November 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
…That I asked myself this very question, and in fact discussed the custody question mark that is DOURTNEY STODDEN (Courtney Stodden and Eugene Victor Tooms’s adopted dogchild) via text with my very best childhood friend (of Martha Stewart fame; see this post for a rundown of our various fantagonistic exploits). “I can’t believe Doug and Courtney are calling it quits!” she wrote. “I know!!! I am heartbroken,” I responded, after which I asked about Doutney’s sad future as a dog from a broken home. “I read they will share custody (phew!),” Katie answered. “At least there’s some justice in the world,” I wrote, and then went on a long rant about how I hope it turns out this is the STUNT QUEEN move to end all STUNT QUEEN moves (the phrase “STUNT QUEEN” must always be in all-Kanyes), and that Doug, Courtney, and Dourtney will be laughing all the way to the bank/VH1′s primetime lineup a la Speidi. A girl can dream!
Really though, I’m sorry to hear this news (I’m not, really, because Courtney needs to spread her wings and FLY). My love for the instillation art piece that is Courtney Stodden is well documented; verily she is the hero we all deserve. So, I salute you, the former Mrs. Doug Hutchison! I trust you are already shopping a Rock of Love-style dating show (also: apparently the NYT reviewer who thought she was slamming Rock of Love doesn’t realize that an opening line like “VH1’s ‘Rock of Love With Bret Michaels’ is carnival sludge: a nauseating paste of fried dough, cigarette ash, salt and grain alcohol” only makes my heart grow fonder). I do not think I need to say that I will watch that mess, because I will. Oh, how I will watch it.
In conclusion, never change you beautiful troll!
October 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The great bell hooks just posted an awesome, fiery response to Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” brand of feminism, i.e. Hey Ladies! If You Really Want to Achieve Gender Equality, You Better Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Patriarchy. Per hooks:
Sandberg’s definition of feminism begins and ends with the notion that it’s all about gender equality within the existing social system. From this perspective, the structures of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy need not be challenged. And she makes it seem that privileged white men will eagerly choose to extend the benefits of corporate capitalism to white women who have the courage to ‘lean in.’ It almost seems as if Sandberg sees women’s lack of perseverance as more the problem than systemic inequality. Sandberg effectively uses her race and class power and privilege to promote a narrow definition of feminism that obscures and undermines visionary feminist concerns.
This is a long but worthwhile read; particularly important is hooks’ emphasis on what Sandburg omits from her narrative — the issue of money (which coming from the half-billionaire COO of an enormous multinational corporation is…striking), the issue(s) of race and class, the issue of patriarchy (the elephant in every boardroom), or even the slightest whiff of institutionalized systems of oppression. Then again, that’s not terribly surprising, since Sandberg directly and explicitly benefits from those same institutional systems of oppression — largely because she refuses to denounce, or even to acknowledge, that they exist. Start making a ruckus about the “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchal corporate world,” as hooks states, and you’ll find you have far fewer conversations into which you have the option to lean.
In her conclusion, hooks states:
Even though many advocates of feminist politics ere angered by Sandberg’s message, the truth is that alone, individually she was no threat to feminist movement. Had the conservative white male dominated world of mass media and advertising not chosen to hype her image, this influential woman would not be known to most folks. It is this patriarchal male dominated re-framing of feminism, which uses the body and personal success of Sheryl Sandberg, that is most disturbing and yes threatening to the future of visionary feminist movement. The model Sandberg represents is all about how women can participate and “run the world.” But of course the kind of world we would be running is never defined. It sounds at times like benevolent patriarchal imperialism. This is the reason it seemed essential for feminist thinkers to respond critically, not just to Sandberg and her work, but to the conservative white male patriarchy that is using her to let the world know what kind of woman partner is acceptable among elites, both in the home and in the workplace.
Basically, bell hooks is great.
October 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Recently a British man was fined the equivalent of $25,000 USD for retweeting a damaging rumor about a British lord — namely that he was a child molester. Unsurprisingly, this case has dredged up questions about how best to regulate (and/or whether or not to regulate) online megaplatforms. Jeff John Roberts of Gigaom considers the issue, and argues the following:
Davis may have shown bad judgment in retweeting something so serious (especially as the retweet came in response to a question he put to Twitter) but a full blown libel case seems excessive — and may have chilling effects on Twitter’s role as a news source.
I don’t disagree with Roberts; $25,000 is an awfully steep price to pay for making a single (though wholly irresponsible) snap decision on the internet. What I don’t understand is this assumption –which you see in so much coverage of Twitter specifically and social media more generally– that Twitter should be a news source.
It is true that Twitter helped usher in democratized, real time responses to online and offline stories. In 2013, that’s the norm. But just because something is the norm doesn’t make it positive. Twitter has proven time and time again, particularly in the wake of mass-mediated tragedies (I’m thinking the Boston Bombings in particular, which generated millions and millions of tweets, 80% of which proved to be untrue, but also natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy), to be little more than an amplifier of half truths, dangerous rumors, and misinformation generally. Yes there is definitely important information mixed in with the rubbish, but in the immediate, chaotic aftermath of a huge story, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to parse the good information from the bad, a point Roberts himself concedes in his article summary — “People retweet lies and errors on Twitter all the time,” his opening statement reads.
Which — yes. Yes they do. So…remind me why I’d want to rely on Twitter as a news source? As an endless source of gossip, rumor and innuendo, sure. That’s fun. But news? I’d rather wait till the day after, once some of the dust has settled.
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.
October 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
So, Facebook just reversed its decision on those beheading videos, prompting two basic responses:
It’s good to know that the publicity machine has such a strong impact on Facebook’s on-site policies!
