The Problems With the Ice Bucket Challenge

By now you’ve probably seen videos of people having buckets of ice dumped on their heads, be it on the news, on Twitter or on Facebook. The challenge is part of an effort to raise awareness for the ALS Foundation. The challenge is fairly simple: Someone has a bucket of ice dumped on their head and then challenges three other people to have ice dumped on them. The process is then repeated. Get ice dumped on you, challenge three more people. The catch is if you don’t participate in the challenge you then have to donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.

Right there is the first problem with this challenge as it frames donating money to the ALS Foundation as a punishment. It essentially says, “Oh, you don’t want to have ice dumped on you? Guess you’re chicken. Guess you’ll have to donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.”

However the ALS Foundation did issue a press release calling recent donations to the group as a result of the ice bucket challenge “unprecedented.” This is good to see even if the way you are urged to donate money is framed oddly. It could also mean enough people getting ice dumped on them are saying, “Hey, this is for the ALS Foundation,” leading people to then look into the group and what ALS is and then give money.

The challenge has led to a variety of people having ice dumped on them. Conan O’Brien, Matt Lauer and Ethel Kennedy have had ice dumped on them. Maybe you’ve seen your local meteorologist participate in the challenge or your best friend from high school do the same as well. Even President Barack Obama was challenged to participate, although he chose to donate $100.

The scope of people participating in the challenge certainly seems to be very large, but at the same time there are people on social media who are participating in the challenge and not mentioning the part about the ALS Foundation. As a result the true purpose of the challenge can be lost and it seems it is starting to be lost.

The troubling part of the challenge is still the fact that it is framed as “Have ice dumped on you or donate money.” As a result people participating in the challenge can come off as “I would rather have ice dumped on me than donate to a charity that has a really good purpose.”

Although the ice bucket challenge is proving to be great for the ALS Foundation since they’ve seen a huge increase in donations, it might be time for groups to rethink using viral content for good causes. Often the efforts seem to be misguided–remember that time you were supposed to post your bra color on Facebook to raise awareness for breast cancer?–and the purpose gets lost as more people spread it around social media.

Some Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage in Wisconsin

A United States district court judge overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage last Friday, which initially seemed like a really great thing.

In various counties same-sex couples have already gotten married, while other counties have declined to issue marriage licenses largely because they find the language in the ruling to be too vague. There is also the issue that country clerks could face serious legal repercussions.

But let’s go back to 2006 for a moment to provide some context about same-sex marriage laws in Wisconsin.
Continue Reading

Someone Let Me Talk on the Radio for 10 Minutes About an Abandoned Hospital

It’s now no longer recent, although it could qualify as semi-recent, but I appeared on WBEZ’s The Morning Shift back in February to talk about Edgewater Medical Center, a long-empty hospital on Chicago’s North Side. This came after I wrote “The Saga of Edgewater Medical Center” for Gapers Block, which is part four in the “series” called Monica Writes About Hospitals. (This is a bit delayed because I’ve been busy for the past month and I didn’t think, “I should put this on my blog.”)

It was mildly terrifying because I hadn’t been on any broadcast outlet since my sophomore year of high school and I was worried I’d sound like some silly little kid who think she’s a journalist and I’d say “hahspital” a lot. After sitting down in the studio and starting to talk and thinking of it as just being a conversation with Tony Sarabia, the host, everything came easy. I regret not jotting down some notes to take in with me because there is some stuff I forgot to mention, but now I know next time I’m asked to be on TV or the radio.

If you haven’t heard the interview, I embedded it below for your listening pleasure. A quick note, the part where I very faintly say “Hi!” was the result of my mic not being on, not my anxiety. (Also, the email asking me to come on The Morning Shift came on my birthday, which was pretty great timing.)

