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G for…

byTeda Kokoneshi

“Gordon Gekko is back”. The statement stands true for both the realities in and out the film where it was uttered. Wall Street II Money Never Sleeps starring once again Michael Douglass in the vest of the excessively greedy and unscrupulous but charismatic millionaire Gordon Gekko will heat the theaters April 23rd. It isn’t surprising that Oliver Stone decided to make a sequel of a film that deeply questions base of the Wall Street value system in a time when the entire country, maybe the entire globe is doing so.

 Just like in the first one Gordon Gekko is not alone. Peter Sheen is replaced by promising star Shia LaBoeuf to be the representation of ambitious youth that almost being unaware enters a pact with the devil of greed without boundaries. The drama acquires another level of intimacy in this sequel since Shia is not just a dedicated apprentice, but happens to be the fiancée of Gordon’s estranged daughter played by Carey Mulligan. And yet the added intensity in the personal relationships aspect of the movie does not take away from the sequel its depth in analyzing the moral values of the main characters as they concern society at large.

 The 1987 movie gave this quasi-tragic hero personified in Gordon Gekko the chance to explain his system of values and not remain misunderstood. When asked to speak in his own defense in a courtroom where he was being trialed for white collar charges he said “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good…Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind”. Very Ayn Rand, very capitalistic. It is indeed one that is easy to understand and support. No matter what his crimes are, we are almost forced to understand Gekko to some extent. From understanding comes identification with the character, and this is what made the 1987 Wall Street something close to a Greek tragedy. The audience is most of the time torn, not really knowing what to think or what to wish for the end of the movie, partly admiring, partly despising the antihero; partly identifying with him and partly seeing him as the other kind. Oliver Stone takes on its shoulders the responsibility to be the judge of an entire system of values, the one in which Wall Street functions, the one behind the richest 1% of the US. In 1987 Stone sends Gekko to prison.

 …But in 2008 (that’s when the story of the sequel being released in April starts) he decides to bring him back. The exclusive long preview that Nielsen Media and E-Works are testing with viewers in different theaters around the country, among those Fenway Regal 13, leads you to think that the verdict given in the 1987 movie was not final. The tension is still there like a judgment was never passed and as an audience we are invited to think it over one more time: Is greed good? One more time Gekko is invited to give a speech, not in a courtroom this time, but in a school auditorium: “Someone reminded me I once said: ‘Greed is good.’ Now it seems it’s legal.” He is giving a speech for the inauguration of his own book “Is greed good?”. It seems like Oliver Stone is dubious about, or not fully satisfied with the answer that the first movie gave to the question. Will the second one torture our minds in testing our inner balances one more time to ultimately just arrive to the same answer the first movie gave us? Or has Oliver Stone changed his mind on the question? Wait and see…

XOXO… G.G (Gordon Gekko, not Gossip Girl in this case)

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Think Study Abroad…

Tuesday, September the 22nd an info session on the study abroad program was held in the Modular Unit at Emmanuel College.  It was organized by the Colleges of the Fenway GeoCenter whose office is now located at Simmons College.                                                                                                                                Students from all four years were present, each being in a different phase in the process. And what I mean by so saying is that, when asked by Emmanuel advisor at GeoCenter Diane Bissaro to speak a little bit about the respective planned destination and steps followed, answers varied from “ I’m going to Florence, Italy and I  have already been accepted to the university there” to “ I’m not sure if I’ll ever study abroad, I’m just here to see how this works”.   

           Study Abroad. Isn’t studying a travel in the realms of wisdom in and of itself? Isn’t it enough to leave the comfort zone of our beds to go to that foreign land called a classroom (where sometimes x-es and y-s and expressions such as “k ¢ = m0 4p = 10- (Tim) A” do make us want to “ask for translation”? Why raise the “foreigness” of this situation to square power?                                                                                                            

            Because the fun part of being a student,  – meeting people, trying new things, changing views, feeling empowered, feeling like you belong to something bigger,- all of that, is raised to square power too.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

          -“Studying abroad changes your life dramatically”, – said Laura  when I asked how had the month spent in Oviedo Spain affected her.                                                                                                                                                               

