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Is there a blog in this course?

[ 9 ] September 3, 2012 |

As most of you know, my brand of film theory is heavily indebted to David Bordwell and neoformalism. So it should come as no surprise that I believe Bordwell’s compilation of posts from 2012 could very well function as an online film theory textbook, especially when read in tandem with similar compilations from 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. If you ever have to teach a course in film or film theory — or if you’ve ever wanted to take a seminar on film or film theory — now you have the material you need to do so.

Yes, Governor Christie, I’m sure this will impress him.

[ 213 ] August 29, 2012 |

You have to feel for Chris Christie. The biggest political speech of his life and he backdrops himself thus:

If that looks familiar, that’s because if you have anything resembling taste it damn well should:

Christie loves him some Springsteen. Grew up listening to and idolizing the Bard of the Badlands. The feeling’s mutual:

Despite heroic efforts by Christie, Springsteen, who is still a New Jersey resident, will not talk to him. They’ve met twice—once on an airplane in 1999, and then at the 2010 ceremony inducting Danny DeVito into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, where they exchanged only formal pleasantries. (Christie does say that Springsteen was very kind to his children.) At concerts, even concerts in club-size venues—the Stone Pony, in Asbury Park, most recently—Springsteen won’t acknowledge the governor. When Christie leaves a Springsteen concert in a large arena, his state troopers move him to his motorcade through loading docks. He walks within feet of the stage, and of the dressing rooms. He’s never been invited to say hello. On occasion, he’ll make a public plea to Springsteen, as he did earlier this spring, when Christie asked him to play at a new casino in Atlantic City. “He says he’s for the revitalization of the Jersey Shore, so this seems obvious,” Christie told me. I asked him if he’s received a response to his request. “No, we got nothing back from them,” he said unhappily, “not even a ‘Fuck you.’”

Did I write “mutual”? I meant the opposite of mutual. You have to wonder about someone who embraces a musician this deeply without listening to a damn thing he sings. The disconnect between lyric and listener is borderline sociopathic: if you spend your nights ears-deep in working-class tales of toil and despair and your days enacting policies that guarantee a future full of working-class tales of toil and despair, people may begin to suspect that you’ve embraced some strange form of patronage-by-poverty. They may begin to think that you’re trying to manufacture the social conditions necessary to create a newer, “better” Springsteen whose “convictions” won’t interfere with yours because you’ll have whispered the Gospel of the Free Market in his ear from the moment you turned him into a foundling. Not that you murdered his parents, mind you, they’re just not in his life anymore. And then years later, when you successfully run for President, you and your pet Springsteen will tour the country and your rallies will begin with your pet’s new hit, “Burn Down the U.S.A.,” a rousing tune about the virtues of small government.

People may begin to consider that you indulge in this pathetic fantasy because you’re as small of mind as you are large of body, and the man whose approval you so desperately seek won’t even begrudge you a “Fuck you.”


Add Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore (and his scrotums) to list of people who don’t know what words mean.

[ 68 ] August 28, 2012 |

Must I post this video yet again? It appears I must:

“There were no workers that were forced to attend the event,” [Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob] Moore said. “We had managers that communicated to our work force that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event. We had a pre-registration list. And employees were asked to put their names on a pre-registration list because they could not get into the event unless they were pre-registered and had a name tag to enter the premises.”

But I thought “WOW! HUNDREDS OF COAL MINERS STAND IN LINE FOR MITT ROMNEY!“? Do you mean to tell me that these coal miners were paid to not be “forced” to attend this “mandatory” event?

“Our management people wanted to attend the event and we could not have people underground during Romney’s visit,” Moore insisted.

“But why not still pay then their wage for that day?” [WWVA radio host David] Blomquist pressed.

“By federal election law, we could not pay people to attend the event,” Moore replied. “And we did not want anyone to come back and see where anyone had been paid for that day.”

“I’m not saying pay then to attend the event, I’m saying, ‘Hey look, we have to close down the mine, if you want to attend this event, that’s fine, but you’re still going to get a day’s pay for the work that you would have done,’” Blomquist pointed out. “Why not do that?”

“As a private employer, it was our decision and we made the decision not to pay the people,” the Murray chief financial officer said.