The Disney Princess Project: “Frozen”

I don't have a skull.Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog

There are certain elements expected in the standard Disney Princess movie. One can expect there to be a love story, usually involving a handsome man, where the woman presumably ends up with the man, as well as a menacing villain. This could be a jealous stepmother, an older woman or a conniving man. The menacing villain is usually made clear early in the film. “Brave” is the only film examined so far that throws these elements out, which might be the result of it being made by Pixar, rather than Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Frozen” is the first film made by Walt Disney Animation Studios to throw these elements out the window.

In the rather Norwegian and Scandinavian feeling kingdom of Arendelle, Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel, Eva Bella and Spencer Lacey Ganus as her younger voices) possesses the ability to create ice and snow, which allows her and her sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell, Livvy Stubenrauch as her younger voice), to enjoy winter fun inside of their castle. One night, while playing, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with her powers, injuring her. The King (Maurice LaMarche) and Queen (Jennifer Lee) take Anna to trolls, who cure her, but also remove any memory of Elsa’s magic from Anna. The King and Queen then isolate Elsa from her sister and try to have her control her powers. The two daughters grow up, separated from each other. When Elsa is a teenager, their parents die in a shipwreck because it’s not a Disney movie unless at least one of the parents is killed. Three years later, Elsa comes of age and is crowned queen of Arendelle.

The coronation results in numerous nobles from across the region descending on Arendelle, including the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) and Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Anna, excited to be able to leave the castle, runs into Hans and they hit it off immediately. As the coronation celebration occurs, they spend more time together and Hans proposes to Anna. She accepts the proposal and rushes to get her sister’s blessing, but Elsa refuses to give it because Anna just met him. They argue and eventually Elsa’s powers are revealed, frightening everyone at the celebration. She flees Arendelle, in the process blanketing the area in an eternal winter. Anna decides to go after her sister and try to get her to thaw the region. On the way, she teams up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who was animated by Elsa’s powers.

“Frozen” is possibly the best film Disney has made since “Aladdin.” The animation is gorgeous and the film features very complex and interesting characters. All of the problems usually found in Disney films are absent in this movie. There is no annoying sassy sidekick as Olaf is mostly just dim, which seems to largely be the result of him being a snowman. Olaf provides quite a bit of the comic relief in the film, usually at moments when it’s really needed. (He does not appear in the first 30 minutes of the film, which I bawled through most of) “Frozen” could work if it didn’t have him in the film, but his presence actually makes the movie better because he provides a much needed laugh here and there.

The film also expands as to what love means. Love or romantic interest in someone fuels the plot in a lot of Disney Princess films, but Anna’s love of her sister is why she tries to reason with her sister. The film in fact celebrates sisterhood and shows the power of familial love.

Although there is the subplot of Anna being engaged to Hans, everyone surrounding her scoffs at the engagement and suggests she’s not really in love with him. As you might know if you’ve read my posts on Disney Princess films, I’m prone to kvetching about films where the female lead goes to great lengths for a man she just met and insists she’s in love with. For this movie to have multiple characters say, “You can’t marry a man you just met” is very refreshing.

Finally, the songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and recent EGOTer Robert Lopez–yes, the guy who worked on “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon” wrote the songs for a Disney movie–are magnificent and incredibly memorable. Each one is unique and works perfectly in the situation. As I remarked to my mother after seeing the film, I honestly want the duo to write all of the songs for Disney films now. The last Disney movie I can think of to have such great songs is “Mulan” and many of the songs tug at your heart strings even without having the visuals to accompany them. (And, yes, “Let it Go” really is that good of a song. I keep trying to tell myself to stop listening to it so often on my iPod.)

“Frozen” is the great Disney film everyone has been anticipating for years. If they can continue to create great films after this, then Disney films will once again become the must-see films they were in the ’90s.

But are Anna and Elsa Good Role Models for Children? Yes.

