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Going on a Summer Hiatus

Hey, hi, hello!

Lately I haven’t had much time to dedicate to Catch-all, nor have I been all that excited about working on it. I’ve been blogging for the past five years, and up until recently it never felt like a chore. Blogging was always something I did as a hobby, but the fun of it has dissipated. I’ve decided to take a break, but not give up entirely on Catch-all. I’ll be back by the end of the summer and will hopefully feel refreshed and excited about working on it again. Until then, I’m going to focus on a few other projects I’d like to get started on, and spend more free time reading, watching movies and TV, and doing other things that make me happy.

I’ll still be on Instagram and Twitter, so you can follow me there — and come back to Catch-all around September to see what’s new in this neck of the woods!

As always, thanks for reading!

❤ Julia

Looking Back on My Trip to Iceland

Last June I was lucky enough to travel to Iceland and embark on one wild adventure. My boyfriend’s family brought me along on their family vacation (again, I’m unbelievably lucky) and I got to see and do some very cool things. I’ve spent nearly a year writing and then re-writing about my experience in Iceland, but nothing I’ve put together seems to capture the magic of being in a largely untouched place. So instead, I’ll let some of the photos I took throughout my trip speak for themselves.

For the record, even the photos don’t do the island justice so you’ll just have to believe me. Long story short, Iceland is fucking cool and if you get the chance, GO THERE! It’s extraterrestrial, beautiful, slow-moving, quiet, remarkably cool, and undoubtedly magical.

Flying from Reykjavík to Akureyri

Akureyri Airport

Whale watching in Húsavík

Reynisfjara Beach in Vik

Petra’s Stone Collection in Stöðvarfjörður

Just outside of Reykjavík

Somewhere in Iceland…?

Eldhraun lava field

Our hotel room in Rangárþing eystra

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

Suðursveit

Hornafjörður

Skógafoss

Gullfoss

Dettifos

Goðafoss

Around Reykjavik

 

Watch “Earthlings”

After years of avoidance, I finally watched Earthlings. 

If you haven’t heard of it, Earthlings (dir. Shaun Monson, 2005) is an animal rights documentary that’s inspired countless viewers to re-think their relationship with animals, capitalism, and the world at large. The film, which is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, is broken into five parts covering the use of animals as pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and test subjects. Even as someone who’s knowledgeable about animal abuse, I was utterly shocked by what I saw happening to the animals in this film. It’s certainly not easy to watch, but it’s necessary viewing for those who don’t wish to blindly engage in the exploitation of people and animals.

I’d like to note that this film does compare the horrors of human slavery and genocide to our treatment of animals, which I don’t personally support. The oppression of humans and other animals is certainly connected, but I think it’s only appropriate to let the victims and ancestors of those atrocities draw such conclusions.

Please watch Earthlings with an open mind and a willingness to acknowledge that our treatment of animals is not only horrendous and wrong, but has far-reaching repercussions.

27 of My Favorite Songs

Tomorrow I turn 27 (yikes!), and since I’ve been doing a birthday post every year since my 24th birthday, I decided I should keep the tradition going strong. In the past I posted 24 Lessons in 24 Years, 25 of My Favorite Things, and 26 Goals for my 26th Year, and this year I’m sharing 27 of my favorite songs. This doesn’t come close to showcasing all of my favorites, but it does cover some of them! 🙂

This list is very random and in no particular order. If we share any favorites let me know in the comment section below. ❤

1. Let Me Roll It – Wings

2. Zodiac Shift – Flying Lotus

3. Riders on the Storm – The Doors

4. I Am Woman – Helen Reddy

5. Femme Fatale – The Velvet Underground & Nico

6. Where I Wanna Be – Shade Sheist

7. Feel it All Around – Washed Out

8. Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding

9. I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li (The Magician Remix)

10. Modern Love – David Bowie

11. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Nina Simone

12. Kinder Blumen – Real Estate

13. Sun King – The Beatles

14. Soul Eater – Dirty Art Club

15. Jack-Ass – Beck

16. I Say A Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin

17. Paper Planes M.I.A

18. This is the Day – The The

19. Sea of Love – Cat Power

20. Let’s Go Away for Awhile – The Beach Boys

21. Everybody Loves the Sunshine – Roy Ayers Ubiquity

22. All Your Yeahs – Beach House

23. Crimson and Clover – Tommy James & The Shondells

24. Truth Hurts – Lizzo

25. Girl from the North Country – Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash

26. It Was a Good Day – Ice Cube

27. New Person, Same Old Mistakes – Tame Impala

Catch-all is More of a Hodge-podge

I think that if I started this blog all over again I’d name it hodge-podge. Originally I thought of it like a catch-all dish that accumulates little odds and ends. Bills, bobby pins, loose change, buttons, political stickers, gum. It’s astonishing how many of those catch-all dishes I actually have in my apartment. They start out being useful, but quickly become piles of both important and unimportant things. I end up avoiding it all until it’s time to clean my catch-all dish out and start over again.

But this Catch-all has become more of a hodge-podge. It’s like the area of my apartment where I’ve placed shoes, empty picture frames, books, and my old violin I’ve been meaning to donate. It’s my go-to spot for big things that don’t go together but have nowhere else to go – which is kind of like this blog.

