Friday, December 18, 2009

Searching the Stars

A friend of mine recently got dumped, and I’ve been solicited for dating advice. I guess I should preface this with the fact that most of my friends are male, and most of them are younger than me, so whenever one of them gets dumped the conversation goes the same way: “Why do I always get dumped? You’re a girl. And you’re older. And you have a PhD. What’s going on?” And so as not to be blacklisted from my little group for sounding too academic, I resort to pop culture to solve these problems. My latest answer: astrology.

I’m not the biggest believer in superstitious things, but astrology seems to fall into the same category as stereotypes for me – they exist for a reason because of patterns of behavior, and while not definitive, can offer some clarity and piece of mind (no matter how frivolous). I often find interesting patterns across astrological signs, to the point that I can often guess a student's sign just by a series of classroom behaviors (yes, I know how weird that sounds). So, I looked up my friend’s sign and found out a lot of interesting things about myself in the process.

There are lots of theories about this stuff – in general, the basic zodiac signs (or Sun signs) have matches that work and matches that don’t. I’ve always looked to these, but in my quest to find some fun conversation starters, I stumbled onto a piece of information I hadn’t considered before: while your Sun sign can determine basic attraction and compatibility, the sign that Venus occupied when you were born is actually a stronger predictor of intimate compatibility. Who knew?! So, I decided to look up my Venus sign, and lo and behold, it’s in Virgo. Which explains my obsession with Virgos for pretty much all of my 20s. Even though Virgo and my Sun sign are totally incompatible. The universe seriously screwed me on this one!!

Anyhow, it’s a fun little distraction if you’re bored at work and ready for it to be the holiday season already. Check it out and see if you learn anything about yourself and your patterns of attraction (good, bad or indifferent)...and of course, feel free to comment!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Films: Take One!

It’s that time again – holiday movie season, leading up to Oscar contenders for the year! Beyond my obvious obsession with waiting for Avatar, I’ve been looking forward to a few releases. The first was Invictus, which I saw last night.

I figured, the film has a lot of things going for it – Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela? Awesome! A movie about rugby? Double Awesome! Clint Eastwood directing? Okay, so not entirely awesome, but not entirely bad. Matt Damon as hot lead rugby guy who will inevitably have his shirt off and be physically beat up half the film? Seriously, I didn’t really need to be convinced to go to the theater.

So, it’s okay. The film tries to be a sports movie AND an interesting biographic sketch of an international icon. On the first front, there wasn’t much different than any other sports movie. Perhaps they thought, well, rugby is sort of novel and setting it in South Africa is novel. There is one message – sports is a great cultural unifier. Well, … duh. Every sports movie ever made has that message. And the racial twist isn’t even that interesting – I mean, this guy designed a whole class on it (check out CES 222)!

On the second front, I’d honestly rather have seen a dramatic piece on Mandela. The film didn’t even feel all that Eastwood – he’s known for long, drawn out characters, and you really didn’t get much in the way of developing Mandela as anything more than a brilliant saint that saved his country (which, I’m not arguing he didn’t do – but people are more complex than that). The only scene that struck a chord was when the rugby players visit the prison Mandela was in…and, unfortunately, I spent most of that scene waiting for Morgan Freeman to say “Andy Dufresne - who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.”

I got the feeling Morgan Freeman REALLY wanted to play this part, and that’s why it happened. He might get an Oscar nod, and maybe even win it if the category is weak this year…but I certainly don’t think it’s his best work by any means.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gleek Out!

Well fans, it’s a long haul ‘til April. And now that I have some down time, it’s long over-due for me to post some thoughts about Glee – my latest and greatest television obsession. I’ve been a fan of Ryan Murphy’s work for quite some time, and Glee artfully blends teen melodrama, “high school musical” culture, and sarcasm into sugary-pop goodness that is addictive like saccharine or nicotine. Despite my love of all things Glee, there are a few things now that the fall season has ended that continue to irk me about the series from a critical perspective (I just can’t help it – I’m too tainted to enjoy media on its own ever again).

