Posts in Category: wrtg032f16

Built Environment Introduction: The Evolution of U Street Entertainment

U Street has been an entertainment hub of Washington D.C. for almost one hundred years, evolving from a mostly black community to a diverse scene for D.C.’s nightlife. While much of the area has been taken over by new apartments and stores, a few relics of the past still stand tall on the street. The Lincoln Theatre and the updated 9:30 Club give visitors a chance to stand in the same rooms as some of the greats and gain insight into D.C’s music history. Yet, the way people have experienced those venues have drastically changed over time, from the grand outings of the 1920s to the basement shows of the 1980s to the multifaceted events of today. As the neighborhoods of U Street modernism so do the mindsets of the people living within it. Attending a concert or show in a historical venue has become less of a whole experience and more of a simple outing; people want to capture the moment instead of being in a fully immersive environment. So, the question is, can these historical venues be brought back into the art? Will artists take advantage of these spaces and use them as assets? Or will U Street fall into the pit of crowd pleasing concerts?

Finding A Melody in the Medium: An Evolution of How D.C. Listens to Music

Professor Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message,” in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man and, while music has been an influential medium throughout time, the way we listen to it has become more of its own medium every day (“The Medium”). With so many ways to access our favorite songs on demand and in the palms our hands, we still support the most archaic way of hearing sound: live concerts. Each city has its own venues through which music history has flowed including Washington D.C.: home to U Street, the entertainment center of the city since the early 1900s. Each venue holds a different past, a different genre of music, and a different group of isolated people that escaped into the dark rooms at night to find something, a fact that still holds true today. Whether it was to find an escape, a band, a photo, an immersive event, or just a memory, how people have listened to the sounds of D.C. have changed greatly due to the medium they have been perceived through: the venue. The way D.C. inhabitants experience music has thoroughly evolved over the past hundred years, from the glamorous 20s outings of the Lincoln Theatre to the underground 80s scene of the 9:30 Club; paralleling the changing genres of the past, the two venues represent how audiences have listened to music and and how their path within the 21st century shows them regaining their former places as musical mediums.

1943

The Lincoln Theatre in 1922 was certainly a grand sight on the simple U Street.

It’s a cold night on U Street, as marquee lights illuminate a dense crowd that stands outside the box office of the Lincoln Theatre. Faint sounds of a band echo out as ladies in beaded dresses and men in long coats open doors while clutching ticket in between their freezing fingers. Once inside, a gold lit room with plush velvet seats houses a grand stage that seems to sparkle with the excitement of the audience. This is the place to be on a Friday night, no matter who graces the stage. Last week, it was Louis Armstrong. Tonight, it’s a new jazz band hoping to find their big break. Who knows who will come next?

Deemed the “Jewel of U Street,” the Lincoln Theatre holds a prominent places in the black culture of Washington D.C. and provides key insight into how concerts were perceived by the public during the early 1900s (“Lincoln”). Opened in 1922, the theatre functioned as an entertainment center for segregated blacks and featured a thriving rotation of traditional media such as movies, theater, and novelty shows (“Lincoln”). The 20s saw the rise of the jazz movement, a new genre that “…was different because it broke the rules — musical and social” and, therefore, was not received well by the older, white society (Carter). It seems fitting that the Lincoln Theatre, a venue that emanated the same grand structure of the traditional theatres of the time, housed both a excluded group of people and a rejected genre of music; from the outside, the Lincoln could pass as any city play house, yet, on the inside, it was hosting a movement. A slew of jazz legends and big bands including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald made their way into the theatre throughout the years, drawing crowds who were now privy to their own special nights out (“Lincoln”). See, in the early 1900s, going to theatre was an outing within itself, no matter who was on stage. Whether it was to listen to an orchestra, sit to watch a Broadway show, or to sing along with a jazz singer, people took pride in their outings; it was a special occasion that required saving up to wear fancy dresses and suits for one night under the city lights. Even though the Lincoln fell close to the urban realities of the U Street area, located right next to the highly popular Ben’s Chili Bowl, it still acted as a grand escape from the real world (“Lincoln”). Audiences looked up to the theatre as a luxurious place; it made the performances special. Seeing Louis Armstrong play in a small, plain theatre in the middle of nowhere would pale in comparison to the trumpeter holding an audience captive in a glittering gold ballroom. The grand staging is what makes so many of the acts of the 1920s and 1940s so memorable; it put them on a new level and made them living legends to the audiences that flocked to them on those special nights.

1985

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The original 9:30 Club on F Street hosted a slew of punk bands that had never been seen before in the city.

The sun is just setting when the rowdy group of kids walks up to the large glass door plastered with the numbers 9:30. They have saved up for weeks to see their favorite punk band come to life on stage and play sounds that cannot be found anywhere else in the city. After getting their tickets, they make their way into a raucous crowd that stands in front of a simple stage lined with instruments. It’s an eclectic group of all ages, but they are all there for one reason: the band. This is their scene; this is the scene.