Elsa, although terrified of herself and her powers early in the film, does embrace them after she flees Arendelle. She also fears hurting her sister immensely because she still remembers the last time her powers hurt Anna. Elsa is the most complex female character in a Disney film. She can defend herself, she embraces her powers, but she also fears them at the same time. It easy to understand why she would lock herself away after her powers are discovered at her coronation–well, she is viewed as a monster by people for being different–because she does fear hurting her sister again.

Anna, meanwhile, cares very much for her sister and after finding out about the powers, she understands so much about her sister. She could have easily shunned her sister, but it seems that she loves her even more after finding out about Elsa’s powers. And while she does have Kristoff help her get to the mountain Elsa’s ice palace is located in, Anna mainly goes on the mission to unfreeze Arendelle on her own. When it comes to reasoning with Elsa, she does go in, alone, asking Olaf, Sven and Kristoff to sit outside. Anna is also a bit awkward at moments, but you would be too if you had been rather isolated in a castle for most of your life. Both her and Elsa are characters you can relate with, no matter what your age.

And if I were a mother, I would love to have a daughter who saw the love the sisters have for one another.

An Ode to “Mass Text”

Every year I write for Punching a Jayhawk about the worst music videos of a given year. Last year’s choice for the worst music video of the year, “Stupid Hoe,” was so delightfully bad because it was jam packed with decisions leading one to wonder how anyone thought any moment of that video was good.

As 2013 wore on, I wondered where was the delightfully awful music video for this year. How had I gotten through six months of the year and not found a flat out terrible music video?

And then “Mass Text” was unleashed upon the world. It’s okay for the first 14 seconds of the video, although Tay Allyn, the song’s singer, is texting her crush named “Drew Crush,” but then she sings the first verses of the song.

Why didn't I get your mass text?

Or perhaps you might enjoy the German translation instead.

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.38.12 PM

The music video then continues with her asking over and over why she didn’t get his mass text because she’s in his contacts. We then see her in a school hallway as Drew Crush and his friends walk by and check all their phones as they get a mass text.

Here’s the first problem: She’s wondering why she didn’t get his mass text, but why is he checking his phone and reading the mass text if he sent it? Unless he sends his mass texts to himself.

Then she looks dejected and plays with Barbie dolls, sings a bit more and then plays with her dog. She then sits in a stairwell and writes the song we are listening to at the very moment.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 7.12.03 PM

Allyn then sits at lunch, gazing at Drew Crush when her friends come over with the discarded lyrics of “Mass Text” and encourage her to sing at the homecoming dance. As we all know, everyone wants to hear a song about not getting a mass text when they’re awkwardly dancing at the homecoming dance.

A bunch of her friends then get her ready for the dance and the video does that cliche thing where the girl with the glasses removes her glasses and discovers how beautiful she is. The problem is, people viewing the video have already seen her without her glasses on for most of the video.

Glasses off

Allyn then arrives at the dance and performs with her friends, serving as back up dancers. Although the pink fingerless gloves with her light blue dress seems like an odd fashion choice, nothing compares to the bit of choreography that occurs a few moments later where Allyn and her dancers put their hands up to their heads in a phone gesture while she sings “Mass text, mass text.” I’m not aware you can read a text while the phone is up to your ear. Is this a feature available on iPhones?

Mass text

She then leaves her dancers on the stage, continuing to do awkward dance moves, as she walks up to Drew Crush, saying she’ll get his mass text because she’s in his contacts. They kiss, as is inevitable in this music video and then there’s this:


The music video can’t end with us having an image of Allyn and Drew Crush kissing in the context of the dance because she’s going to get his mass text it has to show us her smiling at an iPhone that’s playing video of them kissing.

So I salute you, “Mass Text” for being really bad. I don’t know how it was possible to make such a bad music video.


I was a weird kid.

When I was in high school, I discovered Harold Pinter and fell in love with his plays. When I auditioned to get in to Rockford College’s theater program I did the end of “Old Times” for one of my monologues. After I did the monologue I was asked why I chose the monologue and I spoke about my love of Pinter’s writing getting under the skin before lamenting the time limit for a monologue not allowing me to really use the full potential of the pauses.

