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September 28, 2007

more rocking on


It's no secret that I think the F-bomb is the fushiz, and browsing the internet today (mostly looking for answers for students who've asked me "are there any other easy things we can read about media?" - they're sick of hearing me talk about the Media Report and so am I) I came across this article "Literature, Culture, Mirrors:John Frow responds to Simon During" in the Australian Humanities Review by the Man.

I've been thinking about the role of literature - or books - in cultural studies lately. Mostly, I try not to think about the 'boundaries' between media studies, cultural studies, book studies and (now) communications studies. They seem to be set down, for the most part, by the funding structures and course requirements of university departments and faculties and otherwise really don't seem very useful for most of us who are actually in there getting jiggy with kultchah.
But I'd been wondering how to talk about books in a cultural studies context. One of the clearest differences in the way I think about books when I'm wearing my cultural/media studies hat(s) as opposed to the way I thought about books when I was enrolled in an English department doing 'literature' subjects,* is to do with audiences. I know there've probably been some changes in English departments since I got all into the Screen Studies (that's what we called it in the olden days), but I've noticed that I think about books in terms of the relationship between audiences and textual structure rather than thinking about books as little boxes of words, standing alone there between their covers on the shelf. So while I can get all "oh, I just love blahblah author", I'm actually far more interested in what people do with blahblah author's work once they get ahold of the words.

So, for example, I've been thinking about writing a paper for a symposium being held as part of swancon. I'd like to write about watching HBO's Big Love's representation of patriarchal polygamy while reading about Karen Traviss's matriarchal polygamies in the City of Pearl books. For me, it's interesting to think about the way we SF fans aren't just consuming a solid diet of SF - we read across the genre lines. And the way I think about polygamy, humanity, gender and society have been inflected by both these texts while I'm reading them both....which of course makes me want to talk about TV programming, book publishing seasons and structures of consumption, but that would be (yet another example of) digression...

This point was brought home to me the other day listening to a colleague's very interesting paper on She noted that there'd been some resentment from hardcore SF fan audiences about the introduction of 'un-SF' in the programming. Apparently they weren't impressed by the wrestling shows**. Now, I'm interested in the gender implications at work there (particularly as a fair old swag - if not the vast bulk - of SF telly involves fighting, violence, warfare and plain old fisticuffs), but I'm more interested in the insistence that hardcore SF fans want only to watch SF on telly. Of course, if I were paying for an SF channel, I think I'd be after a fulfilment of my expectations - SF 24/7 YES! - but at the same time...

So I was wondering how I would go about thinking and writing about literature in a cultural studies context. I don't particularly want to go down the fan studies track again. Yes, yes, we all know SF fans read SF books, watch SF films and telly, play SF games and party in online SF communities. But what happens when we talk about women reading those interesting romance/SF hybrid books? That's my other pet interest at the moment - is anyone else writing about these books at the moment (not counting my posts)? And I'm definitely not interested in getting bogged down in discussions about 'quality' lit - if it's a book, it's literature to me, mate.

But anyway, back to JF. My interest was caught by this bit:

Let me offer two reasons why cultural studies has the potential to change departments of literary studies for the better. The first is that it forces students to come to terms with different regimes of value, different and perhaps incommensurate valuing processes and their relation to social forces and social positions. It shifts the interpretive gaze from a self-contained text to its discursive and social framings, within which students are themselves implicated; while at the same time it opens a potentially fruitful methodological exchange between the distinct protocols of interpretation that apply in the social sciences and the textual disciplines. The second reason has to do with process. Cultural studies supposes a pedagogy in which students are at least as fully in control of much of the subject matter as are the teachers. This isn't the end of teacherly authority, but it does transform the learning process by challenging teachers to redefine what it is that they do in a classroom, and by involving students - in a quite orthodox Socratic manner - in the understanding and analysis of what they already know. In neither of these respects is cultural studies the enemy of literary studies; the two perhaps work best when they coexist in tension and exchange; but literary studies will not survive if it is taught as a form of religion.

That second bit is the bit I'm most interested in:

Cultural studies supposes a pedagogy in which students are at least as fully in control of much of the subject matter as are the teachers.

