Blogophilia

It takes Q to Django?

[Wasn't it roughly this time last year when I said I was going to be better about blogging in 2012? Oh, yeah. It was. Hmm. Well, let's try this again. Maybe it'll stick this time.]

I rang out the old year yesterday by taking in Django Unchained, the latest from ultra-violence-loving director Quentin Tarantino. I’m still processing the experience, so these are merely some quick, fragmentary reflections. Ask me again tomorrow, and maybe they’ll have shifted. Also, there may be a few spoilers below. If you haven’t seen the film, and you want to do so without knowing too much more, then you may not want to read past the first bullet point.

django poster

  • Spike Lee has done a curious two-step around the film. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to talk about it publicly. On the other hand, he’s made very public statements claiming that film is “disrespectful to [his] ancestors.” More problematically, he’s done so while also saying that he has no intention of seeing the film. Lee, of course, isn’t obligated to see any film he doesn’t want to see. Nor is he obligated to like (or respect) either Tarantino or his films. At the same time, it’s a bit disheartening to see him condemn the film so thoroughly without having seen it — not the least because Lee’s been on the receiving end of plenty of that sort of blind, knee-jerk condemnation himself. And Lee has wandered into some exceptionally murky waters himself with respect to ugly representations of black people on the big screen (cf. Bamboozled — which, to be clear, is a pretty brilliant piece of work . . . but Lee’s deliberately over-the-top depiction of blackface minstrelsy produced its own fair share of squirming audiences.) To be sure, I can respect Lee’s desire not to see the film. But there’s a big difference between saying, “I don’t really like Tarantino’s films, so I have no need to see this one” and slapping this particular film down unseen because of its content and tone.
  • Now if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like Tarantino’s movies because they’re too violent, too bloody, or too gruesome, then you won’t like Django any better. The body count here is high (and not just because, at 165 minutes, there’s lots of time to pile up the corpses), and few (if any) of the deaths are exactly “clean.” That said, the film dives deep into the heart of chattel slavery in the US . . . and that was an extraordinarily violent practice. Enough so that, even though Tarantino could have ramped the violence up without being historically inaccurate, he toned it down so that audiences could not be too traumatized to cheer the movie’s final denouement. Let that sink in for a second. A Quentin Tarantino movie (of all things!) is softer than the actual historical violence associated with slavery in this country. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might be tempted to think that this “kinder, gentler” vision of slavery only justifies Lee’s refusal to see the film. But since I have seen the film, I can assure you that it does absolutely nothing to make slavery look like a benevolent institution.
  • I’ve seen a handful of bloggers and critics who’ve criticized the movie for what it doesn’t do in terms of portraying racial solidarity between blacks or in terms of presenting even some tiny gesture towards collective rebellion. And there’s some truth to be found there. Django is not a selfless martyr, abandoning the path to freedom and wandering into certain death because he can’t bear to leave his brothers and sisters behind him in chains. Nor is he a new Nat Turner, helping to lead the fieldhands into open rebellion against white supremacy. His mission is purely personal (though not entirely selfish), and he is never distracted from it by even a moment of sympathetic solidarity for the obvious suffering of other black folk around him. But, you know, that’s okay by me. At least for now. Hollywood isn’t exactly overflowing with movies where the central characters are black and where pervasive, systemic, institutional racism is the primary target that must be destroyed. Of course, Django doesn’t take down the entire system, but Tarantino also doesn’t let us get away with thinking that that system was fundamentally a Good Thing that happened to be ruined by a tiny handful of wicked souls. What Django gives us is a vision of racism as a cancer that permeates the entirety of US society, top to bottom, and that’s an extraordinarily rare thing for Hollywood to do, even in an historical setting. I can live with Django, the fictional man, getting to live out his personal revenge fantasy and ride off into the night with his one true love . . . because Django, the movie, doesn’t let audiences pretend that slavery was really just some sort of pleasant Gone With the Wind costume drama after all.

Resolution on a stick

It’s a cliché of the highest order — especially for us academics on the humanities side of campus — but I’ve resolved to be better about writing this year. Book writing. Essay writing. Correspondence writing. And, yes, blog writing. I’ve cleaned up my home office. I’ve rearranged it a bit to make it a more comfortable, ergonomic space in which to work. officeI’ve set myself some (hopefully) manageable goals and am trying to settle into new routines. We’ll see how this goes in the days and weeks to come, of course. But one of those new routines includes a target of 2-3 fresh blog posts each week, with a potential tie-in to the grad seminar I’m teaching this spring. So here I am, poking away at my iPad, and trying to breathe some life back into this dusty little corner of the interwebs.

