Stepping Into Springtime with Sunshine and Rainbows

Starting in the 14th century, what we know as spring today was known instead as “springing time,” because plants “spring” from the ground. It was shortened to “spring-time” afterwards, before being further shortened to just “spring” in the 16th century.

Since its opening in 1897, The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden has produced full-scale flower shows in either the Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer seasons each year.

And, since 2000, the Phipps Conservatory has specifically put on a Spring Flower Show each year for 20 years straight until 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the tradition returned in full force in 2021 and now in 2022.

Every year, the Spring Flower Show is organized around a unique theme with previous ones being: Enchanted Forest, Scents of Wonder, Gardens of the Rainbow, Canopy of Color, Masterpieces in Bloom, and April Showers Bring May Flowers, to name a few. 

The various Spring Flower Shows differ in size and in the ways the flowers are arranged, but still possess similarities to one another. Spring has always been known as a “colorful” season because it is the period when the landscape shifts from the neutral of winter to a bold array of green. The green appears as more of the floral plant life of the Earth comes back to life, and the Phipps Conservatory’s Spring Flower Shows mimic this sentiment.

There is consistently an emphasis on displaying a variety of colors that is reflected in the flowers chosen for each show, the way the flowers are arranged around one another, the props of the show, and even in what the flower show theme is selected to be. This year, the “Spring Flower Show: Sunshine and Rainbows” had  maintained this trend.

The show opened March 19 and ran until April 17. The types of flowers that had been on display were the conservatory’s signature lilies, amaryllis, petunias, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, among other flowers. The show did not not shy away from featuring more obscure plants too, such as the New Guinea impatiens, the Himalayan blue poppy, kalanchoe, nemesia, muscari and lobelia.

In the Palm Court, a room in the conservatory that contains various species of palms and acts as the entryway to the other indoor display spaces, was decorated with oversized prop tulips. In the Victoria Room, featured plant pots arranged to form a color wheel. The Spring Flower Show was also paired with the conservatory’s new Tropical Forest Hawai’i exhibit, which is an exploration of the plants, animals, history and culture of Hawaii.

The Spring Flower Show: Sunshine and Rainbows, was designed by Jordyn Melino, the Associate Director of Exhibits at the Phipps Conservatory. Melino has been in this position for four years and was previously an Exhibit Coordinator at the conservatory for nine years. She led the design team for a number of the conservatory’s flower shows over the years.

Melino, a Jacksonville, Florida native, first moved to Pittsburgh in 2003 to study Environmental Science at Carnegie Mellon University and later completed her master’s degree in Landscape Architecture in 2014 at Chatham University. The conservatory often sends her and their curator of horticulture overseas for research in preparation for exhibits and shows.

In an interview with Alex Sinatra, the Communications Coordinator at Phipps Conservatory, for the Phipps Conservatory blog, Melino discussed what went into installing this year’s spring flower show in a two-week period.

The blog post begins by divulging that the planning for the show had started more than a year ago at the same time as the opening of the Tropical Forest Hawai’i exhibit. The theme of Sunshine and Rainbows was considered a good match because “The Rainbow State” is a nickname for the Hawaii islands due to the frequent occurrence of rainbows in Hawaii.

Sinatra states that Melino found it, “exciting to play with color combinations from the rainbow in the form of lively flower displays.” Planning was one of the most important components to making the flower show successful, given that Melino had only a two-week window to install the four-week-long show.

According to Sinatra’s blog post, the installation schedule for a flower show is created around two months prior, depending on what aspects need to be finished first and what the plan design necessitates. The Broderie Room of the conservatory was completed first for the Spring Flower Show because of how many weddings and events are usually hosted there, so it’s important for the room to “always look photo ready.”

Following that room, the East Room in the conservatory was done. The East Room  highlighted purple and yellow flowers. The remaining rooms were arranged similarly, but with different color schemes. Sinatra details, “each room typically takes 2 – 3 days to turn over while more detailed rooms can take 4 – 5.”

Sinatra then reveals that in the process of getting ready for the show, there are bulbs that have been growing since June 2021, and others that began growing in either October or November 2021.

The Spring Flower Show displays over 72,000 bulbs that get changed around two to four times when the show is happening. In order to pull this off, she states that, “the pots are left in the display and replaced with different flowers at the end of each week.” So, preparations don’t end at the opening of the show.

Sinatra closes her blog post by mentioning how Melino, “notes that the short install window requires a huge team effort, so it is a big sigh of relief when everything is put in place.” 