It's the sort of argument that makes a great deal of sense to me when I think about teaching magazines/tabloids this semester. I never read magazines, but for the occasional copy of Nature (the glossy one), or the odd gardening or cooking mag. I don't watch enough commercial telly to recognise the TV stars and I have absolutely no idea about mainstream, popular music. I was largely teaching this unit in reference to academic reading and a few weeks' panicky hunter-gathering online and at the supermarket checkout (the latter proving most challenging for a hippy who likes indy grocery shops).
So while I could present the ideas to the students as academic concepts, drawing largely on my own enthusiasm for news values and news papers (hell, it's all print media to me), we were largely relying on their specialist knowledge of and familiarity with magazines. This offered interesting moments in the tutorials, which are (of course) ten quarters female. Female students who hadn't said a word all semester were suddenly contributing with enthusiasm. And these chicks really are magazine gurus - they read anywhere from one a week to a dozen a week. And they're intimately familiar with the complex relationship networks which are the stock in trade of these publications.
At first we had to deal with the (mostly male) students' disparagement of 'trash media'. I made the point that reading these things - and making any sense of them whatsoever - required an intimate and extensive knowledge of the personalities, events and mode of discourse. We'd already talked about why tabloids are more popular than broadsheet media the week before, and they'd mentioned that 'it's too hard to understand what they're talking about - the middle east is too complicated for just half an hour of news'. And I pointed out that while they mightn't be prepared to unravel the middle east, they were prepared to wade into Britney's social network - equally complex and foreign. Which of course led us them to the idea that personalisation is a really effective way of creating news value - making a story marketable for a wide audience.

But it was mostly an interesting exercise in the sort of stuff JF is talking about in that bit of the essay. For me, as a bub teacher, it can be both absolutely thrilling and exciting, but also terrifying. I spend most of my time worrying that I'm telling the stoods a big line of bullshit - one day someone's going to figure out that I'm full of shit. I learnt in the very first tutorial that if you lie and pretend you know the answer to something - if you really do try and make up a bullshit answer - they'll figure it out and you'll look like a dickhead. So I'm all for admitting ignorance: "I dunno. I haven't read that stuff. I'm into blahblah. But I do know blahblah writes about it. What do you guys know? What do you think?" I've found they're actually far more willing to speculate and expore ideas when they've heard me admitting complete ignorance, but still being prepared to have a bash at figuring out an answer.

But I really like this approach to teaching - the postioning of students as specialists. And then working with them to apply the ideas from readings or lectures to explore (as JF puts it) "involving students the understanding and analysis of what they already know". This was a truly fabulous approach in a media audiences subject I taught last year.

The first piece of assessment was a lit review, where the stoods chose a media audience (ie an audience of a particular media text or form) and then figured out who'd already written about it, or which bits of research could help them research their audience. The second bit of assessment involved planning a media audience research project (each week of lectures explored a different research method). It was fabulous to teach because the assessment worked cumulatively - you were building on their knowledge. The stoods dug it because they began to feel like proper media researchers - specialists with a body of knowledge and skills under their belt.

I also used tutorials to discuss media and their media interests. I encouraged them to think about the media they were into, and then as we began working on the assessment, to talk through their ideas about the research. Because we were all reading the same literature and most of us knew the media they were discussing, we could all comment and discuss the topic knowledgeably. I've found that this is the most important part of teaching stoods - encouraging a confidence in their own skills and knowledge. Encouraging them to trust their ideas and instincts. I mean, why not? They really, truly know things that we old sticks don't - they haven't read the academic literature, but they're hard core media consumers. And they are engaged in really complex and interesting media - cross-media - consumption and use. So why not get them using those skills and ideas?

But this approach was really nice for the students - they really felt a sense of 'ownership' of their projects (and I used that term - our projects) and a confidence in their ideas. And they did produce some really interesting work. And man, it rocked to teach because they gave a shit and actually got excited about the assessment and readings.

I'm not sure how I got to this point, and I know this is a confusing post, but I guess this is meant to be a story about disciplinarity, about teaching practices, about methodology cross-discipline, and just another fan-atic post about your hero and mine, the Frowstah:

*I'm really sorry about this terrible sentence. I have been marking essays full of this rubbish and really can't remember how to write any more. Perhaps I need to read more bewks?
** Frankly, it makes perfect sense to me - what could be more fantasy, speculative ficationesque than WWF?