Not long after the Lincoln closed down in 1968 due to race riots, a new underground venue called the 9:30 Club helped usher in a new genre of music to the city while facilitating the band-centric ideals of the 1980s (“Lincoln”). As a river of rock and punk performers flooded the music scene, the club was created as a space within a city that had limited creative spaces for such artists: “There weren’t very many clubs anyway. A lot of the shows were in churches or church halls and then houses in the very early ’80s because there wasn’t any space to perform in” (Bray). The first club, which opened in 1980 in the renovated Atlantic Building on F Street, only held around 200 people but allowed D.C.’s local scene to begin its growth (“9:30”). Promoter Seth Hurwitz provided smaller, typically ignored bands a place to share their alternative art while giving fans of all ages a place to listen to their favorites, creating an inclusive, expanding purpose that was seen in the Lincoln as well (Bray). Local bands such as Fugazi and Dain Bramage found their place in the venue while other national acts such as the Ramones and Green Day made stops there on their tours (“9:30”). Both bands and fans alike saw how important the venue could be in creating their scene. It did not matter how small it was or how many people it could fit; it just mattered that it was there. Photographer Cynthia Connolly described the post-Lincoln, pre-9:30 Club plight perfectly to Consequence of Sound, showing just how important the venue’s addition was to the music community: “There wasn’t anything happening in downtown DC except for some amazing old businesses that actually had lasted from the ’50s and were still there… They were sort of using these spaces as they were from the ’50s or ’60s, so they had this sort of lonely feeling” (Bray). In the 1980s and 90s, people simply wanted to listen to music; it was the bands that ruled their world, and they would follow them wherever they went. That type of thinking brought people from simply being audiences looking up to performers in massive theaters to becoming fans standing face to face with their favorite bands in intimate spaces. A concert no longer connoted a fancy night out for adults but a gathering of all ages. 9:30 was more than a time or a place; it was the start of a movement that allowed people to simply listen to music and not have to worry about where they were going to do so.

2015

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The renovated Lincoln Theatre harks back to its old, vintage structure.

Hozier tunes his guitar as the tech crew continues to build up the stage around him. He looks out at the grand spectacle in front of him, taking in the same views as many of the greats before him. Tonight, the red seats will fill with bodies waiting to take in every note of his performance. But how do you fill such a space as just one person? How can you command something that seems like it could swallow you up at any second like a gold lion’s open mouth lined with blood red teeth? 

That night, as he begins “Jackie and Wilson,” the theatre takes over, letting the cords radiate off the sides of its walls and up into the balcony. It’s just Hozier now, as the theatre directs all eyes to his song as it has for some many other performers. It’s modern and vivacious yet classic and simple, exactly how it used to be (“Jackie”).  

2016

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While the 9:30’s current location on V Street may not seem like much, it’s certainly bigger on the inside.

Green Day steps on to the stage, surveying the new land in front of them. It has been a while since they’ve seen a venue so small, spending years on the road playing to huge crowds around the world. Tonight, they go back to their roots and to the scene they fell in love with so many years ago. But how can you put a rock sensation back into such a small box? How do you even make a show that can sustain the powerhouse band in such an intimate setting?

That night, as the chords of “American Idiot” radiate throughout the room, a wave of energy hits the crowd. This couldn’t happen anywhere else, at any other venue or in any other room. The 9:30 Club is in control of this performance, containing the seemingly uncontrollable fire that is punk rock. It’s big and loud yet intimate and inclusive, exactly how it used to be (“Green”).  

Since their inceptions, the Lincoln Theatre and the 9:30 Club have acted as mediums for music by facilitating very unique experiences for every person that walks through the doors. Concerts have gone from glamorous nights out to band-centric gatherings, but, in the past fifteen years, we’ve seen the concert experience go a different route. Both venues lie under I.M.P.’s control, a local production company that books many D.C. concert halls. They have a long history with 9:30 (which has moved to its current location on V Street), but the Lincoln is a recent purchase from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities that is just beginning its revival (Fischer). While both have seen successful years of booking both national touring acts and local community events, the way D.C. has experienced such nights is a far cry from how they used to. The concert economy has changed, becoming less of a ‘I want the full experience’ and more of a ‘let me prove that I was there’. Technology has become a hot button topic, with artists debating that phones and cameras at shows both ruin the audience-act relationship and distract from the people taking in all the elements of a show (Silva). Yet, a phone might not be the only cause for our inability to have nights like those in the 1920s or 1980s. We, as a society, have changed in our mindsets when it comes to experiences, whether it’s a concert or a building. It is not enough to walk into a venue and tread on the same floor as some of the greats; artists have to heighten their spectacle to please people because playing in a historical theatre isn’t enough. Yet, how much of that spectacle is really how they want their music to be experienced, and how much of it is just to entertain? And, if it is just to entertain, do we ever get to see art in its fullest state? See, it’s not the problem of whether we see the show through a lense or through our own eyes, but whether the show itself was made to please the audience or please the venue.

The audience isn’t the medium; the venue is. The people who come to shows don’t make the show unique. There are thousands of music fans across the world who could provide the same type of energy and same decibel level screams as any other crowd. The people who attended the shows at the Lincoln Theatre and old 9:30 Club did not make the venues what they are; the people who performed there made the venues what they are known as today. They brought experiences and art to the city and many of the artists today are beginning to realize that the experience/atmosphere of a show are just as important as the surroundings itself; you can’t choose your audience, but you can chose how to present your art to them. Since the Lincoln and the 9:30 Club are equal in capacity, a artist choosing between them might think, “How might the venue change the way my show is perceived, and how can I utilize that space to my advantage?” Some artists who are beginning to ask those questions are people like Norwegian producer Lido, all star rapper Kanye West, and even the most eccentric Lady Gaga. Lido brought his recent tour to elaborate theatres across the country saying, “We chose very special rooms in each city to get the perfect vibe. You might’ve never been there before, maybe you’ll never go there again. But we wanted to showcase the most beautiful venues in your cities…” (Lido). The producer wanted his album, which creates an experience within itself already as a concept piece, to be heard by audiences in an atmosphere that could add on to the art.