As much as I want to pinpoint a specific direction for Catch-all so that I can actually try to reach an identifiable audience, it’s becoming clear that it’s just not going to happen. (And it must not be what I truly want to happen.) There’s no specific audience for this blog because there are so many different things that I enjoy writing about, and that’s likely never going to change. Making Catch-all into anything other than what it is now wouldn’t be true to me. So for now and for the unforeseeable future, it’s just you, me, and the other folks who happen to like what’s on Catch-all too.

At my day job I work for an organization with a massive audience, and I produce content for their digital platforms. It’s so strange to indirectly have access to a vast, but well-defined audience, and then come home and work on stuff for my own tiny blog and not know who I’m even trying to reach. It’s not only strange, it’s discouraging. I’ve been working on Catch-all for five years, and while it’s been fun for me and has taught me a number of skills I wouldn’t have otherwise, I’m struggling with finding a logical reason to keep it going.

But logical is the key word, because I do want to keep blogging despite there being no tangible results. It’s fun for me, it’s my hodge-podge, my Catch-all, and I guess I’ll keep at it until it isn’t fun anymore. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 If you have a blog, are you ever discouraged? What keeps you motivated to keep writing and posting? And do you have any general advice for someone with a website or online presence? Let me know in the comment section below!

Workout Playlist

For the past few months I’ve been exercising somewhat consistently, which has reminded me of the importance of having a quality workout playlist. If the wrong song comes on while I’m at the gym – something slow or sad – it immediately squashes my motivation. I then have to stop what I’m doing to find the right song, and my whole routine is thrown out of whack! I’m being a little dramatic, but a good workout playlist truly is essential. So here are a few songs that I listen to when I’m working out

What are you listening to when you exercise?

The Two Rules I’m Trying to Live By

Somehow life has gotten easier and more difficult the older I get. I’m very comfortable with myself, but constantly battling with questions of the future. Where’s my “career” going? What about my personal life? On top of that I’m living in an America that’s in decline, and a tech-driven world that’s oftentimes difficult to navigate. These are modern problems that we’re all dealing with, and it’s complicated and messy and weird.

Never take anything personally

I’m only partway through Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, but this book has already had an influence on how I try to exist in and move about this complex world. It’s a valuable read for anyone who’s open to it, but I do think being “open” is key. Ruiz calls everything into question – who we are, what we are, why we are – so it requires a willingness to listen and reflect. All four of the agreements that Ruiz presents are revelatory, but the one that’s stuck with me the most is “Don’t take anything personally.”

Wow. How can something so simple be so powerful? Don’t take anything personally. I grew up reminding myself that the way people act towards you is a reflection on them, not you, but I would still end up feeling bad about myself somehow. Now I’ve taken the action into my own hands – I can’t take anything personally – it’s my new personal rule and it’s been transformative.

Trying not to take things personally takes constant effort. I tend to be very self-aware and notice the little things people do and say. This can become destructive, as I wonder why that acquaintance didn’t make eye contact when they were talking to me, or what made a friend describe me as being shy, or why a family member questioned my decision to go to grad school. All the little things we put up with from others can build and become unbearable, but when we work to not take these things personally we can liberate ourselves from unnecessary pain. Why waste my energy on worrying about the rude thing someone said to me, when it actually has nothing to do with me? What someone says is a reflection of themselves, so you shouldn’t take it personally. And there comes a point where you can’t take it personally if you want to preserve your emotional energy and health.

I can only speak for myself and how the stress of minor insults or acts of sexism and misogyny impact me. I don’t know what it’s like to be a part of a marginalized group and be the victim of micro and macro-aggressions based on my race, ability, sexual orientation, etc. In those cases, I can imagine that “not taking things personally” isn’t always do-able or constructive. But again, for the little things that can cause us massive stress over time, this personal agreement is truly freeing.

Don’t be afraid of anyone

I encountered this rule for life in a very modern way! I was watching journalist and all around badass Ann Friedman’s Instagram story, and a clip from a talk with artist Laurie Anderson came up. In the clip Anderson says that one of her rules for life is to never be afraid of anyone. Again, wow! I’ve always been afraid of lots of people. As a kid I was very afraid of teens, and as a teen I was still afraid of teens. I’m intimidated by people I’ve deemed smarter or cooler, and even just folks who happen to be older than me. I’ve been working on this in recent years and have gotten much better, but even when I’m outwardly confident or have convinced myself not to be afraid of someone there’s still a part of me that is.

Imagine existing in the world and not being afraid of anyone. I know I’d have a much different life – likely a more prosperous one. I probably would have pursued creative endeavors with more ferocity, and wouldn’t second-guess myself nearly as often as I do. I think this issue is especially true for young women, since we’re socialized to feel this way, but I’m lucky to know many fearless ones too. Most of these women I imagine have grown to be fearless, and I hope to grow fearless too.

__________________

What are the rules you try to live by? Let me know in the comment section below!

