTRU also wants to make a special effort to connect to the Houston community this year, who has greeted KTRU’s return to the radio with enthusiasm. “We’re definitely going to make an effort to really tap into the community this year, especially in light of recent news of us returning to FM,” Tijerina said. “A lot of the community was very excited to hear that we’re coming back, and we want to make sure that they know we appreciate it.”

The ideal type: Portrait of an artist

(03/11/15 5:08am)

When my friend told me we were going to meet her uncle, the artist, I didn’t know what to expect. For instance, I didn’t expect him to live in a whitewashed minimalist mansion or have an eccentric collection of cats and dogs with names like “Baron” and “Google Earth.” Nor did I expect that he would speak with a slight British accent and serve us three glasses of wine, homemade lamb pastries and fresh-out-of-the-oven lava cake.Don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining. The experience was practically royal. But it wouldn’t have surprised me if, instead, the uncle lived in a basement, collected human embryos and subsisted on a diet of malt liquor and canned tuna fish. “Artist” is the most vague career definition imaginable. It takes a certain type of person to be an artist, but who are artists? What unites them? Although artists vary in almost every possible way, there are a few defining characteristics: pride, creative prowess and most importantly, an extraordinary perspective. All great artists, or at least all successful ones, take great pride in their work. When people think of artists, they think vanity: “People tend to think he’s a bit … self-righteous,” my friend said of her uncle when introducing him. Self-righteousness may be unacceptable ordinarily, but the art world demands it. As a commercial artist, you are marketing yourself — something people don’t automatically value — and winning dedicated admirers requires more than confidence; it requires that the artist love his or her work unconditionally. Artists are delighted with everything that they create, so much so that admirers can’t help but worship it also. The artist is dedicated to creation. All endeavors, even ordinary household activities, become opportunities to design and perfect. When the uncle served us fried fish, for instance, he insisted on making it himself (even though there was a cook in the house) because it was part of his “special recipe.” His is an attitude of artistic license. If everything has the potential to be art, the artist has the ability to harness that potential and trademark it. Most importantly, successful artists have extraordinary perceptive capabilities. This is no secret, but it is essential to their character. Part of this capability is hallucinatory: Artists have the ability to detect things that normal humans cannot. But sometimes this vision doesn’t add to objects; it reduces them to their simplest and most essential qualities. They pick up a piece of rusted metal, partially oxidized, and hold it like a holy sacrament, marvelling at the oblong shape, the uneven patches of blue and the mechanical potential. We admire artists because they invite us to be a part of their mysterious world, if just for a second. When they stop to smell the trash cans, or decide to empty 1,000 tubes of paint on a blank canvas, we feel a rush of excitement. What do they see that we do not? Are they crazy, or prophetic? Perhaps artists really are deranged, or otherwise mentally disturbed, but there’s no denying their vision. They stop to smell the flowers that we pass by without a glimpse. They seize opportunities we didn’t even know existed. They find beauty in every small gesture of human and nature, and though we may be incapable, they invite us to see it too.

Stress exists in the future, so be present

(03/10/15 7:00pm)

t was the ideal getaway: a tropical island beach, fruity drink in one hand, book in the other, reading a novel about love, revenge and cheese. The only thing missing was a foot massage from a shirtless exotic man. With each passing day of sandy pleasure, however, a latent anxiety began to creep into my consciousness. It started before bed one night, whispering fears of unsent emails and unread inboxes. Then, feeling bolder, the anxiety moved to the daytime, reminding me at the ice cream shop: Time to balance your bank account. Remember, you still have no money. At first, I brushed off these thoughts as silly intruders, but before long, they became overwhelming. I must be behind on everything, I concluded in a state of growing fear. Realizing this on my vacation, of course, only served to further my anxiety. I became hypochondrical, feeling physically unwell due to anxiety, but attributed the symptoms to an undiscovered deadly tropical disease that I had undoubtedly contracted. It was then that my exotic cheese book, The Telling Room, sent me a sign. Like me, the narrator and author, Michael Paterniti, stressed over deadlines, workloads, all-nighters and parenting (perhaps not exactly like me). In running away to Spain, he discovered a hidden town, the story of a famous cheese creator and salvation. Paterniti envied the cheese creator’s dedication to the present. He admired his vivacity and rich family history. He admired his ability to stroll, talk for eight hours straight and drink copious amounts of homemade wine. One of his observations sums up the difference between the two men: “He [the cheese creator] was webbed to the here and now, sunk into it, while I seemed to spend a great deal of time racing through airports, a processed cream-cheese bagel in hand, trying to reach the future.”Victory! I found it: my anxieties perfectly contained in a sentence about bagels and airports. Paterniti’s sentiment is the American mentality: rooted in efficiency, planning and running frantically toward an uncertain future.Here at Rice, we spend a great deal of time and money planning our futures, and not without reason. We want a fulfilling job, the money to live on our own and the security to retire peacefully. Even the day-to-day things — the homework, the problem sets, the essays, the applications — in some way connect to our future aspirations. We happily slave away in Fondren, or drink 14 cups of coffee, if it means we are setting ourselves up for success.But this mentality leaves no room for reflection or observation. Paterniti, after his first visit to the cheese creator, comes to this epiphany, standing in a field of sunflowers one early morning: “The impulse out in the sunflowers that early morning was to stay absolutely still for a moment, sucking in fresh air, immersed and drawn deep under by a powerful silence … I just allowed myself to register the feeling of existing there among the sunflowers.” I realize that, as students, most of us do not have the opportunity to travel to Spain for a sunflower revelation, however urgent the need. Still, we can access stillness and appreciation. Sometimes, deep in the passion of working, I will surface for a moment and realize I have not been aware of myself or my surroundings for hours. For an instant, everything catches me by surprise: the color of the desk, the firmness of the chair, the alabaster necklace of my neighbor.It’s so easy to get caught up in the future and anxieties about the present, and rightfully so. Students lead stressful lives, and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to finish the work, let alone reflect. That being said, I think the case for taking a moment to be still and conscious, even if it means simply sitting on a bench for 15 minutes and watching people pass by, is dire. If we always look to the future, we will always be behind. There is no “getting ahead” when you plan for something that hasn’t happened yet. There will always be something to worry about, and although anxiety and work is a tempting concoction, it will ultimately only breed more stress. A better escape is mindfulness. The smell of grass, the emptiness of the quad on a Sunday morning and the sight of rain through steamy windows of a dorm room are all effective medications. Each moment, although not quite as healing as an island getaway or a Spanish adventure, provides the opportunity to unwind. 

