Author: Charles Mayo

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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Alumnus directs play

“It is not everyday that a 23-year-old gets to co-produce and direct a full-length two act politically-infused allegorical play,” recent St. Olaf graduate Denzel Belin ’15 said.

But earlier this fall, Belin got to do just that when the Phoenix Theater in Minneapolis played host to a run of John Patrick Shanley’s “Dirty Story” from Sept. 4 to Sept. 11.

The play tells the story of an awkward meeting and later a dispute over space in an apartment as an increasingly thinly-veiled allegory for the Israel/Palestine conflict.

This particular production was supported by a program called the Arts Nest’s Fledgling Program.

“I learned about the Fledgling Program that helped me produce the show through my connection with a member of the Mixed Blood [Theater] staff,” Belin said. “I connected with this staff member because of the connection I established with Jack Reuler [Mixed Blood’s artistic director] through a visit he made to campus … I skipped two classes and attended two other classes to get the most out of his visit.”

During his time at St. Olaf, Belin was very active in the student-produced theater scene. He directed “Extremeties” with Deep End Productions, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” for the Lyric Theater and the original musical “Serving” for his senior capstone project. He also acted as an advisor and mentor to the founders of the Myswyken Salad Theatre Company during his senior year.

Belin cited the experience he gained in his four years at the college as an important factor in landing the show.

“When I applied and they interviewed me, I utilized techniques I learned from my time at Olaf applying for shows for Deep End projects and the senior directing slot. They told me that they were impressed with the level of detail and planning I brought to the application, and personally having that blueprint made the process much easier in the long run,” Belin said. “I was also able to do one of my favorite things: pay all of the artists that worked on the show.”

Belin’s crew included fellow Oles dramaturg Adam Levonian ’14 and lighting designer Ben Harvey ’14. He now plans to continue onto future projects, such as improv festivals, as well as writing and performing in Brave New Workshop’s popular holiday show.

“If I had to give a piece of advice to those who are looking to pursue any type of performing arts, it would be that the time to explore is now. St. Olaf allowed me to try so many things and figure out my voice,” he said. Belin can be contacted at dwbelin@gmail.com.

mayo1@stolaf.edu

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Bizarre indie film refreshes

This past summer, a film titled “Swiss Army Man” was released in theaters. Most reading this column have probably never heard of it. The few who have likely only know it based on the reputation of its tabloid nickname: “the Daniel Radcliffe farting-corpse movie.” Yes, it does star Daniel Radcliffe. And yes, he does play the role of a farting corpse. And surprisingly enough, it is the most touching film I have ever seen.

The film, written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known collectively as DANIELS), tells the story of a young man (Paul Dano) who is apparently abandoned on a desert island until a corpse (Radcliffe) washes up on shore. This corpse begins speaking to the young man, who soon discovers that the cadaver and its natural functions can be used as a sort of tool (hence the title), including: farts used as a flamethrower, his throat to launch small objects machine-gun-style, and of course an erection that functions as a compass. I swear to God this movie is endearing – you’re just going to have to take my word on this.

I’m not going to talk too much about the plot of “Swiss Army Man” here though, as there simply isn’t much need. Though a truly original and bizarre movie, it is relatively simple. This simplicity does not weaken the film, however. Rather, it emboldens the heart of its own storytelling as it blends the macabre and the childish to reflect on the nature of loneliness, friendship and love. In “Swiss Army Man,” DANIELS explore the humanity in the insignificant aspects of life that we are often too embarrassed to talk about.

Beautiful narrative aside, another reason I love this film is that it so wonderfully highlights what is missing from most other movies. “Swiss Army Man” is a properly cinematic experience, eschewing the pablum of the film industry’s ever-increasing risk of being “spoiled” by the audience simply knowing the bare facts of a narrative. It cannot be boiled down to just a list of events. It is a story that belongs in film and film alone; no other medium could convey it honestly.

In a time when Hollywood’s near-refusal to innovate causes many viewers to become jaded amidst the cynicism of trope-ridden adaptations and remakes, the “farting-corpse movie” is a freshly genuine film that reminds us of why we first fell in love with cinema.

“Swiss Army Man” is set for home media release on Oct. 4, and I have already preordered my copy.

mayo1@stolaf.edu

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Alumni reunite to honor professor

Over the course of the St. Olaf Theater Department’s two-weekend run of Cabaret, the show’s cast enjoyed performing for a highly most recptive audience on the evening of Friday, April 15. That is the night when well over 80 alumni, as well as dozens of current students, all came to honor the play’s director, Assistant Professor of Theater Jeanne Willcoxon.

Willcoxon, who has taught at St. Olaf for the last decade, will not be returning next year and Cabaret was her final production at the college. Her longtime friend and colleague, Artist in Residence Dona Werner Freeman, organized a post-show celebration of Willcoxon’s work at St. Olaf on the Friday of the play’s second weekend.

In order to keep the event a surprise, Freeman reached out to Willcoxon’s former and current students via Facebook, informing them to either reserve their tickets for that night if they could, otherwise she would reserve one for them. Freeman ended up reserving 62 tickets and several more made their own arrangements with the box-office.

Willcoxon was, for the most part, kept in the dark about all these proceedings until the last minute, and was moved to tears upon seeing all the alumni that had come to see her play in its last weekend. She spent time catching up with former students outside of the Theater Building until it was time for the show to start. All the guests made their way to their reserved seats as Willcoxon watched from the back of the room.

The infectious energy from the earlier gathering spread to the performance as the cast of Cabaret was treated to its liveliest audience of the entire run.

The play ended with a standing ovation of extended length, and a reception followed downstairs. Attendees enjoyed punch, cake and other baked goods from the bakery owned by the parents of Cabaret star Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16.

Once the cast had emerged from the dressing rooms, Freeman stood up on a table to capture the attention of the crowded Theater Building basement. After saying a few words of her own, she introduced three current or former students from different eras of the department’s history to stand up and give their own speeches.

The first was Scotty Gunderson ’10, who presented a small notebook in which compiled multiple personal essays from Willcoxon’s former students on the topic of how they had been enabled “to go further” in their lives by what they had learned from her. Willcoxon unsuccessfully held back tears as Gunderson read several entries out loud.

Second was Andy Lindvall ’14, whose boisterous energy and personal stories kept the room alternating between tears and laughter.

Last of the three speakers was current student Jenna McKellips ’16, who had arranged a collection of letters from students praising Willcoxon earlier this year.

After these speeches, Willcoxon tried to say a few words, but her own joyful crying cut her remarks short.

The party then continued for a couple more hours until visitors slowly faded away, returning to their normal lives after this refreshing night of appreciation and human kindness.

“After flying to/from college over the last four years, it felt very fitting that I had collected just enough flight miles to make it back to St. Olaf for a weekend to celebrate our dear professor, Jeanne Willcoxon. To see so many alumni coming from all over the country, returning for one evening was incredible, and reinforced in my mind that Oles are a special group of people,” alumna Noelle McCabe ’15 said. “I am so thankful to have had Jeanne as a professor, director, and mentor, and continue to have her as a friend in my life.”

Although Willcoxon does not have a Facebook account, she posted the following message through another account on the “Celebrating Jeanne Willcoxon” Facebook page:

“Thank you all so much for a night I shall never forget. It has been a hard year for all of us in the Theater Department – seeing you all again brought back all of the reasons why this past decade has been so wonderful: the incredible students of St. Olaf and my incredible colleagues. I have been lucky indeed to have been a part of such a group of passionate, intelligent and talented people! … I love you all and will carry you in my heart forever!”

mayo1@stolaf.edu

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