A Tale of Two Friedmans

July 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Today I am reading stories on the internet, which is one of the better uses of a drizzly July Monday. The first two I stumbled across ended up being my favorites, and incidentally were both written by people named Friedman. The first is by Friedman comma Ann, and chronicles her decision to leave New York City. As she writes:

For me, New York is that guy I went out with only briefly and then successfully transitioned into friendship. We were always meant to be platonic. But in the years since I’ve moved away, I’ve learned that “I’m kind of meh on New York” is not a generally accepted point of view.

She goes on to describe New York as a “prom king,” someone who is great, knows it, and subsequently makes things difficult for the people who choose to love him. Because what are you going to do? It’s New York; you’re lucky just to be there, at least that’s what you’re supposed to tell yourself. The money quote:

A not-insignificant number of the vehement New York lovers I know — especially the young twentysomethings — are actually pretty unhappy day to day. I picture the prom king’s girlfriend sitting near him at the party, ignored but still kind of proud to be in the room and on his arm — and incredibly defensive should you suggest she break up with him for someone who dotes on her more. When I describe my West Coast existence (sunshine! avocados! etc.) to some New Yorkers, they acknowledge that they really like California, too, but could never move there because they’d get too “soft.” At first this confused me, but after hearing it a few times, I’ve come to believe that a lot of people equate comfort with complacency, calmness with laziness. If you’re happy, you’re not working hard enough. You’ve stopped striving.

I too meh New York, and while I’m grateful to have lived there (I guess? to the extent that I am grateful to have lived all the places I’ve lived), I am even more grateful not to live there anymore. The smell of hot blood was too strong for this Californian who occasionally likes to see the horizon!

The day’s second Friedman, Devin, published an article on/for/preposition GQ that everyone who has an hour to spare should go read. It’s a dark and twisty tale, but for those so inclined is a stranger than fiction true crime Craigslist narrative (I wonder if in ten years this will be a genre unto itself?). Friedman’s account had me at this sentence:

It’s like Rich’s Craigslist ad was designed for a certain kind of person: male, white, unattached, aging, no longer fostering unreasonable ambitions or fueled by fantasies about what he might turn out to be someday, someone on the downward slope of life for whom things maybe haven’t gone exactly as planned. It is sort of a retirement plan for the obsolete white man.

I’ll give you one guess on what happens next! Hint: the title of the article is “Craigslist Killers.”

In conclusion, read that rainbow!

Regarding Slenderman

June 11, 2014 § Leave a comment


For those of you who haven’t heard from The Media, the internet is currently being stalked –STALKED!– by a mythological creature with origins dating as far back as ancient Egypt (i.e. 2009 on the Something Awful forums), who has already claimed…well one victim for sure, but maybe two depending on whether or not this mother is correct in assuming that the reason her daughter tried to stab her was because of something the daughter read about on the internet and which the mother then read about on the internet, thus putting the pieces together.

There have been some interesting takes on the story, like this Slate piece in which journalist Katy Wladman frames Slenderman as the perfect metaphor for how we describe (and -erroneously- decry as aberrant) acts of violence, and I like certain sections of this Verge article as well, particularly the bits where author Adrianne Jeffries debunks the idea that there’s such an easy relationship between people who do crazy things and their media engagement practices (although it also does what most of the articles on the subject do and speak of the Slenderman character as if it has its own agency, which is weird because it’s a meme).

« Read the rest of this entry »

This Is a Fun Internet Game!

January 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

And/or personality test. And why not, it only takes 5 seconds, plus the Lorde video below has already been deleted due to copyright infringement, which it isn’t but ok!

Do You Like Scary Stories?

October 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over the last few days, I have been pouring over Jezebel’s reader-submitted scary stories. Last year’s thread is here, 2011’s thread is here, and this year’s thread is here; I’m not going to start reading this year’s till mid-week because I don’t want to spoil the holiday fun.

And can I just say, hot damn do I love stuff like this. Not only because FOLKLORE (I particularly like the ways in which people indicate that they are going into story mode; often they switch to the present-tense, and engage in all sorts of interesting metanarrative framing devices, from basic signal phrases like “anyway” and “so,” to almost sheepish caveats like “Normally I’m the kind of person who laughs at these sorts of stories” and “I know how crazy this is going to sound but”) but also because I just really really love scary stories. I grew up reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (the above image is one of my favorite illustrations from the series; it once hung proudly on the door to my office at the University of Oregon) plus of course R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series and its sluttier YA cousin, Christopher Pike’s thriller/horror novels. And don’t even get me started on Are You Afraid of the Dark; that intro STILL makes me giggle nervously.

