September 20, 2008

So Chapter Three isn’t as done as I thought.  In keeping with the spirit of the chapter (on masculinities), some anecdotes:
-Multiple cars full of guys passed as I sat in the backseat of a cab heading home last night.  Most of them were eating – things they could hold in one hand and tear at with decisive, teeth-baring head-shakes.
-R. sometimes falls asleep with his head tucked into that intimate crook between my ear and my shoulder.  I love that.
-I overheard a guy telling his friend about the other night when his drunken girlfriend changed her mind partway through sex, and that he continued anyway because ‘no’ doesn’t count or matter when she’s drunk.  And that she cried after… “bitches, eh?”  I turned around and told him he was a rapist, and got a “Fuck you, you fat cow” in return.
-An ex-boyfriend once told me he could empathize with the ending of Nobody Waved Goodbye. Watching it again with my students last week, I can too.

Han Solo

January 29, 2008

Inspired by Vila’s ode, my own Han Solo story:

I was with a guy who held Han as an idol, barely a half-step behind Indiana Jones.
He called one (middle of the) night from the pay phone across the street, audibly a wreck. He’d just gotten off a bus from Toronto, responding to a call from an ER to come see his mother – she’d tried to commit suicide and left a note blaming him and his father. Such was their relationship: his emotional exhaustion with her harrowing melodrama. It was the start of spring – which was much more temperate there – and we sat on my porch until long after the sun came up. The conversation was fitful, especially for us; I didn’t know what to say, and he didn’t know where to start. Somewhere in there, he told me (for the first time) that he loved me. “I know,” I said, and he finally smiled. Months later, on one of the last nights before I moved to Montreal, I said (for the first time) “I love you.” “I know,” he replied.

And that is how it often was – adumbrated by words written elsewhere, ones which we rescripted. We aren’t in touch any more; that part will remain an untold story. I still love him (albeit in that abstract, burned-bridges way)… I sometimes wonder if he still knows.

I heart teaching.

January 11, 2008

And so the first week back to school is over, at least in the technical sense.  I’m still fielding emails from potential students (“Can you email me the syllabus?” “I don’t have the pre-requisite, can you let me in anyway?” “Do I have to go to all the classes?”), but I’ve made it through both the first lecture and the first screening without incident.  It’s like riding a bike, and not just because this is a course I’ve taught twice already, and not just because I’m in the same classroom as last year and so it feels like I never left.  I have some repeat business – students I’ve had in other classes over the past three years – which is always gratifying.  And I’ve had a handful come up to me telling me their friends are in the class, that it sounds great, and they’d like to join.  I’ve known for a long time that this is why I stuck with academia – not to write a monumental, field-shifting work (which I will), not to spend weeks in a delirious theory haze (which is its own kind of fun), but to teach.  To stand at the front of a room and elucidate a train of thought, or sometimes watch it derail.  That old saying, that “Those who can: do, and those who can’t: teach,” is grossly misleading.  I work hard at it, it’s one of the most motivating challenges to my own habits of thought and creativity, and it’s got rewards unlike any other job.
And tomorrow I have a date with a dog.  Maybe we’ll hit it off.  Fingers crossed.

I’m on a Moonlighting jag. Technically it’s research. A research jag, yes, exactly. In no way should this be confused with procrastinating or wasting time. A quick nostalgia checklist:

  • shoulder pads and wide belts that don’t hold anything up (everything old is new again)
  • 80s man/woman crimefighting duo innuendo and conversational clichés (see also Remington Steele)
  • sequins
  • hair softly waving back from the face, emphasizing the blue eye shadow
  • smoking, everywhere (in offices! ah, the day)
  • high-waisted pants and sensible heels
  • actually addressing sexism, and calling it by name
  • synthesizer mood music, and reed instruments invoked for suspense
  • 50 minute episodes
  • soft focus lighting to bring out the pastel
  • freeze-frame final scenes (a convention aped to absurd lengths in the under-rated, quickly cancelled Police Squad)

Bruce Willis used to be a lot of fun. I love research.

Lonely Boy

January 7, 2007

In my Canadian film and television class this week I’m showing a bit from the NFB’s 1962 Lonely Boy. It’s a brilliant anti-Griersonian documentary, a harbinger of the rockumentary, and chock-full of screaming girls with bouffy hair. Watching it again for the first time in years I had to chuckle – it reminds me in very different ways of two guys I’ve dated. One because he kinda resembles Paul Anka (when Anka was young and boyish, not balding) – similar stature, cuts a dashing figure in a suit, and because I suspect this guy always harboured a dream of being an early ’60s pop idol. Or at the very least being shot exclusively in black and white. The other one because he once met Anka, working security at Casino Niagara a few years ago (pre-Rock Swings). They chatted for awhile in Anka’s dressing room, and during the show Anka dedicated that night’s rendition of “Lonely Boy” to him. All associations aside, I still love the song. Folks just don’t do melody like they used to.