1) Minority Representation – So, at least there ARE some minorities in the glee club. But their characterizations are so trite they continue to grate on my nerves. Mercedes, while incredibly talented vocally, is a TERRIBLE actress. That and they won’t let her be anything other than a crazy large black diva, which bothers me on a lot of levels. Those who have stood through my rants about American Idol and body image know that large black diva women singers are acceptable caricatures in pop culture, but not larger white women, and not thinner black women. None of the glee club women would be considered “overweight” except Mercedes. The show was a bit better to the Asian women in the final few episodes, but the random black guy and random Asian guy didn’t even have NAMES until the last episode. It was sort of a game Sailor and I would play every time they did a full number, “Who is the random dancing Asian guy for the love of god!?”

2) Musical Staging – I love the music in the show. They’ve done some great mash-ups and re-arrangements of pop standards that are catchy and fascinating. I also like the continual homage to Broadway (which makes sense given that half the cast had a career there before joining the show). What I don’t get is the random musicians that always seem to be available – at glee club practice, or just hanging out (again, nameless people). I’d almost prefer you just layer the tracks over the singing without the random shots of piano guy and string quartet who apparently have nothing else to do at all hours of the school day than burst into song. It’s very distracting, which makes the music less impactful.

3) The Schue Thing – First off, let me clarify that I absolutely adore Mr. Schuester as a character. I empathize with his teachable moments – I mean, seriously, watching him listen to the kids perform through the phone at sectionals brought tears to my eyes. I get the whole “I’m 30 and I didn’t think my life would be here” kind of thing that warrants rethinking yourself and your life goals. What I don’t like is that basically, he’s framed as the innocent bystander to his life. He’s portrayed as a guy who got into a relationship with a horrible person (Terri), thus encouraging all of us to root for the nice girl (Emma). I don’t even disagree that Schue and Emma should be together. What I don’t like is that the whole season basically made excuses for Schue emotionally cheating on his wife while she was pregnant (at least to his knowledge, and to Emma’s as well). It’s frustrating to me as a gender scholar that in the end, Schue comes out of this squeaky clean while Terri is the manipulative, backstabbing bitch, and Emma is the perfect, na├»ve girl. We’re supposed to interrogate them, not question Schue’s actions throughout the series. Really, if he’d been honest with himself and others from the beginning, then there would have been a lot less hurt going around. So while the romantic in me was like, oh good, they're supposed to be together, the cynic in me is annoyed by the emotional games Schue played with both womens' hearts.

It's a long haul to April, but I guess Idol coming back will keep me in my music fix for now. Super excited that Ellen is replacing Paula (whose commentary over the years has proven to be worthless on so many levels, it was about time to get someone else in here).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Slapsgiving!

Two years ago, the writers at How I Met Your Mother delivered Slapsgiving – “It’s the one day we set aside each year to gather together and give slaps” – which was by far the funniest holiday episode of a sitcom since the one where Joey got his head stuck in the turkey. This year, they brought back Slapsgiving (or Slapsgiving 2, Revenge of the Slap), and while not nearly as funny as the first one, it still delivers the same lovable goodness. I like Lily’s father as the failed boardgame designer, and the “you’re dead to me” look reminded me a lot of Evil Willow. But really, writers, let’s step it up a notch. Here’s what I want to see for the last slap – write it in somehow:

Marshall, trading on Barney’s fear of slaps, agrees to barter his last slap on a new wager whereby if Barney wins, he will not get slapped the fifth time. Shenanigans ensue, the stakes escalate, and Marshall wins back his slap in addition to being able to place a personal ad in every newspaper and on every dating/social networking site about Slapsgiving 3 “Return of the Slap"


Anyone slept with Barney Stinson and want to slap him? COME ON OVER!

Thanksgiving would be interrupted by a barrage of women slapping Barney. That would be awesome. Even more awesome if Marshall used Barney’s 200+ (it is plus at this point, yes?) list as a “bouncer” to check them off as they come in. How funny would Jason Segel be saying things like, “Ah yes, Heather, number 168. Proceed.” Get on that writers!

