My Project thus far…

My project will begin by analyzing the cause of a shift in opinion on a topic, such as social justice (or the topic: social justice). I will explain how certain environments and education paths can hinder or facilitate an understanding for social justice concepts. I then want to transition into how our society as a whole tends to hinder this type of understanding. I will use examples from U.S. media, policies, and institutions to back up my claim. I will then use my brother and myself as examples. We are an accurate product of two separate paths that have resulted in differing opinions. Using my initial claims, I will apply them to our lives to illustrate the cause of our differences. 

So who wants to help out with workshopping and peer reviewing this idea?! #mixer #rayray

Capstone Project Ideas

Idea 1: Fashion blog

I want to create a fashion blog geared towards students and recent graduates, and audience to which thousand dollar pairs of shoes are neither practical nor attainable.  I love fashion and beautiful clothes, but I always find it slightly entertaining (laughable?) when bloggers present themselves as wearing five-inch heels to go to the grocery store.

Though I still need to flesh out this idea, this project would be a fashion blog (or a fake fashion blog) focused on practical and attainable clothing.  At the same time, it would comment on this culture of the fashion world as it is presented in blogs and the media.  This project would be slightly journalistic, though written in the tone of a typical blog.  Models that I may look to include: the Man Repeller (manrepeller.com), the Cut (http://nymag.com/thecut/), Cupcakes and Cashmere (cupcakesandcashmere.com), and Atlantic Pacific (atlantic-pacific.blogspot.com).

 

Idea 2: Cheryl Strayed-Like Narrative

Again, I still need to think this through, but I think it would be interesting to write a personal narrative in the tone of Cheryl Strayed.  To pull this I would have to focus on a particular moment or series of moments in my life that are interconnected, perhaps different experiences I have had during college.  Like Strayed does, I would tell there stores “in the moment,” but I would offer up reflection, making it clear that I am looking back on a certain experience.  This essay would be creative non-fiction and geared towards people who have had their own college experiences.

The Bible as Western

Actually, a lot of people have had enough with the History Channel and its miniseries “The Bible”.  Pick a topic, any topic, and it seems that the miniseries represents it badly.  Doctrine, race, politics, gender – there are a dime-a-dozen bloggers upset about the show’s portrayal of these issues.  But what I want to know is this: How did the creation of this miniseries, broadcast on a major TV channel, get off the ground? And why do people love it so much?  Because love it plenty of them do.  Judging from Facebook posts, even some of my peers are (to all appearances, unironically) held in The Bible’s thrall.   Oddly enough, I stumbled upon part of the answer in a History class.

“Did you know,” my Consciousness of History professor asked us, “that Bill Clinton claims to have seen High Noon twelve times?  That religious zeal marks a true Western fan.  And remember: Westerns are an American phenomenon.  I want you to think about this as we watch the film.”  I idly jotted down the statistic in the margin of my notebook and willed myself to stay awake through what was surely going to be a boring hour and a half.  I don’t like Westerns.  But despite the individualist-cowboy-macho aesthetics, I was interested.  The film was good, objectively speaking (the editing was even better).  It also reminded me of something.  As we were all hurrying out of the door at the end of class, our professor shouted at us, “The Western film has no room for ambiguity.  Think about what that means for our next class.”  I stopped, one arm through my jacket.  Of course, I thought.  The Bible is a Western.

But what did I mean by that?

The History Channel’s “The Bible”

In a desperate bid for points, I present to you all the thing you dread the most: a series of blogs about religion and American culture.

You have Ray to blame for this. (Also, please remember I wrote this while sort of … altered … after wisdom teeth extraction.  So you’re not allowed to get too offended, okay?  Promise?  Okay, away we go!)

I tuned in late, so the first scene I see when I settle in for the first part of the History Channel’s miniseries is Abraham’s first encounter with God.  There’s a whispered, “Abram” against operatic vocals and then it cut to a Walmart ad which read, no lie, “The Bible is brought to you in part by Walmart”.  Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Bible with commercial breaks, for a modern attention-span.