Representations of Urban Space & Masculinity in “Taxi Driver”

Representations of Urban Space & Masculinity in “Taxi Driver” & the Rise of the American Right-Wing

Though Martin Scorsese’s 1976 psychological thriller, Taxi Driver, was released over 40 years ago, one could argue that many layers to the film’s harsh societal critiques are just as relevant in today’s sociopolitical climate. By exploring 1970s New York City through the perspective of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an intense man whose past we know little about other than that he served in the Vietnam War, Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader allow the audience to see the world through a particularly conservative lens. In the film, Bickle’s taxi cab works as a device that carries him through spaces he may not otherwise occupy. In this vehicle he’s shielded from that which fuels his fear and contempt. He sees, though might not necessarily be seen. He’s a vigilante on the edge of sanity, a sort of messiah figure who strives to clean up the city, though his racist and sexist rational for this metaphoric “clean up” is never stated openly. Rather, these ideas are explored through Bickle’s paranoid and hyper-masculine gaze. This gaze, more specifically, is informed by white heteronormative masculinity, which reflects a particularly conservative perspective. Taxi Driver’s characterization of urban space, coupled with Bickle’s violent – yet fragile – masculinity, represented the shift in power from the politically progressive counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, to Nixon, Ford, and Reagan’s right-wing America.

Taxi Driver’s opening credits are featured on a black background, where bold red text floats in a menacing void. The blackness dissolves and a white, billowy cloud of steam fills the screen, followed by a taxi, which enters the frame and proceeds through the haze. Bernard Herrmann’s warm, yet uneasy score seeps into the soundscape; it’s as though this cab came straight from hell. Who’s in that cab? Where did it come from? In the first moment that the audience meets Travis Bickle, the frame fixes on a close up of his eyes as he tensely scans the horizon. Herrmann’s score becomes smooth and sensual in an almost parody-like manner. Who is this creature? What’s outside of the cab is distorted by rain, but the audience is shown blurred city lights, gleaming in the night, and bodies slowly passing, shrouded in hues of red and blue. This opening sets up the paranoid and voyeuristic vehicle through which Bickle occupies public space, whether or not he is protected by the shell of his taxi. In an interview with Film Comment, Paul Schrader described Travis Bickle as “The man who moves through the city like a rat through a sewer: the man who is constantly surrounded by people, yet has no friends. The absolute symbol of urban loneliness.”[i]

As Bickle’s taxi travels through New York City in the film’s opening, there’s a very specific attention to detail highlighted by the film’s cinematography, editing, and production design. Water is everywhere; it’s sprinkled on the taxi’s windows and it covers the streets. Bickle splashes through puddles and drives by kids playing in water from fire hydrants as he traverses the city. Nearly everything and everyone around him is wet, yet he remains dry. Taxi Driver also features a distinct and saturated color pallet of reds, blues, and yellows, all three of which are prominent in the film’s costuming and production design. The camera moves poetically through space, oftentimes without any obvious motivation. This sensual, dreamlike, and film-noir inspired representation of New York City is established and carried throughout the entirety of the film. The lush intimacy that Scorsese creates visually is sharply opposed by how Bickle interprets the city.

The audience is given insight into Bickle’s thoughts through his diary, which is used as a narration device in the film. A few minutes into Taxi Driver, Bickle’s narration introduces the audience to his feelings about the city and its inhabitants: “Thank God for the rain, which has washed away the garbage and the trash off the sidewalks.” He continues, “All the animals come out at night. Whores, skunk-pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies. Sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”[ii] This diary entry is juxtaposed by images of New York City at night, seen from the interior of Bickle’s taxi cab. The streets are soaked and brimming with energy; there are women, black men, and presumably gay white men. Nothing seems troubling about these images, which complicates Bickle’s perspective even further. Throughout Taxi Driver, Bickle references a need to cleanse the city – to rid it of its problems – and the metaphor of water as “redemption” returns time and time again. These ideas are strongly coded and often explored visually. When Bickle picks up a customer who happens to be presidential hopeful, Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), Palantine asks, “What is the one thing about this country that bugs you the most?” After pausing for a moment, Bickle responds:

“Well, whatever it is, he (the president) should clean up this city here because this city here is like an open sewer, you know. It’s full of filth and scum. Sometimes I can hardly take it. Whoever becomes the president should just really clean it up, know what I mean? Sometimes I go out and smell it. I get headaches it’s so bad, you know. It’s like…they just never go away, you know. It’s like the president should clean up this whole mess here. He should just flush it right down the fucking toilet.”[iii]

In the mid-1970s New York City’s infrastructure was in decline. The city’s lack of funding for public goods, such as education and social services, led to a steady increase in crime. In 1973, as a result of a deteriorating city-structure, a semi-truck fell through the West Side Highway, visualizing the fiscal destruction that was previously only known behind closed doors.[iv] New York City’s problems were further augmented when President Ford denied the city federal aid. On the morning of October 30th, 1975, New Yorker’s awoke to an alarming headline in the New York Daily News: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”[v] But in many ways, Bickle’s response to the city seems to be about something entirely different. Rather, as Sabine Haenni points out in her essay, Geographies of Desire: Postsocial Urban Space and Historical Revision in the Films of Martin Scorsese, “the decline of the city seems to engender the decline of the male hero – Travis’s inability to function in individual, collective, and heteronormative terms.”[vi] Bickle makes numerous attempts to structure urban space and formulate an identity as the archetypal white male hero. This desire to control space is expressed through his treatment and perception of black men, and his attempts to woo and save the women he encounters and pursues.

