Author: Charles Mayo

Honeybee campaign fails

When you are trying to read your college newspaper, but you remember that bees are dying at an alarming rate.

Since the diagnosis of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) among honeybees circa 2006/2007, the internet memelords have taken the fate of these pollinating insects as their recurring pet project – usually as a sort of symbol for the underlying anxieties of modern society. This semi-fixation on the bee problem has only been exacerbated recently by a Cheerios marketing campaign that offers to send folks free packets of wildflower seeds to help “save the bees.”

The problem with this, however, is that the bees don’t really need saving – at least not in the way Cheerios is trying to do it. First of all, let’s acknowledge that there is a difference between honeybees and bumblebees and that they face different issues.

Honeybees are actually doing just fine. Despite the scare over CCD a decade ago, the population has bounced back and is even the highest it has been in 20 years. Beekeepers have done an excellent job at managing their bee populations to compensate for the fluctuation. This was an easy fix; CCD was not just the random disappearance or mysterious death of honeybees, it was an increase in the population drop that naturally occurs in a hive during the winter. Because of this, beekeepers were able to fix it with their normal methods of repopulation, just to a larger degree. Although it did lead to an increase in the production costs of honey for a time, the honeybee population was never in a state of crisis. This, in conjunction with the substantial decline in CCD over the past five years according to the EPA, makes it seem that the pointed removal of Buzz the Bee from boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios is a hyperbolic and, quite frankly, sensationalist move.

So honeybees are doing okay, but what about the bumblebee? This is where the trouble lies. Some types of bumblebees are in fact facing decline. Just last month we saw the first entry of a U.S. bumblebee onto the Endangered Species List – an action that was delayed for about a month by the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle environmental regulations. This is an actual issue that does need to be grappled with. But the solution that Cheerios is pushing is a comically ineffective one. Planting some seeds is going to save the bees? It is not a lack of garden flowers to pollinate that is threatening honeybees, it is the excessive implementation of commercial pesticides in the agriculture industry as well as habitat loss caused by climate change. We need to save the bees so that they can help us pollinate our plants, not vice-versa. To think that planting the Cheerios seed packet is going to do anything to save the bees is like thinking that a “COEXIST” bumper sticker is going to in anyway solve worldwide religious conflict.

By promoting this hollow, empty gesture masquerading as environmentalism, Cheerios is inadvertently drawing attention, focus and resources away from the real actions that can be taken to save the American bumblebee. Perhaps the money used to package and ship thousands of free seed packets could have been better spent towards accurately educating the public on the issue and encouraging them to write their local representatives to implement substantial environmental legislation that can truly address the issue at hand.

Chaz Mayo ’18 (mayo1@stolaf.edu) is from Rice Lake, Wisc. He majors in theater with a concentration in film studies.

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Theater dept. season finale rife with familial turmoil

“It’s been a lot of fun working on it, which sounds bad because it’s so dark of a show,” Bess Clement ’18, who stars as Violet Weston in the Theater department’s upcoming “August: Osage County,” said.

The 2007 play by Tracy Letts will run in Kelsey Theater for five performaces between April 6 and 9. The show concludes the Theater Department’s 2016-17 season and is the first ever play to be directed at St. Olaf by new faculty member Assistant Professor Michelle Cowan Gibbs.

“It’s been a lot of hard acting work. Professor Gibbs is holding us very accountable for knowing what we’re doing on stage at all times and forming relationships between characters. It has made this a challenging acting project but one that I have found incredibly rewarding,” Maddie Sabin ’17, who plays Ivy Weston, said.

One notable and immediately striking aspect of the production is its set. The show’s set crew has constructed a three story house on the Kelsey stage for the action to take place in.

“The level of detail and realism in this set presents specific challlenges for making sure the fit and finish is at an acceptable level and that everything looks as it would architecturally,” Theater Department’s technical director Todd Edwards said. “It is kind of the perfect storm of size and detail and amount of props make it the biggest show since I’ve been here. We’ve had shows comparable in size, we’ve had shows comparable in detail. But when you take into account the size, the detail and the amount of props and other specialty items, and again the fit and finish of the realism, it is probably the biggest undertaking the shop has made since I’ve been here.”

However, this large-scale implementation technical elements does not mean that the show will be consumed by its own spectacle.

“The acting’s great, the lights are great, the set is fantastic but it’s such a well-written show that the words are able to carry themselves,” Avery Evangeline Baker ’19, who plays Mattie Fae Aiken, said.

Though “August: Osage County” is considered a dark comedy, many cast members reiterated the heaviness of a lot of the play’s content – such as suicide, incest and toxic familial strife.