The phrase “sunshine and rainbows” is typically self-contained with the idiom “life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” which means that real life doesn’t just consist of carefree happiness; there can be more hardship in reality than a person realizes.

I think the meaning of this idiom makes the name/theme choice for this year’s flower show all the more rich. Behind all the beauty that was on display, from tulips in multiple colors to the expansive Tropical Forest Hawai’i exhibit, is the hard work that it took to put the show together.

Without the research, design, and physical labor that occurred, the show would not have been as beautiful as it was or generated such a positive energy.

Summer 2022: The Summer of the Student

The energy around the University of Pittsburgh’s campus has begun to change. The weather is slowly getting warmer and campus morale is steadily rising. Students across campus are climbing out of their winter hibernation and populating the campus green space with hammocks, spikeball, and picnics.

Spring semester at Pitt has always been highly anticipated, but to most students, the arrival of spring means that summer is quickly approaching. While a vast majority of Pitt students journey home for the summer, there is always a special group of students that choose to stay on campus.

Summer on Pitt’s campus is very different from the normal student life most of us are accustomed to — the campus is half empty and we are free from the normal student obligations that tie us down. This combination of freedom and empty space encourages students living in Oakland over the summer to find creative ways to fill their newly found free time. 

Unfortunately, many of the benefits we receive as Pitt students disappear during the summer. For one, the benefits of having a Pitt student ID during the fall and spring semester are put on pause during the summer. Pitt students are no longer offered discounts or free passes to places like the Pittsburgh museums or the Phipps Conservatory.

Luckily, Pitt student IDs still function as a free bus pass during the summer. The free bus pass is an essential factor to filling one’s summer with fun activities as the bus serves as the perfect transportation vessel for exploring Pittsburgh.

This guide will help you explore low-cost opportunities for summer fun in Pittsburgh for Pitt students planning or considering staying in Pittsburgh over the summer.

Student Bands

One of the best parts of my past summer in Pittsburgh was exploring the music scene. There are a handful of fun, cheap options for Pitt students looking to explore the Pittsburgh music scene. The most convenient option is to go to a house show hosted by Pitt students.

House shows normally play alternative music, but some of the best bands from the past summer were Wild Blue Yonder and Quiet Hours.

In the fall and winter, these shows are held in basements which quickly become sweaty and unbearable because they are packed with students. But, in the summer, the house shows are starkly different and the open air encourages dancing, conversation, and even lounging.

At most, these bands might charge $5 at the door or else they are free. These bands know how to get a crowd going, but most importantly, the crowd consists of Pitt students and provides concert-goers an opportunity to build a musical summer community. 

Jam on Walnut

Another great way to explore the music scene in Pittsburgh during the summer is to attend Jam on Walnut in Shadyside.

Only a short bus ride away, Jam on Walnut is a block party/ summer concert series which donates twenty percent of their sales (beer, food, merchandise) to Animal Friends – a Pittsburgh-based animal rescue focused on rehoming and rehabilitation.

This concert series always supports a lively crowd and a band that is ready to rock out. Usually, the summer concerts take place about once a month during the warm months of June, July, and August.

The options make it easier for students to attend once or even go multiple times. Additionally, while there is alcohol available, the event is not limited to a 21+ crowd which allows the rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors staying on campus to join in on the fun.

If you choose to eat before you venture over to Shadyside and not buy anything, you have access to a free concert and night full of entertainment.


Moving more toward entertainment, Pittsburgh has some sweet movie deals if you were hoping to go out for date night or are bored on a rainy day.

Theaters close to campus include Southside Works by The Cheesecake Factory and Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill. Both have extremely reasonable deals on Mondays and Tuesdays. Fortunately, these deals — which include a $5 movie ticket — are yearly deals.

This deal is amazing for anyone who likes to go to the movies and basically halves the original price of a movie ticket nowadays.

Plus, summer is a perfect time for students to catch up on all the movies that came out in the spring when they might have been too focused on studying to take a trip to the movies. The cheap prices for high-quality entertainment are hard to pass up!

Presenting Sharif Bey Excavations at the Carnegie Museum of Art

If someone did not know anything Shari Bey or the background behind their art, they would very likely think they were from a physical excavation.

“Sharif Bey: Excavations” ran at the Carnegie Museum of Art from October 2 of last year until March 6.

