Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inside Out!

Reel One:

The film class had its first viewing of Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 (warning - link contains sound!). I don’t want to say too much here; the students are free to choose their own focus for this final paper and I’d rather not blur that focus with my personal thoughts. Students have no obligation at all to follow my tastes - what would be the point of that? They are, however, expected to stake out their position and defend it using the terminology and theories that we’ve spent the semester discussing. And with District 9, you can go in a LOT of different directions! Who’s the Other? What role does technology play in our society and in how we interact with others (or Others)? Does the end justify the means? Is violence okay provided it’s directed outward at something alien and weird, or do we have an obligation to treat everyone with dignity? What ties people to each other? Heck, what’s a “person”? Hmm.

Reel Two:

Meanwhile, over at the Great Buffy Re-Watch of 2011, it’s a Triple Crown of Episodes That Matter. Michael Holland writes about some major developments in Faith the Slayer that will have long-ranging - pardon the pun – consequences. And Ensley Guffey writes about a fan favorite, the Xander-centric episode “The Zeppo” when we get to see what the battles look like from a foot soldier’s perspective. Xander is usually the "odd man out," so it's especially interesting to see things from his point of view. I’ve always loved these three episodes (I've used "Consequences" in class before to discuss morality and I've used "The Zeppo" to discuss the importance of secondary characters, as a matter of fact) and the writing this week might just show you why. (OK, in the interest of full disclosure, Ensley Guffey and I share more than a last name. But seriously – it’s good stuff.) All this and there are also some notes about the use of music by the incomparable Steve Halfyard.

Coming Next Week:

Season 3 continues with the return of “Evil Willow” (squeee!), among other delights.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day Four!

Today's post isn't so much about the conference proper as it is about the city of San Antonio. Having decided that (a) it's a downright shame to come to a city like this and never leave the hotels to actually see the city and (b) since we had convinced Texas-living friends to drive in, we should avail ourselves of their company, we had set aside today to be TOURIST SIGHTSEEING DAY!! So we got ourselves up and moving and met our Texas friends in the lobby for a day of tourist stuff. There's a lot to do in this city and we scarcely scratched the surface, but we managed to do a few things well, rather than many things not-so-well. Among those . . .

1. We hit the "fire sale" of the book room. We were restrained, but come on - when it's 50% off before you start your bargaining, you make room in the suitcase.
2. Yes, we saw the Alamo. I'd been told that it really isn't all that impressive and I guess that's true, sort of. It certainly is just a fraction of the original site, but the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who hold the site for the people of the state, have really put effort into creating presentations that will knock your socks off. Even our Texan guides marveled, saying that they hadn't been to the site since they were schoolkids and wow! had the place changed. Across the street from the actual site is a museum devoted to a scale model of the actual site with narration about how the siege unfolded. Ready for the weirdness? It's narrated by the owner of the world's largest private collection of Alamo memorabilia, Phil Collins. Yes, that Phil Collins - the one from the second incarnation of Genesis. Turns out he's a huge Alamo buff. I get the whole romance of lost causes, fighting for honor, and so on (and the story about Col. Travis drawing the line in the sand is so good it ought to be true, if it isn't), and the defenders of the Alamo did manage to buy time for Sam Houston to build his forces (or so popular versions say; in fact, like much Alamo lore, it isn't exactly true), but it still seems like such a waste of human life. Then again, I learned that one North Carolina defender of the Alamo (NC had seven on the official roster of the dead) had the magnificent name of "Dolphin Floyd," so there's that.
3. We also visited the nearby Emily Morgan Hotel, where we learned a bit about the legend of the woman who (supposedly) is behind the "Yellow Rose of Texas" legend, which (like many legends) loses some shine when you look into it.
After quite a while tramping around the sacred ground of the Alamo, we took a break for Tex-Mex food (with the best guacamole I've ever had!) at The Original Mexican Restaurant.
4. Then we figured out the trolley system and tackled Historic Market Square. Mostly, it's a nearly overwhelming array of tiny storefronts selling kitsch ranging from brightly-colored tin ornaments to Dia de la Muertos figures. Lots of clothing, jewelry, and knick-knacks are also present. (As one of our party exclaimed, "Perfect for all your pinata needs!") My favorite were the displays of full-face lucha libre wrestler masks - you could even buy a model-sized ring and a sleeve of ten costumed wrestlers to stage your own matches! All that, plus a Mexican bakery that was out of this world made for a happy, albeit waddling, group.
5. Finally, it was back to the conference for the final wrap-up. We first stopped for sandwiches and gawked over a vast array of hot sauces. My favorite was "Salvation Sauce" which comes packaged with a tiny little (printed!) Bible. Available in three strengths - I didn't inquire if those were "venial, "mortal," and "you don't want to ask." On the way out, I dropped a dollar in the case of a young busker who had a sweet face, but still looked tired. It's a hard way to earn twenty dollars or so a day. We also saw San Antonio's version of punks, but I didn't stop to ask them to pose for a picture.
6. So the conference wrap-up is a movie followed by a gift raffle. Many of the gifts are donated by conference-goers or booksellers and nearly everyone leaves with something, even if it's something you don't really want (like a pair of "Team Jacob" flip-flops). The film was the 1981 cheese-fest Clash of the Titans and FryDaddy and I snarked our way through it. We fretted at first that other people would mind - but it really is a very bad movie and others were joining in. (In fact, two of our friends seated behind us said, "Next time, you've got to sit in front of us again! They should give you microphones!" Ahh, high praise indeed.)