             This summer, Laura studied at the university that gets its name from the city whose pride it is.  Universitad de Oviedo was founded in 1608 (yes, 401 years ago)and is one of the many institutions that GeoCenter partners with.                                                                                                                                                

        -“ They say that the college experience is one that changes your life. And it does to some extent…But studying abroad gave my life a much more powerful twist ”.                                                                             

          The 43 students that left the US to go to Spain this summer were accompanied by Emmanuel Spanish professor Jose Alvarez Jimenez Gijon, who, as Laura said, became their strength when they most needed it: when they missed their family.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      -“He was there to remind us that one month would soon change from present to memory, so it would be better for us to take advantage while we could”.                                                                                                         

       And as Laura described her Spanish experience, I realized that they didn’t ignore his advice. They enjoyed going to school in a campus whose architecture spoke of millennia of wisdom being built in a Pre-Roman style. It was tough because they didn’t hear a single English syllable but according to my interviewee, this fact added up to make the experience all the more exotic. She was convinced she had made the best choice by going to Oviedo and not Barcelona or Madrid, tourist attractions where everybody is able to communicate in the international language, the one spoken in the US.                                           

      Another thing that made Oviedo different from other major Spanish cities was that it didn’t allow you to get lost in the cyber-maze and spend unnecessary time on the web. Why? Well, most of the hosting families that partnered with GeoCity didn’t necessarily embrace our non-written law “Internet is the new Oxygen”, – most of them didn’t have access to it in their homes. (Don’t be scared, Internet- caffés were not few in town. They were there if you really had a need but you would think twice if you wanted to get on the web every 95 minutes because you thought of a facebook status that would make everybody check your page. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that anyways…) So less time in front of a computer, more in discovering Oviedo and other towns; more time spent meeting new people, that as Laura said, were so different and so similar at the same time to everybody she had known before. Oviedo’s café-bars were  open until dawn…7 DAYS A WEEK. And Oviedo’s café-bars’ goers were… people worth meeting.                                                                                                                                                                             

       -“They were all so friendly, and so genuinely interested in what we were doing. They would get excited that people would come from outside Spain to experience the University of Oviedo and the town”. – Laura reminded smiling.                                                                                                                                                                 

          Another delightful memory she had was the taste of Spanish cuisine’s  home-made food. And, while people kept moving quickly in between the tables of the Atrium Café where we were having our conversation, she did talk nostalgically about  the lay-back lifestyle of the locals who would never consider being late for school or work as a good reason to miss a meal.                                                                                             

     I asked her if she had any advice to give to others who wanted to discover the world through a study abroad program. Well, for all you out there who are planning to leave US territory sometime this school year, make sure to talk to the organizers of your trip so the trip plan doesn’t include infinite hours of waiting in transit airports. Also, you very likely don’t want to change planes more than two times before reaching your destination.                                                                                                                                              

      And finally what was the overall impact that Oviedo had made on her.                                                      

  -“The world feels so much smaller now”- she said smiling, her eye sight being aimed just a little bit higher and so failing just slightly to meet mine as she was trying to materialize in words that feeling that had been with her since coming back from Spain. She said studying abroad made the world in general feel more accessible…and more real.  According to her it’s only once you go and spend some time in another country that your awareness of other nations and their people becomes as solid as it should be. She said that before being abroad at least once, hearing about other countries is like watching a movie (most of the times it feels even more distant). You might watch international news on TV, and even get mentally involved by what you are watching but at the best you will be as involved as you are in a fictional story. When you go abroad, Laura said, you become fully aware of the outside world.                                                                                                                                                                                                      

   Laura now thinks that what happens in Spain, has much more closer implications in what happens to every other country than the inhabitants of these countries would think. And so does what happens in Greece, and in Japan and so on.  Being aware of these implications makes her feel empowered. It makes her feel special too, since so few people really have that awareness.                                   

    So going back to my initial question “ Why study  abroad? Why raise the foreigness to square power?”, Laura’s answer would be: “Because the world doesn’t seem so spread out anymore”. Maybe its through discovering foreign lands and cultures that “foreign” doesn’t feel foreign anymore.