My love of Pinter has continued and the sole play I saw in 2013 was “The Birthday Party” at Steppenwolf, which I greatly enjoyed. But then it eventually came up in a conversation that I’m a woman and I enjoy Pinter.

The issue came up when I was talking with someone about what I did over Spring Break. I mentioned I saw “The Birthday Party” and enjoyed it. The woman asking me about my Spring Break activities looked up the play on Wikipedia and then said, “You shouldn’t like that play.”

“Why not?”

“You’re a feminist. The women in this play lack agency.”

I never enjoy people applying labels to me as they tend to be incorrect, so I cringed when she said “You’re a feminist.” But to be fair, Harold Pinter is not great feminist literature. His work is, however, among the most important theatrical work of the 20th Century.

I have a history of being lectured by those in my age range for my taste in plays. I’ve even listened to a voice mail message where someone questioned me owning a copy of “The Essential Bogosian.” These are the plays I enjoy because of the writing and stories told within. Simply because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I should only like certain plays with strong feminist tones to them.

The surprising thing is I haven’t been lectured for my unabashed love of Philip Roth’s work. Roth’s work is derided often as misogynist and sexist, but he is in my opinion the greatest living American writer. It’s how the words flow when Roth writes and the characters he creates that draw me into his books, even though they might be rather piggish and, let’s face it, Alexander Portnoy was a schmuck. It is even possible for me to sometimes feel sympathy for his characters because of how Roth writes.

Among the things I learned in college is the importance to appreciate and analyze the writing of a writer rather than focusing on if you like the book or if you approve of the actions of the main characters. The actions of Alexander Portnoy and Coleman Silk aren’t ones I would engage in and I don’t condone them, but that doesn’t take away from my enjoyment. The writing of “Portnoy’s Complaint” does read like the world’s most messed up therapy session from an incredibly neurotic person and works very well on that judgement.

Occasionally I do stop and wonder, “Is it okay for me as a woman to enjoy Harold Pinter and Philip Roth’s work?” But at the end of the day, what is okay for a woman to enjoy? If a woman enjoys “Twilight,” and many women do, she’ll likely be accused of being shallow and be criticized for enjoying the books when Bella is not an interesting protagonist. If a woman enjoys a Dan Brown novel, she’s reading middlebrow thrillers. If a woman enjoys Jennifer Weiner novels, she’s stooping to “chick lit.”

The problem is there are no books or works you can openly enjoy without getting some criticism. As a friend of mine pointed out once, everything is problematic. It’s easier to prepare yourself to be criticized for liking anything in the realm of culture than to sit around and go, “Is this okay to like?”

There is nothing wrong with me liking Harold Pinter or Philip Roth’s work, even though other people might object. Just be prepared for me to launch into an analysis of his work if you ask me about Pinter.

Hospital Architecture and You

“Why hospital architecture, in particular?”

I looked at that question on my Blackberry as my train sped through middle-of-nowhere Michigan. The question came from Neil Steinberg, the Chicago Sun-Times columnist, in regards to my Twitter bio containing a declaration of me being a “hospital architecture enthusiast.” There was more to the direct message, but the question of why I enjoy hospital architecture stayed in my head when I was not catching naps on the train. I briefly answered the question at one point, trying my hardest to be concise.

I enjoy architecture in general because I view architecture as a form of art. For example, I find the Broad Museum of Art at Michigan State University to be too modern for the part of campus it sits on and impractical as an art museum. (Have you ever tried looking at paintings that hang on slanted walls?) Meanwhile, I love the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum because it enhances Milwaukee’s skyline while also allowing visitors to take in both the art and the beauty of Lake Michigan.

The main reason hospital architecture fascinates me because the architect has to fine the right balance of form and function.