In God’s Lonely Man: Vietnam, Gunplay, Race and Blood-Letting Are All Part of the “Taxi Driver” Myth, But Does the Film Deliver the Truth About Men in Crisis, Asks Amy Taubin, Taubin discusses how racism is at the core of Bickle’s character. “It’s there in his body language when he’s hanging out with a group of cab drivers, one of whom is black; it’s there in his eyes when he’s looking through the window of his cab at the action on the street. It’s there, most overtly, when he shoots a skinny black junkie who’s trying to hold up his neighborhood deli. It’s not merely that Travis shoots to kill; it’s the way he puts his foot on the (arm) of a dying man – as if the guy were not even human.”[vii] Italian-American machismo and the instability of masculinity are themes explored in many of Scorsese’s films, but in Taxi Driver specifically, Scorsese’s lead attempts to assert his masculinity in an urban space which he believes to be in crisis. For Bickle, this underlying crisis seems to be that black men are capable of exerting their masculinity (which he may very well feel inferior to) and that women have agency and the ability to reject patriarchal ideals.

As a result of his yearning to establish the archetypal white, American, heterosexual life, Bickle desires to “master space,” a term used by Haenni in Geographies of Desire.[viii] This mastering of space includes the possession of women whom Bickle can fetishize and “save.” Bickle is rejected by three women throughout the course of the film. First, he is brushed off by a clerk (Diahnne Abbott) working at the porn theater concession stand. He repeatedly asks her what her name is, but she denies him despite his insistence. Though this moment is somewhat minor compared to his obsession with both Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and Iris (Jodie Foster), it works to establish Bickle’s eagerness in realizing his masculinity through the possession of a feminine counterpart. Betsy and Iris represent two different types of fixation Bickle has with women. Amy Taubin aptly describes Betsy as “the Madonna he wants to turn into a whore,” while Iris as “the whore he wants to save.”[ix] By initially pursuing Betsy, a statuesque woman with blonde hair and blue eyes – the embodiment of mainstream American beauty standards – Bickle is constructing the version of himself he would like to actualize. When Betsy eventually rejects him, he turns his attention to Iris, a 12-year-old prostitute, whom he wants to rescue. At first this aim may seem noble, but after Iris explains to him that she does not want to be saved, his insistence becomes misguided. Iris’s unwillingness to take part in mainstream culture doesn’t make sense to Bickle, and he wishes to place her back in her predefined space. Though he believes he is liberating her, rather, he is inflicting his unwanted patriarchal control.

While Iris’s role in Taxi Driver is significant, Bickle’s relationship with Betsy frames the film’s structure and indicates his acute misunderstanding of women. When the audience first meets Betsy she enters the frame in slow motion and gracefully floats into Palantine’s campaign office. The camera is positioned from inside the taxi, assuming Bickle’s gaze. His narration plays, god-like, over the image: “She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel…out of this filthy mess. She is alone. They…cannot…touch…her…”[x] Bickle’s interest in Betsy is based purely on his physical attraction to her. He studies her from his cab for some time, before eventually building up the confidence to ask her out. When he meets her for the first time he’s dressed in a maroon corduroy sports coat, with his hair neatly combed and parted on the side. This is his attempt to match her embodied refinement. After a little persistence, Betsy agrees to get coffee with him.

“May 26th, 4:00 P.M. I took Betsy to Charles’ Coffee Shop on Columbus Circle. I had black coffee and apple pie with a slice of melted yellow cheese. I think that was a good selection. Betsy had coffee and a fruit salad dish. She could’ve had anything she wanted.”[xi] Bickle’s attention to detail, particularly in retelling what he and Betsy ate, exemplifies Bickle’s insecurity and desire to navigate space in a normative manner. The date goes well enough for Betsy to agree to see him again. On the second date, Bickle’s atypical behavior becomes socially destructive when he brings Betsy to a porn theater. This moment reveals the depth of his social ineptitude, and as a result, Betsy rejects him. Because of her refusal, Bickle’s attempt at mastering space, through his identification as an archetype of ideal masculinity, is hindered. He cannot understand Betsy’s dismissal, and rather than come to terms with his own fault, he blames her. “I realize now how much she’s just like the others, cold and distant. And many people are like that. Women for sure. They’re like a union.”[xii]

In the third act of the film, Bickle prepares for what he sees as his final calling – an opportunity to find redemption. “Listen, you fuckers, you screw-heads. Here’s a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up.”[xiii] He unsuccessfully tries to assassinate presidential hopeful, Palantine (who arguably may represent a sort of father-figure to Betsy), and successfully murders Iris’s pimp and lover, Sport (Harvey Keitel). Bickle attempts or actualizes violence against these men because he sees them as the paternal-figures who have influence in Betsy and Iris’s lives. Bickle may also feel inferior to Palantine and Sport, both of whom have a sort of relaxed masculinity and sexuality that is alluring to Betsy and Iris. This inferiority, coupled by his inability to imagine a world in which women have agency, causes Bickle to perceive these men as being the reason why he is rejected. The logical solution, in Bickle’s warped mind, is to eliminate these men and assume his position as a father-figure, messiah-like character. These attempts at possession and control are a result of Bickle’s need to create an image of himself that fits within his understanding of what it means to be a man.