 

The first question I ask, as we start the Sodom and Gomorrah story arch: is there a spin on this?  Better yet, is there a modern spin on this?  There is possibly one against city life – it is quite definitely emphasized that Abraham is going to live in the country.  But maybe that’s more of the story, than the adaptation.  Be in the world but not of it.  My train of thought is suddenly interrupted by the entrance of the devil.  Who knew that the History Channel would be so literal in their interpretation of evil? It doesn’t work for me, though.  As any good student of history knows, the unseen is the scariest.  Besides, this devil has white  juggalo-esque ashes smeared across his face.

When I have time to think again (the narrative is nothing if not fast-paced), it strikes me that there are no metaphysics here.  Abraham, when he pleads for intercession for Lot, is speaking to a physical Jesus that is reminiscent of a surfer dude.  Jesus, not God.  There is already a pattern here: Jesus as the present (if blurred around the edges) merciful man, God as the invisible commander who more often than not speaks through gales of wind.

This approach is very Bible-Belt American – the History Channel knows its audience.  For example, the focus is already skewed toward the New Testament.  The focus is on the person, for example, and not the god.  There are little things, too. Everyone is caucasianoid, except the angels.  Even then, the Asian angel kills with the sword, complete with kung-fu leaps.  (No intentions of molestation are mentioned, of course.)  I come to the realization that I cannot keep watching this.  And why the hell is this on the History Channel, anyway?

Just as I reach for the remote, there’s another ad break.  Get a new minivan at CarMax!  Arthritis ad, buy, buy, buy, consume, make your life better.  Then, astonishingly, a promo for the History Channel uses Amazing Grace as the track.  It concludes, History: Made Every Day.  But consider the show excerpts they are showing: Swamp People, American Pickers, etc.  I’m hooked by the absurdity.

When the show starts up again, I can’t help but catch myself think that Abraham has a mental disorder.  I think it’s probably to do with the narrative laid out so visually.  Especially when Abraham exclaims, “A sacrifice?  No.  No! Have I not shown you enough faith?” to the wind through improbably tall grass.

During the next ad break, though, I’m caught off guard.  The song over the Christian Mingle ad brings back memories of my childhood, eating snacks after school in the kitchen.  It’s Jars of Clay “I Want to Fall in Love with You”.  I actually had Jars of Clay on my first iPod, as a middle-schooler.  I actually liked them, went running with their music in my ears, actually sang them in the shower.  Now it sounds canned, and I can tell that this, too, is marketed to the faithful.  Jars of clay, after all, is a Christian band.  Their duty is to proclaim the faith first, and make music second.  There’s a reason for all those horrible hymns that don’t rhyme quite and have all those unnecessary dissonant notes.  And don’t overpay for motorcycle insurance!  Pro wrestling live at the Alamo dome!  Bacon worthy of the Mount Rushmore presidents!  It goes on. Hashtags, Vikings.  And back to the Bible.

It’s a nice touch, making Sara run up that mountain, screaming “Isaac!  My boy!”.  But it would not be her place, as a woman back then.  Not even one so embittered as Sara.  The deneumont: “Abraham has passed the test,” our anodyne narrator says.  And cut to the pharaoh and Moses.  It’s a good choice – dealing with Isaac’s anger (or lack thereof) would highlight too explicitly the cult-like overtones of some of these stories.  All the Egyptians are bald, possibly a nod to Yul Brynner?

More cultural simplifications, grey-screen and cut to Egyptians tossing babies like footballs.  The killing of the overseer is portrayed as a single blow to the back of the head: an accident, instead of the repeated beating, instead of the anger descending in a haze.  As if to distract from that small instance of violence, we cut to clouds rushing across the screen.  How did Ramses find the body, though?  I’ve forgotten.

All these cuts … we’re 40 years later on Sinai, now.   Here comes the money-shot, as far as the first episode is concerned.  The burning bush, the plagues.  But I have a problem with all this.  People keep on getting called, in this mini-series.  They do not just happen across things, as they would and did according to the Bible.  The burning bush is far too large, more like a burning wall,  a burning abyss.

And the pacing is too tight.  Speaking of which: “Nothing has changed, so much suffering,” murmurs Moses to nobody in particular.

And then we have more ads.  CatholicsComeHome.org implies that Catholicism started two thousand years ago, with His truly, the Messiah.  Does that mean that Jesus was supposed to have been a Catholic?  That Jesus can be simplified down to an institution?  That God is a Christian?  Or only a Christian?

No time to consider – the Pharaoh is screaming, “I am God!  I am God!” and Moses is dragged out.  Aaron lets loose the first plague.  Of course, I know that it is not blood, but an algal bloom.  If it isn’t all apochryphal, anyway.  The pharaoh, covered in blood, screams again: “Moses!”  and a smiling Joshua doubts no more, saying “I will never be a slave again.”  This pharaoh needs to scream things in duplicate, even triplicate.  And there are the locusts and the thunder, and the group of Israelites in a low chatter.  Talk of pharaoh breaking, and the final plague, the angel of death.  The group of Israelites in raised voices.  And cut to Christian Mingle: Find God’s match for you!

Oh, my.  This CGI is quite terrible, and that’s even when the Angel of Death is a dust cloud.  Next morning, the sky is sunny and Moses is brought before a distraught pharaoh.  The pharaoh screaming in triplicate again, so that Moses and the Israelites would go.  Moses on his teammates’ shoulders, a soccer-pitch victory scene.  More culturally-updated antics.  Descendants as numerous as the stars, Moses updates us, for those who need that reminder.  Does anybody who’s watching this on a Sunday night?

A nice touch, in this next cut: see the heathens sprinkle things on their dead, see their tattoos.  See the slender arm, still dead.  A sworn oath to his son, that the Israelites should build the tomb, with Moses’ body as the foundation.  But.  “This is the exodus.  After 400 years of slavery, the Israelites are free,” the bland narrator reminds us.  Then it’s steady-cams and horses’ legs, cue raised voices while the clouds race.  Thunder booms out, and suddenly Moses knows what to do.  There is a slow-motion pan from Egyptian chariots to Moses screaming at the sky, “Lord!”.  And the staff comes down.  Pan to storm-like conditions, and think of the children!  Back on land it is misty, but sunny.  More CGI.  And this time, pharaoh only screams once.  Moses bringing up the rear with a child.  Does he pray to stop the Egyptians, or does he – ah, no.  Of course he wouldn’t get his hands dirty.  And the pharaoh screaming in duplicate again.  And – “Freedom!”  And think of the little children.

The narrator then leads us to Mount Sinai, amidst more thunder.  Moses on the mountain, gasping.  Moses tripping along with the Ten Commandments, like the nerd weighed down with too many textbooks.  And Joshua must spy.  And with nine minutes left, cut to 40 years later with the appearance of the Ark of the Covenant (no Nazis, though).  Joshua the soldier, coming up!  Christian Mingle, again.  My sister comes out of her room, blinking.  Oh, fuck that song, she mutters.

 

“The Lord brought us out of Egypt.”  “Aye,” the Israelites improbably respond.  They talk of taking Jericho.  The spies climb the walls, and the Israelites are in.  What of the prostitute, then?  How will the good American History Channel handle this?  By being obvious.  “How’s my little whore?”  And end on a sweet note: the Israelites killing Jerichoans.  The Bible: to be continued.  Not for me, though.  I’ve had enough.

But I want to! A Response to the Internet

The Internet doesn’t want me to go to law school. And with good reason. Debt, long hours, a lack of jobs, no social life, schools lying about LSAT scores… and on and on and on.  Apparently there is nothing redeeming about the experience, and I should just pack up my Political Science undergrad degree and figure out something else to do.

But… but… I want to go to law school!