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Lido brought his tour to The Theatre at Ace Hotel (Los Angeles) in November. He hand pricked venues to showcase his debut concept album, Everything.

Kanye West brought his Saint Pablo tour to huge arenas, not only to accommodate his large fan base but also to bring his giant, floating stage to life (“Saint”). The stage design and venues had to work hand in hand to produce the ‘god-like’ effect he wanted, something that could not have happened in some randomly picked venue.

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Kanye West’s floating stage creates a unique dynamic between audience and artist, allowing everyone in the stadium to have a great view of the rapper.

In contrast, Lady Gaga went on a small dive bar tour to promote her new album, which let the fans interact with her and her music in an intimate way (Hudak). For an artist who was used to playing huge arenas, she saw the benefit in going back to her roots and allowing the venue to contain her spirit. These artists work with the venues themselves and do not compromise if that partnership fails for they see how the show will drastically change in another space; Lido actually cancelled half of his tour due to production issues, stating that, “I would never want to give you a half-ass version of this show…” (Lido). Artists now can begin to build relationships with space in relation to the sounds they create, relationships that will be necessary as we move into the new era of music. No longer is the music the only medium; the venue is as well.

We are heading in a new direction for how we experience and listen to music, one that draws from the old days of exciting nights and gathering places. While there are bound to be artists who push themselves for the sake of spectacle, more and more artists will begin to bring true and full art to venues like the Lincoln Theatre and 9:30 Club. Some fans might crave the ‘old days’ where bands could simply play in basements or rise above the audiences in grand theatres, but not all of that is lost. The 9:30 Club can still host a stripped down punk show and act as a medium that facilitates energy and excitement with memories of the past. The Lincoln Theatre can still be a shining jewel for upcoming stars and provide them with a stage where all eyes will be on them. But, both can be mediums for new art as well. Musicians will come along and paint the walls with lights and decorate hours with sounds of their hearts. The venues will become part of the stories they are telling, and we will continue to listen to them, just like we’ve always have.

Works Cited

Bray, Ryan, and Len Comaratta. “All Access: An Oral History of DC’s 9:30 Club.” Consequence of Sound, 19 May 2014. www.consequenceofsound.net/2014/05/all-access-an-oral-history-of-dcs-930-club/2/.

Carter, María Agui, and Calvin A. Lindsay. “The Devil’s Music: 1920s Jazz.” Culture Shock, PBS, www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/beyond/jazz.html.

Fischer, Jonathan L. “I.M.P. Productions to Take Over Operations of Lincoln Theatre.” Washington City Paper, 27 June 2013. www.washingtoncitypaper.com/arts/music/blog/13079440/i-m-p-productions-to-take-over-operations-of-lincoln-theatre.

“Green Day – American Idiot Part I – 930 Club.” YouTube, uploaded by Wild Man

TV, 5 Oct. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLP3Oc0xO8o.

Hudak, Joseph. “Lady Gaga Talks Dive Bar Tour, Super Bowl Show, ‘Authentic’ New LP.” Rolling Stone, 6 Oct. 2016, www.rollingstone.com/music/features/lady-gaga-talks-dive-bar-tour-family-vibe-of-new-joanne-w443659.

“Jackie and Wilson – Hozier.” YouTube, uploaded by Laura York, 11 Mar. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTz40zx-lgA.

Lido. “New York.” Twitter, 11 Nov. 2016, twitter.com/Lido/status/797235324787290112.

—. “We chose very special rooms in each city to get the perfect vibe. You might’ve never been there before, maybe you’ll never go there again.” Twitter, 1 Nov. 2016, twitter.com/Lido/status/793606864638386176.

“Lincoln Theatre (Washington, D.C.).” Wikipedia, September 30, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Theatre_(Washington,_D.C.)

“The Medium Is the Message.” Wikipedia, November 7, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message

“SAINT PABLO TOUR – clips.” YouTube, uploaded by Ashley Marie, 29 Sept. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vKvvdr3OH8.

Silva, Zach. “Turn it Off: Cell Phones and Concert Culture.” Huffington Post, 2 June 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/north-by-northwestern/turn-it-off-cell-phones-a_b_5432289.html.

“9:30 Club.” Wikipedia, October 22, 2016.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9:30_Club

Additional Photo Sources

Mazur, Kevin. Kanye West performs during The Saint Pablo Tour at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 5, 2016 in New York City. Billboard, www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/7504872/kanye-west-waves-off-fan-who-tries-to-climb-pablo-floating-stage.

Lido. “LA Show.” Twitter, 12 Nov. 2016, twitter.com/Lido/status/797642317813387265.

—. “Tonight. Getting all these feelings out.” Twitter, 9 Nov. 2016, twitter.com/Lido/status/796512947585499136.