Happy Slaps(I mean Thanks)giving everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pulling a Braid

I consider myself a connoisseur of several things that would be considered part of popular culture – television and wine being my favorite. But recently I’ve tried to make my way back into video games. I don’t quite get it – I liked games in the 90s when we had Atari and Nintendo, but somewhere in the transition to X-Box and Playstation, I lost the love. Of course, it could have been college. And grad school. Anyway –

I think my big problem is that a lot of modern video games are FPS or MMO or RPG. To be frank, I don’t have time for that shit! Okay, I could get into FPS if I liked shooting people in the face, but I really don’t. I’m a non-violent kind of gal. And I liked RPGs in the 90s when it involved actually bonding with people (most of what I did was narrative writing RPGs online), but it got to a point in a grad school where I just didn’t have time to keep up with it anymore.

So – my dream game is one that has all kinds of intellectually challenging puzzles, isn’t too difficult to navigate (as I’m not too swift with the fingers on modern controllers), and doesn’t involve a ton of violence. Braid brought it in spades! I realize this is probably late, as I’m a late-comer since I only have Playstation and it was released a year ago on X-Box, but seriously. This game was AWESOME.

I love the 2D platform, though I know that makes me old-school, but the real selling point for me was the story line – it’s all about the complicated relationship between time and memory. The main character is remembering that he has to do something related to a past relationship, and the quest is all about that. In each level, he gets to manipulate time to a different degree, which I read as part of his nostalgia and memory related to the relationship in question (though others have posited this is about the atomic bomb despite other commentary). I like the idea that you can have a “shadow self” who will still do the same things you did before even if you rewind time, or having a “hesitation” point where you can stop time for a moment and make things move more slowly. Who hasn’t had a relationship or a moment where you wanted to stop time, reverse, and start over? Or where you wanted someone else to do the leg work for you so you could reap the benefits? Or where you wanted to pause time enough to take back something you said that can never be repealed? The themes were so salient that in addition the beautiful graphics and artwork, I would have been amazed. But the puzzles! Oh the puzzles! They were so intellectually interesting. And the ending – I was so in shock that it took me a few hours to process. Since I don’t want to give it away in case you play it, I won’t elaborate. But seriously. The BEST game I’ve played since I was a little tyke and first got Zelda.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Leaving the Dollhouse Behind

By now, the Whedonite universe has had time to process their recent crushing blow with the cancellation of Dollhouse. I must admit, although a long time Whedon fan and a serious fan of Eliza Dushku (albeit more for her incredible hotness than her ability to act), I’m not surprised. And it’s not for the reasons that most Whedonites would cite – FOX being idiots (ala Firefly), the downfall of narrative storytelling on television in multiple season arcs (fewer and fewer series make it into a second season), or a general inability of new sci-fi to really snag enough of an audience to sustain a series (Heroes anyone?).

At the risk of being shot, lambasted and skewered – Dollhouse was canceled because it kind of sucked.

Okay, okay. So I liked the premise – but the series lacked all of the things I’ve come to know and love about Whedon pieces. Here are three issues that made Dollhouse non-essential viewing material:

1) BAD CHARACTERS: Whedon’s strongest writing comes in developing interesting characters. Topher was the only interesting character on this series because he’s the only one who was stable long enough to develop into something more than a caricature. Boyd, Adelle and Paul were fairly flat with only brief moments of interest. And really, when you hinge the narrative to the idea that the majority of your characters become new people every week, it’s difficult to sustain narrative fidelity. 

2) CREEP FACTOR: While I’m a big fan of more progressive ways of thinking about sexuality and morality, there were TONS of scenes that I was uncomfortable watching. Given real modern day issues with sex trafficking, rape, and government conspiracy, I couldn’t feel good about life after any episode. The episode more recently about how Sierra came to the Dollhouse was so incredibly disturbing I didn’t sleep for two days. And that was AFTER the narrative arc about her basically being raped and molested inside the Dollhouse!