So with light hearts, we said good-bye to friends we hadn't seen in far too long. And yes, we did snag a few raffle prizes. Tomorrow is a good bit of traveling, then it's back to the workaday world, but I know I'm returning with a lighter step and a sunnier outlook than I have had in many a week.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day Three!

Very brief tonight (and a little snarky). By the third day of the rush of a conference and bad and/or overpriced food usually eaten on the run, I get weary.

One of the true delights of a conference such as this one is the sheer breadth of topics represented. Every scholar has a story about how they first got into their particular field, I know, but that knowledge doesn't stop me from wondering just how do you decide to devote your research time to the works of H.P. Lovecraft? Or American car culture? Or the depiction of faith healing on the screen?

Always ask these questions. Be prepared to listen to the answers, for scholars are far from the chalk-dusted bores they are often portrayed as being.

FryDaddy and I split up today to hit different sessions. He learned about Jack London and H.P. Lovecraft (an especially interesting bit there on town as civilization vs. rural as the home of evil and darkness emerged there, along with his suggestion that the lack of peer-reviewed scholarship be answered with something akin to Slayage, which is celebrating its tenth year this year), while I took in a quite interesting panel on circuses. The best bit was during the Q&A session when one spectator asked in a (hopefully unintentionally) snarky tone if the panelists had seen the HBO show Carnivale and if so, how that show fit in with their analyses. The answer, "Well, first off, that show's about a carnival, not a circus. Different tribe." Indeed - check here and here to see. Basically, elephants and bareback riders = circus; Tilt-a-Whirl and win a goldfish games = carnival. It's fine to ask questions outside your area, but specify that you know you're outside your area, Jack! (And don't use the term "circus" to describe something as being out of control. A circus is actually very organized and disciplined. The misuse of the term is taken as a bit of an insult, actually.)

I also attended a Whedon panel today that included a lovely panel on the use of tai chi in Buffy and Dollhouse and (more subtly) in Firefly. Interesting, as Firefly is the show with the most obvious Chinese influences, so you'd expect to see more in that show. Rabb and Richardson explained how it was "hiding in plain sight" and got the audience to participate, to boot! Also a presentation on the use of hands to communicate - whether they are clasped, separated, or even removed from the body entirely. I hope to see more done with that work.

It was also the Dr. Horrible sing-along. As one participant put it, "I don't sing well, but I make up for my lack of technique with volume!" Great fun was had by all.

Which brings me to my only sore point from this conference. There's a bit (not much, but a touch) in infighting amongst different sections. Some attendees see some sections as being more elevated, more "true" than other sections. Whatever. Look, I'm sorry if my wearing a fan T-shirt somehow makes you think that my scholarship isn't sound and that I'm a simple fangirl who wouldn't know Bakhtin, Foucault, and Barfield if they rose from their respective graves and bit me. Then again, I know it is sound, so isn't that your problem and not mine? I enjoy my scholarship and it's a shame that you see my fun as an attack on your work, but really - in this day of Cafe Press, go make your own quotable, clever shirt and quit trying to elevate your area by running down the creativity of mine. Grumble, grumble - isn't this the battle popular culture folks have all fought with our more hide-bound colleagues who seem to insist that the canon is just fine without the inclusion of women, minorities, or technological advancements? Seems like the red-headed stepchildren arguing over who Dad can come closest to standing.

