December 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
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!
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)
- 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)
- “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
(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!
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.
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…
July 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
Oh dear god, this constant reading riting and rithmitic (ok, mostly posting questionable content onto Google+ augmented by bursts of studying and/or dissertation planning) is really making my heads hurt. Today I read a book called The Words That Took Us There: Ethnography in a Virtual Reality which I’ll be summarizing in another post along with several other somewhat annoying digital ethnographies that somehow ended up in my Folklore list. I also read a thing on cemetery statues (“Vengeful Virgins, Naked Mourners and Dead White Guys”) which was actually pretty interesting, though not at all relevant to my project or anything having anything to do with my exams. In it, Jeannie Thomas examines the gender discrepancies in cemetery statuary of yore and argues that representations of cemetery figures are reflective of changing cultural attitudes towards death and embody existing attitudes towards gender as well as –and this was particularly intriguing– the concept of individuality. Por ejamplo female cemetery statues are usually pretty sexy and typically represent stock symbolic figures while male cemetery statues almost always depict the individual dead guy and almost never flash any junk, due in part to the heterosexual male gaze (cemetery statues are created in honor of specific men for the enjoyment/reflection of other men) but also because in post-industrial America the size of a guy’s dick actually has more to do with the size of his bank account, which is flashed by the existence of the statue itself and not so much by his literal shriveled penis.
Anyway I simply cannot bring myself to write much more about today’s research.
July 5, 2011 § 3 Comments
A brief scheduling note: I have a bit of new information about my exam questions, and will be adjusting my studies accordingly. From here on out, I’ll just be focusing on the stand-alone potential for each entry. I am confident that no one cares, whee!
And now on to Tok Thompson’s article about sex-sex-sex. He opens by waxing poetic about the kinds of external and self-imposed censorship that emerges before and while and after working on subjects deemed taboo, especially those within one’s native culture. After all, banging heads with dominant ideologies can be tricky, and is not always appreciated by those whose ideologies they are (11). In this case, Thompson is referring to GAMES II C69 M3, a folder containing all kinds of naughty archived content. Intent on presenting his findings in memorium of the recently deceased and super-duper sex pervert Gershon Legman, Thompson reluctantly accepted the consequences of his research. And boy am I glad he did. But oh my god what a cocktease! Because WHO CARES about any of this prefatory business about cultural taboos, all anyone wants to know is what gross shit he’s talking about. Namely, SEX GAMES, which he finally gets to on the 3rd page of his 8-page article.
A: Ejaculatory (16 examples, framed either as game or prank)
B. Urination contests (3 examples)
C. Expository contest (1 example, at first was unclear if meant writing or poop — (un?)fortunately tis the former)
D. Actual circle sexual behavior (3 examples)
HAR HAR this whole article is about “swordfights,” Thompson’s main area of interest. No really, he’s most interested in talking about fighting games between human penors, which Thompson argues subverts societal expectations regarding cleanliness. And oh man! There are SO many ways to play circle-jerk. Like, sometimes you just want to see who’s fastest, and other times you’re trying to trick your friend into thinking that everyone’s doing it, while really he’s the only one so when you flip on the lights and his dick is hanging out, everyone can lol together, at his shame! Sounds fun (13).
The question –per the article– is, is this GAY? According to Thompson, maybe. Or not, since it’s also about asserting dominance — so, if the behaviors don’t outright queer the participants (represent release of homosocial/sexual desire) they point to a social hierarchy intent on degrading (i.e. feminizing) the “losers” (14). Which is way more sexist (in this case synonymous with homophobic) than Thompson acknowledges — he claims that these are liminal behaviors which teach boys how to be boys, and in this sense serve an important socializing function (15). Because apparently an essential part of being a boy is degrading anyone deemed less manly? Oh and DOUBLE-AWESOME, he justifies this by presenting a cross-cultural example, which totally makes it ok! Phew, I was worried there for a second. Keep on gay (“women”)-bashing, virile youth of America! Let’s prove Dan Savage wrong, once and for all! In conclusion, facepalm.
