20 Things I Learned in Costa Rica

  1. Locals are called Ticos and Ticas
  2. You can’t flush toilet paper…like ever.
  3. There are 8 digits in a Costa Rican phone number.
  4. If the leading 3 digits of a bar code are 744, the product was made in-country.
  5. Rice and beans are Costa Rican staples and they do not cook with many spices.
  6. Ecotourism stimulates the majority of the Costa Rican economy. You can almost always pay for items in US dollars.
  7. Ice is considered a luxury and is very, very rare.
  8. I did not see one square inch of carpet while in Costa Rica.
  9. Mother’s Day is celebrated in August in Costa Rica, which is coincidentally the middle of their winter and rainy season.
  10. Rum is the cheapest alcoholic beverage available.
  11. You can be in what seems like the most poverty-stricken neighborhood, and every home still has a satellite dish atop its roof.
  12. This country appears to be 5-10 years behind at all times. The mall still sells Aeropostale, Swatches, and Jordache Jeans with great enthusiasm.
  13. Costa Rica has street signs yet they do not use them to give directions. Instead, they use landmarks and cardinal directions to give addresses.
  14. Rainy season is during the summer. You need an umbrella on your person at all times.
  15. Costa Rican currency uses colones and the conversion is approximately 500 colones for every 1 USD.
  16. If you go out to clubs, you will learn to salsa. It’s pretty much a given.
  17. I ate probably 15 fruits I have never heard of before that do not grow outside of this region of Latin America.
  18. There is a national campaign to make every public space accessible to all citizens, including the handicapped.
  19. Costa Rican natural landscapes and national parks are protected by mandates and legislation, and money for upkeep is drawn from steep entrance fees and taxes.
  20. Gratuity is included in all prices in addition to a tip for service. Every meal costs 15-20% more than the list price when all is said and done.

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Life & Literature

La literatura y la vida se entrelazan de manera indefinida. La literatura se deriva de las experiencias de vida y estas experiencias se conservan en las palabras. Las palabras, ensambladas con gracia, relatan nuestros triunfos, nuestros fracasos, nuestras lamentaciones, y nuestros momentos más preciosos. La literatura, entonces, surge cuando estas palabras se transmiten de persona a persona y las emociones, las acciones y las experiencias se registran al estar compartiendo con otros. Creamos la literatura porque los humanos poseen una clara necesidad de explicar toda la formación y las experiencias destructivas que tenemos en la vida. Mientras que la información alimenta el cerebro, la literatura trasciende los modos primitivos de comunicación y nutre nuestras almas con las historias y las experiencias con los que podemos sentir empatía. La literatura abarca las experiencias y los desafíos de la vida privada y pública y la mayoría ofrece las explicaciones a los problemas en las escalas personales y mundiales.

Por otra parte, la literatura actúa como un espejo en el que podemos vernos a nosotros mismos en la actualidad, quienes solíamos ser, o quienes queremos ser en el futuro. Por la crónica de experiencias, archivamos nuestros recuerdos más dolorosos y más valiosos que pueden servir como hitos de progreso a medida que maduramos. A través de la literatura, podemos expresar nuestras más profundas emociones, directa o indirectamente. Del mismo modo, podemos utilizar la literatura para desprendernos de dificultades actuales y perderse en un mundo ficticio. El tema de la literatura puede variar dependiendo del autor y la belleza de esta variedad es que sólo se necesita la reacción de una persona a dar significado y propósito a una obra literaria. En este sentido, la literatura es una forma de arte, y nuestras experiencias vividas proporcionar material de la asignatura y las herramientas con las que podemos moldear la ficción. El concepto de mimesis da la bienvenida a la creatividad y elimina las connotaciones negativas asociadas frecuentemente con las reproducciones de la obra. Las experiencias humanas se superponen de manera significativa, pero son igualmente única como toda la literatura producida como un producto de la mimesis.

Existen la literatura oral y escrita para dar a la gente una variedad de maneras de expresarse y de compartir sus experiencias vividas con otros en numerosos modos comunicativos. Los campos de estudio y de información sobre el rendimiento de investigación que enriquece aún más la literatura y la ficción desarrollado que los lectores acepten como la verdad. La literatura puede ser utilizada para justificar las acciones en retrospectiva o los que aún no se ha ejecutado. Una vez creada, la literatura puede ser una fuente constante de consuelo o un recordatorio constante de dolor o un obstáculo superado. La literatura puede promover el cambio social o motivar a la gente a cambiar sus acciones cotidianas y, por esta razón, la literatura es una herramienta para la organización, la colectivización, y la comunión. La complejidad o la simplicidad del lenguaje en la literatura invita a las personas en todas las etapas de la vida para leer e interiorizar los mensajes y las experiencias. Al convertirse en empatía con las situaciones y experiencias de los demás, la vida, en general, se enriquece y la complejidad del pensamiento y la expresión profunda se amplían. Por lo tanto, la creación perpetua y la preservación de la literatura existente son cruciales para el desarrollo humano y la mejora de la calidad de la vida y el pensamiento.

