Super bowl backlash

We all know this year’s Superbowl commercials displayed a less-than-shocking theme of masculinity under attack by women/harpies–and men’s resulting desperate need to bolster it through muscle cars and micro-televisions:

Does anyone else find it kind of heartening that even the ad-men think that such versions of gender roles are making their “last stand” — and acknowledging implicitly that they’ll fall like General Custer? (Of course, they’re probably relying on another problematic subtext: it’s just a battle lost, not the war. Though that might be giving them too much credit for self-consciousness.)

It’s been great fun to have the rampant sexism in advertising called out in the mainstream media (Slate, the Times, even USA Today— especially in light of studies suggesting how unsuccessful these ads were. And I’m ready to enjoy the potential for wittier and far cheaper responses:

I dig certain parts of this: “I will make $.75 for every dollar you make doing the same job…I will catch you staring at my breasts but pretend not to notice…” In some ways, I can see that it’s pointing out how the assumptions behind these duties are equally ridiculous. Those accepted by the men in the Dodge commercial are, for the most part, basic measures of maturity (“I will shave… I will be at work… I will sit through meetings”) undertaken not as a man but as reluctant partner (“I will take your calls”?!). But the spoof’s duties suggest that what women do for the sake of their men is not about basic hygiene, but self-subjugation: “I will diet, Botox, and wax–everything… I will allow you to cheat on me with younger women”?! Hmmm. If this spoof is looking to encourage identification among women, then depending on such assumed “duties” is disconcerting. And if it’s trying to challenge the sexism of the original, isn’t falling back on superficial standards counterproductive?

I’m not sure. I’m happy to see some talk-back to those ads, and can only hope we see more discussion as a result.

In the meantime, I leave you with SNL’s hilarious take on the powers of a Dodge to recuperate the male ego:

Buffy the Twilight Slayer

I’m still working on that digital media syllabus, so… playing around on YouTube. (Work is hard.) And there I stumbled upon this little gem from artist-activist Jonathan McIntosh:

It made me so happy, for a couple of reasons:

As a longtime Buffy fan (not to mention feminist), I can’t get on board with the Twilight phenomenon. Last year a student of mine wrote a rhetorical analysis of the first novel. She choose the text because although she really enjoyed the books, she felt kind of uncomfortable about the idealized relationship between Edward and Bella. And rightfully so: Her astute analysis finally led her to the conclusion that Edward fits the Harvard psychological profile of an abusiver stalker, and that Meyer’s version of love and abstinence disempowers her predominantly young, female fan base. (For more, see Christine Seifert’s “Bite Me (or Don’t)” or Anita Sarkeesian’s “The Real Reason Guys Should Hate Twilight,” among innumerable others.) This remix does a great job, I think, of humorously highlighting just those problems–and the comparative awesomeness of Buffy.

From another angle, I can’t wait to use more of McIntosh’s work in the classroom. The digital media course, which I’m centering around narrative genre(s), has me thinking a lot about fair use, remix, and how everyday composers can engage in public conversations about the texts that affect them and their culture. And this sleek, smart, and legal film works to demonstrate how effective and fun such rhetorical narratives can be.

For more from McIntosh about this remix, see his guest blog post on WIMN’s Voices. And definitely check out his other works at Rebellious Pixels.

Visual calm

I’m guessing all of your eyes and minds are as exhausted as mine after a day of work, which, for many of us, contains a fair amount of web wanderings. (I’m prepping a course in digital media composition, so I get/have to spend a lot of time looking for and at teachable texts and sites. Any recommendations are always welcome!) It’s not just the wretched pop-ups or those expanding ads, but all the colors, links, sidebars, and navigation tools that distract the reader from the actual text under examination. My burning eyes and burnt brain have seemed like an inevitable side-effect, a necessary evil. Until now!

David Pogue’s “Pogie Awards for the Year’s Best Tech Ideas” in today’s New York Times introduced me to a groovy new (and, like all the best tools, free!) button for your web browser that promises, as Pogue says, to be a “real life-changer.” Readability clears all of the pesky distractions away from the central text under consideration, leaving only a simple, clean, and customizable view. Check out the difference between Pogue’s original article and the Readability version:

Pogue's original NYT article view

Pogue's article viewed through Readability

How cool is that?!?! My new year’s gift to you: some breathing room for your eyes.

Transparency in photography

There’s a fascinating piece in the NY Times today — “Point, Shoot, Retouch and Label?” by Steven Erlanger –about French politician Valerie Boyer’s draft of a law requiring advertisements to carry a label if they contain images that have been digitally retouched. This is not a new discussion; publishing associations in the UK and elsewhere have talked about voluntary reform. Check out the consistently smart coverage in Jezebel. But it may be the first to push a law.

The article focuses on the issue of women’s body images and the dangers of falsified ideals, documenting various approaches to this debate, from hopes that “such a label might sensitize people to the fakery involved in most of the advertising images with which they’re bludgeoned” to the threat that “such a law would destroy photographic art.”

