Under the Influencer: As You Like It and Social Media

If Shakespeare were alive today, what would he think about social media? This type of question is an imaginative prompt. It is a call to speculate. It can’t be a hypothesis because there is no way to prove it. Without the ghost of Shakespeare communicating with us, we can only use his words and ideas to dream up an answer.

One thing I can say with conviction is that Shakespeare understood the power of social influence. He dramatizes transformative dynamics of persuasion in the comedy As You Like It. In the first scene we have a confrontation between brothers. Their father has recently passed away and the younger sibling Orlando is asserting himself as a rightful heir. This kind of self-promotion, this dogged belief in one’s own rights and worth, has Logan Paul written all over it. 

When he is denied his rightful portion of his inheritance, he fights a professional wrestler. This performance is a public spectacle and because he is willing to risk being hurt or being humiliated, Orlando creates a scene that has a lot of interest for the audience, including the cousins Rosalind and Celia. Make no mistake about it, Rosalind is the most powerful influencer of the play, the Call Her Daddy of the Forest of Arden, but the play begins with Orlando’s fight. Rosalind’s reaction to the occasion is funny and telling.

The title As You Like It might as well be describing how social media algorithms work. As you like things on Facebook, as you spend time on various websites, your desires begin to take shape in the form of data, and this is reflected to you in the messaging of targeted ads. Your affinity for things creates a path paved with offers for those things. As you like it, it is served to you. When we are first introduced to Rosalind and Celia, they are discussing their problems and they decide that to find some escape from their troubles they are going to use love as a diversion. They make the decision to play the game of liking boys.

This decision is followed immediately by an opportunity to meet a hot young influencer. Rosalind follows her instinct for pleasure when she hears about a wrestler who has been breaking young men’s ribs. Of course, she wants to see that. Orlando appears out of nowhere to fight the wrestler, Charles. It is as though their decision to find diversion through love conjures up a meeting. She wants to find a boy toy. Driven by desire for entertainment she meets Orlando. Rosalind and Celia are hilariously explicit in their desire to find distraction through love with the exception that they are not going to take the guys seriously. They are out for a fling, looking to feast on man tears. Along comes young Orlando. Poor unwitting dude.

The wrestling is being performed for the Duke, Celia’s father, so when they all assemble for the match, he sees his daughter and niece and calls them over to him. He asks them to talk to Orlando, to convince him not to wrestle. Poor Orlando is so bummed about his stupid older brother he has become super emo. He says he has nothing to lose, that if he dies then he opens a place for someone else, some real self-pitying stuff. It’s funny because he’s doing this brave thing, but he’s also super bummed on himself. You can see the negative influence his brother has on him.

Orlando shocks the crowd by beating the wrestler and his victory transforms his mood and his status. The women go to congratulate him on the fight, and he finds himself completely enamored with Rosalind to the point that he can’t manage to form any words. Talk about influence. Rosalind from this moment has the upper hand. She is also attracted to Orlando, but he is mad for her.

In Shakespeare’s depiction of their world, it is influence or be influenced and that is true in social media today, too. You are either driving the conversation or following it. Rosalind plays the game expertly. Orlando is such a simp for her that it is easy. She can manipulate him to her will.

Under the influence of his affection for Rosalind, Orlando becomes obsessed with romantic love. He spends his days writing poetry and pining away in the woods. He changes all his habits because of her. Rosalind can influence Orlando the way an Instagram model can get people to subscribe to her Only Fans. It’s all too easy. 

To play the game better, Rosalind takes on an alter ego so she can interact anonymously with Orlando. She convinces the poor sap to pretend that she is Rosalind and to practice expressing his love for her. Orlando thinks he is pretending that this young man Ganymede is Rosalind, when it really is her. Rosalind uses this catfishing technique to test Orlando and to see how he responds. She begins to train him how she wants him to behave, punishing him for being late and constantly questioning the authenticity of his feelings. 

Rosalind has extremely strict rules for how lovers should behave, and she holds him accountable. It is not until Orlando is physically harmed that Rosalind is in turn influenced herself. When she is shown a bloody piece of Orlando’s shirt and it is explained to her that he was injured defending his brother from a mountain lion she passes out. This reversal of influence illustrates the game of social influence and is relevant to understanding how today’s media and marketing functions. As you like it, you allow it to influence you.

7 Days a Play: As You Like It and Learning

My only rule for writing these daily blogs is that I don’t do any research at the time of writing. I want to write strictly from what I have retained from listening to the plays and the lectures. This means that I’m going to get some things wrong in the earliest blogs. During the first two or three blogs I may still be trying to sort out the characters. For example, I made the mistake of thinking that Rosalind’s father was recently deceased, but he was just kicked out of the court, banished to the countryside. 

I’m listening to the play each day and then writing a new blog each morning and I plan to do this for seven days for each play. So, as I listen to the play on day three, I might catch something that I had wrong about a character or the plot in an earlier draft. I will likely go back later and edit those posts to accurately reflect the plays’ content, but I think it is interesting to show the process of getting there, too. This is one of the great tricks of literature or any difficult writing. You must make your way through a process of misunderstanding it and by continuing to study and think about the subject you form a clearer and more accurate depiction of the text.

There is a value in leaving a paper trail that shows your growth. Earlier cringy versions of your attempts to express ideas only make the eventual success that much more impactful. There is an innocence expressed in bad writing. Take Orlando in the forest of Arden pining away after his love for Rosalind. Shakespeare uses the scene to make fun of bad poetry, but he is also highlighting his own skill and showing the audience through caricature something about the nature of a certain kind of poetic inspiration. 

Orlando’s buffoonery is also his authenticity. His passion for Rosalind is literally littering the forest with failed attempts to get it right.  Mad with love, he wills himself through the process any artist must undergo. He must learn his craft. His bad writing is only matched by his bad reading as Rosalind convinces him that she is someone else, a man even. He is so consumed with his feelings of unrequited love that he fails to recognize she is right there behind that fake beard talking to him about said love.

In As You Like It, Orlando is transformed from a valiant fighter to an unskilled lover and it is highly entertaining to Rosalind and the audience to watch him stumble with his attempts to understand his feelings. Through staging the scene, she gives the audience view to her own pleasure. Rosalind is a masterful writer. She understands skillful deception and uses it to create a context for comedy. Orlando’s uncontrollable enthusiasm makes him vulnerable to being deceived. Rosalind is a benevolent opportunist, taking full advantage of his impaired state to make fun of him.

The transformation of Orlando shows how important context is. He asserts himself in the court, first through a legal appeal to his inheritance and then through a physical wrestling match. He is actively fighting against the limitations imposed upon him. What he doesn’t expect, though, is to fall in love with an admirer. She got into his consciousness and absolutely destroyed his mind.

He begins a second childhood in the forest stumbling through understanding his feelings hampered by a difficulty with words. Orlando abandons his desire to pursue his rightful portion of family power and instead focuses all his attention on understanding his feelings of love for Rosalind. As a bad writer, a naïve poet, Orlando’s portrait of transformation through romantic attraction shows us how dynamic Shakespeare found humans to be. 

There is also in this interaction a portrait of the positive influence of affinity. As You Like It could refer to the process of growth that occurs as a natural consequence of rooting for something. Being a fan of something or someone is the force that leads to a greater understanding of it. As you like it, you grow to know it and eventually to interact with style, flow, and grace. It shows the strength of the desire to live, the will to love.

Hot Girl Summer in As You Like It

As You Like It is an interesting title for a play. It is a phrase that pleases the ear and the mind. It could refer to a beautifully cooked meal, a well-made bed, anything that is prepared and presented with care and understanding of your specific preferences. It suggests something tailored to your desire. It is a phrase that evokes the spirit of service.

In the play, Rosalind and Celia take advantage of the freedom that comes along with banishment to create some very enjoyable experiences for themselves. One of the most interesting things about Shakespeare’s comedies is the mixed tone he creates by having very serious situations within a comedic plot. In the first scene where we meet Rosalind, she is grieving the loss of her father who has been banished from the court by her uncle. 

The plot is initiated by Celia’s desire to help Rosalind to cope with her trauma. They decide that the best way to get time to move quickly and to increase their joy is with a little romance. So, they set out to find some fun with the opposite sex. Rosalind is a smart, confident, and horny heroine. She’s Shakespeare’s Cardi B.

One prominent segment of Internet comedy involves pranks. The Nelk Boys, Chad and JT go deep, and so many others create parodic situations that involve real people unaware that they are participating in a skit. Rosalind orchestrates just this kind of a situation with Orlando. Disguised as a man, she finds him lovesick in the forest and convinces him that the only way to prove his love or to cure himself of this lovesickness is by pretending to court him as though he were Rosalind (he really is). She sets him up for a series of pranks.

If there’s any doubt as to who is referred to in the title, then one answer is given when we witness Rosalind orchestrating a series of marriages at the end of the play. She manipulates the situation like a practiced matchmaker and gets a series of couples to commit to marriage. Rosalind is a mass marrier. She is a master marketer. 

Rosalind is a character who gives us an example of what kind of control you can have even when you have very little political clout. She has enough money to buy a property in the woods, but she also has the drive and the confidence to make the moves. She has to set up in this new context and begin to manipulate the players in a game she is creating. 

Chelsea Handler could play a powerful Rosalind. Her confidence, her sexual charisma, and her enjoyment of herself all would be natural strengths aligned to the actions of the character. There is something so satisfying about seeing Rosalind absolutely toy with the object of her affections. There is something seductively cruel and superior about Chelsea Handler’s confidence. I think that Whitney Cummings could embody Rosalind, too.

Studying Shakespeare’s comedies gives us a glimpse at the roots of our culture. Through his influence on the English language, Shakespeare continues to pressure our understanding of the world around us and inside of us. The comedies portray a world that is governed by a desire to be happy, by a drive for health and resolution. As You Like It portrays a female duo doing the most to make the most of their summer. Let’s let Rosalind take the reins for a bit and enjoy what we can of this upcoming season.

The Will to Love in As You Like It: Desire, Wrestling, and Brendan Schaub

Rosalind is another great example of a dynamic female character in Shakespeare’s comedies. She is banished from the court, but she manages to become the puppet master of the world she inhabits. She moves to the country and sets up shop as a boss bitch. Even though she is a victim of circumstances, Rosalind manages to turn every situation to her advantage.

We never really know why Celia’s old man hates Rosalind so much, except for who her father was. She’s paying a heavy price for her lineage. The play is a portrait of power in flux. As You Like It portrays two situations where a patriarch has died, and the power structure is adjusting to that vacuum. In the case of Orlando and Oliver, the death of their father has resulted in conflict. Orlando feels like he has been denied his due rights to his inheritance.

Rosalind’s father has also recently died, and her uncle is attempting to consolidate power. Banishing Rosalind is an attempt to erase history, to preemptively silence dissent. In Shakespeare’s comedies the force of love is stronger than the desire to control and that first is apparent in this play when Celia abandons her father and her life at court to join her cousin Rosalind in exile. Her love for her cousin drives her actions.

For the other plot, we have a case of brothers feuding. It seems to have all the ingredients of a tragic scenario. Orlando, however, finds an appropriate outlet for his aggression. He is not a narcissist. The struggle of wills between brothers creates a context for conflict. Orlando is a badass and naturally refuses to accept the limitations imposed upon him by his older brother Oliver. Given no other recourse, he challenges the court wrestler to a match to assert his authority. He is willing to fight for his right to party. 

It just so happens that Rosalind and Celia are in the right place at the right time to witness this battle. From the context of 2021, the wrestling scene resonates with the world of cage fighting and UFC. The character of Orlando is an archetypal model of someone like Brendan Schaub who used fighting to assert himself, to gain access to an audience, and to act forcefully with the knowledge that “all the world is a stage.”

In the play, Orlando’s performance wins over Rosalind. She is instantly attracted to him and stays to talk to him after the fight. This is another moment when Shakespeare is still funny. Here we have Orlando, who has just beaten a professional fighter, and we gain insight to his mind suddenly overcome with anxiety and insecurities as Rosalind attempts to talk to him. He is unable to speak.

This unexpected transformation, when love conquers the wrestler, leads to another very funny scene featuring Orlando. When Rosalind and Celia explore their new territory in the woods, they find horrible poetry dedicated to Rosalind written by Orlando everywhere. He has caught the incurable madness of unrequited romantic love and it is causing him to produce prolific attempts at art. Schaub fancies himself an artist, too. I’m not going to belabor the comparisons, but let’s just say that Schaub would absolutely nail this role because it is so close to his experience. Not that Schaub lacks artistic merit; he doesn’t. He is a skilled and dedicated comedian and podcaster who inspires countless numbers of people with his work. 