Good Eats: Costa Rica

Just wanted to give a quick update about all the wonderful foods I’ve had the opportunity to try! Costa Rican cuisine is pretty much everything you can imagine — with a side of rice and beans. These foods serve as the basis for most dishes and are considered Costa Rican staples. In my cooking class, I learned how to make the traditional “gallo pinto”, pictured below, in addition to several sweet treats and side dishes. Other students in my program have already expressed their distaste for rice and beans with every meal, but I cannot get enough! My host mom says Costa Rican food is “good but not for all the time” thus she has made us some delicious pasta dishes and other nontraditional foods. Overall, Costa Rican gastronomy has been flavorful and fresh and I can already feel my body changing as a result of eliminating processed foods from my diet. Most of my meals are eaten at home with my host mom, but several have been at restaurants or “sodas” where they serve fast, delicious meals. The portions are huge, too! In general, I want to try to replicate some of the dishes I’ve tried here with the exception of the numerous random fruits I’ve tried that are incredibly bitter! Over the next two weeks, my final days here, I hope to try more local foods and learn how to prepare them!

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Pura Vida: Costa Rica 2014

I have officially arrived in Costa Rica for my first study abroad experience. I am so fascinated with this beautiful country already. In just three short days, I have stood atop an active volcano, taken a traditional dance and cooking class, and attended my first classes at La Universidad Latina de Heredia. This experience has already been life changing. As anticipated, it has taken some time to adjust to the language, culture, and pace of Costa Rican life. The locals truly embrace the nearly untranslatable phrase “pura vida” which equates to a laid back attitude and stress-free environment. The food is delicious, minus the 10+ fruits I’ve already tried, and I have successfully navigated the city by bus to get to our home that is approximately 30 minutes from the university. Some things are quite different, however, such as the lack of respect for meeting times and deadlines and the fact that you can’t flush toilet paper because they do not have functioning septic systems. Luckily, the water in Heredia is potable and I haven’t experience too many problems with eating and drinking well. My roommate and I are becoming incredibly comfortable moving about the city freely and our host mom, “Mama Tica”, is one of the most loving individuals I have ever encountered. My course in literature is certainly going to be intense and challenging during this next month, but I am excited to be part of such a small class with a fluent student population. I can’t wait to see what this next week has in store!

With love from La Universidad Latina,
Sarah Alexandra

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Fourth of July Look & Fringe Shirt

Independence Day is just 3 short days away! Last year, I spent the Fourth of July in Mexico and didn’t get to properly celebrate! This year, I am blessed with a three-day weekend! In Kentucky, a major attraction on the Fourth is Red, White and Boom, a country music concert hosted in Lexington. Previously, the show had been held on the night of the Fourth at a downtown convention center. Recently, the concert has been moved and expanded and is now held over two days, at a local minor league ball field. This year, Red, White and Boom has 18 acts and will definitely be a blast! This is everyone’s, including this city girl’s, opportunity to let loose, dress fun, and celebrate the USA! This year, I’m going all out with my outfit. Today, I went shopping and got everything shown below for just about $30!

- Old Navy cut off shorts: On clearance for $9
– Xhiliration KIDS cowboy boots: $17 with coupon
– Lynard Skynard tie dye shirt from Walmart: $5

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This outfit will be perfect for the concert and Fourth festivities! I made the shirt a little more unique by adding a fringe to the bottom. Using sharp fabric scissors as shown, I cut about halfway up the shirt so the fringe would start about the same place that my high-waisted shorts begin. Cutting about 1.5 inch fringes, cut all the way around the shirt keeping the length consistent. The width doesn’t have to be perfect — the fabric will naturally draw up. After all fringes are cut, pull on each strand, as shown below, to stretch out the fringes. Finally, cut the hem off each fringe piece and Voila!

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Happy Fourth of July and Independence Day!

With love from the US of A,

Sarah Alexandra

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The Home I Have in Kappa Delta

In August 2012, I began my collegiate journey at the University of Kentucky. I was convinced that I “didn’t need” to join Greek life because, having grown up in Lexington, I knew so many people attending school with me. Over the next year and a half, I learned that I had been right: I didn’t need Greek life. I didn’t need little bags, too many t-shirts, pictures with hand symbols, or an entirely new group of friends. But still I wondered, thousands of students at my university alone are members of sororities and fraternities and are so proud to wear their letters. What was I missing? During this time, my boyfriend became a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and I watched him change and grow, while simultaneously adopting some of the “frat” traditions myself to keep up with him. For a very long time, I thought he felt ashamed of me for not being in a sorority and I can’t lie that when I chose to participate in spring recruitment my sophomore year, I did so because of him. I thought it would solve our problems and that I would finally be the person he wanted me to be.

Last week, my relationship of five years ended and I immediately thought of my initial motivator to join Kappa Delta sorority. I wanted to be bitter because I did it for him, but I couldn’t. In reality, I had gained something for myself that had no connection to my relationship whatsoever. In Kappa Delta, I can actually say that I have met some of the most genuine, strong, and supportive women. I still hate the fact that I have to pay for membership, but the people I have met and the bonds I’ve forged are beyond priceless. During my new member education, I learned the history of Kappa Delta and my chapter and I became enchanted by the idea of upholding tradition that four women began some 117 years ago to unite maturing girls on college campuses. In some ways, it is very conflicting that I am simultaneously a member of a sorority and a Gender and Women’s Studies major because Greek traditions often conflict with ideals and principles of feminism. On the contrary, I’ve found some of the most intelligent, strong-willed, and passionate women on my campus because of this beautiful organization. My Big, my sweet little pledge class, and countless other women in Epsilon Omega chapter have left a mark on my heart forever. Do I personally know each of the 230+ girls in our mega-chapter? Well, no. But those I do know have shown me a love and friendship I never expected to find.

If you’re in doubt about joining a sorority, I understand it’s not for everyone. I can say with certainty, however, that I would’ve been disappointed with myself at graduation had I not at least pursued my curiosity and explored Greek life for myself. Sororities differ from chapter to chapter without question, and joining Kappa Delta has put me in brief financial binds at times, but I’ve chosen to think of it as an investment in myself and in friendships. Kappa Delta has forced introspection in my life and my sorority sisters have rallied around me in some of my greatest times of need like my own personal cheerleaders. No one expects you to click with and adore every member of your chapter, but you will find those special women who you know instantly will be part of your life forever. A true sorority will not take over your life, will not discourage you from outside friendships and relationships, will not give you nothing in return unless you give nothing yourself. Kappa Delta has not only provided me with a unique space on my college campus, but with women I can call on day or night to support my hopes and dreams. Joining a sorority will likely include many hand-painted canvases, screen-printed t-shirts with pockets, and force you to acquire a costume box, but beyond the surface and tangible items that accompany Greek life, I hope you will find solace, strength, and continued support from your new family just as I have. AOT.

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Hard Out Here for a Feminist

What an explosion of conversation this week has brought. My social media feeds have been flooded with discourse that throws around the word feminism, various hashtags, and quotes from the situation at UC Santa Barbara. Honestly, I love to see people talking, but this is where my job gets hard. This is where identifying as a feminist and working toward a degree in Gender and Women’s Studies becomes really damn difficult. I’m boiling over with emotion at the statements women (and men) have released with the hashtags #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen attached and they fill me with such frustration. We’ve started such an important conversation, but we are still not ACTING on these problems we’re so quick to identify. It’s time that something is done so there are no more stories to share. Yet, what can be done? I’m trying my hardest to be one of the movers and shakers I am taught to revere in my major courses, but it’s not an easy job.

I’ve heard plenty of individuals quickly dismiss the snippets of stories shared on Twitter and Facebook and plenty more who deny that the shooting/stabbings in California are related to gender in any way. You have to be joking to actually believe that. Have you watched Elliot Rodger’s video and read excerpts of his “manifesto”? While it is vital to discuss the proper identification, treatment, and handling of mental illness, Rodger’s video revelations DIRECTLY point to societal pressures and the ideas we’ve reproduced until they’ve become norms. His sense of entitlement to women, and their bodies in particular, is disturbing, but has been bred from media reproductions and reinforcement of this notion that men are superior, deserving, and entitled. Please just do me a favor, watch the video and try and explain to me that the comments Rodger makes and the motivating ideas behind his premeditated horror are not espoused daily through music, film, television, magazines, and more. I get a lot of crap for loving Law and Order SVU and chilling, horror films, but nothing has shaken me like listening to Rodger’s words and seeing the aftermath of his actions.

In all honesty, I’m not sure what the answer is here. Would tighter gun control have prevented the bloodshed? Probably not since the weapons were obtained illegally. What is now is that we have thousands of individuals voicing their concerns on a virtual platform. We have celebrities backing the issues, actors pairing with politicians to make commercials, and musicians releasing songs that blatantly challenge other discriminatory media. We are making strides, yes, but until this translates into policy changes and actual legislation promoting gender equality, we are not finished. And may we not forget, equality does not mean women will be elevated above men. It means that policies will one day equally protect all genders, however an individual chooses to identify, and will eliminate sexual and personal-based power violence. There has been discussion of qualifying workplace harassment and other sexual violence against women as hate crimes, but I’m not even sure that would do it. It’s too large of an epidemic and thus may detract from minority groups (sometimes) appropriately protected by hate crime laws. The last thing we need is generalized legislation that will lessen the effects of sentencing and promote the creation of more loopholes to escape prosecution.

In reality, we need allies. The most disappointing thing is having a fellow woman, who may or may not have previously endured similar injustices, say feminism is unnecessary or that you should “let it go.” This morning, a company vendor brought donuts into my office to thank our company for continuing business. As I and my other coworkers crowded the party desk to chat and eat breakfast, a man, assumingly a superintendent of one of our jobs sites who I HAVE NEVER MET, looked directly at me, and the ONE donut hole on my plate, and said, “donut holes don’t fit into bathing suits.” This is why I need feminism. I’m tough when it comes to letting comments roll off my back, but the reality of the situation is that I shouldn’t have to always be the tough one just because I identify as feminist. I need individuals to stop telling me to not take comments like this so seriously, I need people to stop telling me to leave Robin Thicke and that godforsaken music video alone, I need people to listen to my concerns and for it not to be easier for me to excuse derogatory actions and words than to vocally challenge them and stand up for what I believe in.

