Sunday, September 25, 2011

Update from the Desk

Working weekend.  I'd sigh, but I have to admit that it's pretty cool to see things get marked off my list.  Moreover, I have to remind myself that these weekend "chores" are the result of some pretty darned cosmically-cool opportunities that came my way and it ill-behooves me to whine about good fortune.  So buck up, sunshine.

What had me chained to my desk this weekend?  Mostly, I've been turning a stack of notes and vague ideas into a coherent presentation for the upcoming PCA-South conference which is scheduled for the beginning of October.  I'm fortunate that the conference coincides with my fall break, but getting this paper ready whilst juggling the responsibilities of five good-sized classes along with some other tasks has not been easy and (let's admit it) a few plates have dropped.  The draft isn't quite finished yet - I have about four pages to go - but the hard stuff is done.  I've covered the basics of feng shui (the link isn't one of my sources, but what the heck), the difference between manga  and anime, some of the conventions of anime (not to give too much away, but look for the cherry blossoms!) and discussed why "cartoon" isn't a dirty word.  I've been creating the bibliography and the accompanying Powerpoint as I went along, so once the draft is complete, revising should be fairly simple.  I have no idea if this project will go beyond the conference, but if it does, I don't have to re-create all the initial research this way.  Hopefully, I'll finish the draft by tomorrow night and walk away from it for a few days before working on revisions.

Also, FryDaddy and I had a chance to be part of the Great Buffy Rewatch's super-special "Once More, with Feeling" episode.  It was VERY last minute and I hope our part is entertaining, because - well, let's just say we really can't rely on super-slick production values.  Tune in to Week 39 of the Rewatch Tuesday night when it becomes available - you get to see us dance!  It may be better than Angel's dancing in Season 1, but then again, there's a reason I don't write about us going out dancing.

You make the call!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Television and Work

Or maybe that should be "television AS work"!  Sounds a bit strange, perhaps, but after hearing about what's going on, you might agree with me.

First up, I'm due to hand in my solo write-up for the ongoing Buffy Rewatch project that's being going on all year.  I'm in charge of three mid-Season 6 episodes which focus on Willow and her downward spiral.  I think the post is nearly ready to send off - it'll be a few weeks before it's published and it's a spot on my plate that I'll be glad to have cleared for other projects.  (It's a crowded plate these days!)  Actually, the post is scheduled to be published when I'll be out of town in New Orleans at the annual conference of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association in the South.  Which brings me to . . .

Second, I'm working on my presentation for the PCA-South conference.  The paper explores the links between Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop and Whedon's Firefly.  I've gone from the stage of "It's a cool idea, but is there enough here to write about?" to the stage of "Gaak! I've got too much to possibly narrow it down to my time limit!  What do I do?"  I guess that's good, but I have to tell you - work, work, work!  (In fact, I have three more books to add into the research draft tonight before I can comfortably consider myself as being done for the day.)

Third, working on these two projects (in addition to everything associated with the job I get paid to do) means making some choices.  One of those choices involved NOT attending the 6th annual "Can't Stop the Serenity" event held by the Charlotte Browncoats today.  While I'm sure that was the right decision - I was able to both edit the blog post and start putting quotes and research in the proper places in my presentation outline - it was not an easy decision.  I like that event so much - it gives me a chance to hang out with like-minded people who are Whedon fans and at the same time, raise some coin for good causes, including Equality Now.  Not to mention, seeing Serenity on the big screen with a bunch of Browncoats is always a good time.

Sigh.  Being a grown up is sometimes not the whirligig of fun I thought it would be back when I was nine.  Still - having these opportunities to write and present and be heard and advance the field of credible academic study of quality television in general and Whedon in particular is not to be sneezed at.

By the way - I watched Sarah Michelle Gellar's return to the small screen with the premiere of Ringer this week.  Quite promising, I'd say.  I detached my brain a little (Identical twins?  And both with dark secrets?  Really?) and had a rollicking good time.  And I'll admit, I didn't see the final twist coming, which is what should provide the show with its oomph and staying power.  Let's see what the ratings say over the next few weeks, but give it a try.

Back to the books!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Out . . .

It's inescapable.  Ten years ago on this day, September 11 stopped being the day between the tenth and the twelfth and instead became a synonym for catastrophic.  All through this past week, just about anywhere you looked were reminders, memorials, and loops of footage of dust-covered, shell-shocked people wandering the streets of New York.

I don't like it.  Not one teensy bit.

I have my own ways of remembering that day.  I re-read the story of the first official victim of that day, at least in terms of death certificates issued.  Father Mychal Judge's story is inspiring, not for his death, but for his life.  There is much in his life to instruct those of us left here on Earth.

In the days immediately following that horrible September morn, my country changed.  And in the ten years since, we've changed more.  And in many ways, I dislike what I see.  We've become fragmented and suspicious.  It's harder to simply disagree with the opinions held by another - instead, we rush to demonize that other person as hopelessly naive at best and downright evil at worst.  We talk, often shrilly, but listen very little.  We're losing ourselves.