“It takes your heart and then flips a porcupine over it and the sets the porcupine ablaze as it lies supine on your heart,” Josh Horst ’19, who plays Steve Heidebrecht, said.

“It’s a wild ride of hectic family drama,” Jeffrey Nolan ’20, who plays Little Charles Aiken, said.

“The support offstage is really crucial, and everybody gives that to each other and its a beautiful, beautiful thing. Example: after I fight Bess and physically attack her, the lights go down and I can see her smiling at me as the lights go down and then we hug,” Claire Chenoweth ’20, who plays Barbara Fordham, said.

“It’s a super fun show. Come see it. It’ll have have you laughing, then crying, then questioning why you were ever laughing,” Coleman Foley ’17, who plays Charlie Aiken, said.

Tickets for “August: Osage County” are available at the Theater Department box office or online at https://www.stolaf.edu/apps/tickets/.

mayo1@stolaf.edu

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“Doctor Strange” rings oddly familiar

This fall, Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” was easily one of the most buzzed about films of the season. Not only was it produced by Marvel Studios – which creates instant hype for any film – it also raised intrigue in audiences with a dazzling trailer featuring surreal visuals in the ilk of “Inception.”

Another allure of the film, and to me the most important, was its potential to be something outside of the typical Marvel fare. The trailer indicated that “Doctor Strange” could finally break free from the formulaic approach that the studio has adopted over the years.

Marvel Studios is in a position where anything that they make is a guaranteed financial success, and the fact that they haven’t used that advantage to introduce more interesting films into the mainstream has always confounded me.

However, unfortunately, it seems that was not to change with “Doctor Strange.” I will admit that sitting in that theater did alter my sense of time, but certainly in the way the film intended: rather than challenge my temporal perception with interesting filmmaking, I felt time move at a painfully slow rate as I watched a movie I’ve essentially seen a million times.

Though a fun, albeit flitting film featuring enjoyable performances from Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch, “Doctor Strange” is not any more substantive than your average Marvel movie. The plot is still just a collection of scenes that alternate between expository dialogue and elaborate fight sequences (although now with kaleidoscopic visual effects!).

The screenwriting leaves a lot to be desired as well. None of the characters are ever really developed beyond the surface level. Even more disappointingly, the script fell prey to the exact kind of lazy melding of multi-dimensional and physics and Eastern philosophy that the film tries to make fun of in an early scene.

I think that one of the big problems at play in this movie was its complete lack of thoughtful exploration. “Doctor Strange” taps into a variety of different philosophical and scientifoc concepts, but avoids fleshing out the implications of any of them.

This is particular notable in what is supposed to be a climactic plot twist in the film, when one of the protagonist’s allies is revealed to have been using magic to make themselves immortal – the exact thing the bad guys are trying to do. To be clear this is not presented really as a betrayal; they are still helping to fight the bad guys. And I guess the other good guys are somewhat upset, but it plays bizarrely inconsistent, as if the actors themselves weren’t really sure what to make of it. And why should they? By all accounts, it seems like the script gave them little to work from.

The film did, however, have one impressive and interesting scene, during the “bargain” between the protagonist and a large cloud-like demon toward the end of the film. Though it was well-played and the clear highlight of the film, it came a little late to make up for the disappointments of the other 90 percent of the movie. Rather, it served as a sort of cruel ghost of what the entire film could have been.

Don’t get me wrong, “Doctor Strange” was still an enjoyable romp. If you are seeking another fun super hero movie to watch, go ahead and see it. But if anyone was hoping to experience something new or unfamiliar to the genre, they would do best to either seek elsewhere or brace for disappointment.

mayo1@stolaf.edu

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Human’s love for cats harmful to environment

The New Zealand government has recently announced a new initiative to take measures that would curb the presence of invasive species in the country. The announcement has been met with harsh backlash from the American public, as well as from celebrities in the ilk of Morrissey. The reason for this outrage is that New Zealand listed feral cats as one of the aforementioned invasive species, and therefore efforts will be made to decrease the feral cat population, meaning that, likely, there will be a mounted feral cat-killing effort. A feline death squad, so to speak.

Seeing as cats are, for some reason, a popular house pet, many folks are averse to the concept of their systematic elimination. To be clear, New Zealand has no intention of killing anyone’s beloved kittens, only wild, outdoor cats. But cat-sympathizers cannot seem to get past the fact that these rambunctious and, frankly, violent beasts look similar to their little Whiskers or Fluffykins or whatever ridiculous name they have given to their pet.