Sorry. I know that television studies today is basically where film studies was in the 1960s - still a bit suspect. But you can't stop the future (or the signal) and the field will continue to advance, in large part due to scholars who know their stuff, write well, and present their work in an engaging fashion. And I'm surrounded by them tonight, which makes me proud, even if I'm a little off-key.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day Two!

To begin with, let me say that the touristy area of San Antonio is just lovely. There's usually a nice breeze coming off the river that helps dissipate some of the heat that concentrates in the concrete valleys of downtown and the city knows that the Riverwalk is a huge tourist attraction, so it's inviting and friendly, with lots of helpful guides and police and plenty of restaurants and shops and dazzling lights. FryDaddy and I had Tex-Mex for dinner, followed by Blue Bell ice cream, which was eaten while sitting on an ironwork balcony overlooking the darkened river. All in all, quite a nice ending to a lovely day in Texas.

The conference was in full swing today. Since I presented on Day One, I could go a bit causal today and donned my "And then Buffy staked Edward. The End." T-shirt and I wore my long, dangling Scythe earrings that FryDaddy gifted me with for Christmas. Generally, people don't get that outfit, but here - well, people stopped me in the street between the two conference hotels to remark on it. Edward is, of course, the "glittery vampire" from the Twilight franchise, which is a bit of a lightning rod in the scholarly circles in which I move. I'm somewhere in the middle - I think just about anything that gets that many people to read is a good thing on some level and the author certainly knows her audience. That being said, I despise Bella and find many of the tropes that are reinforced in the books to border on dangerous. (Bella, honey, listen to me. Men don't change much and the ones who stalk you aren't loving; they're possessive and creepy. Go to college, get some learning in that pretty little head of yours and make a life for yourself. Oh, and one more thing. Vampires don't glitter! Thank you; I feel much better now.)

Among the papers I heard today - I attended an excellent panel on Civil War photographs (what? I can't have layers?) and learned about the "cult of generals' widows," facial hair (those 1860s whiskers were off the hook! The example at the top of the post is downright tame), and the depiction of medical treatment. I heard a beyond fantastic discussion of fan activism (not the "save our show" variety, but the "let's change the world" type) and a discussion of collecting and attending collectible conventions (such as the juggernaut Comic-Con) as a means of preserving place and time while exerting control over one's space. FryDaddy's paper on Breaking Bad and Athens' theory of "violentization" was quite well received and he was asked insightful and interesting follow-up questions. And a Whedon panel dealt with problems of translation (in the opening credits the final line of the voice-over is "She is the Slayer." In French, it is "Elle s'appelle Buffy" or "She is Buffy," which has a totally different feel), the motifs of death and sacrifice in Season 5 and using the lush episode "Hush" to teach aspects of visual rhetoric (some ideas that I certainly hope to incorporate). See - both broad and deep. You have to love this place.

Then I was simply bushed. That's the shame of it - there's so much more to see and hear than there is time to adequately take it all in. I haven't even hit the book room yet!

Well, Day Three is coming . . .

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day One!

It would probably be more appropriate to call this "Day One Half," since the conference panels began late this morning, rather than the usual time of (gulp) 8 a.m. This allows people to get here, check in, find the proper location and so on before the conference proper gets going, which is a wise idea, because once it does get going, it's on full-tilt until Saturday night.

My goal here is to try to include at least a brief post each day, but it's late and I have an 8 a.m. panel I want to see tomorrow morning, so this will be very brief.