I think memorials are a fine thing.  It helps us psychologically to have a physical place to leave flowers and notes and teddy bears and combat boots.  But at the end of the day, memorials are still only places.  By all means, lay a wreath.  But also resolve to work to change the world.  

Abraham Lincoln got this right at the Gettysburg battlefield when he stated that dedicating part of the battlefield was "altogether fitting and proper" but "in a larger sense we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow this ground" for that has already been done by those who struggled there.  Rather, President Lincoln challenged his audience "to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on."  The task was to "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom . . ." 

Mind you, this is much harder than making pretty speeches and flying the flag.  But it must be done.  For if we permit our hearts to harden to amber and use these days and places to only entrench our own dark fears, we dishonor our heritage.  America is a grand experiment in democracy and, for the most part, we've taken that ball and had a good run with it.  However, success in experiments is rarely total.  We've had setbacks and shameful chapters in our collective history and to refuse to acknowledge that is to willfully remain blind.  We're the home of the representative republic and rugged individualism.  We're the birthplace of the interchangeable part and the assembly line.  We invented powered flight and the computer chip.  Those are American footprints on the moon and we rounded up our own citizens and housed them in camps during World War 2 because we feared almond-shaped eyes.  We were the last industrialized country to abolish slavery and we turned attack dogs loose on citizens who dared to vote.  We're Walt Whitman and Bull Connor.  We're Hetty Green and Jane Addams.  We're robber barons and Labor Day.

It's easy to be fearful and it's hard to be brave, but the ability is in all of us.  So today, don't just fly the flag.  Live the best values it represents.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Visual Delights!

This weekend is one of those lovely crossroads - FryDaddy and I have both reached stopping places on our respective writing projects and, while the next one for both of us is gesturing frantically from the wings, we made a conscious decision to spend the long Labor Day weekend resolutely not working.  As experience (that harshest of professors who refuses to grade on a curve) has taught me again and again, taking time off to breathe is necessary to produce quality work.  Just going and going and going results in motion, but not usually of the forward-reaching kind.  So we've spent a chunk of time watching things that we don't intend to turn into articles, presentations, or chapters.

It's been lovely.

First up, I worked to get caught up on Season 4 of Breaking Bad.  I'm still not caught up on past seasons, but that'll come.  Seriously, if you're not watching this, you ought to be.  At least, you ought to be if you enjoy character-driven drama, seeing the effects of hubris, and flat-out gorgeous cinematography.  The look is lush and the story has that sense of impending doom - bad things are coming, and they were set in motion by conscious choices.  You can build the levee, but it won't hold back the tide forever.  What's even worse is that the high water mark from this storm is likely to be so high you don't even see the mark, for the whole house is underwater.

We also treated ourselves to a popcorn matinee.  (Yeah, the "eat healthy" plan took a hike for the afternoon.  Good for it.)  We decided on Apollo 18, which I will heartily recommend.  It's a member of the "found footage" genre, but don't make the mistake of thinking it's "Blair Witch in Space."  The production values are much, much higher and the story is a keeper for anyone who enjoys a slow burn.  (Blair Witch made me jump, but also irritated me - just follow the river, people!  It'll lead to some sort of settlement.  Always.)  By the way, Apollo 18 is not a film for the "whiz-bang-blow-'em-up" crowd.  I was impressed with the film, which I predict will become a cult classic, despite a plot hole or two.  The tricks with the film stock, the marketing ploy with the website given at the end of the film and the reminder that Watergate did indeed change everything about how we view our own government - all of these are reasons the see the film on the big screen.  Having just read Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, which answers many of those questions you may have had about space travel, but never felt comfortable asking (How do you test a space toilet?  How do you shower in zero-g?), the film has a different level.  Astronauts are carefully vetted for psychological stability as well as desirable mission skills.  It's pretty cramped up there and the flip side is that there's an awful lot of nothin' up there, too.  Going bibbledy isn't an option.

I've read some rather vicious criticism of the film, which leads me to my next point.  No one is going to like everything.  However, if your main complaint is that the film takes too long and isn't scary enough, try watching something that wasn't edited together with smash cuts.  Further, if you want a film where the astronauts are slashed apart and their innards are floating in space (1) this isn't the film for you and (2) exactly what's wrong with you?  Disclaimer:  I count myself in the "I don't like everything" category.  For example, I despise slasher films.  I find them to be uncreative, shocking-just-to-shock, and generally very unkind to women.  Some people like that sort of thing.  I try not to leave sharp objects around such individuals.

Also, one of the actors in Apollo 18 plays one of the leads in Alphas, a SyFy series about super-powered (read: mutant) beings.  It has some promise - there are some very interesting characters and anything that brings the amazingly under-rated David Strathairn to television is worth a look.  The fact that it also gives Ryan Cartwright a role that will make your jaw drop to the point of forgetting his very entertaining turn on Bones is simply a bonus.

Work beckons and a stack of books on anime yearns to be gutted for a short presentation on Cowboy Bebop in about a month, but this was the right call for this weekend!