Now that’s Memetics of Different Color

December 20, 2008

This is another one of those times when rather than blogging about a paper topic I should probably actually be writing the paper.

Somehow a paper that started out looking at the “series of tubes” meme’s relationship to the rhetoric of public policy has turned into a highly theoretical paper lambasting conventional memetics scholarship using the “series of tubes” as a case study.  Hopefully prof won’t mind the complete lack of structure and stream-of-consciousness writing because that’s all I have in me now.

But really, what’s wrong with these memeticists?  Memes and their intentions.  Really.  Oh, I firmly believe memes exist, but to think they are completely detached from meaning and the people who imbue them with meaning.  (It’s like *SPOILER* (Papa Smurph you should really watch Firefly) Jubal Early says, does River’s room, when she’s not in it, still have purpose?  Probably since she keeps her stuff in there, but you get my point.)  Memes are nothing without the people who propagate them.  And on the flip side people would not be who they are without memes.  Also, in a vacuum memes are value-neutral.  In the real world, memes are negative to some and positive to others.  All of this seems self evident to me, but then I see the unfolding expanses of culture mapped out in my brain.  There I go being all flowery, ain’t the universe elegant again.  Pshaw.

And as much as I hate the word, Daniel Dennett is an elitist, in the most pejorative sense.

Took some antihistamines.  I’m feeling all goofy now and should sleep.  Peace out until I emerge from the paper-writing side of the looking glass.


Bad Horsing Around and Other Things That Make My Head Explode (in a good way)

December 16, 2008

I have to admit, it’s hard to come here and blog about stuff I’ve spent hours writing a 20+ page paper on.  But I’ll try.

I discovered that doctorhorrible commented on one of the earliest Dr. Horrible fan vids involving an original villain.  Check out Dr. Dreadful’s YouTube Riposte and the official comment from the Dr. Horrible YouTube folks.  Makes me wonder if that wasn’t the inspiration for the magnificent Evil League of Evil Application Contest.  (Señor Advisor is right.  I need to try to do interviews with important people.)  Why is this OMG! So much awesome!?  Because it plays right into my theory that rather than being a top-down media catalyst for Participatory Culture, Dr. Horrible is really part of the Participatory Culture.  Granted, it’s a big part and has a soapbox rather than being a voice in the crowd (as opposed to the bully pulpit the network guys have), but the form of the production, the inclusiveness, the way it was publicized, the way fans have been encouraged to participate…to me this says “fan production” more than “industry production.”

In other Dr. Horrible news, have you seen this?

Yeah.  That’s Felicia Day.  And yeah, those are some dudes serenading her with the “Bad Horse Chorus.”  Apparently some seriously wicked (I mean this in the New Englander, awesome way) dudes took it upon themselves to snipe unsuspecting celebrities and fans at PAX 2008 in September.  It started out as a fan-made prank, but the PAX people quickly got wind and wanted it in their DVD, getting the Chorus access to interviews and making sure they were front and center at a Q&A with Gabe and Tycho (the creators of Penny Arcade).  Their shenanigans even got a rather sickly Wil Wheaton to bust a gut.  Check out Epic Default Productions for the full story and all available video of their “Bad Horsing.”  Just more evidence of how beautiful fan culture really is.  How it spreads and broadens and reaches across networks and into all available media.  Sometimes I think I can see the webs that connect the different memes and creations, and not to be trite, but it’s like looking into the stars.  Ok.  That was trite.  But I didn’t know how else to say.  Moving on from my flights of fancy….

After encountering it time and again in researching Dr. Horrible, I finally watched The Guild, starring the lovely Felicia Day.  Even if you’re not a gamer (I’m not, though I’ve certainly lived vicariously), this is a riot.  I believe it will be accessible to any and all nerds, geeks, and/or dorks, and unlike most awesome series these days, it takes minimal time commitment.  I love that these internet projects make money and are able to function without the support of networks and newspapers.  They’re doing art the way art should be done: without strings attached.  Watch it!

We’re entering the final days of the final papers.  I probably shouldn’t be posting right now.  I probably won’t post for the next few days.  And hopefully when I emerge,  I can report on awesome extras for the Dr. Horrible DVD.  Wish me luck in the Horrible conclusion!

I <3 Paul Krugman

December 12, 2008

Other than your basic market talk, economics tends to go over my head.  Odd then that I would devote an entry to a Nobel Prize winning economic.

Or not so much.  Because Paul Krugman is AWESOME.  Leaving aside just how clever he is, leaving aside his broad-minded approach to the market (one which seems to avoid the myopic devotion to the absolute authority of The Market, though as I said, I don’t really understand this stuff)…Paul Krugman is such a nerd.

I’m not Dr. Krugman’s best friend or anything.  The evidence is right there on his NY Times blog.  His post on Tobin’s Q Ratio (whatever that is) made me giggle, as any proper Trekkie (we can have a discussion about Trekkie vs. Trekker another time) would, but his true awesomeness can be seen in lolfed and his AFK message for the Nobel awards ceremonies.  Oh yes.  A Nobel prize winning economist uses lolz on his blog.

Besides indicating that he must spend some time regularly on icanhascheezburger and affiliated image macro blogs, it makes economics look so much cooler, and, most importantly to me, boy does it vindicate what I do.  Now I just have to try to get an interview with him for my thesis.

In other news, I want to give a shout out to Nicole Riley, who hearts nerds, as should we all.

Later: news on the interdisciplinary angst front.

I’ve seen the best minds of my generation blogging, digitized, engaged

December 8, 2008

This post started with this column from Neil Howe in the Washington Post.  Obviously he is mostly talking about the “early X-ers,” but it got me to thinking about what really makes us Millennials smart.  As Howe pointed out, the powers that be (our parents, teachers, policymakers) have placed a greater emphasis on our education, but I don’t think that sums it up.

Howe refers to the “daily jeremiads from baby boomers who wonder how kids who’d rather listen to Linkin Park and play ‘Grand Theft Auto III’ than solve equations or read books can possibly grow up to become leaders of the world’s superpower.”  Leaving aside the notion I have that the boomers likely preferred listening to Beatles records than solving equations, let’s examine Millennial entertainment.  I’m not a fan of Linkin Park and can’t speak to them, but other musicians embody this generation’s creativity.  Listening to KanYe West’s sampling, Regina Spektor’s complex rhythms under her poppy, folksy chick melodies, the Arcade Fire’s amalgamation of pop, prog, and acid sounds, we can hear the creativity.  But we aren’t satisfied with just listening.  We need to cut up our songs and splice them back together.  We need to set them to video (from our favorite TV shows, movies, cartoons, YouTube viral videos, whatever).  And we need to seek out these rehashings and remashings.

“Grand Theft Auto” is violent and offensive in its portrayals of humanity, but it also requires ingenuity to play successfully.  When our favorite show is set to be canceled, we are reluctant to sit back and watch it happen.  We blog, email, and petition.  We use games to create our own worlds, and we use IMs, texting, and visual art to create our own language.  And it’s not baby talk.  It’s not degraded language.  It is creative; it has its own inherent patterns.  We are loath to be passive viewers and readers.  We need to create our own stories, our own videos, to participate actively in our culture.  And when it’s time to pick a president, we find new outlets for that creativity.

Why are we, the Millennial Generation, so smart really?  We are incapable of passivity.  We are always acting, doing.

We are innovators.

My growing need for dic(tionaries)

December 5, 2008

My attempts to be clever splutter and flail.

As I have grown older, I have depended on dictionaries more and more.  This somehow seems backward to me.  Shouldn’t my need for a dictionary have an inverse relationship to the size of my vocabulary.

But no.  The broadening of my vocabulary has enlightened me as to how much I misunderstand the meanings of words.  And so it was that I spent ten minutes or more looking for a dictionary arranged connotatively, so that I might understand the nuances of “tortuous” before using it in a short paper.  (Doesn’t it sound like it has something to do with torture?  While I knew the definition of the word, something nagged at me that the word could be easily misread.)  Ultimately, I ended up checking my (PRINT!) Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition against my Roget’s International Thesaurus Fifth Edition in order to suss out the subtleties.  I still don’t think I’ve found out the full meaning, but it was a start.

Ten minutes for one word.  Yowza.

How a nerd scholar troubleshoots her computer

December 5, 2008

1) Uncover problem (whaaa? Battery plugged in but still draining!?  It’s not true!  That’s impossible!).

2) Reboot.

3) Get frustrated and scare cat off lap while shouting to self.

4) Shut down, proceed to eat pint of ice cream for comfort while making half-hearted attempts to find solution on internet using roommate’s computer.

5) Ice cream returns ERR.  Drink four glasses of wine and watch Battlestar with roommates.

6) Return to computer three sheets to the wind to happily discover that, while NO work has been done for the evening, the battery charges just fine now.

7) Gurgle happily.

So, why is this important? Or, my ever-increasing academic schizophrenia

November 30, 2008

I started out as an English major.  I was going to write the seminal text on James Joyce.  Or was it Jane Austen?  No.  Definitely African-American literature.  Ok, so my hubris was never so great as to convince me I would write the seminal text.

In folklore…that’s where I was convinced I would write the seminal texts.  I discovered a sub-genre.  (I initially had discovered in scare quotes, but no.  I actually did discover it as far as folklore scholarship is concerned.)  I was going to be a folklorist.

But then again, I was going to write about digital vernacular art.  Folklore programs weren’t really the best place for that.

And so it was that I wandered into a rhetoric program.  Rhetoric at my undergraduate institution had an anything goes feel.  The discipline was concerned with expression in general.  This is what I was expecting.

Thus, Rhetoric and Public Policy and to some extent Classical Rhetorical Theory dealt huge blows to my academic self esteem (wow, just invented a new neurosis; watch my hubris grow).  And just when I would think that I knew where I fit into my program, where the space was for me, a fellow-student would say, “You know, there’s a Media and Cultural Studies program in the department….”  Or my advisor would recommend courses which, I’ll say it, just didn’t seem relevant to my research interests.  And then I would notice that the few students studying “culture” in my program were studying it as it related to politics.  I could care less about politics (at least as an academic).  I want to know how art is made and what it means.  Specifically on the internet, but also in popular television and maybe film.  Whaaaaa?  That’s not rhetoric.

Cut to last week.  I am leading the discussion section in Rhetoric and Public Policy on my oh-so-clever topic on Senator Ted Stevens and his series-of-tubiness.  How does the tube meme impact the Net Neutrality debate?  Professor: super supportive.  “How can we go about researching blogs for rhetorical texts?”  It was a fellow student, while we were engaged in a tangent about internet memes in general, who said, “Ultimately, I think that rhetoric should focus on important issues.  How does culture in general impact rhetoric?”  One hell of an uppercut.

“Well, that’s a question that needs answering.  And one that begs the question, ‘why am I here?'”  There, I said it.  Right in front of the professor and my fellow students.  Something which had burdened me since I arrived here, impacted my ability to work.  Something which, until then, I had only uttered to close friends back home, my parents, and the couple of students I was beginning to trust in my program.

This did not provide the catharsis I had hoped for.

But what is so important about this political rhetoric they study anyway?  I would imagine (though cannot prove at this moment and do not feel like googling it) that most Americans are more influenced by American Idol and Grey’s Anatomy than CNN and C-SPAN.  And probably more engage with (celebrity gossip) and IMDB than Politico or The Huffington Post.  (Note my brilliant use of synechdoche here; see, us culture-oriented people can use stylistic/rhetorical devices too.)  The first page of the most viewed videos on YouTube today are all pop culture related but one, and it’s sports.  Guess no one’s interested in the Obama transition team or the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.*    With so much of the population engrossed not just in culture, but popular culture, doesn’t it stand to reason that many of their opinions and worldviews are being shaped by television and movies and Us Weekly and image macros and YouTube, rather than President-Elect Barack Obama’s most recent radio(/YouTube) address?

Phhfff.  What the hell is important anyway?

*btw, the presidential transition and attacks in Mumbai are very important.  Just not as interesting as the season premiere of Lost coming up on January 21, apparently.

P.S. Why the hell aren’t “YouTube” and “internet” in the WordPress spellcheck dictionary?  Also, “Mumbai,” “Barack,” and “Obama.”  That’s just dumb.

Do you get a thrill when you find a ret-con?

November 30, 2008

I do.  Man I love it when the writers miss something or revise something.  Or at least when I notice.  Then I get all self-righteous and say, “I would have known that.  No ret-cons for me.”  And of course, I’m angry too.  Why couldn’t the writers and producers have the same wellspring of Trek/Star Wars/Buffy/Sports Night/… knowledge that I have?  The first time I saw Jadzia Dax (DS9 for those not in the know), my head almost exploded.  Whaaa?  But the Trill on TNG didn’t have spots!  It’s the thrill of having superior knowledge.

Imagine what that feels like when one of the authors you’re reading commits such a blunder.

In researching a paper on B’Elanna Torres as a tragic mulatta, I kept coming across media scholars who got Trek plot details wrong.  Key details.  The errors were like fingernails on a chalkboard.  They also provided excellent fodder, both for my writing and for my nerdy superiority complex.

In discussing hybrid characters in Star Trek, Denise Alessandria Hurd wrote that Simon Tarses “is arrested for his willful deceit.”  I blanched.  I thought for a moment.  I was pretty certain Tarses was never arrested (see TNG “The Drumhead”).  I doubted myself.  After all, this was a scholarly publication, and it would not get a basic fact like this wrong.  I checked Memory Alpha which, of course, confirmed my suspicion.  And there I sat, in all my glory, gloating over an author who probably would never know who I am.  This happened repeatedly in the course of this research.

I complained about this in a meeting with my professor, and she told me that many media scholars only look at a sample of a series or episode and only do that once or twice, and my comprehensive knowledge of so many shows would serve me well as a media scholar.  Oh the joy of righteous indignation vindicated!

One day I will have to post some of my notes from this research.  They are delightfully expletive-filled.  And the mockery!  This project has trained me in text-based mockery.

Oh the pangs of being a fan….