 

 

 

 

Built Environment Analysis Bibliography

Background:

Boese, Kent. “Then and Now: Lincoln Theatre – Greater Greater Washington,” April 27, 2009. http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/2147/then-and-now-lincoln-theatre/.

Boese aims to show the structural differences of the Lincoln Theatre between its initial building in 1921 and the publishing of the article in 2009. He outlines some of the history of the building as well, giving context for the social barriers present within the building as well as its uses in the community.

While visiting the Lincoln Theatre, I took pictures of its outside features, and I plan on analyzing its evolution within my essay. Even though Google Maps can show me the building over the past few years, Boese’ article allows me to see its original form.

“Lincoln Theatre (Washington, D.C.).” Wikipedia, September 30, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Theatre_(Washington,_D.C.)

In addition to some historical background on the theatre, Wikipedia includes many key points about its restoration and aquirerence by I.M.P in 2013.

Since my paper aims to prove how outdated the theatre is and how its structure is a hard sell to younger musicians, the information surrounding its revival is key to my argument. Through the article, I can find facts about its past financial struggles and recent notable performers, both of which I can use for evidence for how it is falling behind in today’s music world.

“The Lincoln Theatre.” The Lincoln Theatre. Accessed September 30, 2016. http://www.thelincolndc.com/.

The schedule on the front page of The Lincoln Theatre web page allows visitors to see who is heading to the venue over the next nine months.

The schedule is an important resource because it not only allows me to see the artist demographic but also allows me to gauge of the types of audiences the venue attracts. It is vital to my argument to know who goes into the venue (to see if they are appealing to the surrounding neighborhood or a more diverse group outside of the immediate area).

“9:30 Club.” Wikipedia, October 22, 2016.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9:30_Club

The Wikipedia page for the 9:30 Club provides a thorough look at the venue’s history in both its former and present locations. A whole section is dedicated to ‘Significant Moments’ which gives a reader an idea of just who and what the club has hosted.

I plan on comparing and contrasting the musicians that have played at the Lincoln Theatre and the 9:30 Club in order to argue that the club hosts much newer and varied performances than the theatre. Since the article gives me such specific information about the club’s significant performances, I can utilize them as evidence to back up my claim.

Exhibit:

Bray, Ryan, and Len Comaratta. “All Access: An Oral History of DC’s 9:30 Club.” Consequence of Sound, 19 May 2014. www.consequenceofsound.net/2014/05/all-access-an-oral-history-of-dcs-930-club/2/.

The article takes a new turn on the history of the 9:30 Club by getting the views from various professionals involved with the club (photographers, record label owners, etc). Each provides a unique narrative of the club as it evolved from a small venue in the 80s to a well known large scale club.

I found it very interesting that, despite its short life of forty years, the club has such a rich history and deep impact on the music community of D.C. In comparison to the Lincoln Theatre which has been open for almost a hundred years, more people seem to speak out more about the local scene of the club than the contributions of the theatre to ‘Black Broadway’. Therefore, I think that the article will provide evidence (and good quotations) for my argument surrounding the relevance of the two structures.

DeTogne, Greg. “Live Sound: Staple Of The Circuit: Inside The System At D.C.‘s 9:30 Club – Pro Sound Web.” ProSoundWeb, January 17, 2011. http://www.prosoundweb.com/article/print/the_staple_of_the_circuit.

The article on ProSoundWeb gives key insight into the technical aspects of the 9:30 Club. From the sound system to the lights, the author dives deep into why the Club’s set up is so unique.

Since the Lincoln Theatre and the 9:30 Club clearly differ so much in their interior, I want to utilize this article to back up my claim that the club is a superior technical venue in comparison (which makes it so popular for new acts). In addition to the written text, the article provides some interesting pictures of the sound equipment and layout of the club that I can use in my final essay post.

Fischer, Jonathan L. “I.M.P. Productions to Take Over Operations of Lincoln Theatre.” Washington City Paper, 27 June 2013. www.washingtoncitypaper.com/arts/music/blog/13079440/i-m-p-productions-to-take-over-operations-of-lincoln-theatre.

The Washington City Paper’s article includes an overview of I.M.P’s acquisition of the Lincoln Theatre’s operations in 2013. In addition to the write up, the author includes the official press release from the former mayor of D.C., Vincent C. Gray.

The shift of power to I.M.P Productions is an important part of why the Lincoln Theatre is still running today and what ties it to the 9:30 Club. I intend on using to press release to support the claim that the Lincoln Theatre is tied to the historical side of D.C. (since the mayor declared the shift) and that I.M.P. is shift it away from its roots.

Ramanathan, Lavanya. “Lincoln Theatre’s Revival Ushers in a Gilded Age for Music Fans – The Washington Post.” Washington Post, August 29, 2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/lincoln-theatres-revival-ushers-in-a-gilded-age-for-music-fans/2013/08/29/3535627a-09b6-11e3-b87c-476db8ac34cd_story.html.

Ramanathan provides information about The Lincoln Theatre’s shift into the 21st century concert world by diving into its history and comparing it to other venues. The author also dives into the business side of the venue, details it owners/renters over the years and methods of attracting customers in an age of spectacle and luxury.

I plan on utilizing this article as context for the Lincoln Theatre today and its inner operations. Also, the comparative part of the article may provide useful when talking about the theatre’s amenities.