In this vein, a fashion photographer is quoted pointing out that all photography is a representation of reality through a lens that excludes as well as captures. Very smart and valid… but is this the generally accepted view that fashion magazine readers share? Based on a sample of my self, friends, students, sister, cousins…. No. However naively, most women still “buy” these false images.

An editor at Marie Claire declares the labels unnecessary because “Our readers are not idiots … Of course they’re all retouched.” You’ve got to almost admire her bravado, and the move to convince her readers with a magazine that so clearly respects their intelligence… I guess I’m an idiot, then, since despite my rhetorical training, I’d still love to be informed.

Check out Marie Claire’s edited editors:

Photoshop Disasters: Marie Claire

Photoshop Disasters: Marie Claire

At least, in the meantime, we have such wonderful sources as Jezebel and Photoshop Disasters and Photoshop of Horrors, and of course fun on YouTube:

“You are not a good person!”

I’m always a big fan of preachers’ performances in the middle of campus. Today as I was crankily grumbling my way to work, I heard this gem, amidst a stream of other general and specific attacks on the surrounding students. The “you” who is apparently not a good person was seemingly the entire population of the Oval… and also, one can only assume, the target audience at which this man was preaching god’s love. Had he not been yelling imprecations at a young man who valiantly suggested, “Judge not lest you be judged,” I might finally have had to ask: What are you trying to accomplish here? I’m genuinely curious.

But instead, I kept walking while he continued: “There are no good people!” It was awesome. Really brightened my day.

"You make me sick" by Erik R. Bishoff, Flickr

"You make me sick" by Erik R. Bishoff, Flickr


I just heard about this project, iParticipate, in which The Entertainment Industry Foundation (some kind of celebrity charity group with all kinds of causes) is promoting volunteering and public service via sitcoms:

This multi-year campaign, called “iParticipate,” hopes to make service a part of who we are as Americans and show what we can achieve when we all pull together.As a centerpiece for this initiative, EIF has enlisted major broadcast networks including, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, for an unprecedented, week-long television event beginning Monday, October 19. Tune in to seven days and nights of television and watch how your favorite TV shows and personalities shine a light on the power of community service.

I’d love to see this, and am pretty pissed that I never got that digital converter thing before I canceled the cable this summer. I’d just love to see how they pitch it — and how/whether audiences are going to be invited not just to passively sit and watch other characters volunteer (between commercials), but get off the couch and do so themselves. At least the video pitch seems to be keeping the stakes low: “anything, something, whatever… can change the world.” It’s silly, but I have to admire the effort and wonder at the faith in audience responsivity to such ploys. (Not to be cynical; I’m sure they’re very well-meaning… and the networks are getting some nice promotion along with the ego/ethos-boost.)

These promos and public service announcements seem to fit nicely in conversation with Jessie Blackburn’s smart new piece in Issue 3: “The Irony of YouTube: Politicking Cool”… and remind me why I keep pushing my students to look at how authors construct their audiences, the assumptions made about the appeals that will be most effective to certain demographics. (I have a feeling someones should be offended…) I guess for the sake of volunteer organizations around the country, we can only hope they’re right…. but I’m ambivalent at best.

Has anyone seen these episodes? Rhetorical hi-jinks to report?

What is the vernacular avant garde?

There was a great piece in the NY Times this weekend, “Uploading the Avant Garde,” in which Virginia Heffernan considers the presence, among YouTube’s many microgenres, of what she calls “the vernacular avant-garde.” I’ve never heard this phrase before, and I dig it. What does it mean to put those words in tandem? According to the OED (of course):

Vernacular (adj)

1. That writes, uses, or speaks the native or indigenous language of a country or district.

2. a. Of a language or dialect: That is naturally spoken by the people of a particular country or district; native, indigenous.

6. Of arts, or features of these: Native or peculiar to a particular country or locality. spec. in vernacular architecture, architecture concerned with ordinary domestic and functional buildings rather than the essentially monumental.

Avant garde

1. The foremost part of an army; the vanguard or van.

2. The pioneers or innovators in any art in a particular period. Also attrib. or as adj. Hence avant-{sm}gardism, the characteristic quality of such pioneering; avant-{sm}gardist(e) (-{shti}st), such a person; also attrib.

And so this seems clear enough: we have the home-grown innovator, the local pioneer. But in our current use of vernacular, we usually mean folksy, populist, “normal” ways of communicating, whereas avant garde is all about pushing those norms to provoke and even alienate mainstream popular audiences… So, yeah, I’m still not sure I get how those work together. How can we define such a concept? ( I heart semantics.) Like porn, do we just know it when we see it? Anyone?

So of course I googled the phrase and found few results beyond a couple of uses in reference to avant garde jazz and vernacular architecture… Except, that is, for a couple of  blogs and a SNS who’d posted the same link and video:

Networked Performance

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, and especially in new media artistic practice, we have witnessed a shift from the representational idiom — where art is viewed mainly as a means to represent the world — to the performative idiom — where the practice of art is considered an active negotiation with the world it seeks to address.*

Networked Performance is real-time, embodied practice within digital environments and networks; it is, embodied transmission.

Performance involves the moment of action, its continuity, inherent temporality and relationship to the present.


DocumentaryTech is a collaborative effort to talk about what makes for the best in the art of the documentary. As a joint project by The Rhode Island Film Festival and several sponsoring universities, we’ll talk about technique, technology, distribution and funding.

Using the most advanced social software platforms and internet rich multimedia applications, provides movement and new media artists, theorist, thinkers and technologists the possibility of sharing work, ideas and research, generating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborative projects.

I don’t have much profound to say about all this. I think the phrase is fascinating and worthy of play. And I think it’s cool that there are such fascinated/ing people out there instigating such play.

Yay interwebs.

Hair today..

I’m becoming kind of fixatated on hair. It started with my students, and mostly the guys. There’s a trend towards funk. I don’t mean P. Funk style, though one can certainly see there some roots (puns are cool, you know it) in George Clinton’s glorious mane. George Clinton by IndyDina and Mr. Wonderful. jpg

Okay, I’m not saying that this look is hot right now — but certain variations on the theme are. This makes me feel old to say, but college students do keep one somewhat attuned to the hip/ster look of the moment. And these days, I see a lot more variety in guys’ hair — one student has a Two-Face thing going on, another has a wild layered shag that requires constant handling; the faux hawk is still around, and frosted tips are coming back. And these aren’t even emo kids I’m talking about.hairstyle

That’s what I find most interesting–the diversity of it all, and the way that no style seems clearly identifiable with any particular ideology. I dig it, in the same way I like watching this generation of college men, or at least some, being far more, well, liberated in their performance of gender.

Today’s NYT contains an article by David Colman about this very issue, noting both the historical use of hair as identification and the present play with those very notions:

Once upon a time — say, 40 years ago this week, when long-hairs thronged to Woodstock by the hundreds of thousands — you got a hairstyle to show the world your affiliation, to brandish a cultural identity defined by your musical tastes, your political views or how depressed you were. But such literal interpretations of hair appear to be utterly passé, even if the hairstyles themselves are not.

And check out this slideshow.

This really brings up the central rhetorical question of intention and reception — which one “counts” in terms of a text’s “meaning”? If I were to interpret my students’ ‘dos as representative of beliefs or values, I might be way off base. But then again, it’s quite likely I wouldn’t  be the only audience with such an interpretation, and that such readings would influence, well, “reality.” So what would the hair mean? As Colman concludes, “To turn an old ad slogan on its head: Not even his hairdresser knows for sure.”

Writing and weeding

I’m working on an academic article about Harlot, and the irony does not make it a smoother process… so I was out in the backyard weeding.

I enjoy the excuse to sit around outside, but I always have qualms about weeding–in part, because I’m never quite sure I’m pulling the right ones. But even more so, because I get uncomfortable about messing with nature. (Or rather, “nature,” since this is my urban and bricked backyard, after all.) I have these funny guilty feelings about killing something that’s growing, like its an environmental sin (cue Catholic upbringing) to in any way interfere with the natural course of, well, nature. I know that this isn’t logical, that there are immense and innumerable complicating factors… but still.

Side note: My students were so put off by Gore’s rhetorical choices in An Inconvenient Truth that they seem to have found the movie less than persuasive. It sure as hell worked on me. I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist. But now, all the time, I think about these things, the tiny details of our relationship with the earth. Negotiations and love songs.

Anyway, back in the garden, I’ve found that I can pretty comfortably pull the weeds that grow up in between the bricks of the patio, or where they might adversely affect our vegetable plants. I don’t want to analyze this, but I also tend to be more lenient with the ones I like, like clover. So delicate and pretty, no harm there. Today I didn’t yank a big ugly dandelion because there was a ladybug on it. Not logical, but a system is developing.

I weed the human areas and try to let the plant areas mostly alone. Which brings me to the borders, the lines that can be drawn and redrawn, the liminal spaces, the messy areas. I thought maybe I’d take a hard line and just declare a point past which the weeds are not welcome. But that line is hard to draw–and more importantly, I thought, they place the weeds within the surrounding areas in an interesting and precarious position. They’re in contested space (in my head, at least) between human and natural environments–and again, I wonder, who am I to decide? Plus, I’ve read Anzaldua and believe in the dynamic, disruptive potential of the borderlands. Again, not necessarily the most logical thought process… But for now, I’m going to let those spaces be, just to see what happens there.

Which brings me back to that paper about Harlot, into which I now think I should work some of these ideas about the messiness and growth potential of such border spaces. That’s some good gardening.