Thursday, August 22, 2013

More signs that I've lost touch with the rhetoric of academia

Again, I'm not gonna name names and I'm not trying to point out specific journals or researchers. (Though I suppose you could Google it, if you really wanted to.) The problem of academia's hilariously inaccessible and nigh-unreadable rhetoric is endemic to the field, so I wouldn't want to make it seem like this is somehow exceptional. It's not. It just is.

So, that said, here's a call for papers on the topic of "ruins". See if you can tell what the hell they're actually talking about:

"Ruins are everywhere, yet can we be certain of exactly what they might be? Do they constitute figure or ground? How is the ruin given its figuration and from where does it garner a sense, if any, of grounding? Can we regard them as ever-changing archives? Are figure, ground, style, substance, taste, and form even significant markers when attempting to tie the study of the ruin (and ruination) to aesthetic practice?"
Now, I should add that this is for a journal on "theory and praxis". Which means, basically, that there's no particular thing that's required to ground the discussion, and you can just talk about the idea of ruins. If it sounds hilariously abstract and philosophical, that's because they're mostly looking for abstracted philosophies of ruin and ruination.

No need, then, to talk about specific ruins and the specific role that they play in, say, a particular form of national building (for example, the WTC and American exceptionalism). Or maybe how a ruin validates only a certain version of cultural memory (for example, the way the Alamo situates the white Texans as both the good guys and the victims). Nah, we'll encourage people to generalize in a way that leaves most other people wondering what it all means. Which is why successful academic journal articles are ones that get to be read by 50 other people.

Clear enough? No, probably not. Anyway...

"The ruin can, as well, be a situated, sited, and cited entity in the visual field, given an affective value or measure – historical, cultural, socio-political – structured upon the very tentative gesture of how one looks on such spatial decay. It is as much about looking and seeing – both in regards to the presence of unruly fragments and to the absence of what does not remain after, or in the aftermath of, loss – as it is about sense and perception, and remembrance and forgetting. What remains, might be a central question to consider when thinking about how the ruin addresses both loss and subsequent redemption from within the scene of this loss."
To offer a translation by way of the Insane Clown Posse: Fucking ruins, how do they work?

"Alternate to a sense of loss that the ruin might signify is this sense of the redemptive that it promises – a looking forward, as such, from the moment of the present and from within a sense of immanent presence, on to what might be materially viable and spatially ephemeral or livable. Speaking on terms that are redemptive, how, then, would the ruin be situated within conversations that concern urban and social planning, and within discussions about how architecture and architectural theory might respond to decay and it aesthetic representation? As such, urban decay, ecology, environmental reconstitution, and technological ruination add to the broader dialogue regarding how the ruin might be configured and experienced as sites of both livability and abandonment."
 Fucking ruins, how are they used?

"Furthermore, can the ruin become metaphor, especially within the scene of aesthetic practice? In a sense, spatial and architectural imaginaries might limit the capacity of the ruin to be thought differently. Can we think of it otherwise – as ruined time, as in the case of the photograph and photographic time? Or a ruin further localized to address the corporeal body and embodiment itself? Consequentially, in aesthetic practice, is it possible to resist the urge, always already existent, to convert it into fetish object?"
And now we get to the playful part, where the definitional boundary of ruin is stretched in such a way that the word is unrecognizable. That is, if it wasn't already unrecognizable. Seriously, "a ruin further localized to address the corporeal body or embodiment itself"? Why not just pose an absurdist thought-experiment and ask whether anything can be called a ruin? Ugh.

I have to admit that I like the last sentence, mostly. The deconstructionist "always already" flourish is a bit much, but I actually like 'do we have to fetishize ruins?' as a question. (My answer: Yeah, debris becomes a ruin in the first place because we fetishize the site of the debris, attach all this added historical and cultural significance to it, and turn it into something more than its parts. Without all that added meaning, it's just a pile of junk.)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

A note on academic writing, something about humor, and Poe's Law

This, from an essay about the use of humor in social work:
"Individual and particular ontological, epistemic perspectives and interpretations of the immediate and broader social world invariably have an impact on and culminate in the humour moment."

Now, I'm not saying that you have be funny in order to write about humour. (I think you should probably slip in some jokes, though, because you can totally get away with it.) But I am saying that using 20 big words when 5 little ones will do the job is the most egregiously stupid thing that you'll ever take away from a university education. Because what does that sentence say? It says 'funny is relative'.

Far be it from me to mock someone who's trying so hard to sound smart, if only because we're all trained and expected to write in this way. (And I've left out the author's name for that reason. He or she could be anyone; he or she is anyone.) But, holy shit, this is a text book example of Poe's Law - just pluck the sentence out of context and you can't tell whether this is actual academic writing or something that's intended to mock academic writing. And this is a bad thing. A very, very bad thing.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Jem and the Holograms: some songs that won't make your ears bleed!

