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Theatre of the Absurd – an unconventional way to mirror modern man’s absurdity

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Theatre of the Absurd – an unconventional way to mirror modern mans absurdity

Broken values, fragmented relationships, worthless ambitions, vanishing values, destruction, disillusionment, boredom, economic crisis, inefficacy of words – these are but a few traits of the social, political and psychological context which gave birth to the Theatre of the Absurd. I first came across Absurd plays when I was writing my thesis for a Master’s degree in English Literature. I was astonished by the way human folly and nonsense was projected through the technique of anti-language and anti-plot. The conventional use of a well-organised plot, carefully selected words and sentences and elaborate description of characters was nowhere to be found in an Absurd play. The plays took place in one or no setting, thinking about random thoughts which had no particular meaning or significance, but yet, the theme of existentialism, absurdity, trauma and human incapacity to control their affairs was revealed in a harrowing way which seemed to leave the audience and the readers wonder about the meaninglessness of human life and affairs and draw their own conclusions. 

The history of the Theatre of the Absurd dates back to 1960s. Coined and first theorized by BBC Radio drama critic Martin Esslin in a 1960 article and a 1961 book of the same name, the “Theatre of the Absurd” is a literary and theatrical term used to describe a disparate group of avant-garde plays by a number of mostly European or American avant-garde playwrights whose theatrical careers, generally, began after the WWII in the 1950s and 1960s. Of the playwrights and writers associated with this movement that has not been self-proclaimed, four were awarded Nobel Prizes in Literature: Samuel Becket, Harold Pinter, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre (who refused the award). Disillusioned by scientific, social and political advancements, these playwrights declared, “cut off from his religious, metaphysical and transcendental roots, man is lost, all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.” Some proclaimed “god is dead.” Others believed, “man wants to live, but it is useless to hope that this desire will dictate all his actions.” The Absurdist playwrights believed that conventional way of writing plays was too unsuitable to reveal the harrowing state of mind of modern man – they chose their own writing style.

Themes of human incapacity and uselessness of life is conveyed through nonsense dialogues and insignificant plot and structure. The absurdist playwrights give artistic expression to Albert Camus’ existential philosophy, as illustrated in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, that life is inherently meaningless. The Myth of Sisyphus is the forerunner of the theatre of the absurd. Sisyphus, punished by the gods, must roll a huge rock up a hill, and once he reaches the summit, he must throw it down and start all over again. Sisyphus forever rolls a stone up a hill and is forever aware that it will never reach the top – absurd ambitions and no resolution of the problem. Most of the Absurd plays express a sense of wonder, incomprehension, and at times despair at the meaninglessness of human existence. Since, they do not believe in a rational and well-meaning universe, they do not see any possibility of resolution of the problems they present, either. 

Rhinoceros is an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco that highlights human folly – it shows the impact of mass cultural movements on common people and portrays the trend of mob mentality. In the play, the inhabitants of a small French town slowly convert into rhinos. The main character, Berenger, sees his friends turn into rhinos and promises not to become one of them. By the end of the play, Berenger and the woman he adores, Daisy, are the only remaining humans. By the end of the play, even she is influenced by the rhinoceroses and leaves Berenger to be with them. Berenger is left alone. Although he starts to dislike his human face, he continues to deny giving in to the desire to be a rhino.

Frequent themes in the Theatre of the Absurd are fear of confinement, concept of time and inescapability. In Ping-Pong by Arthur Adamov, two characters are stuck inside a pinball machine with no way out. The machine controls everything they do. They talk about their fascination with the machine and the game itself. The pinball machine represents life, where balls represent opportunities, and the player only has limited control on whether or not they succeed as everything depends on chance.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett revolves around two characters placed in one setting where they engage in senseless arguments while waiting for their imaginary protector, Godot, who never arrives. One of the most important aspects of absurd drama is its distrust of language as a means of communication.  Language is nothing more than a vehicle for conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. In Waiting for Godot, the characters engage in meaningless dialogues, for example, the usual talk by the main characters goes like this: 

VLADIMIR
He didn’t say for sure he’d come.
ESTRAGON
And if he doesn’t come?
VLADIMIR
We’ll come back tomorrow.
ESTRAGON
And then the day after tomorrow.
VLADIMIR
Possibly.
ESTRAGON
And so on.
VLADIMIR
The point is—
ESTRAGON
Until he comes.
VLADIMIR
You’re merciless.
ESTRAGON
We came here yesterday.
VLADIMIR
Ah no, there you’re mistaken. 

