Pop-up Protesting . . .

Check out this recent street-art activist campaign, The Pop-Down Project.  As a response to the ever-increasing  ad-creep that clutters our landscape and mentalscape, the project seeks to “symbolically restore” a user’s power to control their visual environment by shifting the context for how advertisements are viewed.  In creating a false empowerment by offering the option for the ad to disappear, perhaps passer-byers will come to question the legitimacy of that ad occupying their field of vision.


It’s a fascinating case of internet literacy taking tangible and functional form at street level.  Taken more wholistically, it’s interesting to note that the campaign seeks to wed the democratic spirit that is typically touted in street-art with the networking dynamics of Web 2.0 culture.  The Pop-down project has  blogspot site, a facebook page, and a slideshow on Picasa where people who have download the sticker from the site (shown below) can upload their finished product.  I’d be curious to hear what you all think about the rhetorical maneuver being made here.


This campaign also brings to mind another anti-advertising street-art project, done by Graffiti Research Lab (who also has a strong web presence).  Check out the video below, which seeks to collude street advertising with graffiti:

Hey, Where’d my Egg go?

Ha! Gay penguins steal eggs from straight couples (via The Blogora).

I’m not even sure what to say. Just “hmm.”

Though, I did like the keeper’s attempt at political correctness when saying that the gay penguins would have to be separated from the other penguins:

“It’s not discrimination. We have to fence them separately, otherwise the whole group will be disturbed during hatching time,” he added.

Still, hmm.


Elfster.com is pretty much an online secret Santa, but the thing I find interesting is that you can list things that you want and things that you don’t need, which your secret Santa can look up in order to get the right gift for you. If you’re interested, then you can see it in action through their instruction video.

It makes me wonder if this changes how we go about gift giving. Part of the aim of a Secret Santa is to surprise your particular gift-receiver. I see a double-edged sword popping up. On the one hand, if you get them something that they listed as wanting or needing, then they aren’t disappointed at receiving, say, a fruitcake or something like that. (At one point, I thought this was more of a myth than anything else. People don’t really give fruitcakes. Oh, let me tell you that they actually do. [Which fruitcakes aren’t actually that bad if properly prepared. Usually it’s when they’re to dry that it’s just bad.])

However, limiting Secret Santa only to what’s on the want list may prevent a person from getting some wicked cool that they never considered. Having an already made list keeps the Secret Santa from being able to use their creativity or come up with something that the gift-receiver may actually need rather than merely want.

Eliminating that creative gift can take the fun out of secret Santa, because you can’t even begin to accurately guess who your secret santa might be. You see, a gift says as much about the giver as it does the receiver. Now, you can still say something about yourself even with a list. Let’s say that I listed headphones as an item on my want list. If my secret santa gave me some really nice noise reduction headphones, then that tells me that my secret santa a.) takes great pride in the gifts that they give b.) thinks quite a lot of me or even possibly c.) is an aficionado of headphones. Of course, there are other possibilities as well, but these are fairly good guesses. Based on these possibilities, I can then predict who I believe my secret Santa to be.

What I’m saying is that an unexpected gift can heighten this hypothesizing. You then have to tap into a person’s creativity, which can make your prediction totally off the mark and truly surprise you as to who your real secret Santa is. That’s what makes secret Santa exciting–in my opinion. It’s the mystery.


I’m in love. And it’s with a website. Perhaps I just have music on the brain lately, but I came across a site called Musopen. I don’t know how many other people this completely applies to, but I’m wicked excited.

You see, I’ll think that a particular classical piece would be extremely well suited for say an audio or video piece, and while the piece itself is no longer copyrighted, the performance of that piece typically is. So, you usually just can’t use it unless you want to risk a cease and desist order or even worse–a law suit.

I suppose I could gather 50 of my closest friends together for our own little performance, but have you ever seen that many musicians together in one place? The geekiness sticks to you for weeks. And then somebody brings up band camp and it’s all downhill from there, but I digress.

Musopen, however, has gone out specifically to make recordings of some of these classics in order to be copyright-free. As in public domain, as in no copyright infringement when you want to use that piece that you should be able to use!

I’m excited. Like super excited. So, while you’re making a video or audio piece for Harlot and fall into the same conundrum or if you were just looking for some very copyright free ambient music, then check out the site.

Oh, and you can also bid to raise funds for the piece that you want the professionals to record. If I really had my way then that’d be the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major (especially the 3rd movement), but considering that it’s one of the top 3 hardest pieces to play and the cost of finding somehow to play that would ginormous, I’ll just support Debussy right now. You can pick your own, but, you know, Debussy . . . ’tis awesome (and cheap).