The exhibition opened to the public with an artist’s talk called “In Conversation: Sharif Bey,” which took place on Saturday, October 2, 2021, at 1 p.m. (A recording of the artist’s talk can be found on the Carnegie Museum of Art SoundCloud profile.)

Bey is a Pittsburgh native and an Associate Professor of Art at Syracuse University with experience in ceramics, sculpture, community art programming, and art teacher training.

Bey has set up solo exhibitions in the past and has been a part of numerous group exhibitions as well. He is also featured in multiple public collections in museums all over the nation.

This exhibition is inspired by Bey’s experience of the Carnegie museum as a child and his reflections on it as an adult. His artwork is described as investigating “the cultural and political significance of adornment and the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs, while questioning how the meaning of icons and function transform across cultures and time.”

Bey’s art sculptures and figurines in this exhibition look like ancient artifacts, maybe objects dug up from an archaeological site in Africa. His art possesses many qualities of African art, such as a focus on the human face and figure, hand carvings, and visual abstraction. In a press release for this exhibition, Bey’s artistic influences are stated to range from modernism, functional pottery, Oceanic Art, and Art of the African diaspora.

In reality, Bey’s works truly are artifacts in many aspects. His pieces act as artifacts of his past that he has also shaped by his present and his conceptions of his future. He “excavated” or extracted them from his memories, found objects of his past artwork, and his interactions with people and spaces.

Bey considers the found objects to contain vestiges of his past, that which he wants to give new life. During the artist’s talk, he reveals that the process of finding objects from his previous works becomes “a generative site of looking back and investigating those vestiges and seeing what’s present.”

Sharif Bey
Nkisi nkondi (power figure) c. 1875


During the artist’s talk, Bey discussed his artistic process, how his new work engaged both his past and present selves, and his process of recovering and unearthing sources of inspiration in-depth. He was joined in conversation with Rachel Delphia, the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at Carnegie Museum of Art.

In detailing his early experiences of the museum, Bey explained how one of the first ideas he responded to as a child “is having the freedom to engage works of art at my own pace.”

When he was nine years old, he was nominated by his art teacher Mary Ann Miller at Beltzhoover elementary school to join a Saturday Art program run by the museum. When Bey had free time in-between instruction, he would use it to go back and see things the group passed through or things he wanted to spend more time looking at. Bey had been particularly interested in the Nkisi nkondi (power figure) c. 1875 that used to be on display at the museum, which he revisited for many years afterward and eventually became a significant source of artistic inspiration. 

Dippermouth (2019)
Sleeping Giant #1 (2017)

In the exhibition, there are sculptures of abstract human figures in ebony and copper brown colors. Small enough to fit on a table, these sculptures vary a lot in size and shape. One of the biggest figures has four legs with a thick middle section supporting a head that is barely recognizable as human, if not for its human-like ears, nose, and mouth. While one of the smallest sculptures has a short stub for a body and a human face that looks closer to a real one, save for the tip of its head that extends and curves behind itself. Many of these sculptures are made of earthenware, nails, and mixed media. One of his pieces, Dippermouth (2019), is dissimilar from other sculptures in this exhibition in that the outer ring of the sculpture is covered with nails that protrude at different lengths. In the past, Bey created several sculptures similar in appearance to Dippermouth, such as the sculptures in his Star Child Series.

His spiral-shaped necklace sculptures that hung on the walls of the exhibition appear to the eye to be made of individual animal bones or ancient, colored African beads. But, his necklace sculptures are in fact made from earthenware, vitreous china, mixed media, and glass. The necklace sculptures were intended to mimic pinch-pot style vessels like beads that draw on forms found in the natural world like tusks or dinosaur vertebrae. His mask sculptures each have unique face shapes and intricate backgrounds comprised of various mixed media or industrial porcelain shards, such as his Sleeping Giant #1 (2017) mask sculpture. Sleeping Giant #1 has an oval-shaped face mask that is surrounded by red and white shards that look as if they were haphazardly stabbed into the frame of the sculpture.

Bey studied sculpture at The Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia, “shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union,” as stated by the artist in his short biographical profile. Afterward, he studied at Slippery Rock University in PA where he earned his BFA in Ceramics, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he earned his MFA in Studio Art. Later, Bey earned a Ph.D. in Art Education from Penn State University.

Some of the accolades Bey has received are: The United States Artist Fellowship, The Pollock-Krasner Fellowship, The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and The J. William Fulbright Scholarship.