These apparently nonsense words and worthless settings seem to convey ineffable meanings and leave the readers and audience in a state of awe and wonder with a lot to chew and reflect on. To me, the most fascinating thing about these plays and the themes and ideas they convey is their relevance to modern times: we can still see humans stuck in a pinball machine trying to evade the torture of time; we can see humans running in a race towards a mass culture where everyone seems ready to change their identity and become a rhino; we can find numerous humans waiting for good times, waiting for their own Godots and waiting for a fortune which never strikes or comes; there seems to be numerous examples of identity crisis, psychological trauma, disillusionment with world order and a growing trend towards nihilism.

The Theatre of the Absurd, in a sense, attempts to re-establish man’s communion with the universe and hopes to achieve this by shocking man out of an existence that has become trite, mechanical and complacent. It is felt that there is mystical experience in confronting the limits of human condition which seems to shake, if not wake, the dormant human spirit enveloped by materialistic pursuits.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Entertainment

Book Review: Everyone’s invited: A guide to understand everything that’s wrong with the society

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Soma Sara Book review about rape culture

In a world filled with violence against women, Soma Sara’s book is a justification on why a movement against rape culture is absolutely necessary in this day and age. ‘Everyone’s Invited’ was first started as a movement by the author when she was 21 years old during the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic. The movement was kick-started by Sara when she posted a series of Instagram stories concerning sexual abuse which revealed a much bigger problem when she started receiving DMs that resonated with the sentiments of the posts. Sara received so many statements and testimonies through Instagram when she decided to start a website where everyone is invited to talk about their experiences concerning sexual assaults, abuse, harassment and even rape. As testimonies and support from survivors kept on pouring the movement took off in 2020 which helped in creating some real changes in the form of new policies and laws to keep teenagers and women safe in the society.

Everyone’s Invited as a movement strives to tackle those traditions, behaviours and beliefs that normalise rape culture by allowing misogyny, rape jokes, abuse grow in a space which is detrimental to the progress of women. Sara’s stories opened the Pandora’s Box on schools in UK where such behaviours and attitudes grow at an alarming rate. The momentum created by the movement helped policy makers engage with schools and Universities in creating new guidelines thereby asking all universities to review their sexual misconduct and harassment policies by summer 2021. It also prompted the launch of NSPCC helpline for survivors of abuse in education.

Sara’s book is different in a way in understanding rape culture because she has portrayed the different root causes that could be the reason why such a culture exists even now. Unchecked patriarchy and toxic masculinity are some of the key words the author mentions in her book. However, Soma goes a little bit further in identifying one of the root causes as pornography. In one of the chapters, Sara elaborates how pornography is ruining everyone’s sexual expectations due to performance exaggeration  and how it influences the minds of young boys and men to use violence on women if their needs are not according to what they have seen on the screen.

Another important reason that Sara highlights is institutional patriarchy which allows for inbred sexism among females from a young age. The author mentions that the fact where women are told to bear pain is one of the reasons why so many cases go unreported because pain sometimes gets associated with shame. Sara points out that if women are made aware of their rights or taught from a young age that there is no need to bear the brunt of the uncomfortable actions of men with a smile, a change is inevitable.

Sara also points out that men must be made aware of how disrupting their actions can be on a woman’s life. Again she says that this awareness must be instilled in young boys so that they can grow up to become responsible adults with empathy and kindness. 

The unique factor of the book is that it also covers the struggles faced by the author due to the movement which she founded. Sara was faced with allegations that the work she is doing in promoting awareness about rape culture will cause harm to the lives of boys because they cannot be ‘boys’ anymore.  The book not only aims at creating awareness regarding rape culture but also provides the readers with solutions to combat the same. Sara’s statements in the book are backed with abundant research and resources that one could use to understand rape culture better. Therefore Sara’s book can be summed up as a starter guide to understand the Everyone’s Invited movement and the importance the testimonies submitted holds in understanding rape culture which is like a weed in this world, that is, if unchecked, has the potential to disrupt lives. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Ms. Marvel: Helping Muslim representation or just mere tokenism?