"more rocking on" was posted by dogpossum on September 28, 2007 4:08 PM in the category teaching

September 21, 2007

prepare to be boarded

I've noticed that I'm not the only one who's been MIA from blogdom of late. I blame faceplant. Oh, faceplant, how I thought you'd be really neat. Then I realised there was nowhere for long, detailed explanations of sewing projects or theses or DJing and decided that faceplant really was just one big multi-levelled marketing campaign and got bored.
So I've noticed that all the other blogs I like to read have been a bit quiet lately. I know it's a nasty time of semester (week 8 for us, mid-semester next week, a bit later for everyone else) but, you know. So I was thinking: imagine if I could could pyrateize all those fallow blogs - just pop in board them and write what I like, then move on. That would be so cool. I would really, really enjoy that. Mostly because it would mean that I wasn't marking.

Marking sucks. Think writing essays sucks? Marking them is so much worse. And you know what? No one uses capitals or commas any more. It's just one, long crap text message or myspace post. But at least first year essays are quick to mark - I've been getting through about 4 an hour (yes, that's about 15 minutes each - only 1500 words long. I could be neglecting something, but I don't care). But I've only marked 7 in two days. But this isn't really my fault. I am also sailing the red seas and trying to ignore a bullshit headache. I feel that blogging is the only solution. And, as every seadog's polly knows, the only real cure is a whole bunch of pieces of cake.*

*parts of this post were brought to you in the spirit of international talk like a pirate day. The Crink would just like to remind everyone that she is a pyrate. Rlly!!1! kthxbi.

"prepare to be boarded" was posted by dogpossum on September 21, 2007 11:57 AM in the category dogpossum

September 20, 2007

dvd crazy

I really like borrowing DVDs from the video shop, but lately our video shop has gone to shit. There are very few DVDs for hire, but zillions for sale. It's the same story with a few other video shops in Brunswick. It doesn't make me happy - I'd much rather pop in to rent something, pay $6 (or $3 or whatever) and bring them back for other people. I don't need to own the things.
But I guess I'm in the minority in Brunswick.

But since I started teaching media so full-on-ly, using so much AV stuff, I've gotten interested in film again. I've been picking up cheap DVDs when I see them. I never pay more than $10 for a single DVD, so it's a bit like renting them. And I have a list of priorities - not just any old shit. Unless it's 80s shit. I'm on an 80s film binge. I think it's because I'm working with teenagers who don't know who Molly Ringwald is. And I just can't believe them.
I also like anything SF. Anything. And I like lady films - chick flicks. Because chick flicks are dialogue heavy, so you can listen to them while you crochet (pink and green afghans are go at our house, though they're all beige to The Squeeze). I also like the cheeriness of chick flicks. I know I should be suspicious of their gender politics, but I like the character-centredness, the predictably reassuring plots. And how could I take this heternormativity seriously? It's so insistent it's difficult to really accept. So it's kind of like playing dress ups - putting on Barbie clothes for a hour or so.
I have also been hunting down all the films by the following directors:

  • Woody Allen
  • Jim Jarmusch
  • Robert Altman
  • Coen Brothers
  • Ang Lee

Going through the DVDs we do own, I rediscovered this one the other day:

Saving Face*, directed by Alice Wu. It's a really lovely story about a young Chinese American dyke living in New York who falls in love with a lovely Chinese American ballet dancer. Her mum (Joan Chen!!!) gets pregnant and must come to live with her. The 'saving face' bit is about maintaining family honour.
I adore it.
It reminds me of Ang Lee's Wedding Banquet.

I'm also very fond of films like The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. Lady films with lots of dialogue, happy endings and kissing. I like the kissing bits.

I'm also watching the TV version of Tales of the City. I'd loved it when it was on telly, and I remember reading all the books/stories. It's not quite as good as I remember, but I do like it. More kissing. Lots of boobs. Great 70s frock action. Tight pants. Big hair. Ace.

I found a whole bunch of DVDs in the second hand shop in Moonee Ponds for sale. I suspect some of them were films that someone forgot to return. Or just outmoded stock. It's making me happy. $6 is what I'd pay for a new release, and when that gets you your very own copy of Gosfod Park, the world is a very lovely place.