Argument:

Schweitzer, Ally. “On Its 35th Anniversary, Is The 9:30 Club Whitewashing Its

History?” WAMU Bandwidth, 7 Jan. 2016.

bandwidth.wamu.org/on-its-35th-anniversary-is-the-930-club-whitewashing-its-history/.

This opinion piece questions whether the 9:30 Club was erasing the black performers from its history during its 35th anniversary event which showcases the many memories of the venue. Schweitzer interviews Kristi Riggs, a long time attendant of the club, who was surprised by the lack of colored performers featured in the exhibit. The author also goes on to examine the venue’s place in the black cultural that has thrived in that neighborhood.

The article makes sure to explain that this diversity problem is not just one of the 9:30 Club but also of the Lincoln Theatre. I want to highlight how I.M.P. is causing both venues to erase vital parts of their history and move in the direction of the popular music world, a plan that does not seem to be working very well for the Lincoln,

West, Michael J., and Ally Schweitzer. “How Not to Screw up the Howard Theatre.” Washington City Paper, 6 Apr. 2012, www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/article/13042334/how-not-to-screw-up-the-howard-theatre.

The article functions as an opinion piece where the author gives five tips for how the revival of the Howard Theatre in 2012 can be successful. From serving food and drink to investing in good PR, the article lays out the best way for the theatre to thrive in today’s D.C.

Even though the authors focus on the Howard Theatre, they do mention the Lincoln and its recent failures connect to the lack of PR, its city ties, and other aspects. Many of the suggestions that the authors bring up are key aspects that the Lincoln lacks, and I plan on bringing up as main points in my paper. I will definitely use the 9:30 Club as the example that does fulfill these suggestions, but I might research the Howard Theatre to see how it is functioning today (especially since it is so similar to the Lincoln).

Commonplace #6: Fleming Quote

“[A]n education [. . .] that was designed to support a truly direct, deliberative democracy [. . .] would be an education oriented to the ‘strong publics’ of decision-making rather than the ‘weak publics’ of opinion formation” (Fleming 205).

In a way, Fleming intends to provide commentary on the education system of today where most assignments are geared towards forming an opinion about something rather than acting on that something. The two are intertwined because you cannot act on something unless you have some sort of opinion about what you are doing. In the world, you see a lot of people who are knowledgeable and opinionated about certain topics and know how to facilitate discussions about said topics, yet rarely do you see people who can act on those thoughts. Politicians boast about their platforms and their opinions that appeal to certain groups, yet we as the American people have said that no one in politics is good at getting things done in our country.

Fleming is saying that these are the kinds of people we are raising with our education system: say-ers not do-ers. When I think back on a lot of my assignments in high school, most of them were based on creating some sort of thesis that contained an opinion. In some ways, these assignments were great because they taught critical thought and how to look at different sides of an argument. Yet, I walked out of high school not really knowing how to do anything. How can I enact change in my community? How do I make decisions to benefit myself, my family, and my surroundings? How can I get involved? Those were questions that I had to answer on my own and that my parents taught me as well.

If you have a public that is good at decision making, you can see greater shifts in how that society operates. While those decisions do need to be supplemented by thought and balance opinions, they still can spark more change than just the opinions on their own. I do not know if a society fueled solely by decisions can ever exist though because opinions are so strong. Decisions require reaching terms that tens, if not hundreds, of people need to agree on which is very hard. Though, maybe if everyone’s education had been based in decision making, more people might know the skills of compromise.

 

Ben’s Chili Bowl: Serving Chili and Disconnecting From History

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This is the first image you are greeted with on Ben’s website: an advertisement for their photo contest which, of November 17th, had nine entries.

While the website for the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl showcases the restaurant’s adaptation to the new technological times, it fails to reflect a sense of the past in the present and show Ben’s ties to the U Street community. A simplistic design allows the owners to communicate their love of food and tradition while creating a visual time capsule that holds great memories that the restaurant has experienced. On the other hand, as a pinnacle of the black community, the lack of specific history hinders visitors from understanding why it is more than just another fast food restaurant.

The front page of the website greets you with two huge rotating pictures specifically of Ben’s famous chili and a graphic advertising their 58th anniversary photo contest; surprisingly, of five smiling customers taking a selfie with the logo, there is one woman of color to four whites, which is odd considering the ties that restaurant has to the black community. To an outsider who lacks the knowledge of Ben’s history, the front page seems like any old restaurant that is attempting to draw people in with its ‘famous’ foods and attempts at diversity. There is a great lack of information, unless you dive deeper into the tabs on top. Though, the front page does feature addresses for four of the chili bowls that are located around D.C., including the original location on U Street, which does hint at its regional popularity and ability to expand.

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Despite criticism, the portrait of Cosby remains on the side of Ben’s next to the Lincoln Theatre. The photo does not show the other three people featured on the mural: Chuck Brown, Donnie Simpson, and President Obama.

Formally known as “Black Broadway”, U Street has been home to Ben’s since 1958; we learn the latter from the ‘About Us’ page but have to search for Ben’s place in black history within other sources (Witchel). Articles from publishments such as The New York Times and PBS illustrate Ben and Virginia Ali’s dedication to their business despite the rocky path U Street has sent them down (Carufel). Details are spared on the ‘About’ page, and, instead, the simple mentions of surviving the race riots of the 60s and welcoming President Obama before his inauguration serve as its history. As an attempt to showcase how its intentions have not changed, the page spends a paragraph on how they have kept its original interior (counter, booths, and stools) and its signature dishes.

