November 30, 2006

I don’t like Harper. Women can be better served without lobbying and advocacy? Grrr.


November 22, 2006

I’m reading, among many other things, Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: The Rise of Raunch Culture. It’s more informed than a lot of mainstream (i.e. outside of the academy) cultural criticism and Levy’s familiarity with popular second-wave feminist work (e.g. Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Susan Brownmiller) often goes beyond chatty intellectualism. I’m on board with some parts of her argument: we have a problematically narrow definition of sexy that continues to rest on the objectification of women and does a disservice to the fundamental goals of second-wave feminism; women’s sexual empowerment is frustratingly still defined as the ability to arouse men. However, I’m not keen on how she roots the seeds of ‘raunch culture’ in the women’s movement. For someone that must have read Susan Faludi’s Backlash, she seems to have missed its point. Levy’s overtures toward the role capitalism plays in perpetuating these kinds of representations could be much more profoundly thought out – capitalism is still a deeply patriarchal system, and its insidious language of personal choice that frames the way raunch culture is positioned as ‘liberating’ serves a narrow set of economic and political interests. Looking at how efficiently feminism has been shorthanded, diffused, and co-opted into only its most marketable and non-threatening goals – leaving us not with feminism, but female individualism – would turn Levy’s position from righteous (and rightly so) indignation into real criticism and praxis. Not all my evening reading has been this disappointing lately – I finally picked up Bitchfest (Sex and the City may have categorized women into Katy Girls and Simple Girls; I prefer Bust Women and Bitch Women). Not only is it satisfyingly polemical, but the title also keeps strangers from bothering you when you’re reading in public (I have an entire shelf of these, like Sarah Projansky’s Watching Rape or Philip Jenkins’ Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America). Held at just the right angle, they can ensure a peaceful, smalltalk-free afternoon at the café.

Mmm… Bond…

November 18, 2006

I saw Casino Royale last night – yes, opening night, that’s just how excited I was about the new Bond film. I grew up on Bond, reading the books and watching the movies over and over again with my Bond-loving parents. Rather than comfort food, I have 007 for comfort films. I was thrilled, during my M.A., that we learned cultural theory by way of Bond – Bond and psychoanalysis, Bond and gender theory, Bond and poststructuralism. I was inordinately pleased when Pierce Brosnan, the target of my pre-teen desire as Remington Steele, became Bond. And, aside from Casino Royale’s dull theme song and boring credit sequence, I loved it. But this isn’t a movie review. You can find those elsewhere. And when you do, you might notice how relieved these reviews sound about just how manly Daniel Craig is as Bond. Moore, Lazenby, Dalton, and Brosnan are quickly and summarily dismissed, and we now have, as both the Toronto Star and the New York Times tell us (lifting without acknowledgment from Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott), the Bond we deserve. A real man. A sweaty man. Or, from the Globe & Mail, “a gloriously old-fashioned, absolutely masculine body.” To pull from the movie’s own poker rhetoric, this is one of popular culture’s tells: the male body as a cipher for deeper anxieties and anger about losing political ground and privilege. Brosnan doesn’t cut it, the Globe says, because he’s “effete . . . too much of a pretty boy.” This latest Bond enacts a complex fantasy of potency and rage and guilt, reassuringly rebuilding a cultural touchstone. Take, for instance, the film’s inclusion of the novel’s muscle-clenching torture scene, in which Bond is strapped naked to a chair and has his genitals mercilessly whipped. While the Globe review complains “Finally, we get a Bond actor with real balls, and the film has to batter them,” that’s precisely the point. What better way to remasculinize the epitome of masculinity, to prove just how real his balls are? Redeeming the ‘blunt instrument’ primarily through violent rather than sexual prowess (though the vicious penis-lashing doesn’t seem to have any real effect on his sexual performance – nothing can defeat the penis!), Casino Royale gives us a Bond that’s not entirely sure what he’s doing is right but is too far in to stop now (Bond films not being particularly well-known for the subtlety of their political allegories). It was a fantastic movie, worth the price of admission just for the phenomenal parkour scene, I’m just, as always, intrigued and amused by the action genre’s compulsive bulwarking and buttressing of white male heterosexuality. Penis pity rather than envy.

Hot damn!

November 9, 2006

So the topic’s been changed for the lecture I’m giving on Monday. It’s now… wait for it… Canadian television! Woohoo! Sure I can talk about film and make it interesting, but Canadian tv gets me gesturing excitedly. I’ve only got an hour, which isn’t nearly long enough, but I suppose that’s why MISC gave me an entire course next semester. As an added bonus, anything I say could make its way onto the quiz the students have at the end of next week, which is one of the things that still startles me about teaching – seeing my own words spit back in short answer form. The students also have an essay due in two weeks, which means I’m now constantly fielding questions that up the intrigue about the kinds of things they’ll be writing on. So far it looks like I’m getting one on Tim Hortons and one on Canadian Bacon.
My own writing is taking awhile to come together. I haven’t been able to keep my mind focused enough to get more than three or four pages a day. It’s frustrating, knowing I’m coming up on a semester with no time for my own research, and I’m afraid I won’t have a substantive draft of my first chapter before that happens. To try and clear out even a handful of the cobwebs I’m thinking of taking off next weekend for a quick and dirty trip to Hogtown. The liminal space of the train often gives me a greater sense of perspective, not to mention the therapy of a late night out and long lazy morning in with dear old friends. I haven’t left Montreal since last Xmas, and while I love this city I could really use a day or two somewhere ghostless.
What a completely unenlightening post. Blah blah minor and irrelevant excitements, blah blah allusions to emotions, blah blah. I do have thoughts about important things like the midterm elections, like Parc Ave and patrimoine, like the fascinatingly honest Canadian Armed Forces ads on tv lately. But like I said: unfocused brain. It’s spent all day trying to be cogent and will spend all evening catching up on course material for seminars the next morning. It needs a break.

