Happy Holiday!

No doubt, you think that I mean Halloween.  That’s a fine holiday and all, but it pales in comparison to the holiday we should all be celebrating today: Nevada Day!

Yep, that’s right.  My home state officially entered the union on All Hallow’s Eve.  I don’t know what kinds of evils that portends (probably cannibal pioneers, legalized gambling, prostitution, and nuclear waste dumps, for starters).   My guess is that in 1864 in the blistering southwest with very little water, the founders weren’t worried about getting their sod houses toilet papered during their statehood celebrations.  I just know that as a child, it meant that I had the whole day to work on my costume and plan the perfect trick or treating route through surrounding neighborhoods.

I hope you’ll think kindly of the Silver State as you gorge yourself on candy this evening.

Weapon of Choice: Academic Essays?

It’s the tenth week of the semester (how time flies when you’re readin’, writin’, administratin’), and that means many things: we’re all about ready for a break; everyone is a bit tired and/or sick; and it’s paper time!

Last week and this week, I’m working with students on developing the topics, questions, and ideas for their final research papers/projects.  This morning, I found myself responding to a few emails about possible topics and I noticed a familiar structure to my responses.  With some deviation, the basic structure looked like this: “well, you have a couple of different options.  You can do A, which would mean considering questions 1, 2, and 3.  You could think about B, which would mean addressing 3, 4, and 5.  Or, finally, you could try C,  but then you have to think about 4, 5, and 6.  And don’t forget to ask yourself why this is relevant!”

As I read over these, I first remembered the experience of being a student leaving a paper conference.  As both an undergraduate and a grad student, I clearly remember those meetings where I would nod along with the professor (Yes!  Right!  I totally get where you’re coming from!  As soon as I go and look up those terms, I’ll be right on track!), leave his office, and then be totally lost.  Or worse, being totally lost and then spending weeks writing, making a bit of progress, and then years later having the
“Oh!  No way!  THIS is what he was talking about!  Crap, I totally get it now!”  [For the record, I only say “he” in these cases because the conferences were, without fail, with two male professors.  Bill and Jim–I’m looking at you.]

So, in the academic circle of life, I fear that I might be doing the same thing.  Of course, my students are far more up front than I ever was.  “Say that again?” is not an uncommon response to my ramblings.  The point of all of this, however, is that my incessant listing of thesis options made me think of the Fatboy Slim verse “you can go with this, or you can go with that, you can go with this, or you can go with that,” which I’ve been humming all day today.

Now if only I could shake a tail feather like Christopher Walken, I’d be in business.

Theory, Now with Bad Grammar!

It’s been a bit of a theory blowout around here for the last few weeks. The postmodernists have cranked though Lyotard, Jameson, Hutcheon, and McHale (oh my!); meanwhile the digital culture students are hard at work on a wiki that archives their readings of Steven Johnson, Todd Gitlin, and much of the Pew research on the Internet and American Life. Needless to say, I’ve got enough terms and definitions bouncing around in my head to reduce me to a babbling idiot.

So, imagine my delight when I can across the lol theorists site! Sadly, I’m waaaay late to this party, but thanks to the magic of the interweb, all of the compositions are archived. It probably goes without saying that this kind of composition is brilliant, but let me enumerate all of the ways that it’s brilliant:

  • The majority of its charge comes from its reference to a pop culture site. If you don’t know the I can has cheezburger site, these theorist pieces are going to seem downright strange. And not in a good “all theory is alienating” way.
  • It also requires a pretty good knowledge of the theorist him/herself. To wit, it’s only funny if you know what the theorists ideas are. For a literary/cultural studies type, the ones that take on Kristeva, or Bourdieu are uproarious. But Ruskin? Milton Erikson? Forget it.
  • In truth, the best ones are combinations of both sets of knowledge: the conventions of the former and the import of the latter. It’s not really enough to slap key terms on top of a picture of a particular theorist. Part of the appeal of those darn lol cats is their atrocious grammar (because animals with bad grammar? Always a laugh riot). And perhaps more to the point, there’s a particular quality that the cats express—a faint air of threat (“I’m in your ____ doing _____”) that contrasts with their cute fuzziness. Likewise, the lol theorists pieces that really work for me are the ones that embody the threat of the theorists ideas, paired with their usually innocuous looks.

Before I fall into the Freud trap (here, let me explain to you how humor works!), I’ll offer up my picks for the best of the lol theorists.

ETA: ARGH!!!  Ever notice that sometimes WordPress just doesn’t want to play along?  What gives, WP?!  So, below, my pick for the best, since I can’t get the others up.  For the record, the Bourdieu piece is not to be missed.

barthes

Search Stats

One of my very favorite features of Blog Stats is the list of searches that people use to get to your site.  Aside from being really creeped out by seeing when people run a search for my name (and seriously, if you’re my high school boyfriend, you could just send an email!!), it leads to three very different reactions:

  1. Have I really written about “x”?  (example: “Wild Hogs legos”)
  2. I never knew so many people were interested in “x.” (example: Jean Paul Belmondo—for whom I consistently get 8 hits a day.  How bummed people must be when they realize it’s a post about Jean Seberg.)
  3. Wow, “x” is the best idea ever!

Number three rarely happens, but when it does, it’s a doozy.  So, today, someone wandered across b.e.a. looking for “Chinatown Faye Dunaway costume wearing.”  Really, this is a combination of #1 and #3, but it’s fantastic even as it’s bewildering.  Going as Faye Dunaway for Halloween?  Awesome.   And the possibilities are endless.  I hope the person has some friends who will go dressed as Jack Nicholson (after Roman Polanski cuts his nose, of course) and John Huston, with that crazy accent.  I would warn the Dunaway dresser, however, that having to repeat the iconic line “she’s my sister!  my daughter!  my sister!” as she’s getting slapped all night might get a bit tiresome.

