Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Countdown to Launch!

. . . book launch, that is! I’ve just gotten confirmation that my book will have its official launch on Monday, April 14. Please – if your schedule allows it, join me at CCC for this event. (C'mon, you know your taxes will be done by then!) The shindig will begin at 7 p.m. in the Keeter Auditorium where I’ll talk a little bit about the project and why popular culture is worthy of serious examination in the first place. I’ll discuss a bit from the book - and where else can you go to talk about vampires on a Monday night in Shelby? Also, a reception will follow. Hopefully, strawberries will be involved for any Kaylee fans out there and it is my sincere hope that no malevolent Chumash spirits will crash the party.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase and, if you ask nicely, I’ll sign your purchase. Heck, I’ll do that if you ask harshly! But please take Giles’ advice and do not speak Latin in front of the books.

Again, mark your calendars! Monday, April 14 at 7 p.m. in the Keeter Auditorium at CCC. Tell your friends and better yet, bring them along!

Monday, March 24, 2008

San Francisco, Part Three

Today was my sightseeing day and I had a good time with my “wind down” time. The end of a conference is a strange thing – it’s odd to see the suddenly empty ballrooms that had been bustling with people and the buzz of ideas. But wow! it’s been a good time.

The sightseeing trip I was a little apprehensive about – I’m not a “bus tour” sort of person and I knew this was going to be a bit of “15 minutes – get your pictures. Now quick! Back on the bus!” but I also knew it was going to be a good way to get a solid overview of the city.

I drew an extraordinary bus driver/guide. Larry is a native San Franciscan and obviously loves the city. We got history, colorful anecdotes, and a soundtrack! Including “Magical Mystery Tour,” “If You’re Going to San Francisco,” “I Left My Heart,” and others. We stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks (not the set for the old David Lynch series) for city views, and the City Hall which featured a farmer’s market (I got free slices of sweet, crisp Asian pears!). I saw the Buena Vista, where Irish coffee was introduced; Union Square; a street full of fancy shops that I had no desire to actually go into; the gates to Chinatown and the crowds inside; the Russian Orthodox church; houses in a variety of Victorian styles (Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne, and even Edwardian – I can almost tell them apart now); the no-longer-commercial piers; Golden Gate Park (where the fortune cookie was invented!); and the Castro district – the Village People’s “YMCA” was the soundtrack and Larry pointed out, “Ohh, look! Straight people!” I learned the difference between a “trolley” (runs on electricity, whether a streetcar or a bus) and a “cable car” (no electricity – runs on a street level belt). I saw the Presidio, which is now in development as private land – you can rent the houses, or set up offices there. I saw the Pacific Ocean and the remains of opulent houses that were built/rebuilt after the devastation of the 1906 earthquake. Oh, and I found out that you have to go about a half-hour away to find a Wal-Mart in San Francisco – this is a town of small businesses; not big box stores.

It was a good tour.

Later, I roused myself to go out for a last walk around the city. I wanted to stroll around the Yerba Buena Gardens which are about a block away from the hotel. There’s a striking MLK memorial that involves waterfalls and the quote from Amos about letting “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” It was a beautiful day and the park was full of families and kids enjoying themselves. The Garden is full of kid-friendly places, including a carousel, a park, a skating rink and I had a great time just gawking around.

But it’s time to go home.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

San Francisco, Part Two

Yesterday was a different sort of day – there were no panels that I felt compelled to join, so I decided to walk the book tables, drop off the copies of my paper for the fundraising table (the money goes to fund graduate student travel scholarships), and sightsee a bit. After picking up a jacket (I’ve been lucky with the weather here, but it can change on a dime), I double-checked my map and went out to find Grace Cathedral – I decided I had a better chance of having some private time to enjoy it then rather than at today's Easter Sunday services. It felt good to be out walking in the sunshine in this city and I think I get bonus points for tackling the unending steepness of California Street - maybe I should’ve taken a cable car! Grace itself is a marvel – it’s an Episcopal cathedral, but it very accepting of all faiths and all communities. I was particularly moved by the AIDS Interfaith Chapel. I walked the interior labyrinth, which is an idea borrowed from Chartres Cathedral; as you walk, you contemplate. It's a very calming thing to do, I must say.

The finale of the conference was a showing of Blade Runner followed by a raffle (with some VERY generous prizes, I should add!) - the movie was great – it was the director’s cut, which means the voice-overs were gone, as is the final scene of Deckard and Rachel soaring off toward a new life wherever it is. It really is an astonishingly good film that does what all good science fiction does – ask the big questions. In this case, the central question is “What does it mean to be human?” It also addresses some big questions about the relationship and responsibilities of creator/created. Oh, and the raffle was fun. Even if you didn’t win anything (I did), you don’t leave unhappy as there is a scramble at the end to do some judicious horse-trading to wind up with things you really wanted. Packing tomorrow could be interesting . . .