21 Signs You’re A 20 Something in the 20 Somethings

  1. You don’t have an auxiliary adapter in your early 2000s model, but a new mixed CD can make you feel like a new person.
  2. The vitamin aisle is actually kind of a useful place.
  3. So is Pier One.
  4. But you will always hate Wal-Mart.
  5. You can’t afford to have cable in your own place, but the first time you’re in control of the remote at someone else’s house, you’re checking what’s new on HGTV.
  6. Family dinners are not only tolerable, they are where you laugh the most.
  7. Your work wardrobe is pretty much your only wardrobe. You won’t buy something if it isn’t dual-purpose: Work and going out appropriate.
  8. You can name more celebrities currently on the Food Network than MTV.
  9. Weight Watchers isn’t just something your mom does.
  10. Two degrees are better than one.
  11. You’re a revolutionary for some cause. Doesn’t matter what for, but for something.
  12. You have a laundry schedule because it wouldn’t get done otherwise.
  13. You don’t have a lot of money, but you’re budgeting for traveling and home decor rather than Lilly dresses and Michael Kors purses.
  14. You’re still trying to figure out what is being accomplished by hashtag activism.
  15. For the first time, you’re thinking about caring for another life…like a puppy.
  16. You can forget getting on social media; everyone is announcing an engagement or pregnancy and you’re just trying to get through the work day.
  17. You’ve developed this terrible case of wanderlust, and you feel like you must jump at every fleeting opportunity to travel.
  18. Despite the desire to get out and see the world, you’ve developed this intense defensiveness over your hometown. No one can trash talk your family…or where you’re from.
  19. You’re thinking about voting…for the senate election…in the primaries.
  20. House Hunters International is quality television.
  21. You realize that you’re growing up and it’s not as scary as they said it would be.

Hair Talk: Getting a Spiral Perm

“That’s why her hair is so big, it’s full of secrets.”

Last week, I got a spiral perm! It was a big step for me, making such a lasting change to my hair considering I can barely commit to a slight color change. In reality, perms are not nearly as scary as my friends and family made them out to be! I love my newfound curls, but I am SO happy I did thorough research before going into the salon to ensure that I got the best results possible.

Why did I get a perm?

A little less than a decade ago, my hair was crazy curly. Like the kind of just washed curls that don’t need any attention to look flawless for the day. The older I got, however, the less curly my natural hair seemed to be, and the  more work I needed to put into it to make it appear curly. After trying a wide assortment of products and tools, I resorted to using the Conair You-Curl wand to achieve my desired curly locks. After weighing my options for quite some time, I decided to get a perm to avoid having to style my hair everyday. Furthermore, I am going to be traveling quite a bit this summer, mainly to humid regions and beaches, and I don’t want to have to worry about my hair while I’m gone. I decided that a perm, if it worked out the way I envisioned, would be my best bet for neat-looking, easily managed curly hair.

Why was I a good candidate for a perm?

Honestly, my hair wasn’t in that great of shape before I got my perm. After watching numerous YouTube videos, reading countless articles, and listening to perm horror stories, I was convinced a perm would not be good for my hair. A consultation with my stylist, however, changed my initial conclusions. Because my hair has not been colored recently, I’ve never bleached it, and the only dye I’ve ever used on it is semi-permanent box color, my hair could withhold a perm. Ultimately, my stylist explained that the chemicals in a perm are no more damaging to your hair than a color treatment if you wash, condition, and use heat-protection products. Because of the scary stories I’d heard of people’s hair breaking off at the root after a perm, I opted to get a Keratinplex treatment on my hair first (deep conditioning) that made it smooth and super healthy by adding protein and moisture to my hair. With this, I took the plunge and scheduled my perm.

The Process and Results

So, against better judgment, I scheduled my perm at the local beauty school. I know everything in the world says to schedule with a trained professional, but I couldn’t turn down the price. (only $30!) It took quite a bit longer than I imagine someone who has done perms for years would take, but I was comfortable because supervisors were constantly checking in on the process. 36 hours prior to my perm, I did not wash, condition, or use any heat on my hair to make sure it was in the most natural state possible to ensure that the perm would take. I took in pictures of what I wanted my hair to look like, very curly but not tight curls, and explained in detail to my stylist what I envisioned. She decided that a spiral perm would be best for me according to how I had explained myself and used lavender rods all over my head. The entire process took about three hours and unfortunately, I did get a small chemical burn on my neck from the perming lotion that dripped off a rod. Overall, however, I was so thrilled when she took out the rods and immediately I saw curls! I was instructed to not wash my hair for 48 hours after the perm treatment, but I only waited about 38 because I couldn’t take it any longer. I was so scared that when I washed out my hair, the curls would go with it, but the second I stepped out of the shower, I saw the curls yet again. A week later, I’m still in love with how consistent my hair curls and looks so incredibly natural. After showering, I use a little bit of John Freida Frizz-Ease mousse and a dab a Garnier Fructis Curl Shaping gel and I can go all day with frizz-free air-dried hair. See photos below of how my spiral perm turned out!