Needless to say, this is my favorite time of the year. And while we’re talking favorites, here’s my favorite story I’ve read so far, from user Desesszika. Spooky scary!

Okay, here goes.

A couple years ago I was living in Budapest. It was half study abroad, half hanging out with my family who lives in a town about 30 minutes south. Every once in a while I would take day trips with my friends. We’d drive to Slovakia or take the train to Austria, whatever we wanted. So on one of our trips to Romania (we intended to end up in Bucharest) our car shit out on us right at the boarder. One of my friends had family in Szeged which wasn’t too far away, but way too far to walk.

So the four of us decided to hitch hike.

We grabbed what we could out of the car and then called her family to tell them we were on the way. We locked up the car and made a sign that read Szeged, please. Got picked up in 5 minutes in a Barkas van. These happen to be my favorite and I was quite thrilled to get to ride around in one again.

The guy who picked us up, Andras, was very nice. He was very interested in where we were all from, what we liked to do, where we’ve traveled and what kinds of things we were studying. It started to get dark. Andras mentioned his family had a house not too far from where we were, and that we could stop there for the night and sleep since he was tired and didn’t know if he could drive us all the way to Szeged. We all kind of looked around at each other but ultimately agreed that it was rude to expect this nice man who picked us up to drive us all through the night.

Yes Andras was nice but driving up the dirt road to his house made all of the hairs on my arm stand up. I would later ask my companions and they said the same thing. All of us got silent as we tried to take in the scenery. It looked like any eastern European house set far back on what used to be a farm, with all of the old abandoned equipment around.

We unloaded and shuffled into his house which was very quaint and charming. He showed us into a room off the living room that we could all sleep in for the night. We all set out our sleeping bags and kind of congregated on the floor while Andras went into the kitchen. He started talking to his wife. “Honey i’ve brought back some travelers again” “they are all very nice, some of them are American!” “Yes of course I was going to offer them some brandy” which he did. He came back into the doorway of our room and offered us brandy. I passed but the others accepted.

He brought us out a tray and the rest of the bottle and then disappeared again. Eventually we all drifted off to sleep.

I woke up first, got dressed and went outside to pee. I ran into a little girl on my way back up to the house. She was incredibly shy. I asked her what her name was and if she lived there too. She said she did but she kept saying “but my father doesn’t believe me” I chalked it up to either my Hungarian being rusty or her being a kid but I told her to come back inside, it’s cold out. (She instead slunk back into an old mangled trailer she was playing in).

Inside the house I breezed past the kitchen with Andras screaming out “why are there not enough fucking eggs for our guests!?” “What kind of wife are you!?” But when I got back to the doorway of our room all of my companions were standing up, bags hastily packed mouths agape looking behind me.

I turned and that’s when I saw a scarecrow dressed up in women’s clothing sitting in an armchair at the far side of the living room. I turned back to my friends laughing and said “you guys are afraid of a scarecrow?” but just then Andras came through the door and picked the scarecrow up by the arm and flung it across the room. “You are the stupidest woman in the WORLD!” he howled. “I work so hard and you embarrass me!”.

He went back into the kitchen still screaming and now riffling through drawers. I turned to my friends and we all agreed that it was time to leave. Only the things Andras was saying got worse. “I killed the last one! I can kill you too!” type shit

We kind of stood as a group, frozen. My friend Lidi turned around and saw a window so we decided to jump through it to get out of the house. She was first out of the window. Only when she landed she made this weird squishing sound. My friend Jani popped his head out the window and then started screeching and backing away from it. At this point Andras was stabbing the scarecrow with a very real knife and we were all trying to just get the fuck out of the house. The two of us still in the house pushed Jani out of the window, not really caring why he was screaming because KNIFE. Finally I jumped out and landed in what I to this day pray was animal remains. Blood and guts. Filling this deep trench next to this guys house. There was also a LOVELY portrait of a family painted on the side of the house using what looked like the blood from the giant hole.

The four of us, bloody, shaking and still able to hear Andras killing his scarecrow wife hightailed it the fuck out of dodge back to the main road. We decided against getting into another car and instead ran all the way back to our old car. We also took a break from day tripping for a while.