Saturday, March 22, 2008

San Francisco, Part One

I meant to post more often, but there’s this perverse inverse relationship between the “niceness” level of a hotel and the possibility you have to pay for Internet. And since I’ve been attending so many panels, it didn’t make sense until today.

I moved over to the conference hotel on Wednesday. Due to a glitch in my registration (it got sorted out), I missed the panels, so I spent some time exploring my neighborhood, which is SoMA (South of Market). I wanted to soak up some of the atmosphere of this magnificent city, which is very different from where I live – much more cosmopolitan (ohhh, look! Skyscrapers!) and far more “green” – nearly every restaurant proudly announces that they recycle or the menu has suggestions for how diners can reduce their impact on the environment; that sort of thing.

One of the highlights of my mapless walking tour was visiting the California Historical Society which is hosting an exhibit on the role of the Chinese people in California – a subject never covered in my Southern seasoned history classes. Enough to make you shake your head at the sheer inhumanity of mankind. The Chinese were welcome so long as they “kept their place” as cheap, docile labor, but whoo-boy! how that changed when they began making demands for such things as dignity and a living wage.

I had dinner with the two San Franciscans I had met in the customs line in Istanbul – they’re not popular culture folks; just wanted to show off their town. We had dinner at a tapas place (think a dinner made up of appetizers), which is also something I can’t do at home.

On Thursday, I dove into the panels. Since my work centers on Joss Whedon, I was looking through the phone book sized program for panels that focused there – I was surprised to see some scheduling conflicts. Whedon is no longer the “exclusive property” of the science fiction and fantasy area, so I had to make a few heart-breaking decisions, since I have yet to figure out how to be in two places at once. I don’t discount panels that don’t deal with Whedon, however. Science fiction and fantasy in general are genres that are willing to tackle the question “What if?” instead of being so tied down to realism – one of the reasons the storytelling can be so very creative. It’s come a long way from ray guns and silver minidresses.

Actually, one of my highlights was a Doctor Who grouping that discussed the older production values and strength of storytelling versus the shinier new version and what, if anything, got lost in translation. (Personally, I agree with the presenter – there’s an undeniable charm in some of the older, rubber-suited-bad-guy episodes. Amazing things can happen when you have to be creative!) Another focused on the single-minded focus of human couch potatoes on constant entertainment as being a Dalek-like trait.

Outside of that panel, I heard presentations on Battlestar Galactica that addressed genocide and human agency (as opposed to being so outside human experience as to be “monstrous”), President Roslin’s cancer as a disability and different views on that element of her character. I heard discussion on the role of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls as both advancing and deconstructing the myths of the American Dream. Some great stuff on The Sopranos and the view of women - whoa! the Emmy tribute will make you shake your head when you juxtapose the lyrics being sung with the images being shown! And there was an especially nice presentation on the portrayal of sex and gender in sci-fi television.

I presented my paper Friday morning – it went well and I was pleased to be chairing a panel that was so well attended. Rabb and Richardson’s work is always a highlight and, as area chair, Tanya provided a draw for the session as well. Her work centers on fans-as-activists, which is a very interesting topic. Why do fans adopt the cause of their favorite celebrities? How much impact do these actions have?

I stayed for the Harry Potter panel which followed ours. Wilcox’s work on the film version of Azkaban and especially the director’s use of mirror images throughout the film to represent different perspectives and stages of maturation got me to thinking.

Then the “true” conference began. Honestly, much of the best of a conference occurs between sessions – that’s when the honesty starts about what’s been going on, what directions our work is going in, what roadblocks we’re running into and so on. A gaggle of us wound up having lunch at a very civilized tea lounge called Samovar. Far beyond simple orange pekoe, I had a tea that had been aged in bamboo and promised to lift “the dark shroud of oppression” or something like that. It was very strong and smoky, almost earthy-tasting. It was very relaxing to sit and chat and not rush and fret. A quartet of us then went sightseeing down to Fisherman’s Wharf where we meandered around, getting snapshots of the piers and boats and the Golden Gate Bridge. We wound up at Ghirardelli Square, where we bought chocolate for souvenirs and sensuously ate gigantic chocolate-dipped strawberries. We rode the streetcars to get there and back and had a whale of a good time just being in this marvelous city on a dazzling day. A larger group of us had dinner at John’s Grill, a very masculine restaurant that was featured in The Maltese Falcon. (That explains the picture.) They have a replica of the famed bird upstairs – they had one of the originals from the film, but it was stolen last year. It’s bigger than you’d think, so no one snuck it out under a coat.