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Hip-Hopera Killed the Video Star: Music Videos, Stardom, and Intersectionality in the Context of R. Kelly

Hip-Hopera Killed the Video Star:

Music Videos, Stardom, and Intersectionality in the Context of R. Kelly

When The Buggles recorded their 1979 hit “Video Killed the Radio Star”, the group had little knowledge of just how true these words would ring. The Oxford Dictionary recognizes a music video as recorded performance of a popular song that is typically accompanied by dancing and visual images that interpret the lyrics (OED Online). Music videos supplement all genres of music and range from live, improvised performances to high-budgeted, theatrical productions. Even so, music videos offer visual representations of musical performances that complicate the sensory experience, thus their popularity has blossomed exponentially in the world of music. Portrayals of lyrics in music videos encourage viewers to take a predetermined stance on the lyrical content and narrows potential interpretation of the song. Music videos often offer a narrative structure that includes character development and gives life to individuals that are either well-defined or alluded to within the lyrics. In an effort to challenge traditional structures and dissemination of music videos, artists often employ dramatic elements to evoke an overwhelming emotional response from viewers. With the creation of shocking and original content, musicians and artists can utilize music videos as a forum for supplementary revenue or to comment on social phenomena.

Popular culture frequently employs absurdity to attract viewership and music videos are marketed to specific audiences through dramatized interpretations of lyrics. An artist certainly familiar with the employment of absurdity throughout his career, Robert Sylvester Kelly, or R. Kelly, has built a career on outrageous performances and hypersexual music that continues to shock audiences. Noted for developing “sex-soaked sound”, Kelly’s journey to the limelight was undoubtedly expedited by musical collaborations and production work with notable figures including, but not limited to, Usher, Toni Braxton, Wyclef Jean, Russell Simmons, Sean Combs, and Mary J. Blige (Ramirez 29). With twelve studio albums, numerous complications and collaborations, three books, and a lengthy filmography, Kelly is no stranger to the spotlight. Accompanied by 24 Grammy nominations, 3 of which were won, and thirteen national and international tours, Kelly’s stardom is undeniable. R. Kelly’s net worth was approximated at $150 million in 2013 and can be credited to his perpetual self-promotion and commitment to shock appeal (The Biography).

One facet of Kelly’s career, however, stands out above his copious achievements. The Trapped in the Closet video series has unquestionably challenged the role of the music video in popular culture for both its pure absurdity and the commentary regarding human relations offered in the lyrics. The video series has been recognized as a “rap opera” and a soap opera-esque video saga with the collection approaching 33 installments in 2014. For the purposes of this analysis, I will primarily utilize the first five chapters of the video series, with necessary references to thematic elements introduced in later videos, in order to develop a specific critique of Kelly’s nontraditional take on the music video. Furthermore, I will investigate crucial intersections of social dynamics introduced in the videos to assess the validity of Kelly’s creation as a fundamental artifact in popular culture. Through strategic analysis and consideration of outside reception, I argue that R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet video series marks a relevant and pivotal point in music history for its employment of controversial thematic elements such as fidelity and religion, and sheer absurdity demanding dialogue.

As a result of the hyper-connected society in which we live, it is impossible to differentiate a work of art from its creator. Thus, it is vital to discuss R. Kelly’s personal presence in hip hop culture and his credibility as an artist prior to the release of Trapped in the Closet. I would be remiss to neglect Kelly’s cyclical legal battles that have plagued his professional career ranging from copyright infringement, collaborative disagreements, and felony charges. Accusations of an annulled marriage with the performer, Aaliyah, were proven true with the emergence of documentation that revealed falsified age reporting from the late singer. Furthermore, coinciding with the initial release of the original Trapped in the Closet demo, Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography, although 7 were later dropped, after a video recording of his sexual relations with a minor became public (Ramirez 28). Over a period of seven years throughout the early 2000s, Kelly’s trial took shape in the public eye, yet effectively failed to permanently taint the performer’s already scandalous career. Although Kelly plead not guilty and was acquitted on all counts, the commentary offered by a work such as Trapped in the Closet is jaded by Kelly’s public transgressions and alleged criminal activity. It is difficult to verify credible commentary, especially that which could be considered even remotely profound, if an artist’s greatest work follows public disparagement. For the purposes of this work, I intend to distinguish between Kelly’s artistic construction and his personal life in order to effectively analyze the given artifact in the context of popular culture.

The release of the Trapped in the Closet series, first as a music video trilogy and later as digital audio files, marked a major milestone in R. Kelly’s career. Although the performer is no stranger to dramatic showmanship, R. Kelly’s production and release of Trapped in the Closet addressed previously uncharted themes in his prolific repertoire of raunchy, sexually explicit music. Totaling 175 minutes between all of the 33 chapters, Kelly’s production was released in three distinct installments with a budget nearing $4 million. In seven years, from 2005-2012, Kelly wrote, produced, and starred in the dramatic video series that has garnered international attention for the performer (IMDB). Kelly is reported to have derived the original Trapped in the Closet segments as a result of idle studio time during which he took an interest in video production. Set to a consistent chord progression, Kelly croons lyrics that are less than profound for 33 segments, but his simplistic language and style permit accessibility by a diverse audience. Since its initial release, the “rap opera” has matured into an ongoing project that offers valuable insight into traditional roles of domesticity and the politics of respectability for men and women in the United States.