I’ve been trying to figure out which school to go to for weeks now. Like many before me,  I decided to ask the Internet for blogs about the personal experiences of students who go to the institutions that I am interested in. I can’t find any, but I have found many many articles, blogs, and one horrible website that equates law schools to backed up toilets and provides pictures of said toilets above their descriptions that assure me that this is the biggest mistake of my life. It has been an extraordinarily disheartening two hours. I really want someone to tell me the truth about law school- if going to a more prestigious school will really mean that much in the job market, how they liked classes, if they made friends with fellow students, if professors are at all approachable. But instead, all I have found are endless lists of reasons not to go to law school, and pictures of toilets.

Call me a cockeyed optimist- or just sing the song from South Pacific because everything is better with musicals- but I want to go to law school anyway! I realize that it isn’t going to be like the brochures everyone keeps sending me (especially Michigan State, good lord you guys really know how to compile brochures!) but it can’t possibly be as horrible as the Internet says, right? Right? Please let me be right… What I want right now is not some angry person who hated their experience, or some bright eyed-bushy tailed admissions officer but an average law student who is going to finish out their JD to tell me what their life is like. Maybe I am super delusional and all those average law students are the ones screaming at me to jump ship now before it is too late. But I can’t imagine there isn’t some medium.

A part of me is super scared now that I am making a huge mistake. Unfortunately for the Internet, it isn’t a big enough part of me to give up on my ambitions of becoming a lawyer, because that is what I want to do, not because I want to make money, or because I can’t thing of other things to do with my degree but because it is something I am interested in and think I would be good at. The other part of me knows I’ve been talking about this for five years now, and I’m sure about it. So the Internet can just go bother someone else.

Do you feel a lot of pressure about your career choices because of the economy or whatever? How do you deal with that?

Museum Story

If you go in the back of a back room in the research wing, you may be surprised at what you find.

In the corner of one room, there’s a huddled, mangy mass of fur.  If you squint at it from across the room, you can make out the gleam of two glass eyes.  You see, you don’t want to get too close to it.  It oozes a disreputable air – the skin is stretched over the frame too tightly, and the fur looks as if it’s been steadily munched on by animals too small to see, ever since it was acquired by the museum in the ’20s.

That’s impossible, of course.  Everything (and everyone) that touches the fur will die, if they’re not careful.  This is another reason for not getting too close!  No, it’s not a bizarre museum curse – no King Tut stories here.  It’s only a water buffalo we’re talking about.  The point is that it oozes something other than the opposite of charm.  It’s stuffed (literally) with arsenic.

Of course, the museum can’t get rid of it.  It’s a valuable specimen, along with its valuelessness (even dangerousness).  It’s a historical piece.  The stuffing of taxidermied animals with arsenic is a practice that has gone by the wayside, thankfully.  Display animals now are merely sprinkled with the stuff.  And now, research specimens are simply skinned, their furless bodies and viscera pickled in alcohol.  (We have an entire elephant, in pieces, preserved this way.)  The skin is then dried, stuffed with cotton balls, and sewn up.  The posing is uniform, with no frills.  The researcher shows us rows and rows of voles, mice, and moles.  Their legs point down, their tiny arms raised above their heads in the international signal for drowning.

There’s also the fact that it’s a water buffalo.  What with international import-export agreements, and Rooseveltian pastimes giving way to modern notions of conservation, a museum accepting a shot-in-the-back-of-the-neck water buffalo would almost certainly be illegal.

But there’s no escaping the fact that the balance sheet is in the favor of valuelessness for this poor buffalo.  It’s too deteriorated for tissue samples or even pelt studies, its insides have long been discarded.  So it is relegated to the equivalent of the museum dust-heap: the back of the back rooms.  The buffalo is surrounded by sympathetic roommates, at least.  Hanging on the white cinderblock walls are trophy heads of deer, elk, and moose.  They don’t even have proper mounts.  Their astonished glassy eyes contribute to the feeling that they’ve just stupidly pushed on through the wall in search of greener pastures.

They haven’t found them.  One researcher, passing by, scoffs.  “You’re showing them those things again?  We’d get rid of all of them if we could.”  But that’s the way museums work – once donated, always kept.