I’m sorry this is so long, but it’s the first chance I’ve had. Subsequent entries will be shorter and more readable, I’m sure!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In the Shadow of the Golden Gate!

I arrived last night for the national conference - no exciting stories to tell about the trip out here, which is just the way I like it. Let me explain a little about the conference - this is quite a large one. I don't have a count yet on the number of presenters, attendees, or panels, but the conference program itself is quite hefty. The academic study of popular culture spun off of the American culture movement back in the late 60s/early 70s. The spin-off was led by scholars who were frustrated with the lack of attention being paid to contemporary events. As it has been put, "Redundant presentations on Melville, Whitman, and Poe were followed by more redundant presentations on Melville, Whitman, and Poe." (I'm paraphrasing, but that's about it.) The two areas of study eventually made their peace and have held joint conferences for decades - the first joint national conference was held in 1971.

It's a smorgasbord here. Panels are devoted to just about any aspect of American life you can think of - baseball, Chicano writing, using popular culture in the classroom, rhetoric, history, the role food plays in our lives, and everything in between.

San Francisco is a city that has a special place in the heart and history of America - Mark Twain first used that nom de plume here, Jacks London and Kerouac lived and wrote here, Chinatown provides a peek into a culture very different from my own, Blade Runner and Vertigo were both set here (at very different times, of course). By the way, the movie version of Blade Runner switched the setting to Los Angeles; I don' t know why but I bet someone here can tell me!

More later - I need to check in.

Friday, March 14, 2008

All Good Things . . .

(like Firefly) must come to an end. But please - check out this site and you can download Firefly in all of its too-short-lived glory for free. Just promise me you'll watch the episodes in order. Here's the shooting script for "Out of Gas" to get you started!

Thus we end our six-week examination of how Whedon portrays families in his shows. We've barely scratched the surface, but we at least scratched!

We saw biological families that were loving and strong. We saw biological families that tried to keep certain members of the family cramped and small. We saw parents sacrifice themselves for their children and "parents" who weren't linked to their "children" by DNA at all. We saw families that chose each other (and we sometimes wondered why). We saw that "family," however you define it, is something we all need and that sometimes, we can only find it by going out to seek it. But that you never, ever want to be totally alone, so it's a bad idea to send your family away.

Thank you for joining the class! I hope you got something positive out of the experience - I know I did! Thank you for sharing my unbridled joy at finishing the book (you haven't forgotten about the book, have you?) and please - continue to check out this blog. I'll be posting from the National Popular Culture Association conference in San Francisco next week. I expect it to be quite interesting! Oh, and remember that I should be speaking at CCC about popular culture, faith, Whedon and a few other things on the evening of April 14. Details to follow, but I'd love to have you in the audience!

Thank you and please, let me know what subjects would interest you in a future class!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Yeah, But She's OUR Witch

Sadly, we're approaching the end of our six-week exploration of family and how that concept is depicted in Whedon's shows. Last week, we took a look at "Safe" from the short-lived FIREFLY. (Remember, we wrap up with another episode from that show next week - I think you're going to like it!) Here's a link to the shooting script for the episode.

We all had a lot to say about how you determine who your family is - blood might have something to say about it, but behavior seems to carry more weight than DNA. We saw a true family breaking bread together and deciding that some people are worth risking your neck for, even if you're not entirely sure about them sometimes. River's right - "Daddy" does come to take the siblings back home; it's just that "Daddy" is an exasperated, short-tempered, rough-tongued, ex-soldier rather than the calculating dandy who headed an earlier family.

Life can be a funny thing, can't it?

As I've said before, FIREFLY is an extraordinary series. Perhaps being under the constant threat of cancellation made everyone strive to make the show shine more brightly. Should you be interested in obtaining your very own copy, you can find a set and still have money in your pocket to celebrate your acquisition. Try here. Or maybe here. (You may need to refresh the links.)

Next week, we have to wrap things up. I hope you've had some fun looking at television in a different way and maybe we'll get together and try this again in the fall. Let's talk about what themes you'd like to explore next time.

Thank you all for being part of the class and for sharing my joy about the book project! Actually, the Tuesday after the class ends, I'm off to San Francisco to present at the National Popular Culture Association about the episode we watched this week. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Room Alert!

After discussing the situation with college representatives, we've been moved to a different room for the remaining two weeks - it's smaller, but we'll be able to get the room properly darkened to watch the episodes and the sound should also be better.

So I'll see you Thursday in Room 1098 - it's one of the conference rooms by the main reception desk - to begin our discussion of FIREFLY.