Why Are You Reading This

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

mfw all of it

Exams! Has god ever created a more irritating exercise in self-loathing and manic depression, designed to call attention to the terrible life choices that have brought one to academia? I don’t think so!

The categories you are apparently now pursuing (first of all, why) –Oh My God Exams, Folklore, Symbolic Power Y’all and/or Digital Culture– were designed as study repositories for a series of PhD qualifying exams I took in the Fall of 2011, then promptly forgot ever happened. Such, such, such are the joys. In case you were wondering wtf you were looking at!

Butterfly in the Sky

November 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

Yesterday I ended up teaching my College Composition class about the joys of memetics, and challenged the assumption –made explicit in our reading for the day– that folklore generally, and urban legends in particular, must be transmitted orally in order to qualify as such. As evidence I told them the touching tale of several hot new teenage drug trends, first Jenkem and then the unfolding saga over vodka gummies, a story that’s been rumbling along quietly for the last few months and which has (d)evolved to include vodka-soaked tampon insertion and what the silly old willys in the lamestream media are describing as “butt-chugging,” which sure sounds like something kids today would do!

The hot new drinking trend with America's teens

America’s hot new drinking trend

The lesson went over well, in part because –in this case anyway– folklore can be very funny. Folklore is also very easy to watch unfold, especially online, since all it requires is basic plausibility. And basic plausibility (at least in the “if you can cite it you can say it” sense) is one of the things that INTERNET does best. In some ways, folklore is the discipline best (“best” = not better as much as most naturally calibrated, in possession of an existing language etc) equipped to deal with online shenanigans. Verily was my saving grace after I defected from English, because BOOX???? In conclusion, poop-gas, it’s helping teach the Youth of America to read!

Fun Flirty Folklore FFS

October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

My examiner for this particular list provided a nice laundry list of all the shit I did wrong in the written portion, so my recap here won’t be so shot-in-the-dark. Thank god, because my BRAIN, it can only take so much.

So, instead of listing details for every single selection with a cute little recap I’ll group things together based on methodological approach. I’ll cross-list for research that does more than one thing, because these categories can get pretty messy pretty quickly. And having a sort-of flowchart will help prepare me for tomorrow’s firing squad.

  • Participant Observation (emic)

Frank Shaap (identity breakdown in New Carthage MUD); Lori Kendall (real life/virtual world crossover in Blue Sky MUD); Mary Gray (rural GLBTQ); Keith Basso (Apaches lollin at comical whitefolk)

  • Interviewing (etic)

C. J. Pascoe (“fag discourse” in CA high school); Timothy Tangherlini (Bay Area EMTs); Mary Gray (rural GLBTQ); Jeannie Thomas (dumb blonde jokes); Linda Hughes (girls’ spider queen playground games); Simon Bronner (woodworking and erectile dysfunction)

  • Critical Theory (the line between this and textual analysis is often too close to call; cross-posting just to be safe)

Gary Alen Fine, Patricia Turner (American race relations); Eliot Oring (the humor of hate); Eliot Oring (disaster humor); Lewis Hyde (trickster myths); Christie Davies (moar disaster humor);

  • “Textual” analysis

Susana Paasonen (discourse surrounding vajena & machinima), Jeannie Thomas (cemetery statuary); Tok Thompson (sex games between teenage boys); Jeannie Thomas (dumb blonde jokes); Rosemary Zumwalt (children’s jokes dealing with adult sexuality); Peter Narvaez (tricks and jokes at Newfoundland wakes); Bill Ellis (jokes directly following 9/11); Eliot Oring (Bill Clinton “internet humor”); Eliot Oring (the humor of hate); G. Legman (dirty-dirty jokes); Alan Dundes and Carl Pagter (photocopier humor)

I knew as I was writing my essay response that this would not be my finest intellectual hour — it was one of those deals where the question was working against me every step of the way, and at a certain point I just had to embrace the brainfuck. Whatever, it happens sometimes, and anyway I passed. The trick now is to figure out what to make of my examiner’s feedback. WE’RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BOAT.

Three for the Price of One: The Worlds That Took Us There, Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub and Figures of Fantasy

August 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

Let’s cyber!