Lacking the proper oral history, Ben’s website attempts to create a visual look back on many of its highlights on its ‘Photos’ page. Users can jump from various perspectives of the building itself to a slew of smiling customers, some of which are familiar faces. From Jimmy Fallon to Kevin Hart, the restaurant has had its fair share of celebrity guests, but one notable guest is missing from the line up: Bill Cosby, a long time customer of Ben’s and friend of the Alis. While the restaurant eagerly tells of the comedian’s support on its ‘About’ page and features a portrait of the man on the side of the building, his many visits remain removed from the ‘Photos.’ His absence is explainable, due to the recent rape allegations, yet the restaurant has defended the large mural’s place on the restaurant even when questioned by major news sources such as The Washington Post (Carman).

(Artist Aniekan Udofia, who was commissioned by Ben’s to paint the mural, has spoken out about the portrait and its meaning to Ben’s and U Street’s history. There are debates about whether the art stands as a motive of free speech or a negative reminder of his crimes, but the Ali family has clearly stood their ground despite beginning to distance themselves form the comedian.)

If anything, this dedication shows Ben’s awareness of its past and the people who have gotten it to where it is today. Another notable part of the website links to the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation site which does just that: recognize the community that they have been apart of for so long and work to give back to that community. Most of the projects they contribute to deal with supporting multiracial families, black students, and the youth of D.C.

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These are just some of the organizations that Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation is involved with, including The Barker Adoption Foundation, For Love of Children, and College Bound.

Now, for a restaurant with such a rich, cultural history that works every day to give back to the U Street community and beyond, it seems odd that those aspects are absent and even hidden from a viewer’s first glance. The opening page might make you crave some good, home cooked chili but does not invite you to dive into the history of that chili. As Ben’s has proved, food is much more than just food; food is tradition, food is family, food is community, and food is, most of all, a connector. Ben’s Chili Bowl has acted as a gathering place for the people of U Street for almost sixty years and, while its food may be good, people come for the feeling of being at Ben’s. Through a time of segregation and racial tensions, economic troubles and a changing world, Ben’s has always been there. It’s like coming home.

While people might go to Ben’s website to find its address or order a late night burger online, they don’t go to it to find that feeling.

Works Cited

Ben’s Chili Bowl. benschilibowl.com. Accessed 14 Nov. 2016.

Carman, Tim. “Why Ben’s Chili Bowl hasn’t rushed to remove traces of Bill Cosby.” The Washington Post, 8 July 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/why-bens-chili-bowl-hasnt-rushed-to-remove-traces-of-cosby/2015/07/08/04d62d1e-2569-11e5-aae2-6c4f59b050aa_story.html

Carufel, Ashley, et al. “Restaurateur Virginia Ali.” PBS, 2012, www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/black-chefs/bens-chili-bowl-restaurateur-virginia-ali/.

Witchel, Alex. “Ben Ali: Hot Sauce.” New York Times, 23 Dec. 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/magazine/27Ali-t.html.

Emily Bazelon: The Necessary Cycle of Accommodation

Throughout “Making Bathrooms More ‘Accommodating’,” Emily Bazelon argues that creating accommodating bathrooms for all genders is a necessity within our society even if social norms and comfort levels are challenged. The idea of accommodation is prevalent within our society as religions, races, and, now, genders fight to have their needs met (5). When it comes to new accommodations, Bazelon points out that we fall into a cycle where new groups comes to alter the space of the original group’s basic needs (6). For example, Bazelon cites law professor Terry Kogan who states that early bathrooms were accommodations for the ‘‘weaker body of the woman worker”. Males are allowed a separate bathroom, giving each gender their privacy and creating environments suited to their features: the men’s bathroom as a place of function and the women’s bathroom as a place of gathering (8). When segregation came alone, the bathrooms for women were no longer ‘safe havens’ and were altered to make them feel more comfortable (7).

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(These bathrooms in a 1964 city courthouse reflect one of the ‘accommodations’ that whites created to feel more comfortable and safe: creating separate spaces for colored people) 

Now, society faces new identities to integrate into its system, specifically dealing with transgender men and women who want to use the bathroom that suits their chosen identity. They cannot simply walk into the bathroom of their choice, specifically due to the general stigma around one gender actually identifying as another and uncomfortableness of thinking about their original physiology. For those who understand and support the transgender rights movement, accommodation for the identity might be easy and pain free but, for those labeled as more ‘conservative’ in their understanding, the idea of letting a transgender use the same bathroom as them seems unrealistic. For example, an amendment in Texas that would not allow race, sexuality, or gender based discrimination in public spaces was struck down due to the overwhelming cries from opponents who feared their ‘safe’ and ‘separate’ gendered bathrooms would be compromised. As Bazelon describes, most of the propaganda surrounding the opposition depicted the negative events and threats that could result from the genders being able to cross the sacred ‘boundaries’ of bathrooms, playing off of a similar fear response that appeared in the segregation recommendations for the races (2).