And, yes, I’m aiming to blog from my iPad as much as I can. The laptop is still always an option — and it’s certainly a friendlier typing machine — but I’m also not a touch-typist, so I’ve got no indelible home-key habits or tactile rhythms to disrupt when faced with a virtual keyboard embedded in a sheet of touch-sensitive glass. The iPad is also a much more frequent companion than the laptop as I move about town (and beyond) these days. And, perhaps most crucially, several months back, I splurged on a WordPress-friendly blogging app several months ago that has simply been gathering dust in its corner of my home screen. So this piece of my resolution also helps me recoup my major economic investment in Blogsy. After all, that’s $5 that I will never, ever get back . . .

I’ll admit that when the iPad first came out, I wasn’t even remotely tempted by it. I simply didn’t see the point. I already had an iPod Touch and a laptop, and I was perfectly happy with both. More specifically, the iPad seemed to me to be precisely the wrong combination of the two: an iPod that was to big to fit in my pocket, and a portable computer that was too small and too weak to fit my everyday needs. But then I spent a lovely chunk of my July in Belgium, where I watched some good friends zip around with these light, bright, tight little machines for note-taking, emailing, game-playing (etc.) . . . and I got a serious case of Gear Envy.

And so I splurged. And, six months or so later, I haven’t regretted it at all. The iPad won’t replace my laptop as my primary computing device. I’m still too big a fan of the penguin and open source software to join the Cupertino cabal as a full-time member. And, even given all the wondrous things one can do with cloud computing these days, I’m not yet ready to give up on a machine where several gigabytes of files — from old syllabi to new music, digital photos to PDF-ified readings — are always available to me, even when I’m not online.

Regardless of what device I’m using, though, (and, truth be told, I’ve now worked on this entry on both my available options) I’m aiming to drop more text in this space in the coming year than was the case in 2011. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a promise or a threat.

Take two (they’re small)

One week later, and there are still a handful of movies that remain unnamed. So here’s a set of “second chance” quotes (along with the previous, still unidentified quotes) for each of the remaining films.

  1. Film #2 [2001: A Space Odyssey -- Bo]
    • Deliberately buried. Huh!
    • I’m afraid I can’t do that.
  2. Film #4 [Citizen Kane -- Bo]
    • Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Switzerland. He was thrown out of a lot of colleges.
    • I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.
  3. Film #7 [Dr. Strangelove -- Bo]
    • I can’t talk to you now. My president needs me!
    • Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.
  4. Film #9
    • If I’d been a ranch, they would have named me The Bar None.
    • I can never get a zipper to close. Maybe that stands for something, what do you think?

And, as always, this is for amusement purposes only. No gambling.

Memes, memes, good for the heart

I was tagged with a movie quote meme. And being an agreeable fella (at least sometimes), I’m cooperating. I’ve modified the rules a bit. They look like this:

  1. Pick fifteen of your favorite movies.
  2. Go to IMDb and find a quote from each movie. (Or in some cases, just remember them.)
  3. Post them for everyone to guess.
  4. Strike out each quote when someone guesses it correctly, and append the names of the movie and the guesser.
  5. No Googling/using IMDb/Wikiquote search functions. That would be cheatin’.
  6. Tag ten people (I upped this from five, since I figure half my taggees won’t cooperate).

I’m tagging Anne, Gaughin, Geoff, Greg, Grrrl on the Bus, Jonathan, Mark, Mel, TAFKAB, Ted, and Timothy. [Yes, I know that's not ten. But these go to eleven. And that quote's too easy to actually use below.]

And I found I couldn’t stop at fifteen either. You can see why I gave up on that mathematics degree, eh?