(I started this GD post like six thousand years ago and am only now filing my dumb report because I kept forgetting to order the Paasonen)

My Folklore list is a bit of a hodgepodge, in part because I didn’t fully know what I was doing when I put together my exam materials. Also because I HAVE DIVERGENT INTERESTS OK. If I could do it all over, I would have chosen texts that were in direct dialogue with each other. But I can’t so I can’t; consequently my lists are sort of like………oh hey penises, oh hey humor, oh hey tener relationes de sexual. Some selections –obviously the ones dealing with humor– work well together, but mostly it’s just random books and essays that seemed like a good idea at the time. Which is basically an apology for these three internet-related selections, none of which show up on the Digital Culture list. So instead of doing my normal breadth exam thing I’ll briefly summarize the most important points from each book despite the fact that none of this will end up in my exam response, oh well.

Frank Shaap, The Words That Took Us There: Ethnography in a Virtual Reality (2002)

Asks who’s talking in online RPGs, the person playing the game (literally typing the commands) or the character that person is playing (28). Emphasizes the always-already collapsed and continuously collapsing boundary between the virtual and terrestrial worlds (90, 101), which ties into claim that existing power relations and dynamics –especially in regards to gender expectations– are embedded in the code itself, precluding the possibility of ever escaping the so-called real world (105, 109). Research Rundown: was undercover in New Carthage for nearly three years before “outing” himself. Inserts this same self into his own academic narrative pretty much at every turn & through every orifice. Argues for a more postmodern ethnography which apparently includes self-aggrandizing novelistic sections and detailed accounts of his various online sexploits. FRIEND WE DO NOT WANT TO KNOW.

Lori Kendall, Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online (2002)

Like Shaap, Kendall explores a particular MUD, this one called Blue Sky. Also like Shaap, she emphasizes the interpenetration of online and “real” life, with focus on emotional continuity; her particular group of mudders knew each other irl and therefore expected “authentic” presentations of the virtual self (i.e. not your average control group). Kendall is quick to reject the idea that the virtual world is some sort of “clean slate” not effected by racism, classism and sexism — she argues that, as a reflection of the so-called real world, virtual worlds necessarily contain a trace of the cultures out of which they emerge. Unlike Shaap, she revealed herself as a researcher right away, and had relationships with her informants that extended beyond Blue Sky. Prolly boned that henri guy LOL.

Susanna Paasonen, Figures of Fantasy: Internet, Women and Cyberdiscourse (2005)

The legacy of cyberdiscourse — emphasis on individuality, freedom, disembodiment. Cyberspace (a state-less mindset) is not the Internet (a state-owned something), so sayith John Perry Barlow (sort of?). Both the Internet itself and gender on the Internet are performative. Online figurations of femininity raise questions of (and relationships between) representation, embodiment, and technology; they reproduce conventional gender and behavioral binaries as well as engender new/tweaked versions of existing dialectics. Lightning round: Textualities. T-Shirts. Play. Boobies. Resistence. Cyberdildonics. Home. HTML. THROUGH THE RABBIT HOLE YOU GO, might as well genderfuck while you’re down there rite. Effacement of questions of privilege. It’s only “natural.” “Female experience.” http://www.period.blood. Ideological hailings. You’ve got male. Men are from cyberspace, women are from…I don’t know, earth? Weaving and unweaving. Feminist techno-utopias. Zeroes and ones. The problem with difference and bitches, amen.

Speaking of figures of fantasy, it’s COURTNEY STODDEN’S TWITTER ACCOUNTeverybody! She’s a wordsmith, and looks great doing it!

Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School

July 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

Dear god, only one more selection to power through on this here Folklore list. As I’ve hinted in other posts, my next list will be about 50% bloggable and 50%……let’s say……less so. As I’ve also hinted in other posts, I have a good sense of the question/range of questions that the Folklore list might generate, allowing for some pretty efficient reading. The Race, Gender and Symbolic Power list, on the other hand, is something of a mystery slash clusterfuck. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll handle a) not needing/wanting to take substantial notes on some of “my” selections and b) not really knowing how and where to direct my analytic energies. I figure I’ll post entries on the selections I’ll be able to use in my real life, and will just take margin notes in/on the selections I’ll never think about again after the exam process is over. After all come September, and after completing the written portion of the exam, I’ll be tested inquisition-style on both lists by both examiners. So even if a selection bores me to tears, and even if I’m not able to integrate it into my written response, I still need to know what’s being argued so I can rattle off details while I’m sitting in the hot seat. In conclusion, the process is about to get a lot less fun.