In Barbara Mortimer’s Portraits of the Post Modern Person in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy, she discusses how Travis Bickle functions as a character structured by postmodernism. Mortimer describes the postmodernist character in terms of the idea that “…a coherent, stable self is an enabling fiction that has not so much been abandoned in the late twentieth century as exposed. Scorsese’s films participate in this postmodern exposé of the fictive self.”[xiv] She explains that Travis Bickle (and for that matter, De Niro’s characters in multiple Scorsese films) must “perform or enact his selfhood. Subsequently, identity becomes a matter of impersonation.”[xv] Bickle’s desire to construct his own identity is best articulated in one of his journal entries. He writes: “All my life needed was a sense of some place to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that one should become a person like other people.”[xvi] What does Bickle mean when he says this? Does he wish to assume a sort of “normal” state of being? And if so, what does normal mean to Bickle? Mortimer calls this “identity as impersonation.” Throughout the film Bickle performs; often as a voyeur, sometimes as a “father figure,” and most devastatingly as a vigilante. All of these impersonations are based on his aspiration to become the archetypal hero. In classical Hollywood cinema, the typical “hero” triumphs that which does not qualify as distinctly white, male, and heterosexual.

In The Power and the Gory: Taxi Driver, Patricia Patterson and Manny Farber discuss the role of power in the film, which could be interpreted as another way in which characters attempt to navigate and master space:

“A chief mechanism of the script is power; how people either fit or don’t fit into the givens of their status, and the power they get from being socially snug. Travis’s dream girl has power because she has a certain golden beauty and doesn’t question or rebel against her face or her position as political campaigner. Various pimps are shown as editorialized icons of illegal power. The cabbies, more or less at peace with themselves, are glimpsed as a gang not fighting job or status. The movie shows the facts of being in or out. Everyone plays this power game but Travis – he can’t figure out what kind of game he wants to play.”[xvii]

Bickle’s social isolation seems to result in his misunderstanding of the outside world. This misunderstanding, in turn, drives him to attempt to master and control that which is unknown. In order to not be scared by something, he must dominate it: “Now I see it clearly. My whole life has pointed in one direction. I see that now. There never has been any choice for me.”[xviii] In order to truly conquer the unfamiliar, Bickle resorts to killing. Though because of the complexity of Bickle’s deranged personality, his motivation isn’t necessarily as simple as finding purpose in heroism.

In an interview in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-drugs-and-rock-‘n’-rock Generation Saved Hollywood, screenwriter Paul Schrader described his own solitude as an inspiration for Travis Bickle. Schrader was in his mid-twenties; he had dropped out of AFI, left his wife, and was eventually dumped by his girlfriend. He was living out of his car, drinking every night and driving around town, and started to feel sick. He went to the hospital and found out he had a stomach ulcer, and it was there that he realized he hadn’t spoken to a single person in over a week. “While I was in the hospital, I had this idea of the taxi driver, this anonymous angry person. It jumped out of my head like an animal. It was like, ‘Oh, this is a fiction; it isn’t really you. Put it in a picture where it belongs and get it out of your fucking life where it doesn’t belong.’”[xix] Aspects of Travis Bickle, and the inspiration for using a diary as a narration device, were also motivated by Arthur Bremer’s attempted assassination of Democratic presidential hopeful, George Wallace, in 1972.

Similar to Travis Bickle, Arthur Bremer was an isolated young man who had problems with women, and his expressions of sexuality were often aggressive. When he was 21 he became fixated with Joan Pemrich, a 15-year-old girl whom he dated briefly. Bremer quickly began to make sexual advances and Pemrich broke it off after only three dates because he acted “goofy” and “weird.” After the breakup, Bremer spiraled out of control. He obsessively contacted Pemrich and shaved his head to show her that he felt “as empty as (his) shaved head.” In 1972 Bremer began writing in a diary, in which he declared that he would assassinate either President Nixon or Governor George Wallace. Due to strict security, Bremer never got close enough to Nixon to shoot him, though he tried. Wallace, however, was more accessible, and on May 15th, 1972, Bremer shot George Wallace, paralyzing him from the waist down. As a result, Wallace withdrew his candidacy.[xx]

By drawing inspiration from Bremer and carrying Taxi Driver’s narrative through the point of view of a psychotic loner, Bickle’s perspective, and therefore the audience’s, is substantially complicated. This complication, and the irrational nature of the lead character’s anger and violence, seems engrained in a sort of metaphor for the complexities of the time. In an interview with Roger Ebert for the Chicago-Sun Times, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader discussed the film’s reception and the general stir that Taxi Driver had caused. According to Schrader, “The immediate response is usually very visceral and angry. But if this film weren’t controversial, there’d be something wrong with the country.” Scorsese went on to explain, “You can’t make movies any more in which the whole country seems to make sense. After Vietnam, after Watergate, it’s just not a temporary thing; it’s a permanent thing the country’s going through.”[xxi]

The year that Taxi Driver was released was also the same year that the United States celebrated its bicentennial. On the night of July 4th, 1976, President Ford gave his bicentennial speech from the Oval Office:

“In its first two centuries the nation has not been able to right every wrong, to correct every injustice, or to reach every worthy goal. But for two hundred years we have tried, and we will continue to strive to make the lives of individual men and women in this country and on this earth better lives – more hopeful and happy, more prosperous and peaceful, more fulfilling and more free. This is our common dedication and it will be our common glory as we enter the third century of the American adventure.”[xxii]