  1. Cute? Baby ducks are cute. I hate cute! [Bull Durham -- Timothy]
  2. Deliberately buried. Huh!
  3. Extra cheese is two dollars. [Do the Right Thing -- Ted]
  4. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Switzerland. He was thrown out of a lot of colleges.
  5. He was my boyfriend! [Young Frankenstein -- Greg]
  6. How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss? [The Usual Suspects -- Ursa @ Socialism for Gunslingers]
  7. I can’t talk to you now. My president needs me!
  8. I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school. [Fight Club -- Ursa @ Socialism for Gunslingers]
  9. If I’d been a ranch, they would have named me The Bar None.
  10. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. [The Third Man -- Timothy]
  11. It’s only a model. [Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- Greg]
  12. The poor dope. He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool. [Sunset Boulevard -- Jake]
  13. Traffic was a bitch. [The Player -- Greg]
  14. We enjoy your films. Particularly the early, funny ones. [Stardust Memories -- Timothy]
  15. We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet. [Double Indemnity -- Greg]
  16. You’d think that wiping out an entire race of people would calm ‘em down. But no. Instead, they started getting frightened of each other. [Bowling for Columbine -- Greg]
  17. You’ll have to do the thinking for both of us. [Casablanca -- Timothy]

Update: For the sake of legibility, I opted to underline correctly identified quotes, rather than strike them out.

Blog for sale?

I received a curious e-mail today. Except for the obvious spots where I’ve expunged identifying information, it looked like this:

Dear Gil Rodman,

We loved your blog, thank you for the great content! I would like to give you an iPod Shuffle gift in exchange for a link to our [sitename] site on your site navigation panel.

[sitename] ([siteURL]) is a free [site descriptor] research tool for students and educators covering over 20,000 [site descriptor]. Please add our link using the anchor text “[sitename]” and I will send you your iPod certificate. For more information on iPod Shuffle, please visit http://www.apple.com/ipodshuffle/ – you just need to select your preferred color :)

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

[name]
PR Coordinator
[sitename]
[siteURL]

What was particularly amusing about this request is that the site in question is completely unrelated to any topic I’ve posted about over the past year and change. The site in question doesn’t sell imported auto parts, but it would make about as much sense for me to link to this site if, in fact, that was its focus. I’m assuming that the same request was sent to thousands of bloggers pretty much at random — and I suspect that the iPod Shuffle offer isn’t what it’s cracked up to be either. Anyone else out there get hit up with something like this?

It was inevitable

I’ve got a blog. It’s written using my real name. Its online home is my department’s server. So it was only a matter of time before one of my undergraduate students discovered this space.

It’s possible, of course, that this happened long ago and no one bothered to tell me. But tonight, one of the students in my other class — the class that I failed to mention in my post on the Science Museum of Minnesota’s exhibit on race — revealed that she had been poking around the department’s website … and, in so doing, stumbled across these wayward scribblings of mine.

It would be easy — too easy — for me to respond to this particular moment of discovery (and the apparent sense of surprise that accompanied it) in stereotypical fashion: i.e., to affect a wry sense of superiority and comment on the putative naivete of students who fail to realize that their professors have lives off campus that include all sorts of things that “ordinary” people do. Grocery shopping. Happy hours. Movies. Blogging.

Much as there’s some truth in such a response — it is always amusing to watch the visible shock on some students’ faces when they encounter me pushing a shopping cart by the cheese counter at the local supermarket — it would also be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge that this sword can (and often does) cut both ways. That I sometimes get caught with that surprised look when I run into a student of mine at a “faculty” bar (as if one has to show a suitably endowed c.v. to get in the door?) or at the pet supply store (as if students don’t need to buy dog kibble too?).

So I’ll own up to having been caught off guard by my student’s revelation. Not upset, mind you. And, as noted above, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, especially since I’ve often blogged (or, in some cases, deliberately not blogged) with one eye on the possibility that my words might someday wind up in front of my students. But there was also a part of me that was genuinely unprepared for the reality that at least some of my undergrads would eventually — inevitably — find these words.

And it’s probably good for me to have that bubble burst from time to time. I like to think that I’m good at remembering that “my” students are adults in their own right, and that if I were to encounter most of them for the first time in any number of other contexts, we’d all just be “ordinary” people to each other. But it’s also awfully easy to get caught up in the “us vs. them” mentality that permeates so much of the student/teacher discourse — even for those of us who don’t want to embrace such an adversarial way of framing that relationship.

So a tip of the proverbial hat to the newest reader of this humble blog (even if she never reads it again) for the helpful reminder of the gap between my own ideals and what actually goes on inside my head sometimes.