Call for Submissions: Issue 2

Harlot is getting around. Our October launch issue prompted visitors from around the globe, with over 13,000 hits on our first day — from the UK to Hong Kong, Italy to Oman, Argentina to Tanzania. The first issue contained a rich and varied set of creative and critical reflections, including interactive digital collages, queer theory provocations, ekphrastic poetry, and rhetorical analyses ranging from Disney to Christmas carols. We’ve received fascinating feedback–glowing, glowering, helpful, and hilarious — that will continue to shape Harlot‘s future, with your help.

Here’s our challenge to you for the next issue: take it to the streets. Harlot is looking for submissions that take a smart and savvy look at everyday persuasions. Mess with the mundane. Question the quotidian. What messages do your shoes send? How does that graffiti mess with your mind? Do you find guilt trips compelling? What makes you stop and stare (or fight or flee) on your way to work? Do you like rhetorical questions?

We welcome contributions of all sorts — no observation too pointed, no style too random. Submissions for the spring issue are due February 2. So, get out there and analyze the everyday, critique the common, and bring the banal to Harlot.

I killed Rudolph

Yesterday as I was meeting with some students from my first-year writing and rhetoric class (which focused on analyzing narratives), they were joking about how their newfound rhetorical awareness had been messing with their minds. (And yes, I know that some of this was no doubt revealed with their yet-to-be-posted grades in mind.) One comment in particular gave me a warm holiday glow. To paraphrase:

“You ruined Rudolph for me. Here’s this guy who’s different from the rest, and marked physically by that difference — so he’s ostracized by the crowd, disrespected and disregarded… until, that is, he can help out some rich white authority figure. And then suddenly he’s embraced and accepted, just because he can contribute to their power. That’s some b.s.”

Rebel Rudolph (by shiny red type, Flickr)

Rebel Rudolph (by shiny red type, Flickr)

Hell yeah, it is! Don’t get me wrong — I love Christmas specials. And Christmas songs. I’m a sucker for sparkly lights, eggnog-induced cheer, and the Island of Misfit Toys. But sorry, Santa — I’m an even bigger fan of critical college students.

Side note: Did you know “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was actually created as a marketing ploy by a department store? Yet, as Snopes.com points out, the original was rather less problematic in certain ways: Rudolph was not a resident of the North Pole, just an average reindeer with loving and supportive parents. He was well-adjusted and confident long before Santa stumbled upon him in a moment of need. Fascinating revision from there to the current version, right?!

Rudolph and his lady friend (by voteprime, Flickr)

Rudolph and his lady friend (by voteprime, Flickr)


I was shopping at a health food store last week, and I stopped at the dairy section to pick up some cream cheese. Lo and behold, there was a new (well, new to me anyway) alternative to cream cheese with 1/3 less saturated fat. Now, who can possibly resist such an appeal to logic? (Not to mention the emotional appeal of a slim waistline). It’s called Neufchatel (see “Nuefchatel” on Wikipedia) — and, as we all know beyond any rational doubt, food items with foreign names have to be good. I imagined what the consistency and flavor of the cheese must be, and although I wasn’t super impressed with my imagined cheese (I guess I don’t buy into the purchase-worthiness of foreign names after all), I decided to give it a try.

I opened it today, but I began looking over the packaging while my toaster did its toasting. I always wonder at how different cheeses are made, and yet the ingredients list rarely helps when “milk and cheese cultures” tops and often ends the list. It’s interesting how much is and is not told with an ingredients list. I quickly scanned the item’s nutrition facts, and right next to it, in a relatively prominent location, was this:

The FDA has said there is no
significant difference between milk
from cows treated with rGBH and
untreated cows. No test can
distinguish between milk from
treated and untreated cows.

Hmm, I thought. How interesting that valuable packaging real estate went into making a claim (that the milk came from cows not treated with a growth hormone) only to usurp all power from that claim (the milk from treated or untreated cows is not significantly different). But, then, I was in a health food store, and FDA findings and rulings are met with a critical eye from these shoppers. In this context, the statement in all-caps would get a nod of approval and the disclaimer would be ignored or scoffed at.

I began researching the topic on the Web to see how the labeling of rGBH (also known as rBST) (see Bovine Somatotropin on Wikipedia) is restricted, and I discovered the conversation regarding its approval and use is quite involved. It turns out that a movement toward banning statements about rBGH-free cows began in Pennsylvania in fall 2007 with Dennis Wolff, the state’s agriculture secretary, who claimed that “consumers were confused” about the quality of milk from these cows (“Fighting on a Battlefield the Size of a Milk Label,” The New York Times). If the law passed, consumers would have no way of knowing whether milk had come from cows treated with rBGH or not.

But after pressure from consumer groups and the governor of Pennsylvania – along with Wolff acknowledging he had no consumer reports to support his cause – the case was dropped and turned, instead, into a push toward restricting the language on labels, and this time similar cases began in New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, Missouri and Vermont as well. Farmers and resellers, meanwhile, argue that their first amendment rights are being hampered. It appears these battles are still ongoing.