A publication about the exhibition is expected to be released in 2022. The publication will delve into three of Bey’s driving questions: what makes one believe they can become an artist, how does what I do connect to who I am, and how can I fulfill a social responsibility to my community? Bey’s three questions will be answered in part by an autobiographical portion written by himself that focuses on influential figures, locations, and personal experiences that he encountered in his journey as an artist.

The publication will also consist of an essay by James Stewarts (a Penn State Emeritus professor of African American studies), an introduction written by Delphia, and archival material from the museum’s record curated by Alyssa Velazquez. Additionally, the Carnegie Museum of Art Design & Publications studio will design the book in-house, in a way that will enhance and further the themes of Bey’s exhibition.

Bey has two upcoming exhibitions outside of Pittsburgh: (2022) Sharif Bey: Facets, Everson Museum, in Syracuse, NY, and (2022) Sharif Bey, Gardiner Museum, in Toronto, Canada.

Sharif Bey: Excavations had been organized by Rachel Delphia (the Alan G., Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design), Alyssa Velazquez (Curatorial Assistant for Decorative Arts and Design), and Kiki Teshome (a Margaret Powell Curatorial Fellow)

The exhibition was supported by The Bessie F. Anathan Charitable Trust of the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Arts, Equity, & Education Fund (AE&E Fund)

Marvel’s Multitude of Movies

Marvel Studios had five of the top 10 grossing movies of 2021. In other words, among all of the 403 movies that were released in theaters in the year of 2021, five of the top 10 were created by Marvel Studios.

Good for them, right?

From the standpoint of someone within the studio, sure! This is fantastic news. Out of the nine movies released, five of them hit the top 10 charts for most money made during the year. But how does the average viewer feel about this phenomenon?

After wandering the University of Pittsburgh campus for a few hours, several individuals were kind enough to give their extremely passionate opinions.

Caleb Bender, a 22-year-old dual Film and Media Productions and Mathematics major, feels that “Movies can be anything.”

He paused for about 15 seconds here.

“Yeah, they can be anything, but they’re kind-of forcing other, more unique movies off of these really important platforms.”

And that’s exactly the problem. Marvel has found the money tree and other studios have taken notice. Maybe more than you would think  because since 2020, 36 superhero movies have been released outside of Marvel Studios.

However, Bender vociferously added, “I’m not so sure that they force other studios to create superhero movies. There’s always been a huge amount of them, but the big influence is that they dominate the conversation surrounding films.”

I have to study 12 hours of films just to understand what’s happening in the newest Spiderman.

Jake Himes

They have, however, created a somewhat interesting phenomenon — post-credit scenes. I recently visited the movie theater to watch Uncharted (2022), and I found myself sitting there after the movie had ended, in a still nearly packed theater, waiting for an end-credit scene. Nearly three-quarters of the previously packed theater stayed in their seats waiting to see if there was something, a cherry on top of the film. To exacerbate my surprise, there was one.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

It made me think, has Marvel trained movie-goers to expect this previously unheard-of experience? The first movie that most can recall seeing an end credits scene in is the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Who would have thought that in 2021, 49 movies would have them? That’s just under 10% of movies having an end credits scene, up from the seven films, including non-theatrical releases, in 1986 (3.5%). Does that nearly packed Uncharted movie theater mean that people have become more excited about the movies they’re watching, or have they been conditioned to expect more?

Jake Himes, a 25-year-old Pitt graduate who I found outside of the Morbius theater, had a more negative outlook on these films.

“They used to be super fun!” he said. “But now, I can’t just…go see a two-hour film. I have to study 12 hours of films just to understand what’s happening in the newest Spiderman. The scope is absolutely ridiculous.”

Herein lies another of the many issues. These films are not created within a bubble. They are part of an incredibly interwoven universe where you are “recommended” to have seen the previous installments in order to fully understand what’s going on within the movie that you’ve paid to see.

If a casual moviegoer walks into a theater to watch a Marvel film, they will not understand most of what goes on within the movie. This move by the studio encourages watchers to pay extra cash to see other Marvel movies that they might not have normally seen.  

Marvel was not always the money-grabbing, cash cow it is today. They began their “Phases” program starting with the release of Iron Man (2008). Each movie is placed within a category according to the overarching story that it accompanies.

Himes made it a point to say he “loved the movies up to Avengers: Endgame.” Endgame was Marvel’s pinnacle, the shining star on top of their empire. It was a culmination of a decade of work and media, a cultural phenomenon, and it is often seen as the end of their third phase.

