Letter from the Editor 11.07.2021
On TikTok trends, tweeting about Pete Davidson, and another bout of anxiety
My least favorite genre of TikTok is this clunky, overdramatic one where the plot of Eddie Murphy’s A Thousand Words gets condensed into about 30 seconds. “How many words do you get this year?” reads a voice over. “One,” replies some shy–looking influencer, who then acts in an alternate universe where they’re bullied for being a mute. Someone always speaks up for them, and the bully always gets their comeuppance—which is, obviously, losing access to their own bank of words.
Cheesy and the opposite of subtle, the lesson of these TikToks is evergreen: We should be tolerant, or something like that. And while that may be true, I think this virality play gets at something a little deeper. The amount of words we have is remarkably finite, and we ought to use them with intention.
My biggest fear is running out of words. It’s also an anxiety I can’t outrun. Lately, I find myself sitting paralyzed at a keyboard, worried that this moment—this exact one—is where I lose my ability to turn letters into pretty permutations that mean something, and then I lose my purpose, which is to write. It’s not that I fear silence, or a dearth of vocabulary. It’s that I fear the end of significance, where the best of my thoughts could be summed up in pithy Tweets about dating Pete Davidson.
So maybe it’s not that we get a certain number of words each year, but that we get a certain number of words with intention. The rest are just dead air—jokes to be shared in group chats, repeated coffee orders, strings of bullshit uttered to count for class participation. I want every sentence I pound for this magazine (and beyond) to poke at something important, whether it's highlighting the breadth of Latinx experiences in this city or reminding all of you that it’s okay to feel a bit unhappy at this university.
That goal is more aspirational than anything, especially as I’ve grown to realize that journalism has become less about the power of words and more about the power of metrics, where views on a story matter more than the storytelling. Does it matter how many people view a story if the story lacks a view? I’m not sure, but I just hope if I ever run out of words, I work someplace that will inspire me to get them back.
This week’s issue is about the significance of words and how we utilize them, from the Office of Open Expression allowing facilitating controversial protests on campus to the aesthetic meaning of Chinese characters. And our feature—a winding profile of professor Carol Tracy—focuses in on her legacy of leading with words, from signing letters of protest as a secretary on campus to leading a court case that would overturn Pennsylvania’s ban on Medicaid coverage for abortion.
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