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ms marvel poster pic

While relatable, Ms. Marvel’s Muslim identity is displayed as a hindrance to her teenage aspirations rather than as a way of empowering her. The writers seem out of touch with the growing faithfulness of Muslim teens.

Two episodes of Disney’s new series, Ms. Marvel,” starring Iman Vellani, have graced our TV screens. The sassy teen superhero with a Pakistani-Muslim background has made headlines for many reasons, not the least of which is that, for the first time, Muslim teen Marvel fans have someone who can represent them; someone who looks like the person staring back at them in the mirror every day, and with whom they can identify in their daily struggles and way of life. Or do they?

Does tokenism reflect the obligation of Islamic Faith?

Tokenism has always been an easy way forward for multi-million dollar companies trying to appeal to a wider audience. In recent years, Disney hasn’t shied away from engaging in the practise to attract viewership.  But the problem with tokenism is that it is something whereby the struggles of minorities – who are often marginalised by society – are trivialised and caricaturised for financial gain, while those who carry out such portrayals fail to compensate or help the minorities in question.

The very first scene in the first episode of Ms. Marvel is such a case in point. It begins with the teen protagonist, Kamala’s family, wishing her luck on her driving test in the morning. The audience gets a first glimpse of what a Pakistani Muslim family’s typical interaction looks like. According to Disney: Kamala’s brother, a tall man with a dark beard and glasses, attired in the traditional Pakistani dress of Shalwar-Kameez, is too preoccupied with his prayers, apparently having forgotten his surroundings and time, to which his father ironically suggests that he might “starve to death” should he keep on praying for longer. The son’s rather earnest – sounding response “May Allah forgive you one day,” conveys the sombre, traditionally religious Muslim, at odds with his bubblier, modern and westernised family. Thus, the very first scene seems to subtly impart the notion that to fit into society, and in fact, function as a normal human being, one must abandon seemingly cumbersome and outdated practises like ‘praying’ – and those like her brother, who are so ostentatiously Muslim, are the only ones who really follow such basic tenets of the Islamic faith.

Norms of one’s faith versus cultural ideals

As the episode advances, interactions with her parents where certain boundaries set by her religious upbringing become apparent. Kamala tries to convince her parents to let her go to the “AvengerCon” – a comic and cosplay convention dedicated to the heroes of the Marvel Universe. Her parents’ instant concerns about Kamala’s wearing a “skin-tight” suit for her cosplay, meeting “strange boys” and “going to a party” do partially translate to a predominantly Muslim household, where living by certain moral values and rules is of great importance, and while they are certainly relatable to everybody who is familiar with Islamic teachings, it was perplexing that it was portrayed as something that Kamala was obliged to do by her parents rather than something she herself felt as a Muslim. After all, what is the point of trying to tout a show as an example of Muslim representation when the main protagonist is shown to be hindered by that very identity?

ms marvel clothes
Kamala Khan wearing traditional clothing

Kamal ends up going to the convention after rejecting her parents’ cringeworthy suggestion that her father dress up as a ‘big’ hulk – which he does as a demonstration- and she as a ‘little hulk’ and they go together. As a hijab wearing Muslim woman, I can say that a comic convention is the last thing my parents would object to. Somehow, the writers seem to be confused with the balance between liberality and conservatism in those who practise the Muslim faith and not just those born into Pakistani-Muslim backgrounds.

Honest Conversations

That’s not to say that it’s all negative. In the second episode, more of Kamala’s Muslim identity is showcased positively as a conversation between her and her Hijab wearing best friend Nakia has  a heart -to- heart conversation in the school’s bathroom when Kamala just expresses how out of place she feels with the rapid changes taking place in her life, saying      she can “barely keep up.” This is where Nakia responds with “Are you kidding?” Between the hijab and the girlies my parents can barely make eye contact with me anymore,” she says, implying that her environment (including her family) is also challenging her identity and belief system by putting her in an insecure position. When Kamala, impressed by Nakia’s steadfastness, asks her how she makes things “look so easy” Nakia responds in an honest and heartfelt way and opens up a meaningful conversation, allowing the audience to dive deeper into the complexity and beauty of defending a Muslim identity in a western world:

“My whole life I’ve been either too white for some people or too ethnic for others. And it’s been this very uncomfortable, sucky in-between. So, when I first put this on, I was hoping to shut some people up (referring to hijab), but I kinda realized I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Like, when I put this on, I feel like me. Like I have a purpose. It’s probably why I ran for the Mosque Board. And remember, you’re the one who convinced me to do it in the first place.”