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.

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…

Life imitates life

September 14, 2006

Coming on the heels of my last musings about teen series season finales, a shooting at Dawson College. Spoilers ensue. The season two finale of Veronica Mars had a highschool boy confess to orchestrating the deaths of a busload of his peers and then throws himself off the roof of a building, after brandishing a gun at three of his friends. The previously referenced BTVS finale was initially postponed due to its scenes of violence in hallowed halls (not the first time for the series, which also had to push back “Earshot,” for similar reasons). Most obviously, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. What these texts have in common is a relatively uncompromising look at a cultural microcosm in which social divisions – economic, sexual, gender – are powerfully experienced. I make these references not to diminish the reality or impact of the shooting at Dawson, but because our fictional treatments (and treatments of such fictions) is revealing. Television scholar John Ellis argues in Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty that one of television’s most important social functions is how its thematic consistencies across formats and genres to work through our most pressing tensions and anxieties: “Working through is a constant process of making and remaking meanings, and of exploring possibilities. It is an important process in an age that threatens to make us witness to too muich information without providing us with enough explanation . . . It renders familiar, integrates and provides a place for the difficult material that it brings to our witness” (79). The media is an enormous machine for processing trauma, with a vast store of images and narratives for situating and resituating such events as we try to make them make sense. Because, trite but true, some motivations we’ll never really know and can only make educated guesses that hopefully, this time, please, will go beyond shallow scapegoating (videogames made them do it!) Elephant makes powerfully, heartstoppingly clear the deeply systemic factors – school culture and its attendant forms of appropriate identities – absent from news reports. Words like “rampage” and “terrorize” paint a resonant picture of monstrous deviance that is hard to argue against without running the risk of seeming insensitive to the real physical and emotional damage of these events. What happened at Dawson is awful, I’m not even trying to suggest otherwise, but these familiar scripts don’t give us the chance to learn from this. So many young men being so desperately unhappy should cue us in to the possibility that something bigger is wrong.

Other people’s endings

September 9, 2006

Highschool graduation episodes of teen tv shows make me tear up. This is a sharp contrast to real life, in which I hated highschool and shudder at the thought of returning. First it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s season three finale, and then Dawson’s Creek. Now it’s the end of Veronica Mars’ second season (I’m a little behind, I know, but I’ve only recently returned to cable tv after a long stint in popular culture purgatory). BTVS and Veronica Mars especially purport to be critical of highschool’s highly stratified and emotionally degrading social culture yet their graduations both played out the same tired dream of “outcasts” (inasmuch as petite blonde white middle class girls can be outcasts) finally revered and applauded by their peers (cue swelling music). The lucrative mythology of highschool years as glory years is somehow enticing, and I must admit to missing some of the conveniences of home: how it was always more effective to ignore my mother in person, or the luxury of in-house laundry. I dream of the day when I have my own washer and dryer, especially after Friday morning’s slapstick affair of me and the local laundromaster combining our powers to untangle a pair of my panties from the washing machine’s inner workings. There’s nothing quite like seeing a portly middle-aged man waving your favourite thong around in triumph to make you reconsider the elasticity of your appliance budget.


September 1, 2006

When I looked at the calendar this afternoon I noticed that somehow the summer has ended. I panicked. So much stuff left unfinished (well, mostly just the dissertation proposal), but there was something I could still cross off the list. Which means I finally saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. So much swashbuckling action and fun CGI! And a reminder that both Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom are welcome any time (they can eat all the crackers they want in my bed). This is not to diminish the appeal of the boy I brought with me, who has the added benefit of being real and who occasionally expresses interest in puffy shirts (jokingly, but a girl can dream). So now the fall can officially start, and good thing too, since I have my first of what will no doubt be an eight-month marathon of meetings Tuesday morning. I managed to catch the last metro back, and saw something neat – a little tunnel trolley carting things around on the tracks. It had never occurred to me that they could be used for transporting things other than people, and I had an unsettling frisson not unlike the sensation of being in the mall when all the stores are closing, rattling their giant chainlink doors shut and plunging the mannequins into darkness. It reminded me of two stories: Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Jenny Colgan’s “The Wrong Train” in the Tart Noir anthology. I’m either going to finally buy a metro pass, or start grabbing transfers on my way in as proof that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Such paranoia is an unavoidable consequence of reading speculative fiction, but can you imagine how dull I’d be if I never let my imagination run away from me?