After Endgame’s release and subsequent move to streaming platforms, Marvel made the dive off the deep end into television shows, the first portion of their “Phase 4.” The inclusion of television series has taken a toll on many moviegoers. They can no longer watch the upcoming Dr. Strange movie without having seen “WandaVision,” the 2021 mystery sitcom. In other words, the average movie-goer will be missing out.

One individual, who wished to not be named, passionately proclaimed that Dr. Strange is “…way too much of a key figure. He’s just too much of a crutch. There are more interesting ways to make films without him being this central figure.” 

People can speculate to their heart’s content, but the real reasoning behind the repeated use of Dr. Strange will likely never be uncovered. Actors who sign to Marvel Studios are required to sign an extremely strict NDA contract, one that limits their ability to speak on the movie’s production.

NDA’s aren’t anything new, but the contracts are allegedly, according to the entertainment site Looper, “some of the strictest contracts in Hollywood.” Additionally, any actor that wishes to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe undergoes a rigorous vetting process, where any light mark on one’s career could mean the end of their prospects to joining these “prestigious” ranks.

Photo by Pixabay on

To Marvel’s credit, they are high-production films. As of 2019, the average film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe cost $190.4 million. The studio boasts an impressive repertoire, with The Incredible Hulk (the one with Lou Ferrigno) being their lowest-grossing movie within their “Phase” plan. Even their lowest-grossing film was able to accumulate $264.8 million, money which was, likely, used to help with the creation of subsequent films. Look at Marvel however you’d like, but their name attracts an enormous audience and has done as such since 2008.

It should be said, there is no wrong way to enjoy a movie. If you like Marvel, then that’s fantastic! Even if you love the movie that was classified as the worst on IMDB, or one that is bad just because it’s supposed to be bad, that’s totally alright. It should be understood, however, that Marvel is seemingly changing the film industry, one way or another.

Various studios are taking notice, and the up-and-coming opinion is that people have to see the newest Marvel flick in order to stay up to date with the story, just in case one comes out that they actually want to see. It’s important to remember that your money is what speaks to these producers.

Bender left off with a surprisingly apt opinion, one which I believe sums up a widely agreed upon opinion quite nicely.

“Marvel movies are like candy,” he said. “They’re great every once in a while, but if you consume them too much something is gonna end up rotten. The next time you find yourself wanting to watch the newest Marvel flick, I encourage you to think about how many movies you would need to watch to fully understand it.” 

How Pitt Senior Mike Stolarz Balances His Drumming Career & Double Major

It’s a Saturday night in Millvale at Mr. Smalls Funhouse. Mike Stolarz, 21-year-old student at Pitt and drummer for hard rock band Yaro and the Static, has been waiting to step up to his drum kit all night. He is tired from working on homework earlier in the day, but he must tune out school and focus on the show before him. The lights dim, the opening guitar part begins, and Stolarz steps on stage. He waits for his cue and comes in, ready to put on a fun concert for the audience in front of him.

Michael “Mike” Stolarz is a senior at Pitt double majoring in Psychology and Sociology in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Pitt makes it easy for many students to pursue two majors, but it is a heavy workload regardless. On top of the busy workload and graduating in spring 2022, Stolarz still practices and plays drums with Yaro and the Static.

When entering his first year at Pitt in fall 2018, Stolarz was accepted into the business school with plans to major in marketing. However, after a tedious and difficult first semester, he realized that he was not passionate about business and marketing. He took a visit to the Career Center on campus and after talking with an advisor, was encouraged to look further into the psychology program.

Stolarz took an intro to psychology class and fell in love with the subject. Similarly, he became interested in sociology after taking an intro to sociology course as a general education requirement. Stolarz was immediately hooked on the two subject fields. Stolarz loves learning about the in-depth topics of some of the upper-level psychology classes especially, and he finds his sociology classes extremely beneficial and applicable to the world outside of school.

“I find both of my majors and their curriculums incredibly interesting, especially the sociology major,” said Stolarz. “There are so many different social contexts and domains in which understanding them sociologically is so beneficial. I have also found the upper-level psych classes incredibly interesting, especially the class I am currently enrolled in: PSY 1140 Conflict Resolution.”

Stolarz’s friends agree that he has a true passion for his psychology and sociology classes and tries his best in his academics.

