Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘myth

Nothing Changes on New Year’s Day Links

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* Call for Papers: Fantasy and Myth in the Anthropocene.

* People that found their doppelgängers in art museums.

We are often told that we need to articulate the case for the humanities in order to survive the current budgetary and political landscape. Many of us stutter and stumble when confronted with such requests, mumbling some barely audible phrases involving “skills,” “relevance,” “a changing economy,” “engagement,” and “values.” The reason it does not come out as something coherent or articulate, much less compelling, is that the ideas behind the words are just as hollow, and we know it. Somewhere inside we all know that there is no case for the humanities.

* George Ciccariello-Maher Resigns: “We are all a single outrage campaign away from having no rights at all.” Iowa senator proposes bill decried as ‘political litmus test’ for universities. A note to tenured faculty.

Meet the black architect who designed Duke University 37 years before he could have attended it.

* J.R.R. Tolkien, Beyond Good and Evil.

* “The midichlorians are an example of my overarching argument about The Prequels: that they contain a very nuanced story told very, very incompetently.”

* What was Leia supposed to do in Episode 9?

* Teach the controversy: the legend of Mark Hamill’s face.

* Another profile of the worst job on the Internet.

* NANO issue 12, a special issue on The Force Awakens.

* Ada 12, radical speculation and Ursula K. Le Guin.

* What if Parents Loved Strangers’ Children As Much As Their Own?

* Anomie. Quantum Mechanics. Love. Stotting. Zeno. Choice paralysis. Frosty. Melville. Poetry. Keep scrolling!

Unearthing the Capitalocene: Towards a Reparations Ecology.

* There is just no bottom.

* Killed by swatting.

* Why Is a Small Montana Town a Hotbed of Far-Right Activity? Emboldened white nationalists? Look no further than this liberal Oregon college town.

Price of 40-year-old cancer drug hiked 1,400% by new owners.

US nuclear tests killed far more civilians than we knew.

New research suggests that the hidden cost of developing nuclear weapons were far larger than previous estimates, with radioactive fallout responsible for 340,000 to 690,000 American deaths from 1951 to 1973.

* The robots are coming.

Obamacare and the survival test.

How to crush Trump.

How the baby boomers — not millennials — screwed America. Extreme poverty in America. World’s richest 500 see their wealth increase by $1tn this year. The U.S. without pensions. No ‘Easy Answer’ To Growing Number Of Stray Dogs In The U.S., Advocate Says. Long after Trump is gone, we’ll still be fighting him. As Wildfires Raged, Insurers Sent in Private Firefighters to Protect Homes of the Wealthy. Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years With Nearly Nothing Going Wrong. Death in an Amazon dumpster. The homeless and the coming cashless economy.

* Addiction, Inc.

Why Has Science Only Cured One Person of HIV?

* Same: Young American Men Are Choosing Video Games Over Work in Staggering Numbers. WHO to recognize gaming disorder as mental health condition in 2018.

* I’m starting to take this stuff personally: Poor social skills may be harmful to health.

* I mean really. Why Are Smart People Usually Ugly?

* Academics ‘face higher mental health risk’ than other professions.

* Atheism is caused by poor breath control.

The Rise and Fall of the Racist Right.

* Every Black Mirror. Against SNL. Against Star Wars. Disney Apparently Expects ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ To Bomb. How Star Wars Was Saved in the Edit.

When Michael Jackson Almost Bought Marvel.

Climate Change Is Happening Faster Than Expected, and It’s More Extreme. How We Know It Was Climate Change. And just because there can never be a single moment’s peace from toxic masculinity: Men Resist Green Behavior as Unmanly.

Can humanity make peace with its death?

* Seinfeld: The Point and Click Adventure.

The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth.

* A world without prisons.

Private Prison Companies Are About to Cash In on Trump’s Deportation Regime.

* Marquette in the ne — oh no, this again?

Weekend Links!