Characterization and Dramatization in Trapped in the Closet

Though the series includes 33 chapters, this essay will address the first five installments in which five central characters are introduced. Kelly stars in the series as the central character, Sylvester, who is married to Gwendolyn. His extramarital affairs serve as the initial conflict for the series, but they spawn a series of events that prompt the introduction of supplementary characters and a complex storyline centered on marital relations. Gwendolyn’s infidelity, also revealed in the first five chapters, disrupts traditional gender norms that excuse masculine infidelity and condemn feminine transgressions. Throughout the entirety of the series, Sylvester and Gwendolyn’s relationship is surprisingly one of the most resilient presentations of marriage despite the initial infidelity. Here, Trapped in the Closet offers an imperfect paradigm for the traditional marriage trope by disregarding idealistic depictions in favor of an intricate web of love and relationships. Thus, the rap opera mocks customary representations of marriage and simultaneously provides a complex plot to merit and sustain viewership.

Sylvester’s one-night-stand with Mary, who later reveals herself to be Cathy, immediately instigates supplementary conflict to the initial theme of infidelity presented among Sylvester and Gwendolyn. Cathy is married to Rufus, a devout Christian pastor, who literally stumbles upon his wife’s infidelity. This scene is further complicated by Rufus’ introduction of Chuck into the plotline upon discovering his wife’s unfaithfulness. Rufus, despite his Christian principles and profession, reveals himself to be homosexual and equally an infidel. In the first two chapters, the literal and metaphorical closet from which the series takes its name is revealed. As Sylvester emerges from the bedroom closet to face his infidelity, Rufus is compelled to confess his homosexuality to his wife and her suitor. Rufus’ motivation to reveal his sexuality, however, only arises to compete with his wife’s infidelity. Sylvester, though generally uninvolved in the conflict, has endured the situation and remained present through the revelation of infidelity.

The emergence and sustained presence of Sylvester’s hand gun, a Berretta, represents his need for security during the conflict in which he has little authority. Sylvester intends to defuse the situation through the utilization of a violent symbol, the Berretta, and evokes religious sentiments from both Cathy and Rufus as they fear for their own safety. Rufus expresses his agreement with Sylvester that the group should handle the situation “Christian-like” despite the subsequent revelation of his sexuality that contradicts tenets of the Christian religion. Likewise, Sylvester pleads with “God” before being discovered in the closet, although he shows no remorse for his marital transgression and his threat to use a firearm on unarmed individuals in the conflict. Aside from the external conflict of adultery and power imbalances within marriage fidelity, each character presented through the second chapter of Trapped in the Closet appears to be at odds with principles of the Christian religion as each call on or boasts the loyalty of God, but ultimately falls to the temptations of sin. Thus, Kelly has reinstated the sanctity of
marriage as a religion institution in popular culture, a feature often dismissed or overlooked, and poses a criticism of behavioral tendencies of those who align with the Christian faith. Kelly’s personal beliefs are undoubtedly interwoven and muddled in this video saga and the musician has commented that, “I know I got famous for doing these sex songs, but I know there is a God; I believe there is a God” (The Biography).

Supplementary to his Berretta, Sylvester’s desire to control every situation is supported by his continued reliance on his personal cell phone. Sylvester is dependent on constant communication to direct his every move, and he utilizes the cell phone throughout the series to disrupt and intervene at every point of conflict. Sylvester’s exit from his initial scene of infidelity presents the cliffhanger of a man answering his wife’s cell phone. Again, Sylvester’s need for control is threatened and his Berretta is drawn as a defense mechanism to help him literally and metaphorically regain control of the situation. Although it is unclear if Gwendolyn’s brother, Twan, who was recently released from prison, actually answered the phone call, Gwendolyn’s disloyalty is revealed in chapter four. Officer James is introduced as her counterpart, a man who had just previously given Sylvester a speeding ticket and likewise knew Cathy’s personal story of infidelity. The revelation of Gwendolyn’s infidelity completes the cycle of transgressors in which all four parties are married individuals, but are partaking in extramarital affairs. It is worth noting that each individual had previously given immense trust to his or her spouse that permitted the infidelity to occur, yet this trust is immediately revoked in the context of infidelity even though it is dual-sided. Sylvester’s affinity for power as expressed with his profuse wielding of his cell phone and Berretta may reveal his emotional absence in his physical relationship that permitted such disloyalty to occur. Author and pop culture analyst Chuck Klosterman noted the lack of character recognition regarding modes of communication by explaining the fragile nature of human interaction today that resulted in explosive and violent exchanges among the infidels (The Guardian). Thus, for Sylvester in particular, the perpetuation of communication technologies and means of authority has degraded the need for introspection and tarnished the sanctity of his marriage.