In The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, historian and journalist Rick Perlstein points out the hypocrisy of Ford’s speech within the context of the cost of the bicentennial celebrations: “…the estimated $400 million spent on the parties, including $51.8 million in federal funds for the American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission, could have been spent more patriotically by actually making America a better place.”[xxiii] But instead, millions of dollars went towards reminding conservatives that their country was a noble one, that their cause had value, and that tradition would triumph over change. It was also a reminder that the country was great despite the fact that the U.S. had lost the Vietnam war, leaving approximately 200,000 American troops dead and over 1 million Vietnamese.[xxiv]

Though direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam ended on August 15th, 1973, it wasn’t until April 30, 1975, with the capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese, that all American troops left the country.[xxv] The wound caused by Vietnam was still very fresh, and despite the briefness of its mention in Taxi Driver, the fact that Travis Bickle identifies as a Marine who was honorably discharged is a significant piece of information. Though the audience isn’t told outright that all of Bickle’s problems came from his time spent in Vietnam, it can be assumed that at least some of them did, or if anything, they were enhanced by any trauma he experienced there. While it’s never established exactly when Bickle returned from Vietnam, or if he was anywhere else before ending up in New York City, it is evident that the country he returned to was different than the one he had left. Not only was New York facing substantial economic setbacks, but the country as a whole was becoming increasingly divided.

As a reaction to activists, protestors, and rioters – those whom were fighting so that America would make room for their ideas too – President Nixon coined the term “the silent majority” to signify Americans who weren’t as loud and boisterous. In the eyes of Republicans, these were the “true Americans”: the men and women who put their noses to the grindstone, worked quietly and diligently, never blamed the government, never asked for handouts, and supported their country no matter what. In actuality, the silent majority represented a homogenous group of individuals who were upset about the ways in which the country was changing. This change was signaled by the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, the fight for LGBT rights, and anti-war activism. Travis Bickle’s explicit racism, sexism, and homophobia can all be attributed to a socially conservative perspective. American conservatives, who have often been characterized as attempting to uphold traditionalism, were threatened by the growing influence of the Black Panther Party, feminists, gay rights activists, Marxists, and pacifists. In many ways, Bickle’s attempt to master space, by establishing his white heteronormative masculinity, is reflective of the silent majority’s intent to curb transformation, particularly within urban settings. Bickle struggles to assert his masculinity over and over again, until eventually turning to his last option: violence. The gun, in particular, is an especially recognizable symbol of American masculinity.

References to guns, including “finger guns,” are scattered throughout Taxi Driver. A fellow cabby asks Bickle if he’s interested in buying a gun, just to keep him safe in his cab, and he initially declines. But after his failed attempts at realizing conventional masculinity, he acquiesces. Rather than buy one gun, he buys four. When examining one of the guns he points it at two older women talking outside. He’s above them, god-like. Though he does not enact physical violence on any women, he fantasizes about the possibility. He’s referred to as “killer” by his fellow cab drivers, who point finger guns at one another in a non-aggressive manner, though Bickle perceives it as an assertive act. In the porn theater he points his finger at the screen and pulls the trigger, just as the woman in the film is climaxing. He listens to a man in the back of his cab graphically describe how he is going to murder his wife. She’s been cheating on him with a black man. Bickle says nothing in response; he looks disturbed, yet curious. He glances at the window again and watches the woman’s silhouette. What is he thinking? He begins to prepare for his final chapter: “The idea had been brewing in my brain for some time. True force. All the king’s men cannot put it back together again.”[xxvi]

In the third act of the film, Bickle decides to enact his selfhood through tremendous violence. He begins excessively working out in order to fit the physical qualifications of a male hero, and starts dressing more and more like a cowboy. He practices his tough guy performance in front of a mirror, confronting himself and the self he wishes to be: “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Well who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?.”[xxvii] Though Bickle does not successfully assassinate Palantine, he continues on to “save” Iris. The brothel scene visually stands apart from the rest of the film because it is significantly desaturated, a decision Scorsese made in order to secure an R-rating for the film, rather than the initial X-rating that the MPAA gave it.[xxviii] Brown-tinged blood stains grimy white walls as a pale Bickle realizes his masculinity through violence. The result is a scene that is almost more grotesque and ominous than it would have been if the color scheme remained realistic. There is something ceremonial about the emotionless way that Bickle executes each man sharing this space with Iris. He conquers everyone, including Iris, and attempts to kill himself in a failed act of martyrdom. The camera hangs above the bloody scene in a divine manner, traveling out of the room like a spirit moving on to another realm. Though that spirit is certainly not Bickle’s; he, instead, remains clenched to the physical world.

The camera continues to float into the final scene while Herrmann’s dreamy score fades in, bringing everything full circle. Iris’s father narrates a letter written to Bickle, thanking him for returning their daughter: “She’s back in school and working hard. The transition has been very hard for her, as you can well imagine. We have taken steps to see she never has cause to run away again.”[xxix] The camera passes a newspaper article, mounted to the wall, that reads “Taxi Driver Battles Gangsters.” The letter from Iris’s parents is attached to the wall too, displayed next to all of the other evidence of Travis’s heroic achievements. The first time the audience sees Bickle since the massacre, he’s back with the cabbies. His hair has grown in, he’s wearing his usual garb, and he seems at ease with his peers. Someone has gotten into his cab, so he runs over to take the fare. It’s Betsy, who seems to be interested in Bickle again, presumably because of his heroic deed. When she arrives at her destination, she tries to engage him, but he denies her. “So long” he says, as he drives off.