Now, let’s be clear here: I do not like cats. I do not enjoy their presence. I do not think they make good pets. They are not a proper animal. They are not to be trusted. Whenever a cat sits on my lap, it feels like it’s just waiting to dig its claws into my flesh the first chance it gets. But I’m not going to let my personal bias against cats impact my argument here. I will not let this argument devolve into a purely pathos-driven case; that would mean stooping to the level of those fools that are blinded by their cat love. No, I will get to the meat of the issue, believe me.

A recent article from The Atlantic provides an overview of the heated debate. In it, both sides squabble over issues ranging from the spread of diseases, the relatability of the animal and where cats land on the spectrum of species priority.

The first two issues – spread of diseases and cat relatability – sort of go hand-in-hand. Both pro-cat and anti-cat debators will generally acknowledge one of these issues and conveniently ignore the other. The anti-cat coalition generally takes ownership of the disease argument and cites the numerous plagues and parasites that many feral cats carry. This includes the toxoplasma gondii parasite, which causes toxoplasmosis and has also been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder and OCD. Proponents of this argument also cite the hypocrisy of the cat lover in that there is no call for sympathy in the control efforts of other disease carrying animals such as rats. Poor rats, they do not know Morrissey’s love.

Now, rather than tackle this issue head-on, pro-catters generally sidestep the topic and argue that despite their pestilence, cats deserve human sympathy because we, as a society, have decided to accept cats as a friendly animal. What a mistake. This is similar to the backlash against horse meat as a proper food in the West – it is deemed unacceptable just because we have decided to empathize with equine creatures, ignoring the fact that many other cultures find it perfectly all right to chow down on some noble, trusty steed. In the same fashion, just because one society makes the grievous error of cat reverence does not mean another society has to abide that in its own affairs. It is important to note that little to none of the backlash to New Zealand’s cat population-control effort is coming from within the state. If the Kiwis want to be sensible and limit their cats, well I guess that’s their own business, wouldn’t you say?

Additionally, I find disturbing the lengths to which some cat lovers will go to excuse the faults of their feline overlords. At one point in The Atlantic article, a pro-cat reporter claims that “cats look uncannily like us, even better, they look like our infants.” Now what kind of ill, twisted mind could look a cat in the face and actually think that it at all resembles that of a human baby? Could they truly stare into the cold, distant feline eye and think to find the warmth and compassion of which humans are capable? I pray for their souls.

Those two issues are great and all, but quite frankly they are secondary to this next one: feral cats are one of the greatest threats to bird populations. As an avid reader of the Star Tribune’s birding section, as well as a wannabe amateur bird-watcher, this point really ruffles my feathers. Obviously our aviary pals should be given priority over the feline scourge. Not to berate cats too much, but let’s be honest, they had their chance. We need to protect our bird species at any cost, and asking people to just not let their cats outside is not too much to ask.

To put it plainly, I ask not that cat lovers become anti-cat, but that they instead consider becoming pro-bird.

Chaz Mayo ’18 (mayo1@stolaf.edu) is from Rice Lake, Wis. He majors in theater and medieval studies with a film studies concentration.

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The problem with review aggregators

This last summer, like many recent summers, featured a blockbuster lineup full of comic-book superhero movies. Most of these were the standard Marvel Cinematic Universe fare. They incited the usual amount of buzz, made the usual amount of box office millions and received the usual amount of critical praise.

However, there were two films that fell outside this pattern: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” both of which acted as retroactive affirmants and continuations of the new DC Extended Universe. These movies were unique compared to their reliable Marvel counterparts in that their reception was unexpectedly split in terms of critical versus audience praise. The two films both absolutely dominated the box office and received a lot of buzz from the common movie-goer, but when review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic compiled their weighted ratings, the critical consensus consistently came out as mixed to negative.

And when broadened from just superhero movies to the Hollywood blockbuster scene at large, we see that this is not a unique occurence. More and more often the opinions of critics seem distant from the movie-going public. This is a problem, considering that the entire point of film reviewers is to help audiences identify movies they would like to see.

So what is the cause of this disparity?

Perhaps it’s because in this age of communiction where anyone can connect with anyone across the globe, the review industry is not accounting for the presence of growing fringe groups.

Or perhaps it is because the popularity of review aggregator sites has devalued the voices of individual critics, forcing them to conform to a false, estimated consensus in order to stay employed and relevent.

Whatever the reason, it becomes clear that the film reviewing profession is suffering from a period of identity crisis. And if it can’t escape that, it may just die.

mayo1@stolaf.edu

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