(Those who opposed the Houston amendment played off of fear by using slogans such as “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms” and creating images of pedophiles preying off of young girls)

Many schools around the country have showed that this fear can be challenged and that accommodations for transgenders do not sacrifice the importance of privacy that bathrooms uphold. The same fear surrounding the Texas amendment has presented transgender students with a challenge when it comes to using their preferred locker rooms and bathrooms, but, in many cases, higher powers have intervened. In a case involving a female identifying student in Illinois, the Board of Education overruled her school’s “privacy concerns” that made her change in a separate room, ultimately allowing her to change amongst fellow female students as long as a privacy curtain was available. The curtain was seen as an accommodation not only for the student who could utilize it if she did not want to expose herself in front of her peers but also for the other girls if they felt uncomfortable changing in the environment (4). By allowing her into the locker room amongst her female peers, the student was allowed the full experience of being a girl: changing amongst those like her and interacting with the community she identified with. In other words, she felt like she could fit in, tying into a main goal of accommodation: inclusion.

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(The Orlando Convention Center, which hosted a fandom convention called GeekyCon in 2015, provided gender-neutral bathrooms for the attendants)

As Bazelon shows in her examples, the process of making bathrooms accommodating for all genders can have vitally important benefits for the newly included people and can be approached in a way that still allows the original group’s basic needs to be met. This cycle of accommodation is a huge issue within our society, one being addressed on a local and national level. As our world becomes more diverse, more accommodations will have to made, whether it includes who can change in certain dressing rooms at stores or even how we look at previously gendered designs. The point that Bazelon makes is extremely important when it comes to making changes in the future, especially since changing gender-norms can be met with so much resistance. If we can show people that new gender accommodations work hand in hand with aspects of the social norm, maybe less people would react with fear and, rather, with a level of acceptance: realizing that the world can change for the inclusion of others but still promote a sense of safety and privacy for everyone.

 

Works Cited

Adelman, Bob. “Segregated bathrooms in the city courthouse.” 1964, Louisiana, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/segregated-bathrooms-buffalo-art-student-2-334330.

Bazelon, Emily. “Making Bathrooms More ‘Accommodating.’” The New York Times, November 17, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/magazine/making-bathrooms-more-accommodating.html.

Johnson, Maureen. “Hey attendees! Restroom location alert! Third floor gendersmash bathrooms!” Twitter, Jul. 2015, https://twitter.com/maureenjohnson/status/626407460765626368.

Campaign for Houston – TV Spot 1.” YouTube, uploaded by Campaign for Houston, 13 October 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7thOvSvC4E.

 

Suzanne Tick: Gender Neutrality as Social Norm

In her Metropolis article, “His & Hers: Designing for a Post-Gender Society,” designer Suzanne Tick argues that gender neutrality is becoming a widely-accepted normality that calls for new non-gendered accommodations to be created by designers. She begins her article by addressing the new trend of breaking away from set genders: how the traditional masculine and feminine standards are being challenged and are now beginning to overlap. Since identity is now synonymous with such diversity, Tick calls designers to action to create work based on these changes and to promote the different identities within the world (1).

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(Alexander Wang’s 2015 winter line integrated typical masculine designs into the female wardrobe, creating a new route of expression for women)

With this movement into flexible mediums that provide space for an array of identities, Tick acknowledges the agents for social change that have sparked the ‘gender-inclusive’ movement. She explains how people are claiming their true genders and sexualities, if they even have a specific one they identify with (6). Those who claim previously outcasted identities, such as bisexuality and transgenderism, are gaining prominent places within society and bringing change with them (7). As more identities come into the public eye and interact with society on a daily basis, the designs of society are beginning to mold around their needs. For example, companies are providing gender neutral bathrooms so that every person working there can feel accommodated. While the movement is not without its skeptics, Tick highlights it as a necessity to create safe places for people to function no matter who they are (9-10).

Even though she sees an achievable goal of widely created non-gendered designs, Tick goes on to acknowledge the barriers that still exist in our modern world. With a still dominate patriarchy that places males in positions of power, many voices and identities are still ignored in the ‘Modernism’ movement that favors the male hierarchy (2). Males hold far more positions of leadership, therefore getting a bigger say in what is created especially in technology and media companies. However, as the feminist movement begins to gain popularity, many are fighting to shift away from the patriarchy in favor of an equality of the genders. Actress Emma Watson’s ‘He for She’ initiative acts as a prime example as it provides an invitation for men to join the equality movement that women have begun through the promotion of feminism. With these initiatives dispersing across the world, Rice argues that gender-equality is the strongest it’s ever been, especially in reference to the many members of the LGBTQ+ community (3).

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(Multi-platinum singer Halsey is known for her daring fashion choices, embracing masculine and feminine qualities to create her own unique style and showcase how the new generation utilizes qualities of both genders as modes of expression)

In result, diversity is starting to become the favorable quality in design as previously gendered items become mediums for all identities to mingle. Her prime examples surround the fashion world, which picks up trends quite quickly and introduces them to the world on a global scale. Alexander Wang’s 2015 coat line featured masculine design for the ‘modern’ woman, showing how clothes no longer represent which gender we identify ourselves with. In addition, Annemiek van der Beek’s created a makeup line catered towards men which favors the movement away from gendering certain habits such as beauty routines (5). With these progressions in design, all identities can curate their looks and aesthetics based on their tastes and preferences instead on what their gender dictates. In other words, androgyny is key in creating a world where self-expression is the driving force.