It’s troubling to know the extent to which the publicity machine influences Facebook’s on-site policies.
I agree with both statements equally. Money talks, friends! But also, money sure does talk, a point I addressed a few months ago in this post about one of Facebook’s previous policy reversals.
October 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Valleywag’s Sam Biddle just posted some pretty…I don’t know, is “Facepalmy?” a word…news out of Facebook, aka “Zuck’s Click Hut” (I will never refer to Facebook any other way; fifteen hat tips to Biddle). Although they remain steadfast in their campaign against nudity, particularly repulsive acts of female nudity (ugh sick), Facebook will continue allowing people to post beheading videos to their timelines, the logic being that just because someone posts something, doesn’t mean they are condoning it. People might be posting problematic content to condemn the depicted acts, in the process helping raise awareness.
I don’t entirely disagree with the underlying logic of this stance (though whatever argument I’d make, whether for or against, depends on the circumstance; beheading videos are an extreme example to say the very least, and I’m not sure what, if any, positive political impact that level of violence could have on anyone) — but it is odd, considering how quickly Facebook is to ban female users engaging in depraved behaviors like “feeding their infant children,” and how reluctant they are to take action against violently misogynist pages and posts. And how weird and inconsistent their moderation policies are generally.
Anyway, file this one under “1000 Reasons I’m Glad I’m Not On Facebook.” Excuse me, Zuck’s Click Hut.
October 22, 2013 § 3 Comments
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love television (and films viewed on television, which also includes computers because it’s 2013 and what do those distinctions even mean anymore), particularly awesomely bad/weird/creepy television. Shows that make you go WAT, if you will. Television is, hands down, my absolute favorite expressive medium; if someone were ever to write an epic poem about my life and legacy, the opening line would most likely read “All she ever wanted to do/was watch television.” At least, it had better.
So when I say that I have a new favorite show (category: lost classic, subcategory: spoof), you know it’s serious. And with that I give you Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, one of the strangest and best television programs I’ve ever encountered. The premise of the show, which premiered on Britain’s Chanel 4 in 2004, is as follows: Set in the 80s, Darkplace –the eponymous hospital in which the action unfolds– was written, directed and presumably edited by horror writer Garth Marenghi, who opens each episode with a snippet of his own purple prose. (From Episode 5: “Nina’s eyes popped out of what was left of her back. Why oh why had she opened that tomb? The sand turned red. This was because she was bleeding on it. Blood. Ruby red blood. Her blood. Blood. And piss and shit. This was the worst day of her life”; from Episode 6: “He whisked off her shoes and panties in one movement. Wild like an enraged shark, his bulky totem beating a seductive riddle. Mary’s body felt like it was burning, even though the room was properly air conditioned. They tried all the positions: on top, doggie, and normal. Exhausted, they collapsed onto the recently-extended sofabed. Then, a hellbeast ate them.”)
CUE INTRO (starts at 2:14):
According to Marenghi (who is a fictional character, although not according to the title credits), the show was ahead of its time; so much so that Chanel 4 locked away the first season, never to be seen — until now, establishing a fantastically improbable show-within-a-show frame in which Marenghi and his publisher Dean Learner provide present-day commentary on their roles as Dr. Rick Dagless (Marenghi; played by the real life Matthew Holness) and Thornton Reed (Learner; played by the real life Richard Ayoade). The entire series is, in a word, bonkers, and relies on horrendous writing, acting, and production values, including an absolutely pitch-perfect score (complete with Davis Lynchian atmospheric pads) to capture the melodramatic excesses of shitty early-mid 80s and very early 90s television. It is perfect, and has my highest possible recommendation.
Of course, the show isn’t for everyone — and not just because it’s weird as hell. It’s also a winking (if somewhat antagonistic) love letter to a very particular style of television at a particular moment in history. Nearly all the jokes hinge, or at least gesture towards, television done badly. Without understanding –or more importantly, having an opinion about– the components of “good” television (characterized by a specific, historically contingent understanding of what constitutes good writing and acting, proper lighting and sound engineering, and general production values), a person would be unlikely to derive much amusement from the constant, deliberate, and actually quite masterful failures of Darkplace (this show was clearly made by people who know their craft). Rather, they’d likely just see a poorly-made tv show, which in itself isn’t funny. The only people who have any reason to find these sorts of failures funny are the people who know and care about the rules of television so much that their subversion takes on the mantle of joke. I wrote about this phenomenon in my kuso article, and will be revisiting the issue in the below panel proposal for this year’s International Communication Association (ICA) meeting (the conference where I presented this talk in 2012):
This talk will examine ambiguous fan engagement with media content that is, as the saying goes, “so bad it’s good.” Although these behaviors may appear to subvert the hegemonic meaning of a particular text by imposing some new or wholly unintended meaning (Hall 1973), they ultimately adhere to larger and more pervasive cultural conventions, putting a conservative spin on an ostensibly subversive cultural practice. The talk will focus specifically on enthusiastic online engagement with broken memes (that is, variations of a popular meme that get all the details laughably wrong) and the online obsession with failure generally, which worships at the altar of ineptitude and technological incompetence. It will conclude by arguing that appreciation for and engagement with “bad” content is predicated on a high degree of cultural literacy, which itself can only be accomplished via educational and technological access. Put simply, ambiguous engagement with content that is “so bad it’s good” is actually, and ultimately, an expression of privilege.
I’m not sure how or if I’ll be addressing Darkplace in my talk — but will definitely be revisiting the subject in the months to come, as I thrash around to find my next big research project. In conclusion, son of a bitch (I tried cueing it up but YouTube is being annoying; see 3:01):