At the end of the film, Travis has become the hero in the eyes of the public. In what may be his most precious achievement, Betsy pursues him, giving him the opportunity to reject her. From the back seat of his cab, she has submitted to his control. He has the power. But in order to perform masculinity to the fullest extent, he must deny her. When he drives off and looks into the rear-view mirror, for a moment the audience is yanked into his world of warped perception – nothing has changed. What will become of Travis Bickle?

There are various elements to Taxi Driver that make it a challenging film to digest, but the ending is quite possibly the most difficult. Not only does Bickle get away with these atrocities, but he is celebrated for them. White manhood wins again, and his enactment of masculinity through violence is validated by the media. In an interview in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Paul Schrader explains how this choice was meant as a criticism of the media: “Characters like Travis are justified by publicity. If you’re on the cover of Newsweek, like Lynette Fromme, then you’re important. The reason why you’re on that cover is unimportant.”[xxx] By publicly validating his performative masculinity, Bickle seems to achieve his goals. He’s a man – he’s become somebody, and he has mastered urban space and subverted his inferiority.

Through Taxi Driver’s lead, the audience is able to explore complex ideas about masculinity, power, and the politics of space. The film is further complicated by its sensuous and lyrical visuals, which celebrate the city while simultaneously inflicting abuse from the perspective of Bickle. There are numerous other instances in the film in which two conflicting things seem to be happening at once. Bickle is simple, yet layered. At times he is respectful on the surface, but seething underneath. He is meticulous and methodical, yet totally irrational. He’s a loner who is socially inept and bad at communication, yet in one instance, he is able to connect with Betsy. He doesn’t seem to understand himself, he confuses those around him, and the audience surely doesn’t understand him either. As a result, and in order to establish his masculinity, he attempts to conquer the spaces around him and those who inhabit it. It’s what he must do in order to relieve his inferiority and uphold what it means to be a white, heterosexual, American man. This expression of Bickle’s masculinity, and his failure to accept the transformations of urban space, are reflective of 1970s right-wing America’s inability to welcome a changing landscape, where women, gay people, and people of color were gaining ground in the pursuit of a country they could call theirs too.

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[i] Richard Thompson with Paul Schrader, “Paul Schrader Interview,” (Film Comment, Mar-Apr. 1976)

[ii] Taxi Driver, dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976

[iii] Taxi Driver, 1976

[iv] Sam Roberts, “New York City Tallies The Human Costs of Its 1970’s Cutbacks, (New York Times, 3 Feb 1991), E20

[v] Sabine Haenni, “Geographies of Desire: Postsocial Urban Space and Historical Revision in the Films of Martin Scorsese,” (Journal of Film and Video, 62.1, 2010, Project MUSE) 68

[vi] Haenni, “Geographies of Desire,” 67

[vii] Amy Taubin, “God’s Lonely Man: Vietnam, Gunplay, Race and Blood-Letting Are All Part of the “Taxi Driver” Myth, But Does the Film Deliver the Truth About Men In Crisis, Asks Amy Taubin,” (ProQuest, 1999)

[viii] Haenni, “Geographies of Desire”

[ix] Taubin, “God’s Lonely Man”

[x] Taxi Driver

[xi] Taxi Driver

[xii] Taxi Driver 

[xiii] Taxi Driver

[xiv] Barbara Mortimer, “Portraits of the Post Modern Person in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and the King of Comedy,” (Journal of Film and Video 49, 1997), 28

[xv] Mortimer, “Portraits of the Post Modern Person,” 28

[xvi] Taxi Driver

[xvii] Patricia Patterson and Manny Farber, “The Power and the Glory: TAXI DRIVER,” (Film Comment, May-June 1998), 42

[xviii] Taxi Driver

[xix] Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-drugs-and-rock-‘n’-roll Generation Saved Hollywood, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 290

[xx] “Portrait of an Assassin: Arthur Bremer,” PBS

[xxi] Roger Ebert with Martin Scorsese, “Interview with martin Scorsese,” (Chicago Sun-Times, Mar. 1976)

[xxii] Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and Rise of Reagan, (Simon & Schuster, 2014), 711

[xxiii] Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge, 711

[xxiv] Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 442-3

[xxv] The American Experience: Vietnam, PBS

[xxvi] Taxi Driver 

[xxvii] Taxi Driver

[xxviii] Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 307

[xxix] Taxi Driver 

[xxx] Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 314

Spring Has Sprung!

Since I’ve posted a mood board for every other season of the year (here’s winter, summer, and fall), it’s finally time to share what inspires me during the springtime. Spring in Los Angeles is lively and colorful, so my mood is energized by blooming flowers, the laughter of the apartment kids when they’re goofing off together, and the little discoveries that I make on long walks through my neighborhood. This collage is also brimming with work from renowned architect and artist, Josef Frank. Frank’s patterns and furniture design have been a source of inspiration for me for many years, so I wanted to include him in this post since I recently rediscovered my love for his work.

Creating these “mood boards” is a relaxing and fun way for me to express myself, and although I’ve gone through all of the seasons, I’m going to continue to find reasons to make more collages. Lately I’ve been exploring new creative outlets, and although it may sound corny, I’m a happier and more fulfilled person because of it. Whenever and wherever you have the chance to express yourself or make something, go for it!

