Introduction to “A Blonded Life” Capstone Project

I am beyond excited to share my finished Capstone project, “A Blonded Life.” As my prior posts have indicated, this is an in-depth analysis of Frank Ocean’s most recent album, Blonde. The title is taken from the song “Self Control,” in which Frank Ocean sings to a former lover, “You cut your hair but you used to live a blonded life.” The album, while largely autobiographical for Ocean, is at times opaque or unclear in its various messages. Narratives overlap and lyrics are vague. However, an attentive listener can pick up on the themes of lost love, sexual identity, nostalgia, and contemporary politics. This final theme, though, is not as apparent on the album as the other ones. As I note in my overarching album analysis, some music critics faulted Ocean for failing to directly address certain controversial issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

After conducting a track-by-track analysis and examining the context of the album (and its companion magazine Boys Don’t Cry), though, I highlight how Frank Ocean actually does address salient political issues, albeit in subtle ways. The autobiographical album, without a doubt, tells stories that are very personal to the singer. While these narratives do not focus on specific political issues, Ocean notes how his life as a bisexual black man intersects with systemic racism and anti-LGBTQ sentiment.

I also examine the burden placed on Frank Ocean by fans and critics. As a black artist, the music community seems to expect more of him than other musicians. Chris Rock explained: “I always say Tom Hanks is an amazing actor and Denzel Washington is a god to his people. If you’re a black ballerina, you represent the race, and you have responsibilities that go beyond your art. How dare you just be excellent?” Even though Frank Ocean actually does address some political issues, as I point out in my essay, we should not require him to be a spokesman for his communities.

Let me know what you think of my project! Here is the link:


Providing Crucial Context

After I met with my project mentor and gave my midpoint presentation on my Capstone project, I noticed that I keep making the same mistake: I consistently forget to signal the purpose of my project. When I talk about my project, I dive right into my analysis without giving a proper context for my work. This is ironic, considering that my project highlights the importance of context in examining Frank Ocean’s Blonde. My project is meant to be a cohesive review of the album that analyzes its political significance. When I do not indicate this, however, it may sound like I’m just examining the album without a specific agenda in mind.

My mentor suggested that I create a cover page for my website with an introduction to the project. By priming the reader for what is to come, I can ensure that my work is viewed and interpreted properly. This introduction will be especially useful for my project, since it has distinct parts to it. I’m approaching Blonde from both a micro and macro perspective, examining each track before I write my overarching essay on the album. Discovering how each song fits into the larger album has allowed me to find nuances that point to larger themes of Blonde; examining individual songs has greatly informed my overall perspective of Ocean’s work. The cover page for my website can explain the connection between the two parts of my project, showing that the micro-level analysis leads to the broader essay on the album.

My mentor also pointed out how the different parts of my project are interconnected, suggesting that while individual track “reviews” lead to the overall album essay, different parts of the album review could link back to the song examinations. In this way, he said, the project is “radial.” He showed me Sarah Spitery’s Capstone website, which also has an interconnectedness to it. I included a screenshot of her homepage below. The focal essay of her project is surrounded by supplemental essays that inform the final work. I plan to arrange my website in a similar way to Sarah’s, with the smaller analyses leading to the center album review. My introductory page, though, can clue the reader into how my project functions.

Personal Biases in My Writing

After reading The New Yorker‘s “City of Women” article and watching Rebecca Solnit’s speech at Columbia University, I was compelled to examine the my own biases. I had never considered how the vast majority of streets and monuments in the United States are dedicated to men, and Solnit’s work led me to examine my Capstone project for personal biases.

For my Capstone, I chose to write a cohesive, multidimensional album review of Frank Ocean’s Blonde in order to assess his significance in the contemporary music scene. The first potential space for bias I discovered should have been obvious to me when I started this project: I am a heterosexual white male, while Frank Ocean is black and bisexual. My upbringing and identity are substantially different from Ocean’s, and I need to make sure that I don’t overreach in my interpretation of his music. I have not experienced the oppression, stemming from my race or my sexual identity, that Frank Ocean has had to face. Therefore, I must acknowledge that while there are parts of his work that I can respect and admire, I cannot fully appreciate the gravity behind these elements.

Additionally, I am an avid fan of Frank Ocean’s work. I could easily write a glowing review that is informed by my opinions and the mostly positive critical reception the album received. However, in order to write an accessible and original review, I must put aside my personal associations with the album and limit the amount of influence that music critics have on my work.