So they were not paid to not be “forced” to attend this “mandatory” event? Management just shut down the mines and didn’t “force” all the workers to attend this “mandatory” Romney photo-op. Why was this “mandatory” event that management didn’t “force” the miners to attend without pay so important anyway?

“We’re talking about an event that was in the best interest of anyone that’s related to the coal industry,” Moore added. “I do not believe that missing an eight-hour day, when you put it into perspective, when you think about how critical—critical this next election is, and how critical it is that we get someone in this office that supports coal—to give up eight hours for a career, I just don’t believe that there is anything negative about that.”

That makes sense: I can see why management wouldn’t think that there’s “anything negative” about forcing people working near or below the poverty line to “give up eight hours” of paid wages to attend a Mitt Romney rally. I’m sure Romney himself fully supported management’s decision, both in this particular case and all others. Because what matters more? Food on the table or a photo-op?

UPDATE: In the comments, kerry notes that this is par for the conservative course: “It’s kind of like their view of rape–if you weren’t physically dragged there and restrained, it wasn’t ‘forced’.”

Which makes Batman the liberal fascist of what now?

[ 21 ] August 28, 2012 |

For a split-second, I liked Grant Morrison a little, then I realized he’d made me jealous of Jonah Goldberg, and hated him all the more:

This exchange occuers in the third issue of Batman Incorporated, which unfortunately doesn’t end the “Is Batman a conservative?” debate by having the Batman repeatedly punch this Goldberg-proxy in the face. That said, Bulldog may not actually be a Goldberg-proxy, since we all know he’s a “monster-man,” not a “man-monster.”

ACTUALLY: Given that that’s Bruce Wayne in disguise in the green there and he’s chosen his own rogue’s gallery, I suppose it’s safe to say the Batman is, at the very least, implicitly punching the Goldberg-proxy in the face repeatedly. Damn it, now I’m tempted to like Morrison again.

Obama’s the only President who’s ever bowed, except for all the others.

[ 112 ] August 27, 2012 |

A Republican PAC full of former Navy Seals, Special Operations for America, will be releasing an ad entitled “Bow to Nobody” at the RNC:

Ryan Zinke, the former Navy SEAL who started the super PAC, spoke exclusively with Breitbart News today. “The ad itself accurately portrays where this President is,” said Zinke. “It accurately portrays his core belief that America should not lead. This president is shaping America to be one of the followers, to relinquish our role as a world leader. I didn’t fight 23 years as a Navy SEAL to watch America bow to anybody.”

He continued, “It’s not just the king of Saudi Arabia. My friends from WWII that fought in the Pacific theater—when they see the president bow to the emperor of Japan, I’ve seen veterans cry[.]”

When asked whether it was inappropriate for former SEALs to speak out, as some on the left have alleged, Zinke answered, “If the veterans can’t speak out, who can? I think it’s a duty of every veteran and every citizen to be actively involved in our political process, especially when the president sets out to negotiate away our rights under the Constitution. There have been other veterans—TR, Eisenhower, JFK—they’ve been active in speaking out and shaping the policy and politics of our country[.]”

For reasons that will become abundantly clear, that emphasis is mine. Zinke’s logic is that he shouldn’t fight to protect American freedom if the President is going to go bowing around the world willy-nilly. Moreover, he feels entitled to take this stand because other former military men, including the man who was once the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, remained “active in speaking out and shaping the policy of our country[.]” Implicit in Zinke’s claim is that someone like President Eisenhower would never diminish the office of the Presidency by bowing to foreign leaders. One problem: conservatives already floated this notion that the President never ever bows so I already know a little something about President Eisenhower: the man could not stop bowing. Hi there, Pope John XXIII!

Howdy to you, wife of Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Gronchi!

Hello again, Archbishop Iakovos of New York, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America!

Long time no see, Charles De Gaulle!

By Zinke’s logic, I believe that last bow means we have all been French since 2 September 1959. Eisenhower clearly demonstrated by that bow that the American President is a subordinate of the French, which means that for the past 50 years America has been a French territory with pretensions of sovereignty. Mon Dieu!

(Most of this post was originally published here on 15 November 2009. It seems stupid didn’t evolve much in the last three years.)

“This race isn’t about race. Wait, did I say ‘race’? I meant ‘election.’ This race will not be about election.”

