Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘childhood

Sunday Morning Links!

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* One might, it’s true, wonder how cultural capital has survived the last half century’s apotheosis of pop, the rollback of the old patrician-bourgeois culture of the West, postmodernism’s putative muddling of low and high. But the sociologists have gone and checked, and the answers are not hard to find: Fancy people are now more likely to consume culture indiscriminately, that is, to congratulate themselves on the expansiveness of their tastes; indistinction has become distinction. They are more likely to prefer foreign culture to their own, at least in some who-wants-takeout? kind of way. And they are more likely to enjoy culture analytically and ironically, belligerently positing a naïve consumer whose imagined immersion in the object will set off everything in their own approach that is suavely arms-length and slaunchwise. Such, point for point, is the ethos of the new-model English department: of cultural studies, new media, the expanded canon, of theory-courses-without-objects. To bring new types of artifacts into literature departments is not to destroy cultural capital. It is merely to allow new things to start functioning as wealth. Even here, the claim to novelty can be overstated, since it is enough to read Bourdieu to know that the claim to interpret and demystify has always been an especially heady form of symbolic power. The ingenious reading confers distinction, as do sundry bids to fix the meanings of the social. Critical theory is cultural capital. Citing Judith Butler is one of the ways in which professional people outside the academy understand and justify their own elevation. Bickering recreationally about the politics of zombie movies is just what lawyers and engineers now do.

* The Kindle edition of The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson is (still) on sale for $1.99. Here’s the LARoB review!

* Meanwhile, LARoB also reviews Paradoxa 26, which has my essay on Snowpiercer in it.

* Extrapolation 56.1 is now available.

Sherryl Vint, “Skin Deep: Alienation in Under the Skin
Isiah Lavender, “Reframing Heart of Darkness as Science Fiction”
Sharon DeGraw, “Tobias S. Buckell’s Galactic Caribbean Future”
Karen May and David Upton, “‘Ser Piggy': Identifying an Intertextual Relationship between William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones
Lee Braver, “Coin-Operated Doors and God: A Gnostic Reading of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik”

Nepal After the Earthquake.

* Baltimore after Freddie Gray.

* The good inequality. Policy debate in the age of neoliberalism.

* Gene Wolfe, sci-fi’s difficult genius.

* The slow apocalypse and fiction.

* Can you fix the NBA draft?

In the meantime, we will all have to cope with the fact that education technology has just become weaponized. Arizona State is now the first predator university. They are willing to re-define what education is so that they can get more students from anywhere. If they don’t kill other universities by taking all their students with a cheap freshmen year, they’ll just steal their fish food by underselling 25% of the education that those schools provide and leaving them a quarter malnourished. The result is that schools which stick to reasonable standards with respect to the frequency and possibility of teacher/student interaction now have to fear for their very existence.

Contingency and Gender.

The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education.’

The obvious corollary is that, in order to stem the tide of tuition increases, we should seek to stabilize or increase state funding and curb the power of administrators.

Why They Hate Cornel West.

* I’m seeing it mostly mocked and dismissed, but I think the Columbia case (K.C. Johnson summary at Minding the Campus) will be important flashpoint in Title IX law. My sense is that the wind on this is really changing strongly against the feminist left; we’re going to see many of the received truths of campus anti-rape policies coming under serious challenge. It’s going to be difficult, and it’s going to require some unpleasant reconsideration of the way we talk about this issue.

New Simulation Shows How The Pacific Islands May Have Been Colonized.

Incredibly, the percentage of parents throughout the state who engaged in the civil disobedience of refusing the test for their kids is higher than the 15 percent of eligible voters who cast a ballot for Andrew Cuomo in the low-turnout election last year.

* All of the juniors at Nathan Hale High School refused to show up for state testing this week.

* Against the creative economy.

* What if Man of Steel was in color?

* Gasp! The Apple Watch May Have a Human Rights Problem.

Microsoft Word Spells the Names of Game of Thrones Characters Better Than You Can.

Nine Months After He Filmed Eric Garner’s Killing, the Cops Are Trying to Put Ramsey Orta Behind Bars.

“We must disband the police: Body cameras aren’t enough — only radical change will stop cops who kill.”

* Meanwhile.

* Yes please: Telltale is making some kind of Marvel game.

The Feds Say One Schmuck Trading From His Parents’ House Caused a Market Crash. Here’s the Problem.

* See, Dad? I knew you could survive on girl scout cookies.

* There’s always money in the banana stand: The Fed’s Cold War Bunker Had $4 Billion Cash For After The Apocalypse.

* Won’t you give? What you can? Today? Poetry is going extinct, government data show.