The humor of the situation charms an audience because Schaub is a heavyweight UFC ex-fighter who wants to be slimmer and more artistic looking. Like the wrestler writing poetry in the woods, Schaub is a walking contradiction but an honest one and therefore likeable. Orlando is writing poems and messages to Rosalind almost involuntarily. He can’t help it. He is compelled to express his love and this compulsion is the epitome of authenticity. Not only is he not faking it, but he also can’t stop it.

The same is true with Schaub. His love of fashion, food, and women oozes out of him moment by moment and the audience has little doubt that he is being true to himself, partly because it is so unexpected. We don’t often put fighting and loving color ways together, but Shakespeare did it with Orlando, by showing him waxing poetic in the forest after smashing the ferocious wrestler Charles and being struck dumb by meeting Rosalind. 

Great characters push against the grain. They are tested and they find ways to persevere. Their process of overcoming obstacles becomes a protein to our beliefs. They embolden our sense that the will to love can be stronger than the will to control or to amass power. The uncontrollable force of romantic desire inspires a will to love that is stronger even than the will to live. In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, romantic love is a drug. It is a supernatural force, transformative and wild.

Keeping it Comedy: As You Like it, Dave Chapelle, and Joe Rogan

Listening to Dave Chapelle on the Joe Rogan podcast was more awesome than I had even hoped. Chapelle articulates his thoughts with such clarity and precision it is amazing to follow his stream of consciousness as he enjoys a conversation with one of the best talkers in history. He is self-aware and grounded in his craft, in his identity as a comic. 

There is something Shakespearean about Dave Chapelle and Joe Rogan. I realized what it is this past weekend. I was also listening to As You Like it and an Oxford University produced lecture on the play. One of the interesting things about this comedy is that it compares the countryside, specifically the forest, to the court. Chapelle was talking to Rogan about his experience having moved to Austin from Los Angeles, and the parallels couldn’t be more obvious.

Chapelle lives in Ohio. He figured out this trick of comedy a long time ago. Ohio is the Forest of Arden. Austin is too. What is most important, however, is the intention to exist in a way that fits the comedic genre. This might be easier to do in a rural setting if you didn’t need to be in a cosmopolitan metropolis to get work. With podcasting, you could theoretically achieve success from anywhere with Internet access. While most comics live in Los Angeles or New York, Chapelle and now Rogan have been preaching the virtue of living outside the pressurized bubble of the industry.

To best enjoy listening to As You Like It, you need to understand the plot and the relationship of the various characters. There are parallel happenings and characters take on different names as they disguise themselves. It can be confusing if you don’t know who the characters are. For the sake of this short essay, you only need to understand that all the main characters of the play have been banished from the court to the forest.

Rogan and Chapelle relate to each other because they are members of the tribe of comedy, but also because they have chosen to live rural lifestyles. There is a freedom in the countryside that they enjoy and that shows up in their work. Part of what the rural context provides is a lack of things happening. In that quiet space civil conversations or imaginative ramblings are given space to roam. It becomes more about dialogue and philosophical comparisons than an attempt to resolve a problem.

In the play, there are philosophical theories laid out in verse. We have the famous “all the world’s a stage” speech that outlines the seven stages of life. This has nothing to do with a plot, but that’s the point. The emptiness provided by the countryside creates the space for poetry and philosophy. 

There are different metaphors available in a rural setting. Being connected to hunting, agriculture, livestock, and fundamental human resources creates a kind of competency and confidence in relation to the world. Knowing where food comes from, being close to the supply chain is a smart idea if you want to focus on making people laugh.

Podcasting itself is a Forest of Arden. In many ways, Joe Rogan left Los Angeles a long time before he moved to Austin. By creating his own show and relentlessly innovating and improving his ability to engage in interesting conversations, Rogan became one of the first great developers of this wild alternative to the culture industry. He recently described it as having made it out past the gates and he is now swimming in open waters, but he could have also described it as having escaped court to live in the country.