I haven't seen a film at the cinema in ages and ages. But that's because I haven't had time. But these DVDs are getting me through. Could be a bit ob-con (a bit like this rash of blogging), and I am doing a lot of crocheting. Also managed to squeeze in time to make a nice very dark grey zip-up hoody with black and white striped hood-lining and pocket and red bias trip around the hood and zip. It's loose, very soft and very nice and warm. Made in that tracksuit fleece - looks like cotton knit on the outside, all fuzzy inside. Cheap fabric, only $4 a metre (150 wide) but all cotton and very, very pleasing.

I have been wearing it with long black shorts and my uncool converse sandshoes. No, not gym boots, but uncool cheapies. Black 'velveteen'. The students are unimpressed. I am inordinately proud of them - I remember my first red and blue pair back in the early 90s when they were cool. I like the wide round toe. I even like the black velveteen. I am also wearing my one pair of ill-fitting home made jeans to bits. And threadless Tshirts. Unfortunately all this academia has led to very little dancing, so I'm getting really really fat. Luckily it doesn't matter how big my arse is, because my brain is really big. But it does mean that I have a limited wardrobe atm, and no time to make more clothes. A conundrum. Guess all the sitting about on that wide, comfortable load watching DVDs doesn't help.

*guess this made me think of it.

"dvd crazy" was posted by dogpossum on September 20, 2007 4:57 PM in the category fillums

what about this one?

canadajudgesyou.gifDoes it make a difference that Canada's wielding a sword and not flashing her boobs?

I kind of have trouble with the whole judging people for grammar thing.
Yes, I like the joke, but I often think of grammar in the same way I think of manners - a class thing. So it's really not all that cool to judge people for either...

"what about this one?" was posted by dogpossum on September 20, 2007 4:49 PM in the category teaching

September 19, 2007

pussy galore

I blame my obession with lady bits on the fact that I'm surfing the crimson wave and talking a lot about feminism in classes at the moment.

Whenever I ride or walk around my neighbourhood (which is everyday) I count kitties.
Today, walking back from the shops and a marking meeting, I counted 4. Two orange kitties (one on Lillian Street, one on a second floor balcony just off Hope Street), one black one with a weird head, sitting couchant on a front door mat, one white and grey one with small ears in a front garden. I called out to each of them but only patted the last one.
I am very, very, very allegic to kitties, so I had to wash my hand as soon as I got home, to stave off the itchies and rashies and snotties.

The other day I counted 6 kitties as I walked up the road one early morning. And one dead one on the footpath (that was a surprise, I can tell you).

One night we counted 8 riding back from the pub at night, including 5 feral kittens in the parking lot next to the Upfield bike path near Nino and Joe's.

When I was much, much younger and horse-obsessed I used to count white horses (this was easier when we lived in country NSW and I was a pony club person). It's very satisfying.

"pussy galore" was posted by dogpossum on September 19, 2007 9:03 PM in the category brunswick

into the groove

Perhaps my very favourite song on Madonna's Immaculate Collection is "Get into the Groove".
Why do I love it? Let me count the ways.

1. 'Get into the groove' is a euphemism for literally 'getting into' a woman's vagina, but also an invitation to get up and dance, get yourself into the vibe. I like the physical invitation of both versions.

2. I like the spoken opening line:

And you can dance... for inspiration

I like the thought of Madonnna ordering her boy onto the floor, demanding that he dance - for her musical (and sexual) inspiration. And if he can't work it, he ain't gettin' no interest from her. You can't help but read Madonna as a text - think of that film clip for 'Material Girl'. Sure, we all reference Marilyn, but it's also a story about Madonna, and her spectacular gender play. Sultry, diamond-and-pink encrusted diva? Yes. Leatherette? Yes. Super-athlete? Yes. Her continually reinvigorated and reworked public persona offered a super-cool (and Madonna always was terribly chic) woman to pretend to be, or a series of female identies we could play with - put on and take off. And even though the film In Bed with Madonna invited us to watch the 'real' Madonna, it was quite clear that this was really just another performance - another costume.