Connection to exam question: Oh jesus, maybe something about how play –often minimized as “just” play– has the potential to re-inscribe dominant social paradigms. This could be a really good counter-example, actually, about how anything could/should be explained away as “just” anything, and whether or not this kind of behavior is better or worse (more or less damaging) than explicit joking…
July 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
Jeannie Thomas has a lot to say about jokes you guys. First of all, people tell them. Second of all, some people laugh and some people don’t. Third of all, the same joke that’s funny to George D. Asshole might not be nearly as funny to Cindy F. Christian. Also, joke cycles don’t just appear out of thin air, thematic jokes “spread” because they tap into some manner of zeitgeist, whether relatively positive (born of collective interest) or relatively negative (born of collective prejudice or fear). The ubiquity of blonde jokes, for example, can be linked to the rise in visibility of women in the workplace and other positions of power (278), as well as to the gradual association (both positive and negative) of blonde hair with femininity. Blammo! There be joke cycles.
Thomas postulates that blonde jokes, along with all other jokes in the whole wide world, are successful to the extent that they embody or create the illusion of incongruity, superiority, ambivalence and/or transgression (282). Of course, what seems incongruous to one person might appear perfectly normal to another, meaning that each individual response will feature some unique combination of the above criteria, often shifting based on who tells a particular joke when and where. That is to say, the same person might have entirely different reactions to the same joke –or same kind of joke– depending on the circumstances (280-282).
Thomas expands her analysis to include Dan Quayle and Hillary Clinton jokes; as one might expect, the emergent joke cycles are…you know…different. Jokes about Quayle focus on his apparent stupidity, undeserved privilege, immaturity and cowardice. Jokes about Clinton portray the then-first lady as “a bitch, a witch and finally a cunt” (301). Salty! Again, there are lots of reasons for telling and laughing at these sorts of jokes — it depends on the person and situation. Thomas suggests that much politically-motivated humor in the US reflects and/or implicitly critiques a two-party system in which the population is already divided into “us” and “them,” making jokes about politicians entirely par for the course (“I think the joke about X is funny because he’s a ___ and I’m a ___”). Attitudes towards sex and gender are also on parade, though jokes about Dan Quayle are, thankfully, less likely to focus on his genitals or sex life. Which is part of Thomas’ point — jokes allow people to articulate their anxieties and frustrations; the more anxiety-inducing the situation, the greater number of subsequent jokes. Clinton caused/causes a lot of people a lot of consternation, discomfort(s) which tie directly into contemporary effed-up attitudes towards women, particularly powerful honeybadger women. Consequently the jokes about Clinton have far more teeth than jokes about dumb old butthead Quayle, though Thomas doesn’t much address this discrepancy.
If feeder-question: First of all yawn. Second of all hmm in terms of my own research I’d say…well I guess I could talk about the difficulty, if not outright impossibility (and/or ineffectuality, which might be the more important adjective) of positing intentionality on the part of the teller or listener of a particular joke — that instead of focusing exclusively about how an individual feels about a particular joke (i.e, having them explain what the joke is about, who cares), we should focus on what the prevalence/popularity of that joke or kind of joke says about the culture out of which it came. Which could provide an ok segue to trollshit.
If stand-alone question: Provides another example of context trumping content. There is no one correct or definitive response to a particular joke, since the meaning of that joke isn’t static, at least not in the real world.
June 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
First of all, children are perverts. This is science fact. Parents often pretend their little angels are pure of heart and groin until the Change, which is subsequently met with the lamentation of innocence lost. But it’s like LOL your kid has always been a sex fiend, deal with it. In her (inadvertently?) hilarious 1976 essay, Rosemary Zumwalt balks this trend (and per her introduction, it really is a trend not to talk about the freaky shit kids do with and to each other, even in academic folklore circles) and presents, as one might expect from reading the title of this post, a content analysis of prepubescent kiddie’s sexy sex jokes. Throughout the essay, she discusses a series of jokes/joke families in which children are confronted with their parents’ terrifying shriveled genitals, and offers an interpretation of what means what to whom. Here is one scintillating example:
There was a boy and he asked his mother if he could take a shower with her. His mother said yes, if he didn’t look up or down. So in the shower, he looked up and he said, “Mommy, what are those?” And so his mommy told him they were headlights. So then he looked down, and he said, “What’s that?” And she said, “Oh, that’s my gorilla. “So then she said,” Go bug your father.”