I must also consider how labeling Frank Ocean can lead to narrow interpretations of his work. For example, in many of the lyric annotations of Blonde, the contributors assume that Ocean’s romantic partner in a given song must be male. I included a screenshot of an annotation from the site below. If we choose to make this assumption about Ocean’s intentions, though, we lose the nuance in the lyrics. He may have deliberately left any mention of gender out of the song, thus expanding the appeal of the music. If a story can resonate with listeners regardless of their respective sexual identities, then Ocean can connect with a wider audience.

Two Communities of Practice: From the Classroom to an Ad Agency

Hello fellow Capstone students! I’m excited to dive into my final undergraduate semester by revisiting the Minor in Writing Blog. My name is Joseph Kiessling, I’m majoring in business administration, and I will be attending law school in the fall. After reading Hunter & Ketter’s article “Creating a Writer’s Identity,” I noted how I have participated in two drastically different communities of practice since I took the Gateway course. While I had previously focused only on the “big picture” of an essay, my work at an ad agency helped me build awareness of the details that make up larger works.

The summer after my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to work at Enlighten, an ad agency specializing in digital media. As an intern, I created paid search and social media campaigns for clients. One of my favorite responsibilities at Enlighten was writing ad copy for the campaigns. As you have almost certainly seen, paid search advertisements are made up of short phrases aiming to convince searchers to “click-through” to the actual site:

I worked for the Hunter Douglas account during my time at Enlighten. Believe it or not, it can be difficult to think of creative phrases for selling honeycomb window shades. But that was part of the challenge: I had to come up with ad copy that (a) was under 35 characters per line and (b) generated high click-through rates. Every character had to count. This was completely different from what I had experienced in my first two years of college. Professors gave minimum lengths for papers, and these were conveyed by using pages instead of characters as the unit of measure. Whenever I sat down to write ad copy, I saw it as creating a line in a crossword puzzle: what’s 35 characters (or shorter) and convinces you to visit Hunter Douglas’ site?

Oddly enough, refining my ad copy writing skills ended up informing my academic writing. After writing and rewriting these small phrases, I realized that this was a level of editing I had never practiced before. I had moved paragraphs around and rewrote sentences in my academic essays, but I had never revised on a truly micro level. I had discovered another dimension of my writing – if I was condensing and revising Hunter Douglas copy to make it more persuasive, why couldn’t I do the same for my argumentative essays? Instead of plowing through verbs and adjectives as they come to mind, I now make sure to revisit my essays phrase by phrase. Even though these papers are much longer than the ads I wrote for window shades, I still try to apply the same mentality. Instead of writing a single line in a crossword puzzle, though, I’m creating the whole game.

Defining Priorities

Yesterday, the Friars had their 59th annual “Best Concert Ever” in Rackham Auditorium. I’m lucky enough to be a part of this a cappella group, and I’ve made some great friends thanks to my experiences as a Friar.

One of the best lessons I’ve taken from the group can be applied directly to my writing. I was one of the six new members of the Friars this year, and six is a huge turnover for an eight member group. Because of this, we’ve experienced some conflicts with where the group should go. The Friars are known as being a “comedic” a cappella group, but some of the new members (myself included) really wanted to focus on the musical element of our shows. This differed from the past few years, where putting on a funny concert was the priority. We realized that we couldn’t get our priorities mixed up; we’re an a cappella group first, and we joined the group because we enjoy singing. When we defined our goals, we were better able to put on a great show.

I found this articulation of goals to be helpful in my writing for this class. I was not sure which direction I wanted to take my “Why I Write” essay, but after writing down what I wanted my main point to be (as a point of reference), my second draft’s form was substantially better than my first’s.