As You Like It shows us how a rural setting can create a space for music, philosophy and most importantly comedy. There is something about certain natural settings that proves conducive to everything working out in the end. That is after all the spirit of comedy. Things may go differently than planned, but when there is enough space for reflection, thought, and expression, then comedy is given what it needs to flourish.

Looking for Compositions: Previsualization in Landscape Photography

One of the ways landscape photographers have legitimized their craft as an artform is by this idea of previsualization. This artistic direction is epitomized by Ansel Adams, who preached the idea of envisioning the photograph before taking it. This kind of determined and deliberate approach to making photographs is very different than the tradition of photojournalism. Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the term the decisive moment to describe what it was he hunted for in his compositions. For him, previsualization was impossible. To capture that elusive moment required stealth, spontaneity, and quickness. In this dichotomy, you can sense something of the idea posed by Jeff Wall that photographers are either farmers or hunters.

There is another category that is not part of Wall’s interesting configuration and that is photographer as shepherd. On any given day, you can find this version of photographer trying to get a group of people to stand in a particular pattern in front of a picturesque background. The drive of this work is to assemble a group, to bring them into a space and to make photographs out of their synchronized smiling. For the shepherd photographer, there is something of the hunter and of the farmer in their process. They need to both have studied the landscape to know the light and how to use it in a composition, but they are also looking for those moments of emotional truth when laughter or joy spark in their subjects. The shepherd photographer leads a group and sometimes must charm them to feel comfortable in the setting.

The shepherd photographer can previsualize a lot of the elements and they must be ready to respond to spontaneous things that happen in the landscape with the light. The landscape photographer can focus more on previsualization because they don’t need to pay attention to subjects who are constantly moving and may not be altogether agreeable to the process. The landscape never minds. The journalist has all kinds of other challenges, including the risk of being confronted by people who may not want their photograph taken.

The portrait photographer is like the shepherd but has a more intimate relation to the subject since it is a one-on-one situation. In the portrait session, you can see parallels to all different kinds of professional relationships. The portrait photographer is part director, part trainer, part coach, part therapist, part friend. There is a psychological component to portrait photography that makes it very interesting.

Each of these different modes of photography requires a different set of skills and habits. You are looking for different elements in each field but the thing that is common to all modes of making photographs is the idea of looking for compositions. For a photograph to work, it needs a powerful composition. The way a photograph leads the eye around the image is the make-or-break element for all the different kinds of photography. Composition is the unified field of photography.

The question of what makes a good composition is highly personal and it is through answering that question that a photographer develops a sense of style. When making photographs, you are constantly studying how the world translates into a two-dimensional form through all kinds of various technological constraints. You must learn about depth of field, compression of images through the distortion of a lens, and other optical effects of photographic technique. Through experimentation, you can learn what elements you need to exist to take a good photograph.

One of the ways that you can look for compositions is by walking. As you walk and notice the shifting perspective between elements you can begin to see when certain alignments happen. For example, there is a composition I have been eyeing that I am going to photograph this morning. This is my previsualization. It is of the surfer sculpture on West Cliff with the aloes in full bloom right now. I have been watching the flowers for some time getting ready for when they are peaking to get a shot of this iconic spot. Yesterday as I was walking my dog by, I saw exactly the shot I wanted as I moved along the sidewalk the flowers the sculpture and the boardwalk behind it all came into an alignment that felt like something clicking into place. That is the feeling. It’s like a seat belt fastens. All the sudden you just know that it is secure.

So, I’m calling my shot this morning and painting the picture of the photograph that I am going to take before I get out there and get it. Previsualization, baby. It’s an interesting practice that takes some time to get to. You have to know what shots are possible, you have to study a particular location over a period of time, and then you must time it correctly so that the light adds in the final elements to the alignment of subjects in space. When all of these things come together, you have a magical photograph. The trick to managing that is to do tons of work ahead of time figuring out what is possible so that you can zero in on one idea and find the ideal moment to realize your composition.

If photography is to live up to its name and function as writing and not just decoration, then composition is key. It is through assembling the elements of a photograph in a particular form that great photographs are achieved. To do this, you need to study and practice photographing your subject over time so that when you see that alignment happen you can be prepared to follow through on your vision. 