That said, here’s this book! Dude You’re a Fag! Which is an ethnographic account of masculinity, sexuality, and masculine sexuality (-ities) at an “All-American High School” somewhere in Central California. I suspect Davis-area? The main point of the book is that definitions of masculinity/masculinities focused exclusively on, and inhering exclusively in, the biological male body, are inadequate to explain the hows and whys of this crazy little thing called heteronormativity. Presenting itself as an alternative schema, Pascoe’s study explores the ways in which gender and sexual identities are engendered by social institutions and their “unofficial sexuality curriculum” (37). In other words, it’s not just having a dick that makes you a dick. People become heterosexist monsters for all kinds of reasons, biology notwithstanding!

In a nutshell: Pascoe’s argument unpacks the heterosexist expectations inherent to various school events, including rallies and dances, and speculates that these events, as neutral/unmarked as they may profess to be, are actually bastions for homophobic and sexist attitudes; frames the so-called “fag discourse” as a disciplinary mechanism designed to repudiate “feminized” (read: “less manly”) attitudes and behaviors, thereby reifying what it means to be a “real” man; discusses the ways in which teenage boys’ sexual talk and behavior represents an internalization of the desire for male dominion/superiority and consequently, female subordination; explores how the “gender maneuvering” of masculine/non-normative women both challenges and re-inscribes gender norms; argues for a combination of deep play (individual level) and institutional change (structural level) that recognizes and seeks to dislodge compulsive heteronormativity.

All in all, this is a good show. In terms of the Folklore question, I suspect the most relevant section will be the one dealing with resistance — per Pasco, genderfuck is kinda counter-hegemonic and kinda not, since although such resistance undermines clear gender binaries it also runs the risk of ventriloquism. So like, girls acting like boys is great, but at the same time if boys are sexist assholes, then what real difference does it make if the assholery is enacted by a vagina instead of a penis. Which Pasco argues is probably better than the alternative? That is to say, strict gender and sexual difference? But at the same time might further reify the same binaries such resistance purports to subvert?  The $64,000 question. The same $64,000 question that haunts my shit no matter what I’m reading. God! Why can’t there just be answers. 

Talking Trauma: A Candid Look at Paramedics Through Their Tradition of Tale-Telling

July 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last spring I enrolled in an American Folklore class, an all-undergrad all the time 4/5 split (ugh) that mostly presented information I already knew by virtue of being American and nearly a thousand years old. The whole term was mostly meh, but one day we got to watch pretty much the greatest documentary I’ve ever seen — the film version of Talking Trauma. Not that much actually happens over the hour-long doc, it’s basically a bunch of guys with early 90s Jerry Seinfeld mullets giggling their balls off whilst telling the most fucked-up medical horror stories you could imagine. Still, it’s some funny (and seriously nasty) shit; 95% of the class would go into vom.com mode every time a medic would liken an accident victim’s brain to a pile of chewed-up bubble gum, or when someone would talk about humming their favorite tune and spinning some dead guy’s eyeball –still attached to the optic nerve– around their finger like a yo-yo. In almost every case, the women in the class were the most sensitive, at least, were the most vested in appearing sensitive. I, along with a handful of guys (not the dudebros — the guys I knew to be internet people/trolls) couldn’t stop laughing. Because it was just so wrong, and anyway, the medics were seriously giddy. And right or wrong, usually irregardless of what is being mocked, other people’s laughter makes me laugh. Hence my interest in placing this selection on my Folklore list. It was a pretty trollish film, after all.

Surprisingly, the book is even more interesting than the movie — though you do miss out on the contagious (in my case) giggles of the medics whose stories these are. The difference of course is the analysis, which Tangherlini handles adeptly and with (seemingly) genuine interest. The basic idea is that these stories perform a series of important social functions: they provide an outlet for narrative one-upsmanship, create and maintain social hierarchies (both within and without the medic community), subvert authority and, perhaps most importantly, allow medics –whose jobs otherwise are never finished– to create for themselves discrete endings (and therefore closure) for particularly difficult or otherwise jarring experiences.

Unsurprisingly, a significant percentage of medics’ stories are infused with a kind of gristly, dark humor. As Tangherlini argues, such humor allows medics to work through a whole slew of anxieties by creating performative distance between the observer and that which has been observed, thus allowing the medic to do his or her job with a minimum of psychic trauma — placing Tangherlini’s analysis squarely in the “transgressive humor as coping strategy” camp. Not exactly the world’s most groundbreaking conclusion, but one which allows the reader/audience to place this sort of gallows humor in a context other than sociopathy. Plus it’s fun to read and made me laugh. Also squirm. And then laugh harder. Humor! How does it work

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