Three Lists

In class today, I sought to identify which academic disciplines influenced my three Gateway Course works. My current Repurposing Essay draft is influenced by the following subject fields:

  • English: 50%
  • Business: 10%
  • Communications: 12%
  • Sociology: 10%
  • Other (unidentified): 18%

I believe that my current Remediation work is influenced by the following subject fields:

  • English: 50%
  • Business: 8%
  • Communications: 12%
  • Statistics: 2%
  • Music: 5%
  • Performing arts technology: 10%
  • Other (unidentified): 13%

I have not had any academic experience with performing arts technology, but I felt the need to include it in the above list since my Remediation is a podcast. Some skills I need to improve in order to best present my Repurposing and Remediation works include:

  • Learning how to best synthesize these independent subjects into one cohesive body
  • Figuring out how to best work music into my Remediation podcast
  • Storytelling with a clear point
  • Identifying skills learned from disciplines that apply outside of the specific discipline e.g. learning perseverance from my work in the Men’s Glee Club

Tools for Remediation

I plan on creating a sort of podcast / radio show for my remediation. I am excited for this project, as I have never produced this form of media before. If anyone else is planning on using audio or video for their project and does not have the proper equipment, I would recommend talking to a PAT major. I plan on working with my friend in the PAT program to rent a quality microphone for my work, and I’m sure one could find resources for filmmaking through PAT majors as well. After reading Carlina’s post, I plan on using GarageBand as well to edit my work. Based on my limited experience, the program seems to be very user-friendly.

Blank Canvas

I feel much better about the looming portfolio project after our last class. We wrote down how our three major pieces for this class connected, then defined certain effects we wanted our portfolio to achieve. This helped me decide how I want my website to look while keeping my three works in mind. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but it wouldn’t make sense to create a website with a “professional” feel while showcasing personal works. In other words, I discovered that I had to align my aesthetics with my content.

I think I’m going to try creating a website that has more of a personal feel – not one that emulates social media or seems too informal, but one where a reader can feel comfortable. This will probably be a difficult task, as my three works will reflect on my specific family. I am up to the challenge, though.

I think the personal can apply to a wide audience, especially after hearing a guest lecture by Franc D’Ambrosio. Mr. D’Ambrosio hold the records for the most performances as the lead role in The Phantom of the Opera. He told my class that he tries to make himself a blank canvas onto which the audience can project their own feelings and experiences. While the Phantom’s journey is a very personal one, he intended to reflect what audiences members had experienced. I hope to achieve this effect in my portfolio. Even though my essays have a personal element to them, I hope to combine them with the aesthetics of my portfolio to create an inclusive environment.

Considering Squarespace for Your ePortfolio?

Since we’re starting to gear up for our ePortfolios, I thought I’d give a quick shout-out to Squarespace. I used Squarespace to design a website this summer for my boss’ side venture. He was starting a mini golf course / tubing company and wanted a website to increase his startup’s exposure. I had never designed a website before, so this was a daunting first task for my summer internship. After using Squarespace, however, I have much more confidence in my website-building abilities. The templates available for use are very modern-looking, and I had a lot of fun choosing the style of the website. It’s also very easy to rearrange elements of your pages i.e. change the order of your pictures / links, so your creativity won’t be limited by technical issues.

I encountered two problems while using Squarespace. If you wish to get rid of the “.squarespace” part of your website’s URL, you will need some basic computer science knowledge. I do not possess this knowledge, so I required someone else’s help for this activity. Another issue I encountered was that if you choose to add more links / features to what is already present in the template, you may get a different font than what’s used on the rest of the template. I learned this the hard way, when an early draft of the website was sent back to me to reformat. Other than that, I found Squarespace easy to use and full of opportunities to be creative.

Ideas for Remediation

For my repurposed assignment, I reworked one of my application essays for the business school into a letter to my younger sister. My original essay focused on what I had accomplished in my first year at college, but I realized that this was a very close-minded view on my experience last year. By only focusing on my successes, I left out the necessary parts of my freshman year that led to those successes. I chose to complete the picture of my freshman year for my sister in order to communicate the idea that previous failures support your future successes.

I’m throwing around a couple ideas for my remediation right now. I’m pretty sure I want to use my repurposed essay for this assignment, but I’m not yet sure what new medium I will use. Currently, I’m leaning toward some sort of audio medium, since it would make more sense for me to tell my sister this rather than write to her about it. It wouldn’t really be a radio show, but my story could be enhanced by background music and other sound clips.

While this medium has its potential, I was very interested in a fellow classmate’s idea for her remediation. She talked about following the format of an ASAP Science video by creating a film of someone drawing with voice-over added. I have seen this sort of format work especially well in the Kahn Academy videos, and if I was a better artist I would definitely choose this medium. However, I’m unsure if this format would work since my essay is less instructive (Khan Academy style) and more reflective.

I am excited to see what other ideas people post on this blog for their remediation. Let me know if you have an idea for mine that would work well with me telling my sister this essay instead of using a written letter-style format.