Faint: An Introduction

Benjamin Shoemake

Stories matter.

This is hardly a controversial statement. Here at Whitman College, media organizations like The Pioneer and “quarterlife,” among others, are founded upon the idea that stories and journalism have something important to contribute to campus culture. Every year, the Summer Shakes program puts on a performance in celebration of Shakespeare and the contribution his stories have made to the English literary and theatrical canons. Just this past Friday, Whitman College hosted an interview with Joe Sacco as part of the “Seeing Stories” exhibit in Sheehan Gallery, looking at the ways in which stories, politics, and art intersect.

A lot of talk and theories have come out recently about stories and language, perhaps because of their cultural relevance: how they lack diversity, how they aren’t inclusive of marginalized identities, how they need to be deconstructed so that their hidden meanings can be made clear.

By now, most people are probably aware of the backlash that these positions have created, from mens’ rights activists protesting Ghostbusters and Mad Max: Fury Road to Donald Trump claiming that “PC culture” is destroying politics and internet trolls espousing that “feminism is killing video games.”

Many of the conversations surrounding these topics have been thoughtful and important. But hearing for the umpteenth time how a white man the other day was racist, sexist, transphobic, or how someone who looks like you was harassed, beat up, murdered, or how the media you consume every day is still catering to people who don’t share your race, gender, or sexual orientation can get tiring. This isn’t to say that these conversations shouldn’t be happening—heaven knows we need to increase awareness for this stuff—but as Cord Jefferson remarked in The Racism Beat, “that work can be exhausting.”

Raising awareness is important and meaningful for those people who aren’t already aware. But for those of us who are, who deal with this stuff every day, who see time and time again how society continues to look the other way and disregard our existences, there’s something wanting in just reading and writing more of the same thing.

Personally speaking, the stories that have mattered the most to me aren’t news stories on how America still has a long way to go, but the personal ones about how people have kept going despite challenges, the reviews reminding you that just because you aren’t the intended audience for something doesn’t mean you can’t draw strength from it, the opinion articles on how films like “Dear White People” maybe fall short for adults in the thick of things but really matter a lot if you’re fifteen and still trying to find the language to describe your experiences.

That’s what this column is about. “Faint” aims to take a look at, and celebrate, the ways in which we are able to find strength and keep going in a world that would prefer we didn’t exist. How we connect with and relate to stories that were perhaps written with someone else in mind. It’s a journal of how stories shape our understandings of ourselves, and of how our personal experiences can shape our understandings of stories as well. It’s about headcanons, deconstructions, reinterpretations, warm fuzzies, and everything in  between.

My name is Benjamin Shoemake, and I’m a senior Gender Studies and Mathematics double-major here at Whitman College. I hope to use this column to take a closer and more personal look at the stories that we tell ourselves from the fringes of culture, media, and identity.

Many of these perspectives lie decidedly outside the mainstream, barely visible yet unmistakably real, faint but far-reaching. It’s not a project one can go at alone. If you have something to say, get at me.