“Mike has a lot of passion for what he’s studying,” said Stolarz’s girlfriend, Lizzie Pease, a 21-year-old civil engineering major. “He gets very excited to talk about his favorite classes.”

Academics are important, but they are far from everything in one’s college experience. Stolarz is heavily involved in music in Pittsburgh, and he has been playing music since middle school. He began playing drums in fifth grade for his school’s instrumental program, and he received his first drum kit for Christmas in sixth grade. He said his dad was a large factor in his music career; Stolarz’s father was a guitarist himself and was always playing music around the house as Stolarz was growing up. Stolarz has many fond memories surrounding music growing up, and it is no wonder that he quickly became involved with music as a child.

“[My dad] always played music around our house every day, whether we were listening to it, watching live concerts or music videos, or he was playing guitar or singing,” said Stolarz. “This goes back as far as I can remember, with one of my first memories being me at three-years-old running around my living room, playing my toy acoustic guitar, and pretending to be Angus Young, the singer of AC/DC, one of my dad’s favorite bands.”

Stolarz no longer lives at home and has his own apartment. As a drummer, it can be difficult at times finding places to play given that drums are a large and loud instrument. Stolarz still finds time to play and tries to play for at least five hours per week.

His apartment cannot hold his drum kit, so he practices mostly at his church, Bellefield Church, or in a practice room in the Pitt music building. Other times, he visits home to see his family and practice with his own drum kit. 

His band, Yaro and the Static, plays shows around Pittsburgh as well. Stolarz has been playing with the hard rock band since his sophomore year of college, and he has had the opportunity to record drums in the studio multiple times.

The most notable time was for the recording of the band’s debut album, “The Art of Adolescence,” which took place the second half of 2019. Stolarz is a hard-hitting, punchy drummer inspired mostly by a combination of his father’s music taste he shared growing up and his current music taste.

“My biggest influences are Dave Grohl from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, Jimmy Chamberlain from the Smashing Pumpkins, Daniel Fang from Turnstile, Abe Cunningham from Deftones, and jazz drummers like Tony Williams, Art Blakey, and Mark Guiliana,” said Stolarz. “I’m also highly influenced by drums in hip-hop and electronic music, and I try to incorporate those sounds and grooves into my acoustic playing.” His bandmates agree that Stolarz is a dedicated musician.

“Mike is one of the best drummers in the city,” bandmate Aedan Symons said. “He’s really fun to play with, and he always shows up.”

Photo by Stephanie Sheronovich

Between managing school work, playing music, applying for jobs, and completing job interviews before he graduates, Stolarz has quite a packed schedule. His classes have not necessarily gotten harder, but the return to in-person classes in addition to everything else has made his life busy and, at times, stressful. Stolarz says his strategy for managing his busy schedule is to complete work and prioritize activities before going out with friends or playing music.

“I have found that waiting until I finish my assignments before going to play the drums or going out has served as inspiration to get my work done on time, as I always want to play the drums,” began Stolarz. “Music is also an incredibly cathartic and relieving activity for me, and any stress that I may have regarding school I am able to take out on the drums.”

Stolarz plans to take a few years off from school after graduating. He aims to get work experience relevant to his majors and eventually return to school to complete a master’s degree in social work, or MSW. He still plans on playing and writing music for as long as he can, whether it leads to a successful music career or not.

“In all honesty, if I had a chance at a career in music I would take it,” began Stolarz, “but having my experience and education I gained at Pitt not only would be a great backup plan, it also continues to inform my musicianship and my appreciation for music as a whole.”

The Pandemic in Our Living Rooms

Is it possible to escape when COVID-19 invades our TV?

Featured image via “Coronavirus school closures: What do they mean for student equity and inclusion?” from OECD Education and Skills Today

The common stress of college that students have faced for years has recently combined with the “novel” and “unprecedented times” brought on by COVID-19. So now more than ever, students are scrambling for ways to escape from thoughts of stressors such as school and the pandemic.

Escapism is a common phenomenon that many activate through video games, movies, and TV among other things. The concept itself is simple: people engage with materials that distract them from the issues plaguing their lives, thereby getting a reprieve from their stress and responsibility. And while the health of the habit is under debate, its effectiveness is easily seen when we get lost in a movie for a few hours or find ourselves miraculously halfway through a new television series. 

But the question remains of where the tools of escapism—TV shows, for example—should intersect with reality. If shows are too close to reality, does their value as tools of escapism fall? This is especially relevant for Covid, which is still plaguing our lives. We are much too close to the times of quarantines to be able to make a ruling on this question when it comes to the pandemic.

