Does this even count?

One of the main questions I’ve struggled with is setting a clear boundary for the artwork I include in my experiments. I’ve realized that many pieces of art make, at first glance, appear to reflect topics purely about social justice rather than public health specifically. For example, does a painting signifying the emotional pain of sexual assault count as public health? What about a streetside mural depicting the harm of climate change?

In an era where social causes have erupted throughout the world, gaining traction both online and in person, we seem to be reminded of these issues no matter where we look on social media; this brings up the concept of “trendy social media”, where we often repost something or comment on an event without truly knowing the implications or roots of the issue. Therefore, we may not realize that an issue that has gained traction recently has actually been worked on by health department specialists for decades.

In this case, it appears that I can argue that any piece of art with a social justice message is also reflecting a public health issue. The values of public health align with ideas of community empowerment and improvement which, at the end of the day, is what social justice advocates are fighting for as well. This opens up a new avenue for my project where I may possibly look at social justice art and describe the public health roots behind the issue, and how it has gained so much traction in social media today.

out of focus

While completing experiment #1 (which was writing a podcast episode) the freedom and ability to make multiple episodes on this topic led me to talk about things I didn’t care about. Since I’m used to writing long form with a thesis containing the topic of my paper, being able to make a series on any topic made me feel as though I wouldn’t have enough material or that the material I’m interested in wouldn’t be engaging for other people. With these thoughts in my mind, I created a sketch draft that included the psychology of belief, reasons why people are atheist, and an entire episode dedicated to just the background information regarding the increase prevalent of people without a religious affiliation. In reality, and this was also apparent in my draft as I had a lot more points underneath these segments, I was much more interested in hearing college students’ perspectives on their religion or why they fell away if they chose not to affiliate with a religion anymore. I think a reason why I didn’t want to focus around this, although this was what I wanted to write about the most, was because it felt weird to write about something that hasn’t happened yet (half writing in a way?). Since I haven’t interviewed people yet, how would I go about writing an experiment? The weird place of writing about something that will happen (assuming I get to interview people) made me turn more towards research or to write about things that have already been researched since it was more concrete.

In the same way, since this is a topic that doesn’t have a ton of research on it (I literally pulled most of my statistics from the same study) I felt like I was just rephrasing what has already been said. I had difficulty in trying to have a new perspective on it because I had no interviews or other people’s experiences to supplement it. Although my original interest was piqued because of the unique time I am in where my own beliefs and the people around me are changing rapidly, this was lost, the intent out of focus, as I became anxious about the execution and if other people were interested.

keep it real

With my topic of body positivity, I find a lot of the difficulty in having authentic conversations comes from a mixture of complexity and emotional burden. Most people understand body positivity to by a slogan synonymous to “love yourself.” However, many people do not know of the movements historically political origins and ties to anti-capitalism, critiques of medical institutions, and body politics. Rather than delving into the deep history of body positivity, which was created for unconventional, marginalized groups (like people of color, fat people, disabled people, and trans and queer people), it is often easier to take it for its surface level connotations. Since the movement is so intertwined with other social movements, as well as institutional reform, it can be overwhelming to understand it in its entirety. This level of complexity makes it easier to just accept a watered down version of the movement, often in the form of hashtags and posts from Instagram influencers. In addition to complexity, I think emotional burden accounts for a lot of the difficulty when it comes to real discussions about body positivity. With such a deeply personal topic that many people have ties to, many have latched onto the movement because of its empowering message. While this is truly amazing, it is necessary to take accountability and acknowledge our positions within the movement, focusing on intersectionality as a key component. People sometimes feel attacked when they have to acknowledge certain forms of privilege, so truly examining the movement of body positivity can often become a highly sensitive discussion. It raises certain uncomfortable questions of who the movement is for and how it has changed so much from its radical origins, which can be a vulnerable conversation to have when many people are benefiting and profiting off of the new direction of the movement. I think that once we learn about the complex history, in depth, we will be able to have more informed, personal discussions about our own ties to the movement, but it will take some collective work from everyone.

Is broadness necessarily a bad thing?

I think the biggest mistake I made when deciding a topic was not understanding the depth we had to take for our research, and I ended up picking something much too broad for the scope of research expected of us. This isn’t to say I regret choosing my topic at all; getting the chance to explore the world of public health through an artistic lens allows me to learn about a different side of the field I hope to be in in the future. However, this choice was overambitious in the sense that I did not account for how broad the term “public health” is; it can be argued that everything is a public health issue, so where do I draw the line for the type of art I include in my experiments?