Mission: Untoppable?

November 3, 2006

Just when I think that writing one of these romantic suspense novels will be the funnest and fastest way to pay off my student loans, the bar on what makes a good trashy novel inches a little higher. Last night I read Mission: Irresistible (same author as License to Thrill) which contained the line: “Oh, she was an unrepentant slut puppy!” This was in addition to the ancient Minoan Order the heroine was investigating, whose language has been lost to scholars for years and its closest translation (in an extinct Cretan dialogue, of course) is Wannamakemecomealot. Dare I try to top that?

Doing things with texts

November 2, 2006

Riddle me this: how much of an impact has Sex and the City had on women’s maudlin writing? I know I’m not the only person – male or female – that draws parallels between television stories and my own life stories (I’m, like, totally, sooo much more Miranda than, like, anyone else). The series saturates late-night syndication slots, hitting prime nightcap-and-laptop time. What are women (not implying that men don’t watch SATC, but for brevity using what the inane weight-loss ads indicate is the show’s target audience) doing with the easy accessibility and repetition of this show, with its emphasis on chronicling experiences in order to make sense of them? Can someone (not me, I’m bad with quantitative stuff) please do some sort of study that charts the content of blog posting alongside airdates and times? It should come as no surprise, then, that I just watched the episode in which Miranda first meets Steve, knowing of course how their story ends, and starts again, and ends again, and starts again… what can I say, there’s a romantic (mass, not heartless) buried somewhere under a layer or two of crusty cynicism. Like crème brulee. Mmm… crème brulee…
In other parts of my brain: I’ve been harassing the library for awhile now, since no one seems able to answer my question. The “upgrade” to WebCT Vista means it’s now possible to link to journal articles from within the course website, provided McGill’s already got access to the articles in their databases. I took it the next logical step further, figuring I’d just get all the other readings for my courses (book sections, e.g.) turned into pdfs and put them on there as well. No stacks of expensive coursepacks that invariably end up in the garbage at the end of the semester. And yet no one at the library can tell me whether or not this infringes upon ‘free use.’ I don’t see why not – only students registered in my courses will have access to these materials and they’re being reproduced for teaching purposes. What struck me as a no-brainer is turning into an increasingly irritating endeavour. So much for being a visionary…

As promised

November 1, 2006

The aforementioned musings. We’re talking about Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion this week. I love talking about novels, even if I didn’t particularly like them (bad Canadian, not overly keen on Ondaatje). Most people I know tend toward non-fiction so I rarely get the chance (sidenote: I got to live out a fantasy scenario on Friday: meeting a cute boy in a bookstore as we were both reaching for the same book by my favourite writer – I was picking up Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore as a present for a girlfriend. Next on the list is looking out my window to see where the Peter Gabriel’s coming from…). I love listening to the different ways fiction affects people, and aside from the expected comments of how this book completely changes the way a few students are going to think about the Bloor Street viaduct, I was intrigued by their perceptions of the book’s ideas about identity, or lack thereof. How very Canadian, they commented, that the protagonist has no clear sense of where he fits in. I don’t know if it’s a uniquely Canadian trait, this navel-gazing, though we’ve become very adept at marketing as such. On a more personal level, it seems to be going around – I had a thematically similar conversation a few weeks ago with someone traipsing from cultural world to cultural world and feeling foreign in each of them. A discomfiting experience. I’m sure we’ve all had them, especially in places that we think we’d feel most at home. There are times when I feel profoundly out of place in front of a classroom, just waiting to be exposed as a professorial poseur. Every time I go out for drinks in my hometown I listen to the stories of stag and does at the arena, of first and second children being born, of cashier shifts at the giant box stores, and wonder when I can politely leave. My old lives no longer fit, the new one is often lonely or uncomfortable. Not yet a prof but not only a student; sometimes a feminist just because it’s theoretically convenient; a dog person sans dog… we can’t expect one simple label to encompass everything we are and are not, particularly when we’re exposed to and made up of multiple and often contradictory experiences. Such is the fun and frustration, as my best friend is discovering in her experiments with online dating, of describing yourself in 200 words or less, catchy snippets that only offer a less-than-partial glimpse. And, tritely, that’s part of the allure of Halloween – trying other identities on for size, at least for a night (remember the Buffy episode when the Scooby Gang becomes their costumes, and learns in the process that cocksure masculinity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that there’s a vixen under every white bedsheet, that being a simpering priss is even more frustrating then a self-assured young woman?). Judith Butler (Judy B! What can I say, I was holed up writing about sex and gender as problematic social constructions all day) talks about the inherent potential of identity construction and masquerade, convinced (and convincingly so) that these are sites of political possibility. That may be little consolation, even for theory nerds like myself, for how in the interim and on a daily level, this process of process opens cracks of self-doubt, that because it’s not static or sure it’s not good enough. But rather than get into the genuinely personal, I’ll circle back out to Ondaatje, whose writing is full of thinly veiled versions of his own personal dramas – note the recurring love triangles with married or otherwise unavailable women, or the entirety of Secular Love. Just wait until my first novel. Or first sitcom.