A Few Things I Learned as a Freelancer

Until very recently I was a part of the “gig economy,” along with millions of Americans in my age group. The experience was exciting, but if I’m being completely honest it was also terrifying. The stress of finding work – consistent work – and being able to earn a living wage is something I could write an entire essay on. For now, however, there are plenty of other great articles out there on this subject already (including Why Freelancers Are So Depressed by Anya Kamentez). Instead, I want to share some of the healthy habits I cultivated while leading an on-again-off-again work life.

Being a freelancer can be fun and rewarding, but also exhausting, depressing, and isolating. Because my work was inconsistent, when I wasn’t on a gig I often found myself feeling unmotivated, frustrated, and lonely. In order to overcome that hurdle, I needed to create positive habits, which I wish I would have realized earlier. So for the days when you don’t have a gig, or if you work freelance from home, here’s my advice for achieving happier, more fruitful days:

PS: I’ve thrown in a few dog gifs for fun!

→ Don’t sleep in

If you’re like me, sleeping in will throw off your entire day. Getting up later means less time to be productive, but also less time for yourself. When I get up early I have the chance to make coffee, read, relax, and get my morning started peacefully, which makes a world of difference throughout the rest of my day. You may have the time to sleep in, but trust me – don’t do it!

→ Go for a walk

Working from home or spending long amounts of time inside can be a complete bummer. Whenever I’m feeling down for any reason, I get up and go for a walk around my neighborhood. Sometimes I call home, other times I listen to a podcast or music, but often I just walk without my headphones in and think about things. Going for a walk is a great way to clear your mind and also get in some physical activity. And physical activity is also important for your mental health and productivity!

→ Get out of your pajamas

This is something I didn’t start doing until recently, and the result was surprisingly impactful. My “aha moment” came when I was watching the sixth episode of Queer Eye (🙌), which features Remy, who works from home and pretty much lived in his gym clothes. Tan (oh wonderful, beautiful Tan!) explained to Remy how important it is for people who work at home to dress nicely in order to boost their confidence and delineate between work life and home life. I decided to try this theory out and I admittedly felt better about myself and my abilities immediately. When I was at home and not working a gig, I made sure to get out of my pajamas, and as a result I was more proactive about finding new work.

If you need more reasons to get out of your PJ’s at home, read What Happened When I Dressed Up to Work From Home for a Week by Stephanie Vozza.

→ Be consistent

If you’re getting up early, going for walks, and dressing up while at home, be sure to be consistent. Without consistency, none of these new practices will become habitual. And in order to have a lasting impact on your work life, and personal life, it’s essential that you create positive habits.

→ Have fun

In order to work from home or survive periods of no work, you must have fun sometimes. This means rewarding yourself from time to time (or every day if you want) and going easy on yourself if you have an off day.

→ Exercise and eat healthy

For the longest time I was not exercising or eating particularly healthy. If you work from home or aren’t working, you likely have the time to plan and prepare healthy meals for your week. Slowing down and taking time to make your food can be a relaxing ritual, and is the best way to be sure that you’re treating your body as well as you can. And daily activity is essential for anyone who is working at home! As someone who spends a lot of time on my computer, once I decided to start exercising consistently, my entire outlook changed. I began to feel more confident in myself, and more in-tune with my body’s needs. When you’re cooped up at home, it’s especially important to get out and exercise. I recommend taking classes at a gym because it’s an opportunity to get in a quick, intense workout, and also be around other people.

→ Get creative

What I love about working gigs is that every week is different from the next. So when I don’t have a gig and I’m at home, I’ve found that it’s crucial for me to listen to music, draw, and write. If I’m not exploring some sort of creative outlet, I’m often disappointed that I’m not working, instead of feeling fulfilled in my personal life and getting excited for my next job.

→ Establish goals

Just like working a “traditional” job, it’s important that you have an idea of where you want your current path to take you next. As a freelancer your work is what you make of it, which can be both satisfying, and difficult. In order to be as successful as possible in your given field, it’s important that you set both short and long-term work goals, as well as personal goals.

→ Make plans

Being home alone all day is isolating, so it’s important that you make plans throughout your week. If most of the people you know work 9-5 jobs, then make plans to get lunch nearby their work. If you have friends that freelance too, meet up with them when their schedules allow it. If you both work on your laptops, maybe once a week get together with that friend and work from their home, or at a coffee shop. And make plans for the evenings too – go to a reading at a bookstore, a concert, or get dinner and drinks with an old friend. Evening plans also give you something to look forward to during the day!

→ Get comfortable with yourself

Being alone often requires that you are self-aware and in-tune with your feelings. For example, I know that when I’m working on my own schedule, my productivity and inspiration comes in waves. That means that if I’m feeling especially inspired at 1 AM, I go with it. And if I’ve spent all day at home and can tell that I’m heading towards a mental block, I head to a coffee shop for a change of scenery. When I’ve been sitting for too long and am beginning to feel restless, I go outside for a bit. I listen to my mind and body, and take action accordingly.

→ Leave the house whenever possible

Being alone in your home can be enjoyable, but after a while it may also become stifling. I do my best work when I’m spending some time at home, and occasionally working at a coffee shop or with a friend at their home. In order to not get bored, I try to mix things up and get out as much as possible. Sometimes, simply running a few errands can lighten your mood when you’ve been inside all day.

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Do you work at home or spend time at home when you don’t have a gig? Let me know in the comment section below what healthy habits you’ve created in order to stay motivated and productive.