[ 160 ] August 27, 2012 |

Not that conservatives are trying to make it an issue—being that theirs is the party whose anti-anti-racism robustly defies the law that governs all other double negatives—but via Jamelle, I see that Romney claims:

There’s no question in mind that the president’s action in this regard was calculated to build support for him among people he wants to have excited about his reelection, just as so many of the things he’s done were designed to try to shore up his base. And weakening the work requirement in welfare is an enormous mistake.

Now, Jamelle thinks it requires “gymnastics” of some sort to relate this statement to race, but given that the only “gymnastics” I can perform are “standing up” and “walking short distances, slowly,” I beg to differ. All you need is direct quotations and honest bracketing:

“[W]eakening the work requirement in welfare” equals “try[ing] to shore up [Obama's] base.”

So “[Obama's] base” prefers a “weaken[ed] work requirement.”

Ergo, black folk are lazy.

No gymnastics required.

NOTE: Since it isn’t entirely clear, I’m mocking my own athleticism here, not Jamelle’s point, which I’m merely doubling down on.

Breaking Bad: “Say My Name,” or fine, maybe don’t even acknowledge I exist.

[ 13 ] August 27, 2012 |

One of the more gratifying things about studying film and television is the occasional payoff. You consider a scene in obsessive detail and it turns out that scene is just as important as you thought it was. This isn’t a credit to you, obviously, so much as the director. (Though it is a validation that you’re not imparting significance to irrelevant details.) So watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad, “Say My Name,” was particularly gratifying for yours truly because it indicated that I didn’t waste a day last week breaking down that scene at the dinner table in “Buyout.” It had a punchline. Recall the establishing shot from that episode:

Breaking bad00021

Compare that to the establishing shot in “Say My Name”:

Breaking bad00054

They’re nearly identical. Nearly. As I tell my students: shots in which the differences are slight matter more than shots in which the differences are grand. So this long shot is a little longer—the head of the couch in the living room is visible—but the composition is identical, albeit less tightly framed. What does the looser framing suggest? Given the off-center position of the couch-head, the implication is that whatever orderly detente had been reached in the previous episode has, literally, been cast askew. Evidence of the tipped kilter abounds: two of the chairs occupied in “Buyout” are empty, and one of the characters—Jesse in his role as a figure of a son—has been replaced by a bottle of wine. It’s almost as if the director, Thomas Schnauz, is claiming that if Jesse prevented Skyler and Walter from having a conversation in “Buyout,” in “Say My Name” it’s the wine. (And that Skyler’s deliberately putting the wine between them. It had occupied the majority of her attention the last time after all.)

Point being:

Read more…

Mormon prophecy, much?

[ 29 ] August 27, 2012 |

Since there’s no video of the interview, we have no choice but to take Politico’s lead:

Mitt Romney conceded President Barack Obama has succeeded in making him a less likable person, but he offered a defiant retort to those hoping he will open up this week: “I am who I am.”

Romney quoted that Popeye line three times in a 30-minute interview with POLITICO about his leadership style and philosophy, swatting away advice from Republicans to focus on connecting with voters in a more emotional, human way at this convention. Instead, he vowed to keep his emphasis — in the campaign and any administration to follow — on a relentlessly goal-driven, business-minded approach that has shaped his life so far.

“I know there are some people who do a very good job acting and pretend they’re something they’re not,” Romney said. “You get what you see. I am who I am.”

I don’t want to extend Romney the benefit of any doubt, but it’s possible that he’s not quoting Popeye there. It’s possible that he’s quoting Exodus 3:14 — in which God tells Moses that his name is Ehyeh asher ehyehwhich means that Romney’s merely asserting that his Presidency will fulfill the White Horse Prophecy. Or something. I’d just rather believe a presidential candidate is invoking double-secret messianic nonsense than quoting a cartoon character whose popularity peaked in 1955. Unless this is his idea of courting the youth vote. In which case, given what I know student knowledge about culture prior to 2004, I strongly encourage him to continue this line of incredibly relevant and moving references that the young voters of today implicitly understand.

New syllabus: Game of Thrones: Bold Plan or Blasphemy?