3) REALITY CHECK: Beyond the “wow, check out what we can do with technology and should we really be doing that to peoples’ brains?” there wasn’t really a larger narrative about how this would relate to normal people. Buffy and Firefly were easier to read into as an audience because you could relate to the themes of high school and post-apocalyptic war (probably more with the first, but the later has been enough of a subject in sci-fi that it’s an easy transition – plus, they were space pirates, and everyone’s been in a situation where they haven’t had everything they needed). The clientele of the Dollhouse are all wealthy, privileged douche-bags that think they can do whatever they want. The only client that was remotely sympathetic was the guy whose wife died in a car accident the day he bought her a house. Given that Whedon draws your average geek loving marginalized audience, my guess is that many viewers followed in my cries of “Seriously? Why do the wealthy get away with this shit?” or "Yes, that douche-bag deserved to die." Neither of these is a fun way to spend a Friday night.

I hope that Whedon returns to his roots when developing his next project and offers up a series of strong characters with significant relationships. Sci-fi discourse? Sure! Just make it something we can feel good about watching.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thoughts on Surveillance

Today in one of my classes we were talking about the concept of surveillance – both asymmetrical and lateral. For those less familiar with work in media studies, asymmetrical surveillance occurs when you are watching someone who is watching someone else. Think Punk’d or other such shows. Lateral surveillance occurs when both parties can watch each other simultaneously, such as Facebook or Twitter. My students were fascinated with the different facets of surveillance, both impressed at what it can do for them (coupons and free stuff!) and creeped out by the sheer lack of privacy in today’s mediated world (people should just ask me out rather than look me up on Facebook first).

While the world has definitely changed, I find myself in instances of lateral surveillance asking myself very serious questions such as, “if this were someone’s diary and I knew it was their space, would I open it?” This pertains a lot to Facebook and other mediums where I feel like people carve out a niche – sometimes I feel fine looking at peoples’ pages, sometimes I feel like I’m crossing a line that might move me into weird, stalker mode. But I’m not sure how to occupy a space where the boundaries are consistently transitory – you have to be comfortable with some level of self-disclosure, while at the same time cautious about the information disclosed. Especially when your “friends” network includes anywhere from people you knew marginally in high school, to close friends, to colleagues, to family members, to students. The power dynamics across that range are such that it’s hard to figure out how to “be” in a space.

I've been working to reduce the dissonance between my identities, making them more transparent in ways I never used to be comfortable with. So, for example, I was feeling a bit snarky today, and I thought, I’ll change my Facebook status to something silly like 'In an Open Relationship with Michel Foucault'. That's something weird that I would do and people who "know" me would get. But while I know some people would get the joke, others would be highly confused without the contextual cues. And is it then worth it for me to make the joke if I have to explain it to an entire network? There are some days I feel like fighting that fight and others I feel like deleting my entire page and boycotting the whole performative aspect of my identity. It's hard to be yourself when "yourself" changes based on the monitoring you need to do in particular moments in particular parameters.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween!

It’s no secret to those who know me well that I adore Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday – which is probably odd since I don’t particularly like creepy, scary things. What I love about Halloween is the element of control. You can generally choose your own costume (within parental parameters), and then you proceed to travel around to various houses whereby simply knocking on the door and saying “Trick or Treat” gets you candy. Then you get to go back to your house and eat it all until you make yourself sick. In all of this, you have more control than say Christmas where you have to ask Santa for things and then labor under intense surveillance for a period of time, and no matter how well you pass these tests, the things on your list might not materialize. Halloween is an instant gratification, sugar-high holiday where you don’t have to be yourself, or some version of a perfect angel. You can be a rebel-rousing hellion and it’s okay. In fact, it’s rewarded!