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* If I weren’t going to DC on June 4th, I’d be going to this in Madison: Undercommoning the University: A Workshop.

How writers of endangered languages are embracing sci-fi.

* Yeah Ireland.

With the recession over, are states investing in higher ed? Oh, honey.

2015-05-22 10.39.34 pm

This Is What Happens When You Slash Funding for Public Universities.

* A local-interest explainer: Assata Shakur was convicted of murder. Is she a terrorist?

* New York University’s labor record epitomizes everything wrong with the neoliberal university.

* Report Blasts ‘Fantasy World’ of Presidential Benefits.

* Enter Rand Paul (again).

FBI admits no major cases cracked with Patriot Act snooping powers.

* TIE Fighter and American Exceptionalism.

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.

While 45 percent of the roughly 1,000 respondents said they feel “somewhat prepared” to begin a career after college, slightly more than half said they did not learn how to write a résumé. And 56 percent did learn how to conduct themselves in a job interview.

* Theses on Postpartum.

* The Myth of the Garbage Patch.

Up to 90 per cent of the world’s electronic waste, worth nearly US $19 billion, is illegally traded or dumped each year, according to a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

7 in 10 schools now have shooting drills, needlessly traumatizing huge numbers of children.

North Carolina receives NCAA notice of allegations in academic fraud case.

New Study on Suicide Among College Athletes.

* Medieval culture and rape.

* BREAKING: Being competent is bad for you.

* io9 says the Supergirl pilot isn’t as bad as you’re expecting.

This 85-Year-Old Nun Just Spent Two Years In Prison For Protesting Nuclear Weapons.

Does Mike Huckabee Know Where the Ark of the Covenant Is Buried?

* A Handful Of Bronze-Age Men Could Have Fathered Two-Thirds Of Europeans.

Home, the latest animated kid flick, is actually about colonialism. No, really.

Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade?

* Modernism is back, baby! A Plea for Culinary Modernism.

* Friends from grad school still tease me about the day I basically went off on this rant in a seminar day discussing Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals.

* #abolishmen: Men get into fatal car crashes twice as often as women.

* And another round of gender-swapped Disney characters.

ariel

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.

‘Spaghetti Westerns Questioned the Underpinnings of Civilization’

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Django Unchained is not so much the evil twin of the saintly Lincoln as its nasty, more clever kid brother, fighting for recognition against the favorite, acting out. If I prefer it to Lincoln it’s because I prefer the Tarantinian project, flaws and all, to Steven Spielberg’s entire career. Lincoln may be the culmination of the Spielberg-Lucas reimagining of the American cinema as family entertainment, a transcendent work beyond the blockbuster form that reimagines the official national myth of an official national father for current and future generations.

Tarantino is more interested in a pre-consolidated cinema that pre-dates Spielberg, in which national myths were put to use in tawdry, violent, and grandiloquent ways, and myth was open to interpretation by genre filmmakers outside the US. So however Tarantino has failed the actual history of slavery in the United States, the way he has opened it up for discussion strikes me as far more remarkable than the storybook of Spielberg’s Lincoln, which closes with a thump and sends us off to bed.

n+1 previews the Oscars. Via Twitter, Jesse Williams has, at length, a somewhat different take on the film.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 23, 2013 at 9:00 am

A Whole Lot of Sunday Night Links

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20130217* SNL wins a game: Djesus Uncrossed.

* Batman should never have revealed his secret identity.

* Dan Harmon explains his Joseph-Campbell-influenced theory of the “story circle,” in a few posts: 1 2 3 4 5 6

For the first time in its 120 year history the board of the Sierra Club has authorized the use of civil disobedience, to protest the proposed construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The politics of the Papal Conclave are fascinating.

Pope Benedict XVI’s leaked documents show fractured Vatican full of rivalries. Pope blesses thousands at Vatican as details of ailments emerge.

* Speechless:

As early as this April, Yale plans to welcome a training center for interrogators to its campus.