Nonetheless, shows that have continued to run through the pandemic have had to make a decision: avoid the topic of the pandemic completely, face it head-on, or place their characters somewhere between Covid and “normal” times.

Faced with these options, several shows have made their decision and received mixed reviews for them. Shows like “Superstore,” “South Park,” and “Shameless” have not only broached the topic of the pandemic, but put their characters in masks and set them off to deal with Covid-related plotlines and issues. 

Covid as seen in “Superstore,” “South Park,” and “Shameless.” Photo credits: NBC via The New York Times, Comedy Central via Entertainment Weekly, and Showtime via Hollywood Reporter.

“South Park” made two special episodes for the pandemic, not committing to the inclusion of Covid to nearly the same level as “Superstore” and “Shameless,” which both discussed the pandemic as part of their last seasons. The difference is both of these shows aim to represent the lives of working-class people, “Shameless” from a drama perspective and “Superstore” from that of a workplace sitcom. Both shows were also working with live actors, compared to the animation and voice actors working on “South Park”—a fact which contributed to Covid being included.

“Superstore” worked to make the pandemic a long-term issue, reflecting the lived experience of its viewers. It included plotlines and mentions of Covid over multiple episodes about the pandemic, its impact on customers’ behaviors, and masks. But, according to a Vulture article which quotes a few of the show’s creators, producers, and writers, the decisions about who should wear masks and when were incredibly complicated. One of the writers, Owen Ellickson, is quoted discussing the team’s desire to include masks balanced with the “brutal” viewing experience of having the actors wear masks in more scenes than not. 

The reception for the integration of Covid in “Superstore” was relatively positive, with articles citing the show’s ability to laugh about a difficult situation and maintain Covid in the background without making the jokes and storylines the whole focus. 

But “Superstore” had a distinct advantage when approaching Covid: it took place in a big-box store, where unique customer behavior and employee awareness of proximity to Covid had its home throughout the pandemic. Because of this, it was somewhat equipped to integrate Covid into its plot. Other shows didn’t have this obligation to tie in the pandemic, and so their efforts to include the pandemic mostly consisted of a flippant joke or two. 

With brief remarks, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Mr. Mayor” establish post-pandemic worlds. Photo credits: HBO via USA Today and NBC via The Hollywood Reporter.

Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Mr. Mayor,” in particular, set their seasons in a post-pandemic world with one or two jokes establishing Covid as an event firmly in the past. The reasons for this are many, but Larry David, the creator of the former, specifically commented on his belief that he doesn’t think the addition of Covid things—like masks and social distancing—would have been funny. 

This, of course, is a central concern of whether a TV show that discusses the pandemic can effectively satiate the viewer’s desire to escape from real-world problems. But where is the line of including real-world issues and producing a show that viewers can escape into—what do viewers want? Unfortunately, many aspects of this question are incredibly subjective; what types of shows a person normally watches, why they seek out one show over another, and what they want to get out of watching a show all can impact their opinion on Covid representation on TV.

With the proliferation of streaming services and non-weekly TV show structures, as well as the sheer amount of TV shows in recent years, many people don’t keep up with shows the way they used to. Even if a majority of the nation isn’t tuning in on a specific night anymore, though, TV is still a widely known and discussed topic that many still have an opinion on. 

Brady, who chose not to disclose their last name, is a political science major at Pitt who voiced their opinion on Covid on TV. They haven’t watched much TV since the start of the pandemic, and said that Covid should be discussed in shows, as TV should represent the problems of the current time. 

Ashley, who also chose not to disclose their last name, is a 20-year-old nursing major who watches a lot of TV and has seen Covid represented in some of the shows they keep up with, including the final season of “Shameless.” Even with this representation, Ashley said, “It’s just kind of weird watching it when we’re going through it. Would I prefer that it wasn’t occurring in TV? Yeah, probably.”

There isn’t one way for a person to escape from their daily stresses, and the variety of ways Covid has been represented on TV since 2020 reflects that. Some viewers are able to watch shows with characters that are either blissfully unaware of the pandemic or living in a world that has overcome the pandemic. Others can watch characters face the same issues that the viewers are, providing comfort, recognition, and understanding to the viewer.

Until Covid is truly in our rearview mirrors, we won’t be able to fully say which strategy works best to address this issue so central to everyone’s lives, but at least there are options for many escapist attitudes.