Ms Marvel
Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel with Nakia Bahadir

That’s something that maybe the show did right; showing the struggle faced by those Muslim teens who are growing in their faith – a phenomenon that began its slow rise after 9/11 and the discrimination that so many Muslims face in the United States and West in general – without the faith of their parents being a factor.

Lack of Muslim Representation in its entirety?

Although it is a coming of age storyline, and many Muslim teens may indeed identify with the cultural struggles between East and West, between how their classmates expect them to conduct themselves versus their parents, there is some disparity in the portrayals of the Islamic faith and its positive influence on a teenager’s lifestyle. Many comedic moments take place that showcase the culture of Pakistani immigrants to the United States, and it seems that this is then passed off as religion rather than what it really is; a clash of cultures. What if Kamala wore the hijab like her best friend, and had chosen to wear it? Would that be too much for viewers to handle, too much religiousness in a character who is to become the hero of the story? Does it empower and normalise the hijab too much for Western audiences who have been conditioned to reject this part of the faith as medieval?

Having Kamala, a Muslim teenage girl, as Ms. Marvel is a crucial step in overcoming stereotypes and affirming the large demographic of Muslims in the United States and the Western world in general. However, one wonders how much of her Muslim identity can be seen as a representation for the majority of Muslim girls around the world and how much of it stems from clichés, seemingly included to make up for the inaccuracy of Muslim life in key parts of the story. However, there is still some way to go; this season is set to have six episodes in total.

So far, it’s been a nice try from Marvel, but, it seems that somehow, there is still an empty space for a female Muslim superhero whose religion, rather than culture, is embraced as the source of her empowerment, while at the same time her role as a well – rounded member of American society is realised.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Daily Brief

SumOfUs’s Researcher’s Avatar Sexually Assaulted in Horizon World’s Game

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Brelyon metaverse desk scaled
  • In Meta’s virtual reality platform, Horizon Worlds, the avatar of a 21-year old SumOfUs researcher was sexually assaulted. 
  • Meta confirms that it has set up safety tools in Horizon Worlds in order to prevent negative experiences, especially since there were earlier reports of virtual assaults and inappropriate behavior in February. 
  • One of the safeguards introduced was Personal Boundary, which prevents any avatars from coming within a set distance of 4 feet of each other in order to respect the avatar’s personal space. The company also offers other ways in order to block and report users as well.
  • Nevertheless, SumOfUS reported that the researcher was “encouraged” to disable the Personal Boundary feature, and was approached by 2 male avatars in a room, one of whom was observing and the other got fairly close to her. She also witnessed lewd comments, homophobic slurs, and virtual gun violence. 
  • SumOfUs has filed a resolution with some of the shareholders, requesting a risk assessment of the human rights impacts in the metaverse. A shareholder meeting is set to be held on Wednesday. 
  • SumOfUs’s campaigns director Vicky Wyatt stated, “Let’s not repeat and replicate [real-world issues] in the metaverse. We need a better plan here on how to mitigate online harms in the metaverse”.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Society

Saudi Asks Disney to remove controversial LGBT scene from Doctor Strange 2

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Screenshot 2022 04 27 at 11.31.53
Theme Park Tourist, via Wikimedia Commons

Saudi Arabia has asked Disney to sensor 12 seconds of a lesbian character with two mothers, from Marvel film, before it can be screened in the Kingdom. 

Officials said that the film, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, is not banned but the kingdom is “still trying” to get Disney remove the controversial reference. 

According to Nawaf Alsabhan, Saudi Arabia’s general supervisor of cinema classification, the requested cuts amount to “barely 12 seconds” in which a lesbian character, America Chavez, refers to her “two moms”. The character is played by the actor Xochitl Gomez.

The Doctor Strange sequel is being released around the world next week. Disney has not accepted the request to sensor as of yet. 