Because we all like fluffy blogs, at least once in a while, here are my five favorite songs from Jem and the Holograms. (You might remember that I did something like this for The Muppet Show, last year.) That's right, it's a "best of" list. And it's about Jem.

Why Jem? We have all three seasons on DVD and my daughter has been consistently obsessed with it. So, I've seen every episode at least once - and some 5 or more times - and heard every song. Also, as hilariously unnecessary as it may be, Victoria and I have actually argued about which Jem songs are the best/worst/creepiest. Because that's something worth (gently) arguing about, right? Right.

Why five? I dunno, it just feels like a good, and manageable, number. I've also arbitrarily decided that I'll include at least one video from each of the three groups in the series: The Holograms, The Misfits, and The Stingers. I'm not sure that any of The Misfits' songs actually deserve to be in a 'best of' list, but it feels somehow wrong to exclude them.

One last note on the actual songs that I chose before I actually get to posting them. If you watch these and think 'hey, that's not bad', don't start thinking that the other 150+ songs aren't bad. Because they mostly are. On the whole, the music is, at best, awfully cheesy and repetitive. The songs that I'm including here are notable precisely because they're exceptional in some way - they're unlike a typical song from the series. So, it's actually a very misleading list. Anyway...

*     *     *

The Misfits - "Lovesick" (3x02)

Like I said, The Misfits aren't given much to work with. Most of their songs are generic mid-tempo rockers with fairly monotone melodies and uninspired lyrics about being infantile bad girls. The only thing interesting about them is Pizzazz's vocal delivery, which features a pretty delightful snarl. But that gets old quickly when she employs it on pretty much every song.

Anyway, I'm a bit ambivalent about including "Lovesick". On the one hand, the vocals and the lyrics are a huge departure from the usual. It's also got some really slick production and an atypically fancy video. But that novelty comes at the expense of Pizzazz's character, who is never worse than when she's shown fawning over Riot. Ugh. I might've just as easily gone with "I Like Your Style", I guess.

Jem and the Holograms - "I've Got My Eye on You" (1x03 & 2x01)

Jem songs are often bathed in romantic clich├ęs, but rarely are they actually hot. This is one of the rare exceptions, which means that it's worthy of inclusion here. (It's relative, of course. "Hot" on a kids' cartoon can only be so hot.)

This is, by the way, the second version of this song, from the second season of the show. It also appear early in the first season, where the video made the song a bit unsettling, if not creepy. In that version, Jem sings the song to a visibly discomforted Rio, who is developing a crush on her. Which would actually be okay, because Jem is the alter-ego of his girlfriend, Jerrica. Except that she hasn't told him that. (And she never does!) So, in the video Jem is hitting on a guy who is dating someone else... though that someone else also happens to be her. Weird and unnecessary.

The Stingers - "Take It or Leave It" (3x02 & 3x11)

Every group has some duds, but The Stingers have a higher proportion of good songs to bad than either of the other two groups. The Stingers were also around for only the final, half-length season and had something like 10 songs, so that might have something to do with it. They also had the only male vocalist, so that novelty could also explain why so many of the songs aren't terrible. Maybe.

Anyway, this is the second Stingers song we hear, but it effectively serves as their introduction - they're unrepentant assholes who treat everyone like garbage and they like it that way. This song is a bit of an exception to the rule that these songs are, themselves, exceptions: it's entirely indicative of The Stingers' sound and content, and it just happens to be the best of their 'we're better than everyone' songs.

Jem and the Holograms - "It Depends on the Mood I'm In"  (1x12 & 3x09)

For whatever reason, the songs about fashion are usually better than average - the next song on this list is also about fashion.

The Holograms' songs are usually overly serious - emo music for pre-punk, pop-listening tweens, basically. But when they decide to just have fun with a song, it usually turns out okay. Or, as with this song, better than okay. "It Depends on the Mood I'm In" also benefits from being somewhat meta, and being a bit playful with the whole hologram/dual-personality conceit that, when it's addressed, is usually discussed in a really tedious manner. And it includes the trademark "truly outrageous" line, which appears in a couple other songs, too. (And is a strange slogan for a group that is neither "true" in the sense that Jem is holographic, nor "outrageous" in the sense that they're really boring. Discuss.)

The Stingers "All in the Style" (3x09)

Like I said before, The Stingers are kind of bad ass. Well, bad ass for an 80s Saturday morning cartoon, anyway. They're telling you to "catch them [people] unaware" and "make them stop and stare".  And they want you to "set the world aglow" and "radiate heat". I might have said that "I've Got My Eye on You" was hot, but this song is saying that you are hot.

It doesn't matter that, within the plot of the episode, Riot is being disingenuous - he's complimenting a designer because he wants to convince her to work for him instead of Jem. This is a genuinely smart and even empowering song, if also a somewhat cynical one about how your power is connected to your ability to capture people's attention. Still, a Jem version of this song would be full of empty platitudes while this Stingers version, at least, addresses your agency.