There's no reason to not love this conference. So many disciplines, so many ways of looking at texts and nearly everything is delivered by people who care passionately about their chosen subject matters. It goes back to what I always tell speech students - no, no, I'm not about to choose your topic; that's your job and therefore, if you choose something you don't care about, that's your fault that you're bored. Really, life would be so much more interesting if people spent large chunks of their time working on things that truly interested them, don't you think? Oh, sure - you hear a fair amount of jargon, but that's to be expected. The trick is to make sure you explain the jargon to your audience so you're not just speaking to a teensy, tiny little sliver of the folks out there. Case in point - my studies never took me into the circle of Mikhail Bakhtin's literary theories (I was a theatre major, then I studied law), but if you break it down for me, I can follow a discussion on heteroglossia just fine.

I also had my presentation today, which seems to have gone just fine. I was cutting even as I was presenting, but made my time limit and just may have given my audience a few things to think about. I spoke on the origins of the character of Buffy Summers in the Marvel X-Men character of Kitty Pryde and used a few examples to show the (to me) clear links between Whedon's work and earlier work on Marvel titles. I think Whedon deliberately acknowledged his debt to the earlier writers and artists. What do you think? The left hand image is the cover of Whedon/Jeanty Buffy #35 and the right is the Claremont/Bryne Uncanny X-Men #138. The texture of the background is made up of smaller versions of previous covers.

Enough. The presentations went well and it's done now. FryDaddy presents on Breaking Bad tomorrow afternoon and there's much more to do and see and hear.

Until then, True Believers!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Deep in the Heart of Texas!

I don't think this really counts as "Day 1" of the conference just yet, as it was spent in traveling and dealing with all the myriad of details that go with getting ready to burst from the starting gate for this shindig. The National (makes it sound like a horse race, doesn't it?) is big on its own; paired as it is this year with the regional SW/Texas conference, the program itself is the size of a respectable doorstop. I need to go through and at least figure out my game plan for tomorrow; planning more than that much is just too darned intimidating. See, the academic study of popular culture is an offshoot of American studies - and that's an awfully big boat by itself. Interested in just why Americans have such a love affair with cars and the open road? This is the place for you. Interested in the Beat poets? We're your huckleberry. Fascinated by the sharp rise in the popularity of so-called reality television programming? Want to get some ideas on incorporating the "new media" in your classroom? Want to meet other scholars who focus on the American detective novel? Or the depiction of images of women in advertising? Trust me, hang out in the lobby of the hotels (the conference is so large that it's overtaken two major hotels in downtown San Antonio) and you'll find your people.

And I have to say that this was just one of those smooth days, which is especially nice after the sturm und drang associated with getting ready to be responsibly away from campus for this long this close to the end of the semester. No problem getting to the airport, the bags were duly tagged and whisked away, security was just fine - I even had time for a coffee and an overpriced airport pastry before the boarding call. The flight was fine and even got in a few minutes early. Our bags came down the baggage carousel promptly, we were advised how to cheaply get to the hotel (no free shuttles, alas!), where an alert bellman carried our bags and filled us in on the history of the city. We unpacked, sauntered around the immediate vicinity of the hotel and found the Riverwalk where we ate ice cream in the sunshine and watched other tourists watching us.

All in all, a lovely end to a twelve-hundred-mile journey. We finished up with a wonderful, artery-clogging Italian three-course dinner on the famed Riverwalk where we were entertained by the stylings of (no kidding) "Adean Fusion," who rendered amplified show tunes on the Peruvian pan flute and an assortment of other native instruments. You know I'm telling the truth; I couldn't make that up if I tried. The Eagles' "Hotel California" was also presented, which may qualify them for inclusion in the Sixth Circle of Hell. (That's where they kept heretics, according to Dante, and it seems to sort of qualify.)

Now to take a deep breath and begin highlighting that doorstop of a program . . .

And don't forget about the Re-Watch! We're into the really, really good stuff of Season 3 here, including the introduction of Mothers Opposed to the Occult, or MOO. Always watch for your acronyms, people. Always.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The "Beard of Evil"

Note: This post is actually going to be a "one reel wonder," since I'm posting on Monday and the Re-Watch posting doesn't go up until Tuesday. Tomorrow, FryDaddy and I are making a twelve-hundred-mile trek to San Antonio to attend and present at the mack daddy of popcult conferences, the joint regional SW Texas and National PCA/ACA shindig. San Antonio is reputed to be a beautiful city and we're both looking forward to seeing some of its charms, including the Alamo. San Antonio is named for Saint Anthony of Padua, who is listed as (among other things) the patron saint of lost articles. So if I misplace my hotel key, I at least know who to ask for intercession. More will be posted from the conference itself.