3. The 115bpm tempo is just perfect for the all-night-long disco dancing I used to adore. But it has a spunky double time electronic drum thing happening as well, for when you want to bust out.
Those were the days - when 120bpm felt fast. And I knew how to dance Without Rules.

4. The line

Get up on your feet, yeah, Step to the beat
is lovely to say.

5. I was eleven in 1985 and didn't really understand what Maddona was singing about. I knew it had something to do with boys and kissing and possibly sex, but mostly I thought she was challenging him to a dance-off. And I just knew she'd kick his arse (because that's what she does).


6. The bit in the film Desperately Seeking Susan where Madonna invites that bloke onto the dance floor was the very best. In fact, Susan/Madonna was the very best character.

1800056641p.jpg 7. And Desperately Seeking Susan was the very best film. There've been quite a few articles written about the way women feel about that film, and about the way it invites a female gaze and is, really, constructed for female audiences. Sure, Madonna's struttin' it for the blokes on-screen, but we all know that she's really workin' it for the sisters. For Rosanna Arquette, and really, most of all, for all those women who are checking her out. Remember that bit in the ladies' room where she's drying her armpits with the hand dryer? That's for the ladies.

8. The Immaculate Collection is the very best Madonna greatest hits collection. I was given it for Christmas - a double LP with some seriously fabulous art and lift out bits. I'm looking at it right now.
This was released round about the time her Sex book was published (and banned in Queensland - so a couple of gay male mates of mine had to travel to Sydney to get it so we could pore over the images, wondering if it was all staged or real), and the collection features 'Justify my love' and 'Rescue Me'.
I also own the album on CD.

I played it so many times that Christmas I feared for its grooves. :)

Into The Groove ~ Madonna
And you can dance...for inspiration,
Come on...I'm waiting

Get into the groove, Boy you've got to prove
Your love to me, yeah
Get up on your feet, yeah, Step to the beat
Boy what will it be
Music can be such a revelation
Dancing around you feel the sweet sensation
We might be lovers if the rhythm's right
I hope this feeling never ends tonight
Only when I'm dancing can I feel this free
At night I lock the doors, where no one else can see
I'm tired of dancing here all by myself
Tonight I wanna dance with someone else


Gonna get to know you in a special way
This doesn't happen to me every day
Don't try to hide it love wears no disguise
I see the fire burning in your eyes
Only when I'm dancing can I feel this free
At night I lock the doors, where no one else can see
I'm tired of dancing here all by myself
Tonight I wanna dance with someone else


Live out your fantasy here with me, Just let the music set you free
Touch my body, and move in time, Now I now you're mine
You've got to......PIANO LEAD
Live out your fantasy here with me, Just let the music set you free
Touch my body, and move in time, Now I now you're mine


Get into the groove, Boy you've got to prove
Your love to me, yeah
Get up on your feet, yeah, Step to the beat
Boy what will it be

"into the groove" was posted by dogpossum on September 19, 2007 8:22 PM in the category music

September 14, 2007

is this wrong?


"is this wrong?" was posted by dogpossum on September 14, 2007 1:20 PM in the category teaching

September 6, 2007

ladies making stuff: keynote=go

poster.Cda.StrongArmsOfCanada.woman.WWI.jpg DFE logged this story about pecha kucha (pronounced peh-chak-cha) on faceplant this week and it's caught my attention in a massive way. I think I want to do it. I've been thinking about making keynotes into little films (there's a neat export option which automatically makes them into quicktime files) and to think that there are other nerds out there, just like me, who're into this action... how wonderful! But of course, part of my thinking is centered on the fact that that is one hot teaching tool.

I'm already a really big fan of Keynote. I just LOVE the way I can combine pictures, little bits of text, little movies, music or sound files (oh yes, please - jazz up the wazoo), 'slides' which change automatically, or use basic animated transitions (like a page turning or one slide being pushed aside by another) and me strutting about talking crap in front of a captive audience.

I am just obsessed with the opportunities for visual puns and bad jokes - I'm still thinking I'm the queen of lecturing for my joke about laundry trucks and Roland Barthes (which I can't really tell here because it takes some setting up).
Writing that lecture about the media and war, I was also struck by the possibilities of keynote for making quite full on emotional points.

RosieTheRiveter.jpg I really enjoy making these things (even though they're a lot of work), and I think they're a really effective way of teaching - the stoods like them and stay interested, and I find they slow me down and stop me talking a zillion miles a minutes (which I tend to do otherwise). Not to mention the fact that when you're teaching media it actually helps to show some.

I also like the 'found object' approach to keynotes that I've been taking. Basically, I write my lectures in a word file, including all the necessary information, then I break it down into 'slides' (which usually means one major point per slide, so I'm looking at about 70-90 slides for an hour and a half lecture), then I go looking for images and clips. Hello google, my fine friend. And hello youtube. Once I've found clips, I download them and then insert them into my keynotes. Because I'm using a mac, it's all a matter of click-and-drag: easy peasy.

watson.jpg I'm also a fan of sound files - I've found some truly fabulous audio files from the site. There's one I especially like called 'Loyalty and German-Americans', which is a speech by the American James W. Gerard speaking in 1917. It's a neat example of wartime racism, making quite clear the idea that the media is a useful place for developing anti-enemy emotions, including dehumanising the enemy. And it's particularly effective when you match it with a series of posters like this one from WWII.
I've just dropped that sound file of that speech into my keynote so the stoods can hear exactly how people talked about this stuff. The fact that most of them are first or second generation Australians (if that!) makes Gerard's anti-German immigrant talk extra pertinent. Talking about WWI is interesting because we don't have cinema or TV or radio working in the same way as it was in WWII and then later wars - we're looking at a culture dominated by visual print media and public speaking.

And of course, when it comes to WWII, I just have to play songs like Ellington's A Slip of the lip (can sink a ship), because it illustrates so perfectly the sentiment in posters like this one and this one.

And then, of course, I show them pictures of the current war-time, racism-inciting, 'anti-terrorist' posters like this one*.
A slightly different message: talk more about the things you see, rather than talk less, but still inciting a sense of paranoia and mistrust of the people around you. Or more specifically, mistrust of the people who are 'unusual' or 'not like us' around you.

Looking at all these amazing posters, and watching the doco Hype yesterday (which I picked up for a few dollars in the recent JB sale - ah, serendipity!), I'm suddenly all inspired to print my own posters. I'm not sure whether I'll be promoting kick-ass chicks in sensible clothing or punk-ass indy rock, but I can be sure it will be wonderful. Though I'll probably have to get ducky to tell me how.... when I get time, of course.

*My favourite line on that poster is this one: "I know this person who has downloaded a lot of documents from suspicious websites". I'm just waiting for one of my stoods to ring up our Fearless Leader and dob me in.

"ladies making stuff: keynote=go" was posted by dogpossum on September 6, 2007 11:23 AM in the category teaching

September 5, 2007


ozzyosbourne.jpgFirstly, here's a picture from this week's lecture. We are all about celebrity this week.

I have about a million emails in my inbox from panicky students, all asking me if their ads are ok for the assignment. The assignment is due next week. I also have a bunch asking for extensions, for reasons ranging from 'I just haven't had time' to 'I'm sick'.

I'm not sure what to do about them all, so I'm ignoring them.

The "can I have an extension because I haven't had time" excuse is a tricky one. One of the challenges of working with students who are supporting themselves financially with shitty jobs while they study, or who have families they're supporting, is that they're not on campus terribly often, and they work shitty jobs for the other 4 days a week they're not at uni. What do I do in this situation? On the one hand, part of the assessment task is being able to manage your workload. On the other, these guys really are working shitty jobs that leave them zero wiggle room - they really can't ditch a shift just to do an assignment. And it's not like they're slacking - I've noticed more and more students are having to work crappy jobs to fund their university study. And as I move down the food chain, away from the sandstones and down to the concrete slab unis, I find more and more students have less and less time for wandering around the library making friends with librarians or just popping in to see me to talk about assignments.
I think about the university of Melbourne's new 'American model' uni, where degrees are reworked to become postgraduate degrees, and I shudder. It's hard enough for students like mine to support themselves on bullshit jobs for the three years of an undergraduate degree. But to then put themselves through a postgraduate degree that doesn't offer a nice, fat scholarship... it's really a matter of access and equity.

Oh well. I'll answer their emails tomorrow.

"responsibles" was posted by dogpossum on September 5, 2007 7:11 PM in the category teaching