Alsabhan said “It’s just her talking about her moms, because she has two moms. And being in the Middle East, it’s very tough to pass something like this.”

“We sent it to the distributor, and the distributor sent it to Disney, and Disney has told us they are not willing,” he added.

But about the movie being banned, Alsabhan has denied the reports.

“It will never be banned,” he said. “There’s no reason to ban the film. It’s a simple edit … So far they have refused. But we haven’t closed the door. We’re still trying.”

It was reported in Hollywood as unconfirmed reports that the film has been banned in Kuwait. In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar advance tickets have been removed from sale but not in the United Arab Emirates.

Previously in November, Marvel movie The Eternals was stopped by the regulators for featuring a gay couple. Edit requests were made from Gulf countries, which were refused by Disney. The movie did not screen in the countries. 

In Saudi Arabia, movie ticket sales totalled US $238m in 2021. 

Disney is willing to accept loss of its millions of dollars of market share in the Gulf countries, just to promote a controversial agenda against the sentiment of people of the countries. On the other hand the kingdom has its resolve to protect the sentiment of its citizens by refusing to screen the movie.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Entertainment

A Netflix Original: Adding Advertisements to Boost Profits

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On April 18, 2022 Netflix Inc. reported that it had lost subscribers for the first time in over a decade. The following morning Netflix’s stock plunged 35%, adding to the streaming platform’s slump. Netflix lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of this year and it expects to lose an additional 2 million in the current quarter. The media giant blames the loss on increased competition and password sharing as well as several macroeconomic factors such as “sluggish economic growth, increasing inflation, geopolitical events such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and some continued disruption from Covid.” In the face of such extreme revenue drops, Netflix announced that it may turn to a new avenue for profits: advertisements. 

Netflix’s turn towards advertising could pull the platform out of its slump and even increase profits in the long-run. Selling advertising slots would raise immediate revenue and ad-tier subscription plans could bring customers back to the media giant. Subscribers looking to save money could opt for a lower priced Netflix plan that includes ads while subscribers willing to pay more can continue using Netflix without commercial interruption. 

Advertising is now found on nearly every media service and it carries immense implications which are often overlooked. Every internet search and online purchase done by a consumer is recorded and added to a data log which can then be exploited and integrated to match consumers to certain advertisements. By targeting buyers with products they are more susceptible to buying, corporations can control consumer demand to create an infrastructure of desire. This infrastructure relies on corporations using modern marketing technologies, such as targeted ads, to create trends in society which fuel waves of demand for different products over time. These demand waves are the foundation for buyer-driven supply chains which manipulate  aggregate demand to drive increased production of a product in the supply chain. If Netflix adds advertisements to its platform it may become a major player in the global economy’s supply chain empire.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Saira is a Muslim American with a passion for writing, economics, and justice.  With a background as a UC Berkeley graduate with a bachelors in economics allows her to quantitatively analyze critical developments from around the globe as well as their long term impacts on financial systems and social welfare. She is dedicated to reporting in an investigative, honest and compassionate manner to give voice to those who need it most.

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Daily Brief

Netflix is Expected to Lose 2 Million Subscribers by July as Shares Already Drop 35%

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  • More than $50 billion was wiped off Netflix’s market value and shares have decreased by 35%. It was revealed that there was a relevant drop in subscribers and experts predict that millions of more viewers are expected to let go of the streaming service. 
  • There are many problems that can contribute to this decline in viewers and market value; first being that Netflix faces a lot of competition from other streaming rivals such as Disney, Apple, and Amazon Prime, and second, after Netflix left Russia, it had raised its prices. 
  • What put things into perspective was when William Ackman, one of America’s best known investors, forwent his $1.1 billion investment and lost $400 million. His hedge fund had bought the shares only 3 months ago, but Ackman lost confidence in the company’s prospects and felt the investment was too risky. 
  • In a trading update, Netflix revealed that it had lost 200,000 subscribers in the last three months, and was expected to lose two million more by July. Many consumers are cutting back on streaming subscriptions due to limited funds and there is just too much content to choose from amid all the other streaming rivals. 
  • Netflix also faces another challenge of struggling to expand due to consumers sharing passwords; Netflix estimates that about 100 million non-paying households utilize the service in this manner. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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