Apart from the complicated marital situations, the women of Trapped in the Closet experience traditional subordination at the hands of their male counterparts. Although their marital status may contribute to the domestic treatment showcased, both Cathy and Gwendolyn are the victims of misogynistic actions by Rufus and Sylvester, respectively. In the initial scene, both Sylvester and Rufus condemn Cathy for her infidelity and dishonesty despite their personal affairs. Rufus boldly proclaims that Cathy has permitted another man to enter his house, thus further shattering the image of equality in marriage. Rufus threatens Cathy despite her apologetic state and proclaims that she is “not as sorry as she’s going to be” (Kelly). Sylvester also uses the titles “woman” and “bitch” in reference to Cathy to call her attention. Such blatant disregard of her name implies his lack of respect and his attempt to distance himself from his extramarital affair. The visual aid offered by the music video later reveals that Rufus also has a framed self-portrait on his office wall. As a result of misogynistic gestures and words, both men belittle Cathy in the series’ initial chapters before another female character is even
introduced.

The introduction of Gwendolyn into the rap opera likewise sets her up to be an infidel. Sylvester expresses immense distrust in his wife as he speeds home from his own affair to investigate the scene. As anticipated in any production from R. Kelly, vulgar lyrics accompany a lengthy sex scene in the fourth chapter that positions Sylvester to be a dominant sexual being. Gwendolyn is expected to remain composed and poised outside of the bedroom, yet should be sexually adventurous, enthusiastic, and erotic with her partner. This dichotomy is imposed on women in nearly all forms of media and is extremely common in other music video depictions within and outside of hip-hop culture. The only sense of agency Kelly lends to women in the first five chapters of the series is their decisions to sexually liberate themselves through their affairs. The women’s unfaithfulness discredits them in society and within their social circles, but serves as their best defined moments of independence and choice in the earliest video segments.

Although each man’s infidelity is seemingly treated as most severe, both Sylvester and Rufus feel entitled to their negative reactions when they discover their wives’ disloyalty. While Cathy and Sylvester are caught, Rufus and Gwendolyn are motivated to cheat on their spouse upon discovering the infidelity of their partners. Both individuals are prompted to reveal their infidelity to their partner as a result of the emergence of the others’ transgression: Rufus catching Sylvester in his bedroom with Cathy and Sylvester finding a used contraceptive in his bed. Gwendolyn explains that she had previously witnessed Sylvester at a club and knew of his affair. Likewise, Rufus felt compelled to explore his true sexuality upon suspecting his wife cheating when she went out at night with her girlfriends. As the cheater becomes the cheated, sentiments of betrayal emerge and each individual is characterized by his or her level of defensiveness, despite personal transgressions. Such a web of lies prompts a discussion on the theme of secrecy and morality within each marriage. Each of the four individuals is hiding something from his or her respective partner and justifies the secrecy with the knowledge or suspicion that his or her partner is also an infidel. The worth of intimacy within a relationship is challenged as each individual solicits another for sex outside of their previous commitments.

Nonetheless, the Trapped in the Closet series, more specifically chapters 1-5, reveals the intense intersections of sexuality and gender roles in the context of marriage. The intersections of these facets, although absurd at times, illustrate well-defined stereotypes, while simultaneously debunking myths associated with each of the themes. In Kelly’s presentation of contemporary, heterosexual marriages, permeability appears to be inevitable at the fault of rapid communication and the ease with which infidelity can occur. Although the first five chapters of the series do not include the most dramatic and complicated situations in the context of the production as a whole, Kelly successfully presents a relatable scenario and the foreseeable intersection of religion, morality, and commitment in modern relationships. Kelly’s dramatization, presented in the form of music video, sets forth the story of Sylvester, Gwendolyn, Rufus, and Cathy to criticize infidelity and hypocrisy common in marriages today. Similarly, Kelly offers commentary on power relationships in the sphere of domesticity by suggesting women are presented with contradictory societal expectations. The primary chapters of Trapped in the Closet posit temptation to be at the root of all infidelity and addresses the reality of how likely individuals are to succumb to such temptation. The series, in short, is appropriately dramatized and serves as an innovative method of bringing contemporary issues into music, music video, and visual hip-hop/rap culture.

Reception, Criticism, and Reproduction

There are two types of people in the world: those who believe R. Kelly is a lyrical genius and those who believe he is entirely farcical. In general, it is no secret that much of R. Kelly’s career has centered on productions for vanity and shameless self-promotion. Thus, Trapped in the Closet was received with much hesitancy. The absurdity of the collection is undeniable, yet many individuals support the notion that Trapped in the Closet accidentally became a brilliantly profound artifact in popular culture, according to chat rooms, threads, and discussion boards devoted to the topic. In an interview regarding the release of the series, Kelly himself commented that “I can explain some of my other songs, but not this one” (Rolling Stone). Although the series was produced and promoted as a serious musical endeavor, it has evolved into a work that has elicited thoughtful academic discourse and internet hilarity. Internet boards offer contradictory criticism towards the rap opera that imply the series falls somewhere on the spectrum between an epic failure and waste of effort and funding and an insightful attempt at addressing critical social issues that are pertinent to hip-hop culture and beyond.