The center’s primary goal would be to coach U.S. Special Forces on interviewing tactics designed to detect lies. Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry who will head the project, calls these tactics “people skills.” These techniques would be honed using New Haven’s immigrant community as subjects.

* Cooper Union will probably not be free anymore.

Roopika Risam on breaking the silence of the job search.

* Freddie deBoer: I’ve been making the case (again and again and again) that the constantly-expressed notion that we’ll have full employment if people are just smart and go into STEM fields is empirically indefensible. Adam Kotsko: What is education actually for?

* Margaret Atwood teases Maddaddam:

“Maddaddam begins where The Year of the Flood finishes and goes on from there,” she says. “It explores what happens when the conventional humans and the new creations find themselves in the same space. You can see that there might be some cultural misunderstandings.”

* Comics explained: the backstory of Rachel Summers. It couldn’t be simpler!

* Aaron Bady on Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s In the House of the Interpreter.

* The New York Times profiles flood management technology in the Netherlands.

Could our universe be located within the interior of a wormhole which itself is part of a black hole that lies within a much larger universe? And that universe is on the back of an even larger turtle…

Forest Whitaker Accused of Shoplifting, Frisked at Upper West Side Deli.

* Obama says kill the penny. He would say that. He hates capitalism.

* Senator Warren, not bad.

Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth.

* Kidding on the square: another National Review blogger calls for the repeal of the 19th Amendment.

* Gasp! Deregulation May Not Have Lowered Air Fares After All.

* The phenomenology of solitary confinement.

* Surveying self-confessed rapists.

How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity.

* Data-crunching the Internet Adult Film Database.

* Data-crunching the Lord of the Rings.

* The Internet has finally developed impermanence technology.

* And Iceland might ban Internet porn.

Halla Gunnarsdóttir, an adviser to the interior minister, explains the country’s anti-smut rationale to The Guardian:

“We are a progressive, liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech…”

This is Iceland, after all. Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir is the first openly lesbian government head in the world. It’s already illegal to print and distribute porn within the country, and since 2010, strip clubs have been prohibited as well…

Slave Rebellions and History

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I was talking with Traxus the other day about how slave rebellions mark an interesting difference between knowledge and belief. Everybody who is historically informed knows slave revolts happened, and moreover is perfectly eager to say so—but all the same nobody believes in them. They exist in history only to be bracketed: “Of course, there were slave rebellions, but…”

Two reviews of Django Unchained take this up. First, the New Yorker:

It is precisely because of the extant mythology of black subservience that these scenes pack such a cathartic payload. The film’s defenders are quick to point out that “Django” is not about history. But that’s almost like arguing that fiction is not reality—it isn’t, but the entire appeal of the former is its capacity to shed light on how we understand the latter. In my sixteen years of teaching African-American history, one sadly common theme has been the number of black students who shy away from courses dealing with slavery out of shame that slaves never fought back.

It seems almost pedantic to point out that slavery was nothing like this. The slaveholding class existed in a state of constant paranoia about slave rebellions, escapes, and a litany of more subtle attempts to undermine the institution. Nearly two hundred thousand black men, most of them former slaves, enlisted in the Union Army in order to accomplish en masse precisely what Django attempts to do alone: risk death in order to free those whom they loved. Tarantino’s attempt to craft a hero who stands apart from the other men—black and white—of his time is not a riff on history, it’s a riff on the mythology we’ve mistaken for history.

Second, Jacobin:

It’s a shame, because the history of North Atlantic slave revolts offers up a lot of interesting material. Try this: “For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen.” That’s Boisrond-Tonerre, Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ aide. Tarantino certainly couldn’t write that.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 3, 2013 at 9:11 am

AL:SF

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In case you missed it Friday afternoon: the special issue of American Literature I co-edited on “Speculative Fictions” is now up at dukejournals.org.

Written by gerrycanavan

June 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm