Archive for November, 2008

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 tmz.com (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.

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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….