Cringe to Crown: Internet Culture and Clowning

One common factor among many internet successes is the transformation from doing something that is usually considered cringy and elevating it to a level of tremendous popular success. This is almost an essential aspect of internet fame. One reason for this pattern in this early stage of the internet is because we are still conditioned as an audience to see culture as separate from life. The things we cringe at on the internet are things that have been edited out through a style of production in mainstream media. Because they have been so relentlessly scrubbed from existence on cable television, Hollywood movies, popular magazines and newspapers, these quirks and eccentricities of everyday living stand out when we see them and then strangely satisfy some deep desire.

We don’t want to appear as cringy. We are cringy. We want to be ourselves. We learn to embrace our differences. Cringe becomes a prerequisite. No cringe, no personality. An acquired taste, cringe becomes a delicacy, a kink. There are fifty shades of cringe.

What happens when we see someone do something cringy on the Internet? Cringe evolves. People who follow Tik Tok, like Christina Pavitsky, report that there are numerous subcultures that segment into different niches of cringe. Cringe gets love on the Internet like nowhere else because it is so relatable. Yes, it is amazing to watch a polished performer like Beyonce go through hours of choreography and singing without missing a step. There’s also something super repressed and therefore repressive about the worship of stellar performances. There is something totalitarian in the disciplined perfection of form.

When we accept that cringe is part of the package of being human, we learn to love ourselves better and to be ourselves more. Comics know this and Chris D’Elia is proving it in a way that is almost unimaginable. Setting aside the incredibly cringy problems that D’Elia has had in his personal life, he also talks and reflects on the place of cringe in his comedy. He has this running joke about how being disrespectful by doing things like ordering postmates during the podcast is being more respectful because he is being himself and that shows a trust in the relationship.

D’Elia is a connoisseur of cringe and finds incredible moments of video and audio to dissect and to analyze on his podcast. This has become the formula for lots of comedic podcasts. H3 podcast does it. Ethan is the godfather of cringe. Two Bears and Bad Friends rely upon the shocking value of cringe. Bert is a cringe god. Bobby a cringe unicorn. Responding to cringe on the Internet is now an industry. This is the mad generation, and everyone is an influencer and marketer.

One Internet sensation that started out as cringe and has taken an internet crown is the inimitable Chet Hanks. When he first came out with his video taken, I think at the Golden Globes red carpet when he introduced the world to his own aggressive version of patua, speaking like a Jamaican dancehall king. Since then, this has become a periodic occurrence leading to a massive amount of heckling but also finally respect and admiration. 

Being the son of one of the all-time great US American actors can’t be an easy fate, but Chet is making the absolute most of it and for that he has become an icon. Recently, he introduced a ludicrous idea he calls White Boy Summer to the world via Instagram, but then he specifies that there are certain codes of conduct and dress that are necessary for this definition of white boy. He wants to differentiate it from alt-right Trump supporters and to reclaim some notion of whiteboyness as an identity of allyship.

Because what Chet Hanks was doing came across as so ludicrous, so cringy that nobody would do it if it weren’t in some way authentic. Cringe is the new seasoning. It’s not something you can just do without. It gives your content its flavor. Chet Hanks teaches us that the pursuit of expressing your truth is going to have to go through a process of being embarrassingly exposed to ridicule to achieve the strength necessary to transform into a better design. 

When does cringe go too far? This important question is constantly being answered by the actions of people on the internet. D’Elia disappeared from the public for 9 months after allegations of his inappropriate conversations with underage or barely legal girls surfaced. That is not cringe, it is criminal. That is a huge difference. There are things that should be repressed, need to be outlawed, cannot be allowed. There is an ethical line where something that is merely an expression of our basic human nature merges into violations of other people’s rights. The thing about cringe is it must be victimless. The only type of cringe that is acceptable is the cringe that only embarrasses the person in charge of the production.

Because the internet is new and unregulated, we are experiencing an evolution in aesthetics and ethics and the importance of understanding cringe and the ethics of the shocking is critical to improving Internet culture. Logan Paul is a perfect example. His video that showed a dead body in a suicide forest in Japan was cringy, but it was also an ethical violation. It wasn’t just in bad taste, or embarrassing; it was wrong. As we make things for the Internet and consume other people’s creations, we are engaging in a process of becoming more human with all the rewards and risks that entails.