The layers to this story continue to be interesting, however. I’m always interested in what factors are ignored or overlooked and whether the lapses can be seen as intentional or unintentional. Here are some instances that are interesting to me, but there are certainly more to be found.

American consumption levels

The FDA approved the growth hormone in 1993, and The American Council on Health and Science gave this reason for acknowledging the need for what they are calling a “technology”:

As the world’s population grows, the National Research Council estimates that the supply of food required to adequately meet human nutritional needs over the next 40 years will be equal to the amount of food previously produced throughout the entire history of humankind. To meet this demand, animal scientists must develop new technologies to increase productive efficiency (that is, the yield of milk or meat per unit of feed), produce leaner animals and provide increased economic return on investment to producers. During the past decade, scientists have developed many new agricultural biotechnologies that meet these goals. Their adoption will have many positive effects on food production, processing and availability. (“The Efficacy, Safety and Benefits of Bovine Somatotropin and Porcine Somatotropin,” The American Council on Health)

What it doesn’t discuss is the overproduction of milk. Various web sites discuss this problem, but more reputable sites on dairy markets offer statistics spread over various dairy products. If anyone wants to crunch the numbers for us, feel free to post a comment with your analysis.

Human Health

Another issue that has arisen is the presence of IGF-1, a protein hormone, in milk from treated cows. Some groups claim the protein “is an important factor in the growth of cancers of the breast, prostate and colon” (“rBGH / rBST,” Center for Food Safety), but the FDA gave this response to a citizen petition to take the hormone off the market:

The FDA has previously maintained and continues to maintain that levels of IGF-I in milk whether or not from rbGH supplemented cows are not significant when evaluated against the levels of IGF-I endogenously produced and present in humans.” (Response to Robert Cohen, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Note: This link will open a Microsoft document file.)

I guess time will answer this one for us.

Animal Health

Most of the debate surrounding this issue seem to deal solely with the quality of the milk, but it’s context, so to speak, seems to be disregarded to a large extent in the scientific studies we see. Some groups claim that the hormone causes various deformities and diseases in the animals that farmers must then treat with antibiotics and other drugs, which find their way into milk.

Nonetheless, the FDA’s update on the safety of milk doesn’t address the alleged problem but only discusses the safety of milk in terms of humans:

FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has reexamined the human food safety of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) in response to recent inquiries about the safety of this product. FDA’s CVM approved Monsanto Company’s rbST product, PosilacÒ in November 1993 after a comprehensive review of the product’s safety and efficacy, including human food safety. CVM has issued a detailed report based on a careful audit of the human food safety sections of this approval. CVM’s finding upholds the Agency’s original conclusion that milk from cows treated with rbST is safe for human consumption. (“Update on Human Food safety of BST,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

So is milk from cows treated with rBGH (or rBST) safe and humane? I don’t know. I’m just interested in how it’s marketed and how the studies and subtopics are fed to the public.

As for Nuefchatel, it’s pretty good. I couldn’t tell a difference between it and regular cream cheese, but I’m also suffering from a cold today, and supposedly our sense of taste mostly derives from our sense of smell, which I’m missing for the moment. My scientific research has suffered another disabling factor too: a second variable called “pumpkin butter with port.” You gotta try it.

Victor Borge

Victor Borge was a classically trained pianist, but fantastically funny comedian as well. The thing about Borge was that he knew how to manipulate and communicate with his audience in a humorous way on the piano. He didn’t even need to speak in order to be funny.

For instance, the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1:

But when he did speak, he knew how to manipulate his stories and language in order to underline the sometimes inadequate nature of it.

But, seriously, the man could play.

I just the love the way that he was able to be so creative with some of the most common, everday things. We hardly even think about “happy birthday,” but when it shows up in Tchaikovsky, we’re all thinking about it.

Reading Harlot between the lines . . .

I just came across this quote from Margaret Marshall’s 2004 monograph, Response to Reform: Composition and the Professionalization of Teaching:

[W]hether we aim to publish our scholarship directly to a public audience or to use our scholarly expertise to participate in public situations, we are not always well prepared to do so and the reward structures of higher education do not encourage such activity.  Composition, though, is particularly well suited for making such forays into public venues because its interests in literacy, language, and the cultural structures that support these activities have so many possible public connections.  Composition has a great deal to gain by considering how such public work could be represented appropriately within institutional and professional terms and structures.

When academics fail to engage public audiences outside our disciplines, when we ignore the implications of our scholarly work, or when we keep our teaching safely out of sight, we help turn universities into mere bureaucracies that use intellectual labor as a commodity, ceding our professional aspirations as the price for speaking only to ourselves.  But because this is the way things usually are in the current world of higher education, does not mean this is how things out to remain.  For me and many others who know the history of the teachers who came before us, too many years have been spent gaining the standing to speak to not now choose when and how we will do so.