Reel One: Tonight, the film class discussed the trope of the "alternate universe," especially the "mirror universe" in which people and settings are familiar, yet somehow "off" just a crucial little bit. It's a popular theme in fantasy and science fiction, with examples including Alice's trip to Wonderland and "The Wish" episode in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But for the purposes of our class discussion, we went back to the vaults and took in the Jerome Bixby scripted "Mirror, Mirror" episode of the first Star Trek series. This wonderful (and, in places, wonderfully cheesy) episode features an ruthlessly logical Mr. Spock, who can be distinguished from the "real" Mr. Spock by his pointy goatee, hence, "the Beard of Evil." Said Beard has also been parodied on other shows, including South Park. The class seemed to enjoy picking "Mirror, Mirror" apart and I've asked them to write on how the concept by telling me what their "mirror image" would be like and how I might be able to distinguish the "real" from the "false."

Should make for interesting reading!

Coming Soon: The exam film! Working title: "The Exam Film."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

She Knows It's a Multipass

Reel One: Over at the film class, it was time to see that not all science fiction takes itself so very, very seriously (Dark City) and/or goes for the scare factor (Alien). We needed something with color and pop and humor and - yeah, it'd be nice if the world gets saved! Luc Besson's The Fifth Element seemed to meet all the criteria. I'm eagerly awaiting the student responses on fashion in the film. So. Much. To Write. About. Chris Tucker's Ruby Rhod alone could be an entire response paper! And I think Gary Oldman's Zorg might just be the actual flip side of the villain Stansfield in Besson's Leon: The Professional which was filmed three years earlier. Fun stuff and a good way to begin our wrap-up leading to the final exam.

Reel Two: Over at the Re-Watch, oh - best buckle up, children, we're deep in the good stuff! This week features two guest bloggers, one a co-author of a Glee book (she blogs here) and the other the uncrowned Queen of Angel Studies (and if I have my way [which is a very good way], she'll soon get a crown. Something tasteful, but with a bit of dash and flair). Episodes this week deal with relationship breakdowns, the return of Spike, and the realization that love is a powerful force, and not always for good. You most definitely won't be "bored now!"

Next week: Probably a truncated post, then postings from the big ol' honking National and Regional popular culture conference deep in the heart of San Antonio, Texas. It'll be huge! Tell your friends.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Buffy's Just the Runner-up . . .

Reel One: In class this week, we took a detour. Sherry Ginn, a neuropsychologist who has a yen for studying how women are depicted in science fiction, agreed to come talk to my class about sex and gender in television. Ginn currently serves as head for the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of the national Popular Culture/American Culture Associations in addition to her professional affiliations in the psychological field, so I considered having her come down to my school on a weeknight to be a downright coup. As a class, we watched an episode of Babylon 5 and discussed color, tribalism, and some of the uses of symbolism in the episode, then talked about evolutionary psychology's point of view toward sex (briefly, men want lots of offspring, so they mate with anything and everything while women want their offspring to benefit from the best genetic material out there, so they're pickier. Actual results may, of course, vary) and how science fiction either mirrors prevailing attitudes towards sex (Captain Kirk) or pushes those boundaries, particularly in the depiction of gay characters (Torchwood). My students seemed engaged and interested and a couple eagerly sought Ginn's e-mail to continue the conversation. As am I. (Just don't ask her about River Tam's amygdyla. She gets testy that so many things were just done so wrong. And yes, she would know about that.)

Reel Two: Over at the Re-Watch, Season 3 continues with a couple of personal favorites. The title of the post, for instance, comes from "Homecoming" and is said by a defiantly-non-superpowered Cordelia who frightens off a bloodthirsty killing machine of a vampire bent on revenge just by snarking at him. Ah, Cordelia. This week's post is written by Jennifer Knoch, editor by day and blogger by night. Her blog can be accessed here. Great stuff, both in the Re-Watch post and the blog (which focuses on book recommendations). And oh - watch how Sunnydale's teenagers fail to deal with their suddenly regressed adult population. I knew selling band candy could only lead to trouble!

Next week: Color, humor, and story come together in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element.