I hope this kicks off a “greatest hits of Hollywood” Halloween costume trend.  Anything that will supplant the tired old Scream masks.

Live Free of Die Hard

I just spent a bizarrely balmy weekend in Vermont with my visiting parents. Despite the constant, nagging reminder that global warming is upon us (hello, 78 degrees in October!), it was a forced–and necessary–respite from work. Nothing was more indicative of that than surfing the On-Demand features in the Hilton at eleven p.m. As much as I want to see Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, since I missed it on its first run in the fall, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Instead, Herr Meyer and I settled on Live Free or Die Hard. It was late, I know I wasn’t going to think too hard, Bruce Willis activates some sort of sick Moonlighting nostalgia in me. It seemed like a fine idea at the time. How bad could it be?

Hah.

It’s not just that I think that action genre is dead. This film had some pretty original takes on the usual handful of stunts (including, but not limited to driving a car into a helicopter and crashing half of the interstate flyovers in the D.C. metro area). the interaction between the battered John McClane and the hacker kid was funny in spots (although, since Justin Long is playing the hacker, I couldn’t help but expect him to say “but I’m a Mac!” throughout the movie). All well and good, and slightly better than par for the course.

So what’s the problem? Early on, they introduce Maggie Q as the archetypical Asian villainness. I’ll spare you my lecture on the image of the dragon lady here, because in many ways the archetype has moved so far beyond that image that it’s working as simulacrum at this point. I should have turned the film off the moment they introduced her. Because I know what’s coming; she’s going to die in some brutal way. Involving violence. And as audience members, we’re going to be set up to cheer about it.

Sure enough, an hour in, Maggie Q and Bruce Willis are beating the living crap out of each other. He throws her into a set of shelves at one point, which then collapse on her. I was hoping that that would be the end of it, but instead, we’re treated to a 10 minute scene in which, after Q throws Willis out the window, he finds an SUV and drives it into her and halfway down an elevator shaft. They struggle, blah blah. In the end, she falls down the shaft and the SUV lands on top of her, igniting a giant fireball that immolates her and the car. Cue cheering.

I knew it was coming. And I should have expected that it would continue, but I only really braced for the violence. I hadn’t really prepared for the ways that McClane would use her death to taunt her villain boyfriend. “She’s at the bottom of an elevator shaft with an SUV shoved up her ass,” he tells him. And later, he calls her an “Asian hooker,” something that will be “hard to replace.”  [These are, for the record, paraphrases.]  Is it necessary to note that while Q strolled around the movie in tight clothing and stilettos, she managed to avoid either nudity or sex scenes?  So from whence comes the talk about her and sex?

Here’s the thing: I deeply, deeply resent the necessity of pairing violence against Asian women with sexual connotations.  And it keeps showing up lately.  X-Men II, Ransom, etc.   What’s up, Hollywood? It’s not enough to just go for violence without the sex?  The competition with internet culture has driven you to imitate the worst of the web?

If I’m in the mood for a mindless action movie, the last thing I want to worry about is having to watch a sister get whacked and then called a whore.  There’s a reason a girl wants mindless entertainment sometimes.  And it can’t be mindless if I have to expend energy assessing racist ideology, dammit.

Someone could make a bunch of money screening films and issuing them a rating based on their level of offensiveness to women and people of color.  Get right on that, will you?

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

Not really.  Leavin’ in a car.  But leavin’, nonetheless.  As of tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be at the University of New Hampshire with my colleague, at this conference, to give a presentation on our experience teaching Personal Essay Filmmaking.  After eight weeks of collaborative writing and talking and thinking, we’ve got bibliographic handouts, a rocking little workshop planned, and a dandy PowerPoint presentation that features not only a student film, but also…wait for it…our own film that we made this summer.  We’ll be talking about the dethroning of the primacy of writing, the pedagogy of multimodal composing, and the intersection between composition and film studies.  Hot diggety!

If you’re hanging around Durham this weekend, feel free to stop by for all of the fun.

Whether we knock it out of the park or crash and burn,  I’ve been promised a lobster roll at the end of the conference on Saturday.  it will be, so to speak, the icing on the cake.

It’s the Little Things…

Sometimes, I find myself wanting to sing the song that occurs at the end of Napoleon Dynamite, wherein Kip explains to his bride that he loves technology, and he loves her as much as he loves technology.

This is the week that my intrepid first year students are posting their visual argument slideshows on their blogs. They’ve done some great work, and I’m excited to see everything that they’ve been able to do. But now comes the real challenge: can they master WordPress’s wonky code enough to get the Bubbleshare slideshow up amidst all of the other reading and writing that they’re doing?

A few students worked on this in class yesterday, but for the rest, I wrote up detailed instructions on how to do it. And here comes the “I love technology” part: I used screenshots. Oh, what a wonder are screenshots, when you’re trying to describe how to navigate! In truth, Mac could make this a bit easier—you still (to my knowledge) have to dump and export the image via iPhoto to size it correctly. But regardless, I had a little moment of glee pasting in the images of particular windows that the students will have to navigate. Best of all: when you are typing in the exact code they’ll need to have the slideshow appear, you can’t actually type it in—because it will show up as the slideshow itself, rather than the code. Screenshot to the rescue again! Type the code into Word, take a picture, and upload to WordPress. Fantastico!

So, I’ll have to ask in class if the pictures help. I suppose I’ll know at about 5 today, when the assignments are due to be posted…

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with one last screenshot—here’s my messy messy desktop, in all its glory:

desktop2.jpg