* I believe any crazy story with China in the headline. That’s my policy.

* Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything.

It’s Time To Stop Treating Childhood as a Disease.

* And you thought The Dark Knight Strikes Back was bad.

Tuesday Links!

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* In case you missed it, I put up a short thing about The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt yesterday. It was an odd and sad day to have done so, in retrospect.

* And here’s everything we know about season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

* Some (more) thoughts on the Hugos. And some more.

* Science Fiction Film and Television 8.1 is now available. And don’t forget our call for papers on Star Trek at 50!

* If you want a vision of the future: University of Florida admits 3,000 students — then tells them it is only for online program.

Visiting Africa: A Short Guide for Researchers.

* Rolling Stone has retracted their UVA story, as well as a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism detailing what went wrong. Reaction online has generally been that the Columbia report doesn’t go nearly far enough, and that RS is in total denial about the seriousness of what they did — though there’s speculation that RS‘s non-response is at least partially driven by the fact that the fraternity plans to sue.

* What happens when you build a town around a prison?

* What percentage of national Democrats have been placed there as sleeper agents specifically to disrupt literally any attempt at improvement, do you think? 90, 95%?

* The American West dries up. In a development that will surprise no one, California’s wealthy aren’t doing their part to save water. Water-rationing plan leaves corporate interests untouched. Nestlé called out for bottling, selling California water during drought. And the state has been fracking into their aquifers this whole time. We know what our problems are and we do nothing or make them worse.

Report: Majority Of Earth’s Potable Water Trapped In Coca-Cola Products.

Melting Ice Caps Expose Hundreds Of Secret Arctic Lairs.

* Man-made earthquakes in Oklahoma. Bonus points for a truly good headline pun: “Weather Underground.”

First Gorgeous Look At Mark Z. Danielewski’s New Series, The Familiar!

* Finally, someone is responding to voter ID panic in the proper way.

* Can Marxist theory predict the end of Game of Thrones?

A former Harvard associate professor is pursuing a federal Title IX lawsuit against the university, alleging she was discriminated against while trying to secure tenure there in 2013.

NYC officials remove Edward Snowden statue secretly installed in Brooklyn park.

“Recognizing that Native American art was made by individuals, not tribes, and labeling it accordingly, is a practice that is long overdue,” said Dan L. Monroe, executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., which has a large Indian collection and has made some attempts to identify individual artists since the mid-1990s.

In short, ruin porn hides more than it shows. It creates the hyper-visibility of some elements of crisis, usually infrastructural damage and death, while simultaneously making others invisible, namely the social and political forces that engender uneven patterns–and origins–of damage and recovery.

* Helen Keller, socialist.

I was arrested 75 times: how violent policing destroys mental health.

* Strange fashion choices of the 24th century.

* Inside Brown’s plan to make its faculty more diverse. I don’t see how “postdoctoral fellowships” is even part of this conversation. Postdocs aren’t faculty.

* Paul “Freaks & Geeks” Feig has a new show, outer space comedy Other Space.

* Lucille Ball statue terrorizes small town.

* And I’ll see you again in twenty-five years: The Twin Peaks revival is apparently going to happen without David Lynch.

Notes Towards a Miss Reading of Kimmy Schmidt

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Seeing this review of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt at the Los Angeles Review of Books has inspired me to finally write up some somewhat idiosyncratic thoughts I’ve had about the series that I haven’t seen reflected anywhere else. (And thanks to the people who have indulged me about this on Twitter, especially @millicentsomer and @evankindley.) I definitely agree with the reviewer that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a “woman out of time” story, but I really think the interpretive emphasis on “Unfrozen Middle Schooler from the 1990s” should be on “middle schooler” rather than “from the 1990s.” My take is that the 1990s nostalgia is largely driven by the Millennial audience the show is pitching itself at — it’s an engine for jokes but not really the center of the project. “Unfrozen Middle Schooler,” in contrast, is the actual heart of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, at least the way I want to read it as a feminist work.

One of the things I talked about with Lili and Evan on Twitter was whether Kimmy’s abduction is taken seriously as an event or if the bunker is taken seriously as an actual lived environment. Having completed the series now, I still don’t think so: I think “the bunker” essentially functions in the series like being in a coma, or being shot with a Grow-Up Beam, or making a wish to be Big. It’s a magic spell to get Kimmy from middle school to adulthood without having to go through high school and college, which is the source of her power in the series, from her refusal of the usual rules of society to her love of backpacks and bright, mismatched clothing. You can see this utopian imaginary working really clearly in the incredibly infectious theme song, where the removal of the girls from the bunker and a closeup on Kimmy’s ecstatic childlike grin over the lyrics “Unbreakable! They alive, damnit! It’s a miracle!” quickly gives way to a montage of nostalgic, home-video-style images of childhood (and specifically girlhood), which express the same unvarnished joy but also absolute self-confidence (thumb’s up), total mastery of their environment (the dancing, the hula hooping, the monkey bars), and maximum resilience in the face of adversity (the baby plopping down face first).

We return to the in-universe “autotune the news” frame only once during this thirty-second sequence, to be told that “females are strong as hell” — the clear implication to me being that we ought to draw an interpretive connection between the claim of female power and childhood, specifically, girlhood: before sex, before even puberty, before the male gaze, before pervert teachers and abusive boyfriends and quasi-consensual sexual encounters and ubiquitous street harassment and the too-familiar host of other abuses inflicted upon women from the moment they enter young adulthood. What the magic spell of the bunker allows Kimmy to do is pass over the moment in which girls are forcibly conscripted into becoming “women” (somewhat or entirely against their will) and emerge instead as an adult who has not internalized our society’s misogyny or its mean, psychosexual aggressivity. So much of what is delightful about Kimmy is precisely the fact that she has retained the aspirations, expectations, confidence, and general affect of a precocious middle-schooler without having had to temper or diminish herself through unhappy experiences with patriarchy. If the show has a moral or utopian message for women, it’s Let’s all go back to thinking about ourselves the way we did before society told us we were worthless, and it’s a pretty damn good one.

We’ve been working with children’s stories a lot in my “magic as literature” course this semester, and one of the oppositions we’ve really been focusing on (especially as we’ve studied Disney, and Frozen, recently) is the opposition between what mythographers call “the girl’s tragedy” and what we’ve been calling instead the utopia of childhood or (here more directly) the utopia of girlhood. The girl’s tragedy is the female answer to “the hero’s journey,” but the narrative doesn’t work the same way: instead of the boy hero who sets out from home, masters the outside world, slays the dragon, and then returns home to become king, the girl’s tragedy is a story about being ripped from safety and forced to accommodate oneself to the whims of adult men, particularly their sexual urges. The happy ending for the girl’s tragedy — the happiest one available — is that she accepts her role as wife and mother and gives birth to a male son who will then inaugurate the next cycle of heroism; girls and women who refuse to play the proper role are typically cast out of the realm of the human altogether, turned into animals or plants or stars or foam. The utopia of childhood describes those comparatively rare stories that are exceptions, where the girls are neither forced to become mothers nor punished, but allowed to remain what they were without transformation by instead bending the adult world to their will (as in Brave, or Moonrise Kingdom, or arguably Frozen, though in most of these the girl-heroes seem only to buying themselves time rather than enacting a full and permanent transformation of their circumstances).

Of course the utopia of childhood can itself be deeply retrograde, and is frequently misogynistic in its way — we spent a lot of time on “The Problem of Susan” in the Narnia books precisely so we didn’t fall too in love with the impossible fantasy of never growing up (when in the end we all have to). Nor can we safely imagine childhood in such uncomplicatedly rosy terms, both because childhood can also be a time of fierce frustration, competition, and intense pain even when it is not actively shattered through the cruelty and abuse of adults. But all the same there is something undeniably appealing about the idea of returning to a childhood that is both happy and which never gives way to something else, a desire that structures so much of our culture (particularly the middle-class culture of “good parenting”) that it really almost goes without saying. And in the case of Kimmy Schmidt‘s feminist politics of course the idea is not that women find some fantastical way to literally de-age themselves so much as they look to their younger, effortlessly capable and supremely confident selves as inspiration in the present.

There’s one more thing to say about Kimmy Schmidt, which is again about the abduction and the bunker, which would seem to be a rather large problem for my reading of the series. Isn’t Kimmy’s entire situation itself a literalized girl’s tragedy, insofar as she is abducted as a child and put into radical seclusion, all the while being fed obscenely misogynistic lies by a woman-hating male adult? Well, yes! The question of Kimmy’s abduction, and the horrific sexual violence it inevitably implies if thought about too much, is a pretty thorny one for the series: fixated on too much, it threatens to derail any potential for comedy in the show at all. (UPDATE: Someone just sent me Emily Nussbaum’s review, which talks a lot about this issue.) The series cleverly solves the problem by opening the door just a crack — “yes, there was weird sex stuff in the bunker” — and then simply leaving it there. Something happened — perhaps, as Evan suggested in what has become my headcanon, it was all between the girls and not involving the preacher at all — but it hasn’t changed Kimmy, or defeated her. And she emerges from Hell neither pregnant with the monster’s baby, nor transformed into a weeping plant or into sea-foam, but just as unflappable and unbreakable as she was when she went in.