Upon starting the research for my first experiment, I realized that my topic didn’t really have a clear aim; which field or issue did I want to focus on the most? In a sense, this first experiment still allowed me to be broad, so I organized it in a way that included a brief rundown of various pertinent issues. I was able to get away with it this time, but I know that I will need to dig deeper for each new experiment, so I will have to make up my mind about a specific sect within public health to focus on. In this way, I remain optimistic and believe that this goal is attainable, because even if my final project focuses on, say, how the public is informed about vaccinations through artwork, this same template can be used for every single division of public health. If I really worked hard enough, I can create a comprehensive portfolio analyzing artwork in every area.

Trying to please the crowds

I think the main difficulty in addressing my topic is that it dives deep into sexism and I know that can be a controversial topic. It is not a necessarily complex topic, but because of the multitude of different views on it, a cognitive burden is present. I think my topic also could be borderline feminist simply because there evidently has been more gender barriers put up for women in sports than men, and I am worried that I won’t be able to connect to males that will be reading my prose. 

I think my topic can be hard to discuss because I don’t want to tear apart anyones views on the topic, but I also don’t want people to necessarily be comfortable reading about it either. I want to be able to challenge their ideas and their emotions, but in a respectful way and a pleasant way. 

It has been difficult to find a balance in my topic, looking at it from both sides of the spectrum, males and females. I think this means researching perspectives from both males and females, but I also think I need to be careful that my prose doesn’t leave an impression that there are only two genders. I am trying to satisfy a wide audience and I think that might be my largest difficulty. I need to focus in on a narrower audience and not worry about satisfying every reader. 

Another difficulty in my topic is that I don’t feel that I have connected with it fully. When I was brainstorming a topic I wanted to choose something that was close to me, something that I interacted with daily and was passionate about. I wanted to write about coxing on the men’s rowing team here at UofM, but I knew this topic was not very complex or broad, that is why I chose to open up the topic to sexism in sports in general, however I am having a hard time rounding this topic back up to my personal experience because my experience is kind of the opposite of sexism. I have been integrated onto an all male team, something that used to never be the case. The largest difficulty I see moving forward will be bridging the gap between sexism in sports and my personal experiences, so that they may work conjunctly. 

Uninspired and overwhelmed

If I’m being totally honest with myself, I think I’ve hit a roadblock with this project. The thing about climate change literature, or rather literature in general, is that, to fully understand it, you have to read it. Reading takes time, time that I don’t think I have at this point in the semester. This is largely why I chose to write about the history of the genre for my first experiment, rather than what’s contained within the genre – the thing I’m actually interested in.

My initial goal for my project was to find out what exactly climate fiction is all about – what themes it discusses, which emotions are commonly conveyed by it, and most importantly, why it matters. Maybe my frustration is pushing me toward unwarranted cynicism, but this goal feels way too broad to do justice to. Moving forward, I think I want to avoid searching for generalized, universal truths about cli-fi and instead write in depth about certain works that lie within that genre. Hopefully, this will allow me to produce more thorough, stronger writing that I can be proud of.

Not an Easy Conversation

What accounts for difficulty in my topic’s conversation is honestly a little bit of everything…Capital Punishment can definitely be an unpleasant/emotional burden and it can also be a complex/cognitive burden.

I have a pretty set stance on the Death Penalty, so I feel less uncomfortable expressing my view in conversation, but when it comes to writing about it, it feels different. When I don’t know my entire audience, I feel the need to be more filtered and more reserved in the direction I can take the writing. I have found it relatively easy to talk about the facts, or the history, or anything more on the black and white scale. I think this is why I’ve had a difficult time coming up with an experiment that I am genuinely excited to explore. The facts are safe, but they’re boring and they’ve been done so many times before. So, without meaning to, the cognitive and emotional burden of my topic has caused me to fall into the “lowest common denominator of effort” category.

There is also a feeling I have along the lines of “what right do I have to even be talking about this topic?” I don’t know anyone directly who has been incarcerated and I don’t know what it is like to have a family member or loved on on Death Row. What right do I have to take part in this personal, emotional conversation? I feel an emotional burden, not so much in the sense of being too uncomfortable to broach the topic, but rather in that no matter how much research I do or how many people I talk to, I’ll never have the right to write something real and meaningful because I don’t understand it firsthand. I consider myself to be an extremely empathetic and compassionate person who can usually put themself in other’s shoes, but its not the same.

The reason I want to be a Civil Rights Lawyer or Criminal Defense Lawyer is because I know what it feels like to be the person who didn’t have a voice and felt helpless to fix their own situation, and I don’t want anyone to have to feel like that. I want to help give people a voice and empower them. I think all of this places a pretty large emotional and cognitive burden and leaves me frozen and unsure what direction to go in.