Trapped in the Closet has been reproduced, spoofed, and parodied by numerous sources, both political and satirical, thus noting the successful dissemination of the series. Comedian and television personality Aziz Ansari has repeatedly featured segments on R. Kelly in his live comedy shows that are now sold on DVD and offered through Netflix. Ansari, like many other comedians, acknowledge Kelly as a prolific comedian for his hefty repertoire of music and film that many viewers refuse to take seriously. Ansari commented, “I never thought I’d say this, but I wish more people in comedy were as creative and original as R. Kelly” (UCB Theater).  In a sense, Kelly is at the top of his field when he is received as a comedic personality that produces projects such as Trapped in the Closet by knowingly giving the public absurd material. Kelly’s intentions in the production of this specific artifact are unclear, although individuals are hesitant to give him credit for any profound commentary drawn from the video series. Chuck Klosterman noted that the pure existence of such a series is absurd, but that is not to say something meaningful cannot be derived from its manifestation (The Guardian). He also recognizes that Kelly, as Sylvester, is a reliable narrator that drives an “erratic moral current” through the duration of the series. Kelly’s private and public lives inevitably influence his credibility as a producer and musician, thus many struggle to find it permissible to accept his commentary on morality and fidelity. Kelly’s legal troubles and consistent quest for the shock and awe emerge as points of contention for critics. Still, it is impossible to deny Kelly’s versatility that is frequently compared to that of Tyler Perry, a likewise prolific writer, actor, director and producer also crucial to the hip-hop community that gave life to the controversial character, Madea (The Biography). Like Perry, Kelly stars in his productions, undertaking multiple roles that transcend norms of masculinity and femininity. Thus, Kelly’s commitment to his productions, despite his motivation for their creation, is irrefutable.

Nonetheless, Trapped in the Closet is an accurate representation of the image Kelly has perpetuated throughout his work: consistently ludicrous and never to disappoint. Various memes have been circulated on internet boards and social media sites that poke fun at Kelly’s work and personal life. Two meme types, in specific, appear to be frontrunners in the R. Kelly meme collection: “Real Talk” and “She’s Too Young for U” (Unruh). Images from the first meme group tend to use a background photo of Kelly posing in a pensive position. The commentary on the image usually references Kelly’s absurd profitable initiatives and his egotistic professional demeanor. The latter meme category is in direct reference to Kelly’s legal trial in which he was charged with the creation and possession of child pornography. Other parodies of Kelly and his professional career generally use Trapped in the Closet as a main point of reference. Weird Al Yankovic, a well-known parody developer, produced his most lengthy parody ever with “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”, an ode to the mundane task of pursuing a late-night meal (Wikipedia contributors). Commenting on his creation, Weird Al refer to his choice to parody the original Trapped in the Closet because it is “brilliant and wonderful and ridiculous all at the same time”, sentiment expressed by many of Kelly’s critics (IMDB). Kelly gave full permission to Weird Al to produce and release the lengthy song that includes three sections that parallel the chapters of Kelly’s masterpiece. In general, Kelly appears to welcome parody as a compliment to his production by generously permitting its satirical reproduction.

Perhaps one of the most successful and recognizable parodies of the rap opera, Comedy Central’s satirical cartoon South Park dedicated an entire episode to Trapped in the Closet. In the season nine episode of the show, Kelly is transformed into an animated character that helps convince an animated Tom Cruise to emerge from a literal and metaphorical closet associated with Scientology (Parker and Stone). The majority of characters in the episode enter the literal closet during the episode, thus contradicting the sense of isolation associated with being “in the closet” in regard to homosexuality or any secretive issue. Kelly’s character even sings a parody of his own song during the episode in which he acts as the voice of reason for the other characters. Positioning Kelly as a commentator in the episode is ironic in itself for his absurd tendency to dramatize and misconstrue events and to use violence as means of authority and control. Although such media attention may center on Kelly’s missteps, it is attention nonetheless. Kelly appears to be unscathed by the sardonic jests at his life and career as he continues to produce content. Reporting to Billboard at the American Music Awards, Kelly stated that, “It feels good to still be on people’s mind after 23 years in the business” (Ramirez 29). Nearing fifty years of age, Kelly has nonetheless proven his commitment to showmanship and ultimate relevance in popular culture by continuing to shock audiences with melodramatic productions.

Limitations and Future Research

The popularity of artifacts in popular culture is perpetuated by the common man’s commitment to redistribute that artifact. Trapped in the Closet is no exception in the sense that its reception is most evident in public discussion boards, blogs, and file sharing networks. These information sources are limiting, however, because they are not academic, peer-reviewed sources with credible analysis. Furthermore, solely utilizing the first five chapters of the rap opera significantly limits the scope of analysis when considering R. Kelly and Trapped in the Closet as pivotal icons in popular culture. Because Kelly’s ultimate purpose of creating the production is relatively vague, it can be argued that any analytic claim made on the subject is credible or worthless dependent on the context. Trapped in the Closet is unquestionably dynamic and dramatic in order to address social phenomena and norms which facilitate crucial interactions of class, gender, and sexuality. These dramatizations, however, are dependent upon the blatant portrayal of stereotypes that can be misinterpreted and mistaken for gospel if this artifact is not viewed with a critical lens. Thus, Trapped in the Closet occupies a unique space of popular culture, not within the traditional confines of music videos nor true film, which presents complicated themes likewise deserving of applause and constructive criticism.

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References

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