And so he went to his father and asked him if he could take a shower with him. So his father said,” Yes, if you don’t look down.” So in the shower, he looked down, and he said, “Daddy, what’s that?” And his father said, “Oh, that’s my banana.” And so in the night, they were all ready for bed, and the little boy said, “Mommy, Daddy, can I sleep with you?” And so they said,” Yes, if you don’t look from side to side.” So in the night, he looked from side to side, and he said, “Mommy, Mommy, turn on your headlights! Your gorilla’s eatin’ daddy’s banana!” [joke fin -ed.]
In this joke, the mother has all of the sexual power. The father is equipped with a banana, which can be devoured by a hungry gorilla. And the child fears that his father is about to lose his banana to just such a gorilla. But there is electrical power to light the dark in this joke too. If mommy will just turn on the head- lights, certainly the flood of light will allow daddy to retrieve his banana, and hopefully it will all still be there. The mother is the gorilla, symbol of uncontrolled sexual drive. The father is the gorilla’s favorite food, and the little boy sounds the alarm, saving his father from castration. (262-263)
Etc, etc. Based on this joke/family (there are a number of jokes which feature some combination of headlights and hot dogs and all manner of fanciful evasions), as well as one particularly gruesome joke in which a young girl “learns” about her father’s “dolly-bird” then ends up “strangling it” and “smashing its eggs” when it “spits at her” (266), Zumwalt argues that these jokes don’t just tell us about children’s sexuality, but also about adults’ attitudes towards children’s sexuality — namely, instead of providing straightforward explanations, parents sugar-coat (inb4 lol you pervert) their explanations and, in a nutshell, facilitate the child’s ignorance about sex. Zumwalt goes on to argue that the recurring images –of electricity, of food, of animals– are themselves significant, implying the shared desire for power, a sense that sex is an aggressive act as well as a profound oral fixation (266). Ha ha gross.
Zumwalt’s most interesting point is that children’s jokes about adult sexuality are actually somewhat subversive; the “butt” of the joke (and/or the recipient of the figurative dicksmash) is always the adult –or adults– who refuse or are too bashful to take their children’s questions seriously. This explains the apparent shelf-life of these jokes; once a child has reached sexual maturity (i.e. the juevos have dropped), they are no longer as curious about their parents’ bodies, since now they have their own filthy disease-traps to worry about. Zumwalt provides one final joke to drive home the teenage rejection of the very category of genitalia:
This little boy walks into the bathroom, and he catches his mother naked. She was a little embarrassed. He said, “Mommy, what’s that?”And she says, “Oh, that’s where God hit me with an axe.” And the little kid says,” Got you right in the cunt, eh?” (267)
If feeder-question: Well, the jokes are all basically examples of kids trolling the shit out of their parents. (lol stretching)
If stand-alone question: Could talk about the joke-work angle, how studying particular jokes can reveal a whole system of relationships and power within those relationships (relational nestings?) — in this case, the jokes reveal adults’ attitudes towards children’s sexuality and the children’s attitudes towards those attitudes (which is what gives the jokes their dolly-punch). Maybe the self-reflexive and revelatory nature of jokes? So, it’s not just what is said in the joke, but how the joke inheres within a given social context. Also there is some talk about the (implied) subversiveness of these jokes — perhaps could use as proof of how jokes allow subordinated chilrens to exert power over their parental overlords. (but how effectual is this power, is the question — in the case of the kids, yeah their jokes may provide a send-up of their parents, but a) do these kids even know that’s what’s happening, b) how important is it that the kids are aware that they’re being subversive and c) their jokes don’t get them what they want, namely knowledge)