Society self-destructs in 'Black Mirror'

(02/25/15 3:50am)

“The world’s bloody broken,” says a nurse in the first episode of “Black Mirror” as he prepares to watch the prime minister have sexual intercourse with a pig on national television. This comment, in essence, is the message of “Black Mirror,” a British television anthology that has been dubbed the modern day “Twilight Zone.” If we all have at least a subconscious fear of the way that technology changes society, “Black Mirror” is here to validate our worries. Although each episodes presents a clear cultural critique, the creator, Charlie Brooker, artfully sidesteps condescension in his haunting exposé. The first season aired three years ago, but it became available for streaming on Netflix in December. Each episode (of which there are only six) features an entirely different narrative and cast of characters. The show explores everything from political scandal to capital punishment to failing romances, and doesn’t shy away from cringe-worthy issues (i.e., bestiality). That being said, “Black Mirror” is by no means fantasy. While the characters may live in a virtually unrecognizable world, they are at least not unfeeling. The technology they have to respond to those feelings, however, warps their moral judgments in unprecedented ways.Let’s look at the episode “The Entire History of You.” In this world, citizens have access to all the memories of a lifetime via a “grain” implanted in their heads. A couple, far into their relationship, recalls earlier memories of more passionate times while having sex, each watching his or her own private screen. It’s a haunting scene, to say the least, with the lovers’ eyes inhumanly glazed over. Booker seems to be mocking couples who complain, “I wish we could just go back to the beginning,” or at least asking them to reconsider their point.In this episode, Booker also considers adultery. The jealous husband questions his partner’s actions, leading to suspicion and irrational behavior — a familiar story. But in this world, the jealous lover is able to exact revenge by forcing his wife to replay her memories. Is he any better off knowing the truth? Is he justified in such an invasion of privacy? The audience is left with the choice to either sympathize with him or question his moral character.In “Be Right Back,” a woman grieves over the abrupt loss of her husband. She isn’t coping well, until her friend suggests a service to recreate her husband through bits of information he left in the virtual cloud. She shuns the idea at first, but succumbs in a moment of desperation. While we can identify with the protagonist up to a certain point, her coping mechanism seems outrageous and even a little gross. Her grieving is clearly justified, but there’s something disturbing about not being able to let go — especially if it means turning the memory of your husband into a machine.If “Black Mirror” is paranoid about societal judgments, this anxiety reaches a high point with “The Waldo Moment.” This episode focuses on the campaign tool of Waldo, a talking bear cartoon, whose crudeness is reminiscent of Ted. Waldo “speaks the truth” about politicians and “exposes” their lies and false promises (I speak facetiously, of course, because he is a bear, although he is controlled by a human with a legitimate point). In any case, citizens respond overwhelmingly positively to his presence in the political world, and even go so far as to support his candidacy. Is Booker hinting that the populace is idiotic enough to elect a talking bear to office, or rightfully outraged at political corruption? It’s hard to say. But the end of the episode, in which the man who voices Waldo becomes a homeless man and victim of police brutality, seems telling.“Black Mirror,” as its title suggests, presents an interesting paradox: While characters still have recognizable feelings, their ability to reason disappears with the influences of  technology and politics. In these dystopian visions, morality vanishes in the face of progress. The end result? Humanity self-destructs.

The pick list: Netflix indie gems to satisfy every taste

(02/04/15 4:08am)

Indie films can be a bit of a gamble for the avid Netflixer. Fortunately, the Thresher has done some of the grunt work for you in sorting through the Netflix filler to find some high-caliber (or at least highly entertaining) titles to fill your beginning-of-the-semester free time. If you’re tired of watching Mean Girls or Friends reruns for the umpteenth time, check out these obscure yet worthy picks.