Something must be in the water

Not only do I suddenly find myself in a mini-blogging frenzy of my own (after way too long a gap) — three posts in four days? as if I’m Michael Bérubé or something? — but I also find myself piping up with quips and comments on other people’s blogs — and sometimes even doing so with more prose than I’m laying down in my own blogyard.

Blogging out loud

Last night, a dear friend of mine who doesn’t have a blog was telling me that one of the reasons she had yet to start a blog of her own was because she wasn’t sure how best to give public voice to details of her daily life — especially those details that involved friends, family, and colleagues who might not always be so keen on having their daily lives shared with the world. That amazingly offensive comment that came out of your coworker’s mouth over lunch (for instance) may be great fodder for a lively (or poignant, or ribald, or polemical (depending on just what was said)) post to your own blog . . . but your coworkers may not be quite so happy to have their gaffes recorded for posterity in a public forum, especially when those gaffes can be traced back to them because you’ve attached your own name to your blog.

You may be thinking that the obvious solution here is a pseudonymous blog. Find yourself a handle that doesn’t point back to the “real” you in any obvious way, be incredibly scrupulous about keeping any identifying information out of your blogspace, and you can post carefully redacted (but otherwise accurate) tales about anyone and everyone you know.

Maybe.

The real catch here, as I was forcefully reminded a short while ago, is how hard it is to be “incredibly scrupulous.” That reminder came courtesy of a blog that I follow in my feedreader (but not in the blogroll to the left), where the pseudonymous blogger in question — let’s call em “PB” to make things easy — reported that, at the end of a very rough day (and then some), e was in eir office and completely wiped out: in both the “exhausted” and “drunk” senses of the term.

It’s certainly PB’s business (and not mine) if e’s drunk at work (after hours or otherwise). And as long as PB really is diligent about maintaining a gap between blogspace and “real life,” this sort of revelation probably won’t have any direct impact on eir job. PB’s boss would probably prefer that PB stayed sober while in the office but, if PB’s B is truly P, PB’s boss won’t have any way to know what happened . . . even if PB’s boss happens to read PB’s blog.

Trouble is, I happen to know PB’s real name and where e works: not because PB ever revealed eir secret to me (or even that e had a blog), but because e’s left traces to eir true identity online where anyone who wants to can find them. I’ve got no interest whatsoever in narcing on PB (again, it’s eir business, not mine . . . and, for all I know, eir boss may’ve been the one who supplied the bottle). If anything, I’m sorry to hear that e’s had such a rough time of late that e’s wiped out this way.

My conundrum is this: do I tell PB that eir blog may not be quite as private a sanctuary as e thinks it is? On the one hand, I think that if I were PB, I’d want to know that my blog might be revealing more than I wanted it to — and that I’d rather learn that hard truth before I inadvertently revealed too much to the wrong people. On the other hand, I think that if I were PB, I might be a little freaked out if someone I barely knew (I met PB very briefly at a conference) suddenly dropped a note in my inbox telling me that they had uncovered my “secret identity,” even if that someone was clearly trying to do me a favor.

Of course, on the third hand (and it’s always happy to have a third hand around for emergencies), if PB happens to read my blog, maybe I’ve just resolved that dilemma anyway. So, PB, if you’re out there, please be careful . . .

New look

On the whole, I liked the Coffee Cup theme I’ve been using for the past few months. But it was an awful lot of brown to look at on a regular basis. And so I’ve swapped it out — for now anyway — for the crisp blueness of AquaFluid.

Good thing he’s on our side

Ted Striphas was kind enough to offer unsolicited plugs on his blog for Greg Wise’s new blog as well as the humble blogging endeavor that you currently have in your . . . hands? browser cache? short-term RAM?

And Ted’s clearly got the sort of instantaneous impact that Madison Avenue (and their advertising counterparts elsewhere around the globe) would love to have, since that single post immediately produced a groundswell of new visitors to my tiny corner of the blogosphere.

Well, okay. It produced one such visitor. Or at least one who made his presence known. So I’ll send a hearty “nicetomeetcha” out to Glen Fuller as I add him to my own blogroll.

In the meantime, Ted is hereby publicly warned that he must not use his newfound(?) powers for evil.

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