Perhaps it was my inability to rebel much as a youth that fostered my love of Halloween. When you do crazy things on Halloween, it doesn’t matter because everyone else is doing crazy things. Every other holiday is about doing things to please other people to create the eventual reward (don’t get me started on Valentine’s day and its traumatizing effects on my psyche with relation to popularity), but Halloween is that one space where you make the rules and no one can stop you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fantasy and Reality...or something.

It's no secret that I have been into fantasy sports for some time. I've played several difference rounds -- but mostly I like sticking to the NFL. I only have to pay attention once a week, and the rest of the week I have time to do other things. When you play baseball, basketball or hockey, you need to pay WAY more attention to sports than is my normal M.O. This is part of why I feel football is our "national pastime" in this day and age. Baseball might have been it in the day, but technology has completely changed the way we live life in relation to sports.

I digress. Fantasy football. So, the first year I played fantasy was in grad school when I told some guys in my class I actually knew shit about football. They didn't believe me, so I challenged them to a fantasy match. I tore it up, and won for about five consecutive years. Since then, my fantasy dominance has waned. This year I'm not doing poorly, but I'm not doing great either. Bad luck all around. Last week, I was up against our league leader and lost by 2 points. 2 points! And Peyton Manning is my QB and of course it was his bye week. This week, my guys seriously over produced, and a rogue defensive score from the opponent is usurping me. I've lost my mojo.

While it's probably completely irrelevant, I blame my lack of fantasy productivity on the fact that I'm happy and wonder whether or not this applies to other fantasy gamers. I seemed to hit stride when I was the most unhappy - playing the game made me happier, so I did it and was good at it. Now that I have more interpersonal happiness, I find I often forget it's Sunday until about an hour before kickoff. I will say, I have spent more time investing in college football, which might be detracting from my ability to accurately play pro-fantasy. It's fun, but it might be one of those things I give up. I got into it because people where all in my face about "you're a girl and you don't know anything about football" which I've proved is false and don't see much of a reason to continue it. It's not as fun as it used to be for some reason...maybe fantasy sports have reached their peak with casual fans like me? It seems everything with serious fans is about money and keeper-leagues these days. Definitely not the expert here, just making some observations.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Diggin' It!

Creat Studios recently released an enhanced remake of the classic video game Digger for the PlayStation 3. I was pretty excited to discover that Sailor had downloaded it for my birthday. Digger was one of our first family games on our first PC (this would have been mid-80s). My parents fought over playing it, we all tried to beat each others' high scores, and ultimately, it fell to the wayside when we got an Atari and my parents started getting into PacMan instead.

Anyway, point being, Digger is a kind of video game nostalgia for me as I'm not really into modern gaming. I like simple games that I don't have to think too much about. Playing Digger for the past couple weeks in the vintage mode has made me realize some things about the game that I never knew back in my childhood. First, you can shoot! I never knew Digger could shoot. I just ran away from the goblins and pushed gold bags onto them. The game is so much better when you can shoot! Second, I never realized that you scored more points if you completed the tonal scale while eating the emeralds. Try it. You end up getting more for each emerald after you finish the scale. Doesn't help much on the first couple levels, but it makes a big difference when you get to level four and five.

On the downside, I really don't like using the PS3 controllers when playing this game - the key pad isn't as sensitive as I'd like and the joystick is too sensitive, which means I dig a bunch of things I don't mean to (of course, this is probably just another way of saying my hand-eye coordination kind of sucks). Also, it sucks to be playing this game with someone as adept at video games as Sailor because within a week, my chances of ever appearing on the high scores lists has greatly diminished. I'm still on there right now with one score of almost 30,000 - but I didn't actually score that. Sailor put it there to make me feel better (as if I would forget that I have yet to break 25,000), but I haven't let him know I'm on to his secret. :o)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beach Week!

I’ve been a bit MIA because I took a vacation to the beach for a week, and while I should have theoretically had time to work on blogging, I decided to enjoy the beach instead. Now that I’m back to reality (which is a pain the ass since there have been many, many issues diverting my attention from things I love such as pop culture and art), I figured I’d pay homage to my love affair with the beach by citing my top five beach influenced pieces of pop culture!

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall – one of the most brilliant comedies in the past few years takes place in Hawaii, so beach scenes abound. It was the first DVD I watched on blue-ray with my new entertainment system and it really made me want to go to Hawaii.

4. Saved By the Bell the Malibu Sands summer episodes – does anyone remember what I’m talking about here? There were six episodes of SbtB where Lisa hooked up the rest of the gang with sweet jobs at the Malibu Sands Country Club. What teen girl working at this place wouldn’t be into Zack Morris? Guilty.

3. Any song from Jack’s Mannequin – lead singer Andrew McMahon’s experiences growing up in California frequently make their way into songs with imagery of the beach (such as Holiday From the Real or Miss California) or of the water (Swim or Dark Blue).

2. The final scene of Titanic –since the whole film takes place on a boat, how am I connecting this to the beach? Well, in the final scene when the camera pans across all of the pictures of the life that Rose led, one shows her riding a horse on the beach while this eerie music is playing. That scene inspired me when I traveled over seas to ride a horse at sunrise on the beach. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

1. The beach scene in From Here to Eternity – while I’m not a big fan of old films (it drives Sailor nuts), if I ever would cop to a romantic sexual fantasy, it’s this scene.

What are your favorite beach references in pop cultures my handful of readers? Chime in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Technology, Science and "Belief"

Sailor and I were catching up on TV last night and had a chance to watch the newest episode of Fringe. Sailor isn't too keen on this show, because in his assessment "it's a big rip off of the X-Files." In a way, I get that - it's not like J.J. Abrams is above ripping off just about any science fiction narrative and repackaging it into convoluted plot lines that are supposed to be "intelligent" because they keep people "guessing" when really, they ceased to make logical sense long, long ago. Anyone who keeps tabs on this knows what I'm talking about.

On the other hand, he has also proven to be somewhat of a master at capturing the heart of a particular science fiction story while transforming it into something that is more culturally relevant (though Star Trek fans all over may completely disagree with me on this point). Having been a total XPhiler, I have to say that while there are striking similarities, Fringe differs in format with its respect to the concept of "belief" and the importance of technology. The X-Files generally interrogated the idea that there were things in this world that we, as human beings, were incapable of understanding and comprehending (unless of course you were a crazed lunatic like Mulder, or a rational person in love with a crazed lunatic like Scully). Key to your acceptance of the narrative was its insistence that "the truth is out there," that one must believe in the potential of science, and that really, if something was going to mutate, there wasn't anything you could do about it. Mulder and Scully were often asked to accept their fate, acknowledge that they couldn't change things about their situation, and ultimately let scientific progress take its course.

The narrative in Fringe is far less optimistic about our technological future. The questions they explore are not, "wow, could this really be happening?" - it's almost assumed that it IS happening, and the questions interrogated become, "how is this technology potentially harmful, and what can we do to stop the evil people who have it?" In that sense, it's much more like procedural cop dramas than the X-Files was, and often you feel quite hopeless about the current state of technological warfare at the end of the episode. I think this functions well in a post-9/11 society where technology has rapidly advanced in the last 10 years, and plays upon our general fears of scientific progress (see popular discourses regarding genetic mapping or cloning to get a sense of the uneasiness the general public has with technological change). The cast also functions as more of an ensemble, so while Olivia and Peter are the focus most of the time, the secondary characters actually have personalities beyond the "monster of the week" kinds of plots the X-Files sported for several years before developing additional characters. As a result of these changes, the emphasis is more on what we can DO to stop/alter/influence technological and scientific change rather than acceptance of its inevitable progress. It doesn't seem like a big distinction, but I think it says quite a lot about where our culture has been and where it's moving.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Green Lantern Fake Out

So, I got pretty excited when I saw this because who doesn't love Nathan Fillion, but then figured out it wasn't real. Ryan Reynolds is actually starring. And to make matters more interesting, Greg Berlanti (most recently known for Brothers & Sisters, though he also wrote for Dawson's Creek and Everwood) is in on the screenplay. I'm not entirely sure how to process this...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Karaoke Junkie

I am something of a karaoke enthusiast. This baffles many of my friends as I'm actually quite a good singer. I found out early on that there were few things you could count on in a career in music, but musicians being sort of unreliable was the #1 lesson that deterred me from pursuing fame and fortune as a singer. Well, that and the fact that I sort of have a perpetual fear of being continually "in the spotlight" -- not that I don't like it here and there, but I like to be able to retreat to my introverted lair when I feel like it, and let's face it, in today's culture with the way we use technology surveillance and our obsession with celebrity culture? I'd be one step away from a mental breakdown after every concert.

But I digress. Karaoke. It's the perfect blend of being able to fulfill my desire to perform, meet interesting people, and still remain largely unknown. Everyone in a karaoke bar is a character. I could tell you a bunch of stories on this point, but if you're interested, Rob Drew's book Karaoke Nights is a fabulous, smart analysis of this subculture. A fellow enthusiast recently explained his own obsession as being "like I'm addicted to crack," and while I have no base of crack addiction for a comparison reference, I'm pretty sure it's an accurate simile.

So, I used to frequent karaoke on a weekly basis. In the last few months, I haven't gone as often because of a number of factors: a) my normal karaoke spot changed the night they have karaoke, b) I mostly used karaoke night as a means to escape the confines of my home/loneliness/relationships, etc., which is somewhat pointless when you're in a happy place and c) the last six weeks have been hell as far as my job is concerned. Last night was the first time I was able to go out in a long time on my own terms. I had a great time at a new little dive place that does karaoke. It's off the radar of most locals (and more importantly, students) so I can actually relax and feel okay kicking back. I sang some good stuff, I sang some stuff that I should never sing again. I got my foot trampled by a drunk girl from Minnesota. I'm kind of lucky she didn't break my toe(s). But I certainly wouldn't trade the experience for anything...and I look forward to going back in a few weeks.

My obsession has me wondering about the importance of performance in contemporary culture. I'm not sure why I continually complain about feeling like I'm "performing" within the confines of my job (and of my former relationship, though this is not the case now), yet when I have a chance to get out and do something, performing is often my first choice? In some sense, I'm not sure today's generations know how to live a life without performance, without surveillance. And while I like to think nostalgically that this wasn't the case ten years ago, I'm sure there were similar trends on local scales that were the equalvalent of today's YouTube or blogging. I seem to remember calling in to a lot of radio talk shows during that period of my life...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

On Being Awesome

No, I'm not writing about HIMYM again, though Barney's approach to life would probably help out the cast of today's show of choice. Despite the continued melodramatic, over-wrought writing, I continue to keep tabs on Grey’s Anatomy. Perhaps it’s the similarities between medical training/hazing/the academy sorts of things, or perhaps I’m just a sappy person. Either way, the show sometimes hits a nerve in one sense or another. The first two episodes of the season have not been great in any sense, but I find myself thinking about some of the issues they raised.

This week our cultural fixation on “the economic crisis” hit home for the doctors at Seattle Grace as they all start competing with each other to establish their relevance (and hopefully save their jobs in the wake of an impending merger with Mercy West). As I’m watching these people be borderline ridiculous (at the expense of their patient’s best interests for the most part – an annoying facet of the show that I guess must be there in order to advance any kind of relational plot), I started thinking about my own experiences in the academy and how I often feel trapped in the same kind of “paranoia” the characters find themselves in. There are simply certain jobs in our culture that produce excessive demands on physical and emotional resources. There are always going to be sick people, at every hour of the day, so you always need to be working. My job is certainly not as stressful as medicine, but there are always students/administrative concerns/articles to be written that can eat up every minute of your free time if you let them. I personally suck at drawing boundaries, but I’m aware of that and working on it.

One of the characters this week voiced why I think I have a hard time finding time for myself – “I am not awesome yet!” In a profession that demands constant surveillance and performance, it is hard to gage whether or not you’re performing at the standards expected. The standards also change as the general body of knowledge changes (new research = new methods = more work kind of thing), so it’s hard to keep tabs on something that works in one year and suddenly doesn’t work the next year. It’s a profession that spends a lot of time telling you that you’re not good enough – from teacher ratings, to article reviews, to peer reviews, etc., ultimately concluding that you will never be good enough and need to get back to work to prove your relevance. Of course, that’s part of the gig when you sign up, so complaining about it is sort of a moot point, but it can breed unrest as to whether or not one is up to snuff.

So most days, despite a very large number of accomplishments, I don’t feel “awesome” yet even though I have data that clearly indicates that I should. Perhaps it’s part of occupying a space that many don’t think I should be occupying, (yesterday a tenured faculty member dismissed a comment I made in a committee because “I’ve been teaching longer than you’ve been born”) and perhaps it’s because I don’t often feel like I embody the archetype of “professor” very well. I’m not pretentious (at least very rarely so), not wedded to any particular body of knowledge (interdisciplinarity is pretty much a reality that I feel most people should embrace, especially given the rise of technology and the availability of research), and I’m sort of a cool person (as opposed to the socially awkward nerd who prefers books to the company of people). So at some point, I should start feeling like I’m awesome. It’s just a massive intellectual shift to make, and it’s taking me a while to adjust.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stripping and HIMYM

I just got my DVDs of the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother, and so I feel like it's worth starting this journey by writing about one of my favorite shows on television. I picked up the series in the first season during reruns in the summer and immediately fell in love with it. In many ways, the series mimics the Friends model, but is, in my opinion, superior in character development and humor. Instead of sitting around sipping coffee, they're always sitting around drinking. Of course that's more my kind of show.

The show is largely successful because of the ensemble cast -- Neil Patrick Harris is phenomenal. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have never wished a gay man straight, but in Neil's case, I make an exception. I loved Doogie Howser, and lesser known but equally awesome Dr. Horrible. If I'd had the money, I would have packed up with other Rent-heads and rushed the LA show when he played Mark Cohen. I am also in love with Allison Hannigan who won me over a long time ago on Buffy.

So this week, Barney discovers "stripper Lily" -- which Lily eats up like crazy. Hannigan's comic timing is pretty awesome, and the entire episode seemed a throwback to the "Evil Willow" story on Buffy where Willow discovered her alternative universe vampire self as "I'm so evil, and skanky. And I think I'm kind of gay." I think part of why I love Lily's character so much is that she sees herself as kind of boring for being somewhat stable in a long-term relationship with Marshall, but she has dreams of being "more interesting" in one way or another. I kind of relate to that -- I sometimes think I'm a boring sort of person at heart in terms of what I want out of life, and it's taken me a while to meander around to find that out. But I still like to break out of the mold once in a while and embrace that crazy side of myself. Not that I'm saying I have an inner stripper...okay, who am I kidding? Don't we all have an inner stripper?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Clean Slate

Welcome to Popademic. I’m starting over. This should not be news to those of you who have been following my escapades in blogging over the past seven years, but while I feel those years are important, I feel as if I’ve taken a definitive turn. I really want to start focusing more on my observations about pop culture, and while I can’t guarantee I won’t digress into the more diary-style form you’ve come to see from me in the past year or so, I don’t know that I need that outlet any more. And if I do, I think I'm going to hide it somewhere else since I like the concept behind this blog so much! :o)

So – a brief rundown of the history of the blog so that new readers aren’t lost if I reference things. I started blogging as a way to help cope with the pressures of my job (professor) and my relationships (crappy). It's gone through several iterations from sappy long-form diary style posts to random tidbits of pop culture to artistic endeavors. This blog will focus predominantly on my observations about popular culture. I'm hoping this will help me hone some ideas I have about larger research projects and give me an outlet for chatting about the kinds of things that fascinate me on a daily basis. Enjoy!