A hospital has to be designed in such a way to make it easy for patients, visitors and staff to get around. But then there’s the aspect of making it not terrifying and making design moves to maximize beds in a tight space or improve recovery through design.

Take Thorek Memorial Hospital in Uptown for example. It’s a boxy brick building sitting in Chicago, nothing really spectacular about it’s design. Inside the walls and flooring looks like a generic hospital, although the last time I was there the hospital had vacant dark waiting rooms you had to walk through to get to other parts of the hospital and grime in various areas. It seemed like the last place you wanted to end up in for hospitalization and not a pleasant place to recover from illness or surgery.

Meanwhile Rush University Medical Center’s tower, which opened in 2012, features large windows and green spaces throughout the building, including a terrarium inside the lobby. On Rush’s website for the tower, the choice to design the area for patient rooms like a butterfly stemmed from the design improving sight lines for nurses and putting them closer to the patients.

The butterfly design, although feeling like a more attractive version of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, was done to improve the quality of care. When I toured John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in 2011 for a piece for Gapers Block aspects of Stroger’s design pointed out to me were things like separate waiting rooms for pediatric emergency and private rooms in the neonatal unit were ways of showing how the hospital was an improvement from what previously existed.
Cook County Hospital
Cook County Hospital is a gorgeous building and one of my favorite buildings in Chicago for its aesthetic value. The hospital was built in 1912 and by the time it closed it was largely outdated. One of the more horrifying details to modern times is the use of an open ward for maternity where woman giving birth was sandwiched between beds where other women who were in labor lay. The hospital was also, by all accounts, not a very efficient hospital largely due to the design not working well as it entered the late 20th Century.

Although Stroger does not share its predecessor’s beauty, it is a pleasant building to look at. The lobby has large windows, allowing for a great view of the Fantus Health Center next door, and the purple signs and awnings feel oddly soothing to me. No, it doesn’t have the grand Beaux Arts look, but it works as a hospital and as was pointed out frequently to me while touring it, they tried to improve from what previously existed.

There are other hospitals with architecture that strikes me as interesting. The old Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center is another building with fantastic lines and excellent details that works well with the rest of other historic Los Angeles buildings built in the early 20th Century. Above the doors of the hospital are carved statues of various men–Hippocrates, Scottish surgeon John Hunter, Louis Pasteur–acting as if they’re the guardians of medicine. (Similar to Cook County Hospital, Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center’s predecessor isn’t nearly as architecturally interesting, but it is pleasant to look at.)

The new Columbia St. Mary’s Medical Center in a very modern and unique looking building. Rather than going with a boxy metal and glass design, the 2010 building features curved and straight lines. Next door is the women’s hospital, which uses a “cloverleaf” design, but not the same as the Rush Tower’s cloverleaf design. As I was going past the building with my mother, we wondered if the design maximized the amount of windows in the patient rooms, which would be nice since Columbia St. Mary’s Medical Center sits very close to Lake Michigan.

The old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago also featured a cloverleaf design, but due to the materials used in its construction it ended up being viewed by quite a few Chicagoans as being an eyesore. The materials used for the women’s hospital at Columbia St. Mary’s keep it from being a brutal structure.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan viewed from Lurie Children’s Hospital.

But sometimes interesting hospitals don’t have to immediately stand out for beautiful details or an interesting design at the street level. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has a rather straight-forward boxy design. But on the inside you see all of the details the architects and planners created to make it a great hospital for children. There’s the large inviting lobby, complete with a giant fake whale; the aquarium near the emergency department waiting room, the indoor gardens and the design of the patient rooms to create a good space for the patient’s family as well as improve accessibility for doctors and nurses.

The hospital is located in Streeterville, which allows it to have fantastic views of Lake Michigan, which at least is soothing to me. Sometimes the best parts of hospitals are hidden from the street and can only be found on the inside.

Those little details are the best part of admiring the construction and design of hospitals.