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(Meet James Charles, Covergirl’s newest ‘cover boy’, and an advocate of male inclusion in the makeup world)

Since the introduction of androgyny is causing us to approach ourselves in a new way, designers must be around to give us new elements to aid in our expression, a point that drives Tick’s argument. While the fashion and beauty industry may be catching on quick with the millennial generation, there is still a huge population of people who are just beginning to explore the concept of androgyny. A society dominated by men makes the concept harder to spread, but not all hope is lost with the strength of the feminist and LGBTQ+ movements. Tick provides a wealth of evidence that society is becoming more diverse, more inclusive, and more accommodating and, while we may have to start with bathrooms, we can work our way up to creating gender neutral designs and environments that include everyone (12).

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(YouTuber and singer Troye Sivan began painting his nails before his concerts, choosing to embrace a typically feminine practice and hoping to show the world that gendered-acts are social constructions)

Works Cited

Covergirl. “Meet @JamesCharles: makeup artist, boundary breaker, and the newest COVERGIRL!” Instagram, Oct. 2016, https://www.instagram.com/p/BLbN-CzAJsz/?taken-by=covergirl.

Michaels, Jake. 2015, The New York Times, New York, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/arts/music/halsey-with-badlands-is-moving-fast-to-share-a-secret-language.html?_r=0.

Sivan, Troye. “????” Instagram, Jan. 2016, https://www.instagram.com/p/BBHJPiSmxRD/?taken-by=troyesivan&hl=en.

Tick, Suzanne. “His & Hers: Designing for a Post-Gender Society.” Metropolis, Mar. 2015, www.metropolismag.com/March-2015/His-or-Hers-Designing-for-a-Post-Gender-Society/.

Wang, Alexander. 2015, New York Fashion Week, New York, http://www.fashionisers.com/fashion-news/alexander-wang-fall-winter-2015-2016-collection/.

 

Lincoln Theatre: A Nocturnal Vintage Gem in a Sunny Urban World

U Street seems like an unusual spot for a theater. Sure, the surrounding area’s recent urbanization hosts a slew of restaurants and hipster hot spots, but much of the area is still home to locally owned shops and uniformed rows of apartments. With the sounds of construction coming from across the street, you can tell that the area has upgraded from its older community, slowly becoming a part of modern D.C. The street itself is very open and airy with plenty of sidewalks to keep pedestrians moving besides traffic, the kind of street you feel like you would find in a quiet end of a city. Therefore, you can understand my amazement when I spotted the grand Lincoln Theatre wedged between a phone repair store and a chili restaurant.

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(When walking up U Street, it is impossible to miss the theatre’s awning that juts out into the street and provides a brief period of shade for passersby.)

And the theatre truly is grand, even from the outside. A red, marquee type overhang with vintage lampposts on either side give depth to the simple, flat building. A large vertical sign with large capital letters spelling ‘LINCOLN’ sits prominently on the building’s right side. In comparison to its original state in 1921, the building seems to have barely changed besides a fresh coat of paint between its detailed stone carvings (product of its restoration in the 1990s) (“Lincoln Theatre (Washington, D.C.)”). The theatre has kept its original set up; the box office greets you right as you face the door and advertisements for the upcoming concerts/events are featured in its windows. There are hints of development inside the structure though; after comparing my photos with a picture of the theatre in 1921, I saw that they had taken over the two stores next to them (Boese).

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(Those exiting the metro stop across the street can see the full face of the theatre including its original carvings and famous sign.)

It is rare to see a venue so quiet and peaceful, a structure that is usually wrapped in so much festivity. So, at 2:00 in the afternoon (the time of my visit), the Lincoln Theatre’s true form seems hidden. It seems destined to shine at the late hours of the night when its bright lights can bring brightness to the simple structure. It needs people to bring it to life and not just people walking unknowingly by it. No, it needs a line of excited people wrapped around the building waiting for a show. It needs an artist inside doing a soundcheck with their favorite instrument in hand. It needs a sold out crowd, a chorus of voices singing, listening, and watching others share their hearts and secrets on stage.

Even at 2:00 in the afternoon, this is what you feel when you are at the Lincoln Theatre in the middle of a quiet city street: the ghosts of Louis Armstrong, Hozier, and the talent that has walked inside and the memories of blues ballads and rock anthems that haunt the air. For a moment, you are transported to another world. You can feel the cold air in your lungs as you wait for your favorite artist on a dark night. You can hear the excited voices surround you and wire the air with an infectious electricity. You can feel the lights radiate a golden heated glow across your skin as you look up at that sign that so many fans and music lovers has gazed upon. But this is not a sold out crowd on a dark night. This is the Lincoln Theatre in D.C. on a sunny afternoon.

But you can still feel it.

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(Even the storm drain by the theatre has been marked by its music loving attendants.)

Works Cited

Boese, Kent. “Then and Now: Lincoln Theatre.” Greater Greater Washington, April 27, 2009. http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/2147/then-and-now-lincoln-theatre/.

“Lincoln Theatre (Washington, D.C.).” Wikipedia, September 30, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Theatre_(Washington,_D.C.).