Bad Museums, Indeed

Thought I’d share the love with you guys to brighten your day.  There is a Museum of Bad Art in Massachusetts and their collection is online.  This is my favorite:

 

Unknown
Acrylic on canvas
Acquired by Scott Wilson from trash
This disturbing work “makes an offer you can’t refuse”. The chilling, matter-of-fact manner in which the subject presents the severed head to us is a poignant reminder of just how numb we have become. The understated violence implicit in the scene speaks volumes on our own desensitization, our society’s reflexive use of force, and the artist’s inability to deal with the hindquarters of the animal.

Crazy things are going on in mainstream museums, too.

Some more resources

First of all, thanks to Crystal for finding so much awesome stuff from all of these writers! I found Eula Biss’ piece “Time and Distance Overcome” to be particularly inspiring. If anyone else has ever read her piece “No Man’s Land,” it feels a lot like that, only much more explicitly dark.

I managed to find another of David Shields’ pieces, which was really interesting. It’s an essay crafted entirely out of quotes he found from bumperstickers and can be found here:  http://publicprivatelanguages.blogspot.com/2010/05/ryans-bumper-sticker-poem-david-shields.html  The link reports that this is the Shields essay in full, but I’m a little suspicious of the source. Having said that, it’s a really interesting piece that provides an interesting contrast to some of what Maggie Nelson talks about in her piece that Crystal linked to, specifically about quotation and individualism.

Bhanu Kapil’s poetry/essays are pretty difficult for me to follow anyway, but this one seemed to make a little more sense to me. It’s called Poem-essay 1, Jena Osman’s “The Network”: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2011/04/poem-essay-1-jena-osmans-the-network/

Can Funny Be Sexy?

Being funny is typically considered a masculine quality. The funny guy tends to be the life of the party. The funny girl tends to be traditionally “unfeminine.” The funny girl is the overweight girl, the ugly girl, the you fill in the blank girl. The funny girl is associated with something other than the norm. While there has definitely been a lot of progress for women in comedy, as I was exploring different sources for my sources, I kept pondering this idea: why don’t people associate funny with “sexy” or “femininity”? Yes, we can turn to all the traditional bullshit of “women aren’t funny” or “women weren’t thought of as funny for so long, so you have to break the stigma,” but there has to be some other modern-day reasons for it.

Is it just too intimidating for a women to “have it all?” Is it too threatening for a woman to be able to pull a man down with her words, the way that he can pull a woman down? I feel like now that it is 2013, we have definitely gotten over the SHOCK FACTOR that women can be funny, but still female comedians face a certain level of judgement that is definitely not universal.

Recently we have definitely seen examples of just how sexy funny can be. Think: Sara Silverman, Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler. And yes, Sarah Silverman may be a little too raunchy for your taste, but think about what she does and what she is saying, putting personal taste aside. While this is not entirely what my final project is about, I think this is a large component. Physical appearance is something that has both positively and negatively effected women of all types. Sometimes it helps a woman to be pretty, sometimes it hurts her. Sometimes it helps her to not be attractive to get ahead, sometimes it pulls her back.

I have uploaded two readings to Ctools, which I will send out an email for and I have one source reading below (well, it is a YouTube video, sorry Ray!) that I think will help you get a good idea of what my project is all about. One of the readings is an excerpt from the book “We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy.” The other reading is a case study about Sarah Silverman and how big of an impact that she had on female stand up comedians of the 2000s. Again, these will be posted on Ctools since I don’t want to get in trouble for copyright issues. It’s always a good idea to stay out of legal trouble.

This video clip is of Janeane Garofalo and if you don’t know who she is…it’s about time you learned! Janeane basically led the alternative comedy movement of the 90s, a movement that focused more on storytelling and the “everyday-ness” of life than on structure jokes. While she did not make the movement happen completely by herself, Janeane is largely responsible for this movement taking off and for the comedians of the 90s taking over different venues, such as coffee shops and theaters, as the comedy club craze of the 80s began to wind down.