And in any event the treatment of the bunker doesn’t really work the way the ten-second summary of the setup would suggest. The presence of the preacher is actually a further occasion for Kimmy to refuse to internalize her sexist training, precisely because it is now located within a single, odious man against whom she can fight. The button at the end of the first episode demonstrates precisely this: Kimmy proves he is lying to them, he says he’s going to break her someday, and she replies no, he never will. It’s easy to see why, in contrast to the microaggressions and little indignities — alongside the very big ones — that make up girls’ training to be women in our society, which is constantly delivered by parents and siblings and friends and trusted authority figures and widely celebrated mass culture texts, Kimmy’s more direct training in misogyny at the hands of the Reverend never really takes. In the bunker she had an obvious enemy, someone she could tell she was feeding her poison, and so she could reject it. It’s actually outside the bunker where the true brainwashing takes place, which is all the more insidious because it seems like education, like help, like love.

Friday Links!

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* TNI CFPs we have believe in: “The Stars.”

How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future.

Childhood, Emergency.

The child was too young to have a criminal record. Young enough, at 12, that to claim he was “no angel” would have been extraordinarily obscene. Yet it did not take long before media agencies began looking into his parents’ past. Around dinner tables across the country, some black uncle or aunt or mother or father or grandparent or brother or sister is asking why the parents weren’t there, didn’t or couldn’t do more to protect him. People will solemnly nod, but they will know the truth. For too many black childhood is a gestation period, an interlude between a period of less-than-innocent babyhood and maturation into full social pathology. Black children, but not just black children, are denied childhood. Instead, they come to be the stuff of nightmares, youths who are simply younger versions of the terror they will embody. “A hallucination of your worst fears.”

Police officer Darren Wilson is not a monster; he is the mundane and day-to-day face of white supremacy as experienced by people of color in the United States.

Who Killed Robert McCulloch’s Father?

Why Americans Call Turkey ‘Turkey.’

* BREAKING: Algorithms Can Ruin Lives.

* Kitty Queer. On the queer subtext of Chris Claremont’s long run on X-Men.

Hooray! 83 episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are now available to download.

Can the NFL survive its concussion crisis?

* Great moments in not thinking of an elephant: “The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans.” This has got to be the worst imaginable framing to argue on behalf of kindness or generosity towards immigrants.

* A theory of politics predicated on “how to convince your right-wing uncle to act on climate change” isn’t one. Unless “Uncle Richard” is Cheney, and not even then.

* Excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s contract rider.

The Mysterious Antikythera Mechanism Is More Ancient Than We Thought.

* The long-awaited final book in Adam Kotsko’s psychology trilogy, Creepiness, is now available for preorder.

* And maybe we should just try to figure out who’s cloning all these Hitlers.

20141127

Sunday Morning Links

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* Call for applications: The 2015-16 postdoc seminar at Rice, “After Biopolitics.”

In the absence of sparrows: the front page story says you’ve been missing since / November 22, 2012. Everything else it doesn’t say. / In the absence of sparrows: you simply wandered off, past the Sunoco, pockets stuffed. / The door to your apartment is open still—

Together, these forums, initiatives, and spy teams constitute a sustained effort to suppress meaningful resistance to the university’s privatization program by placing strict boundaries on dissent. Policing Civility.

* Elsewhere in campus civility: The Pentagon Is Giving Grenade Launchers to Campus Police.

Hence I propose that, roughly speaking, one’s privilege level correlates with the likelihood that expressing anger will make people take your concerns more seriously rather than less — or at the very least, that it will prompt a reaction to you as an individual rather than triggering an immediate generalization about your demographic profile. This is one of the most intimate and insidious things about privilege dynamics: even the right to express perfectly natural and justified human emotions can’t be taken for granted.

* The Paris Review interviews Ray Bradbury.

If I’d lived in the late eighteen hundreds I might have written a story predicting that strange vehicles would soon move across the landscape of the United States and would kill two million people in a period of seventy years. Science fiction is not just the art of the possible, but of the obvious. Once the automobile appeared you could have predicted that it would destroy as many people as it did.

* …and translates Umberto Eco.

They affect us because we realize that if they are monsters it is because we, the adults, have made them so. In them we find everything: Freud, mass culture, digest culture, frustrated struggle for success, craving for affection, loneliness, passive acquiescence, and neurotic protest. But all these elements do not blossom directly, as we know them, from the mouths of a group of children: they are conceived and spoken after passing through the filter of innocence. Schulz’s children are not a sly instrument to handle our adult problems: they experience these problems according to a childish psychology, and for this very reason they seem to us touching and hopeless, as if we were suddenly aware that our ills have polluted everything, at the root.