Draw to see what you know!

By: Teda Kokoneshi

Freedom… and we all opened our eyes and started to draw. I didn’t look around to see what everybody else was doing but I had this impression that nobody else did either. It was more or less immediate. In one minute or two, Dr. Lisa Falvey signaled time was out and we all stood up.  That couple of minutes spent drawing, was compressed for me. In just circa 120 seconds, I had to first translate a very abstract notion such as freedom into something physical, and then represent it using paper and ink, and my not decent drawing abilities. If you do the math it turns out to be a dense moment in terms of mental energy: lots of it spent in abstract-concrete translation (and some in motor-skills to draw too).                                                                                                                                         Before you go ahead reading the rest of this writing I’ll ask you to stop and think about what you would draw if you were in the same situation. Would you please be courteous and  grab  pencil/pen/eyeliner and a piece of paper and actually materialize your concept of freedom? Unfortunately I can’t promise you’ll get Engl 1207 credit for this (that’s the class where this took place), but I guarantee you that you’re still in advantage by getting a taste of the experience we have in Dr. Falvey’s class. And you haven’t even paid  for it…

Ok, minus or plus 2 minutes passed? Finished ?  In a little bit you’ll judge on my skills in magic… Going back to my Wednesday Critical Speech Communication class, I was very curious to see other people’s drawings. I expected them to be pretty diverse. Freedom is such an abstract concept, right? People’s representations of it  vary largely based on their past experience, individuality, and what not…right? That’s what I expected… So what had my classmates drawn? Oh, I think now is the right time to show you what a good magician I am. So here we go…get ready… Without even seeing it, WITHOUT EVEN BEING IN THE SAME ROOM YOU ARE…  I posses knowledge about your thoughts …and actions! How impressive (scary, yeahhh) is that? Let’s start… I see stripes….and stars….I see stripes and stars…It’s a banner, a flag. It’s the American flag!!!

-“Aww!”- you sigh.  And if you are feeling content with yourself because I was not able to guess, well, I think you’re a minority.

Now, as nontraditional as this maybe, I will reveal the trick. (Who am I trying to fool here? If you read the previous paragraphs you already know).  Take notice that this is not unprecedented. Magician Peter Boie too revealed his tricks August 30th at the Emmanuel College Auditorium.

The trick is this: Teda Kokoneshi  (that’s me), less than one month before the 517th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on October 21st 1942, discovers that many Americans visualize the concept of freedom with their flag. It may sound easily taken for granted to you, but to me, Albanian residing in the US for less than three years, it was an exciting little discovery that says much about words and the not so obvious roles they play in our making sense of the world.

It turned out that what for me was a concept  that required much work of thought to be visualized, materialized, for some other people could be easily incarnated in something as material as a flag. My brain had materialized freedom by sketching a person (something as similar to a person as my drawing skills allowed me to) surrounded by chains that could not reach him. Most of the students in the class had materialized freedom in stripes and stars forming the U.S flag. It is attractively impressing to me how so many people would agree that stripes and stars mean freedom.

I love my Critical Speech Communication class because it so fascinatingly exposes me to the elasticity of language, to the elasticity of the word. It exposes me to how words say much more than their definition in a dictionary. For instance I don’t think there is any dictionary in any language that defines the respective word for freedom through means of the American flag.  Yet circa 5/6 of the students in my Critical Communications class expressed through drawing that that’s their understanding of the term.

So how do we connect words to meanings? This creative idea of Dr. Falvey to make us use pen and paper to draw concepts helped me come to the conclusion that dictionary definitions, primary meanings, have a smaller role in understanding and communication in general than we might think.

In this class I’m studying different theories of communication. About half of them would maintain that words shape meaning, that they shape the world rather than the other way around. If this is true are we shaping the world any time we speak, or write, or even think? How powerful are we? And how much better can we make the world through our words? How much worse?

If I make any other little-big discovery through this class I’ll let you know. (I was so tempted to use the smiley face after the previous sentence but I know it’s not yet a formal punctuation mark).

Until then keep using language…in a way that makes this world exciting.