* God, I wish these J.G. Ballard books for children were real.

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* Previously unknown final chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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Detroit’s Under-Funded Fire Departments Use a Soda Can For a Fire Alarm.

* Gape in amazement as The New Yorker‘s famous fact-checkers seriously drop the ball.

* Vox gets nostalgic for the 1994 AT&T “You Will” ad campaign.

As fast-food workers demonstrate nationwide for a $15 hourly wage, and congressional Republicans fight off a $10 federal minimum, little SeaTac has something to offer the debate. Its neighbor, Seattle, was the first big city to approve a $15 wage, this spring, but that doesn’t start phasing in until next year. SeaTac did it all at once. And, though there’s nothing definitive, this much is clear: The sky did not fall.

i.chzbgr* The way we live now.

* Profiles in courage: Obama to delay his big move on immigration until after election.

* Saving some time before the next invasion.

* Not really how it’s supposed to work: An atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was denied re-enlistment last month for refusing to take an oath containing “so help me God,” the American Humanist Association said Thursday.

* Peace activism vs. environmental activism.

* Geographers prove no one likes the Jets.

* “I’ve decided to ignore economic data and assume the challenges facing your generation are the same as those mine faced.”

* A marathon for Milwaukee?

* The gig economy won.

Apple Wants You To Pay For Things With An iPhone — But There’s One Nagging Problem, It’s an Obviously Terrible Idea That No One Would Ever Want.

* Female privilege is real: Sharks nine times more likely to kill men than women, study says.

* The eight white identities. I’m not 100% clear on the daylight between White Traitor and White Abolitionist, but otherwise it seems to taxonomize approaches to white supremacy I see on the Internet all the time.

* Could it be possible that police departments are lying when they say suspects handcuffed behind their backs are shooting themselves in the chest with hidden weapons that were somehow not found when they were searched? Truly, a bold provocation. Perhaps it will always be a mystery.

* Exhausted Noam Chomsky Just Going To Try And Enjoy The Day For Once.

* And: you fools: every day is Bill Murray Day.

20140906

A Few More Morning Links

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* J.G. Ballard’s reading list, from age 6 to age 25.

* Germans are stealing our precious words; their current favorite is shitschturm.

We should be wary of declaring “the end of the English major” when what has really happened is that, in terms of humanities enrollments, schools like Yale have gone from exceptional to merely above average.

* Dystopia now: “Sky has developed technology to transfer adverts from train windows directly and silently into commuters’ heads.”

* And what could go wrong? Ginsberg says she won’t retire before 2016.

Monday Night Links!

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* Northrop Frye by way of Adam Roberts: The basis of critical knowledge is the direct experience of literature, certainly, but experience as such is never adequate. We are always reading Paradise Lostwith a hangover or seeing King Lear with an incompetent Cordelia or disliking a novel because some scene in it connects with something suppressed in our memories, and our most deeply satisfying responses are often made in childhood, to be seen later as immature over-reacting… As a structure of knowledge, then, criticism, like other structures of knowledge, is in one sense a monument to a failure of experience, a tower of Babel or one of the “ruins of time” which, in Blake’s phrase, “build mansions in eternity.” Adam makes the same connection to SF I make:

I think this resonates so strongly with me partly because science fiction was something I fell in love with as a child-reader. I still love it; still write it and write about it. But I’m increasingly conscious of the ways in which the exercise is based upon a kind of structural hermeneutic inadequacy. ‘Our most deeply satisfying responses are often made in childhood, to be seen later as immature over-reacting’ is almost a too perfect thumbnail of the adult apprehension of SF; and SF criticism always a kind of running-to-catch-up uttering various post-facto justifications. What’s neat about this Frye quotation is the sense it conveys that, actually, all criticism is in the business of doing this.

“Industrial-era education” as rhetorical whipping boy.

* Lukewarm Obama scandals coming day-by-day now. Hello, second term!

“Of the 41 percent of Republicans who consider Benghazi to be the worst political scandal in American history…

* Lili Loofbourow covers the struggle against privatization of higher ed in Chile for Boston Review.

* NPR profiles Duke’s Own Fred Moten.

So This Is How It Begins: Guy Refuses to Stop Drone-Spying on Seattle Woman.

* Peter Frase has more on Universal Basic Income as utopia.

* Why all babies say “mama.”

* Kurt Vonnegut’s final exam prank.

And let this be our culture’s epitaph. We could do worse.

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