[ 103 ] August 26, 2012 |

The university’s revamped the curriculum to emphasize the written word, so now I have to teach a traditional novel alongside my visual works. (Which I almost always did anyway but no matter.) I’ve decided to teach Game of Thrones, but there’s one problem: I’ve decided to teach Game of Thrones. In a freshmen composition class. That’s only ten weeks long. The quarter will look something like this:

  • Week 1: Introduction to the genre. Watch Fellowship of the Ring. Read secondary material about fantasy.
  • Weeks 2-5: Read Game of Thrones. Read secondary material about the novel. Write 4 blog posts and 1 short essay about it.
  • Weeks 6-9: Watch Game of Thrones. Read secondary material about the series. Write 4 blog posts and 1 long essay about it.
  • Week 10: Final project.

You see the problem: the novel’s 675 pages long, meaning that from Week 2 until Week 5 they’ll be reading 169 pages of the novel and approximately 15 pages of secondary material per week. Experience suggests that having freshmen non-majors read 184 pages per week while also asking them to produce 10 of their own pages may be too much for them to handle. So here’s my bold (or blasphemous) plan:

I let them skip the Daenerys chapters (3, 11, 23, 36, 46, 54, 61, 64, 68, and 72). Because I read the novel on a Kindle, I’m not exactly sure how many pages that will save them. But it makes narrative sense: they’ll spend all their time on the island of Westeros and we’ll spend all our classtime discussing its affairs in Weeks 2-5. When we shift to the series in Week 6, we’ll focus our attention on Daenerys and the events happening on Essos. That means the majority of the visual rhetorical analysis will involve horses, but it could be worse.

Another idea, floated by Gerry Canavan, would be to force the students to read one chapter from each of the point-of-view characters and allow them to decide which two they wanted to ignore. They’d have to justify their decision via a rhetorical analysis in a blog post, meaning that they would write that the Daenerys chapters don’t provide them with significant information about the context of conversations within the novel, or that they don’t believe they’re receiving accurate information from Tyrion because of his ethos. I like that from a pedagogical point of view, but I’m not sure about the classroom mechanics. Take a vote and ignore the two characters with the fewest proponents? I don’t know.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

RNC delayed by one day. Since when do Republicans pay attention to climate models?

[ 38 ] August 26, 2012 |

Everyone knows that predicting the future is incredibly easy, whereas explaining the past is incredibly difficult. For example, in 1933 everyone in the entire world could foresee that Hitler’s rise to power would lead directly to the Final Solution, whereas today, it’s impossible to prove that the Holocaust even happened. Similarly, today everyone in the Republican Party can look at the meteorological maps and foresee that delaying the convention by a day is a prudent idea, whereas a decade hence, they won’t even be able to prove that a “Hurricane Isaac” delayed their trip to “Tampa Bay” to nominate something called a “Mitt Romney” to represent their “Party” in the “White House.” It’ll be called “Convention Theory” and will, of course, merely be a “theory.”

Just like global warming and the Holocaust.

If ever there were a time to slam conservatives for their selective belief systems, it is now. If they truly don’t believe in that scientists can accurately account for climatological events, we should hold their feet to the fire and demand mandatory attendance for all planned speakers. Doesn’t matter if Jindal wants to stay in Louisiana, because by the standards he otherwise champions there’s no proof that Hurricane Isaac will hit New Orleans. It’s only a “theory.” If Isaac does hit New Orleans, it won’t mean anything other than weather. Pat Robertson won’t go on national television and declare that Isaac’s landing is God’s Punishment. The optics of Republicans partying at their convention while New Orleans drowns again won’t be indicative of the Party’s disregard for Americans who are poor or black, it’ll be a creation of the liberal media intended to make the Republicans look callous. “We’d planned this convention for months and removing Obama from office is paramount to the plight of an already drowned city,” not a single one of them will say. But some conservative bloggers will note — as they did during Katrina — that New Orleans deserves its death because it’s low-lying and within a common hurricane track, and they’ll base their conviction on solid evidence, by which they’ll mean the same geological record and climate modeling that relegates global warming to the status of “theory.”

Just like the Holocaust.

RNC delayed by one day. Only 18,249 more and it’ll “catch up” with its platform.*

[ 41 ] August 25, 2012 |

*Estimate may not subtract to account for leap days because math is hard.

Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf

[ 18 ] August 25, 2012 |

Via Eileen Joy and the outstanding number of medievalists I know on Facebook, I see that Thomas Meyer‘s translation of Beowulf is now available. For free. It possesses a striking cover:


And though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet—this translation, I mean, because I’ve obviously read Beowulf before—the excerpt from the publisher accords neatly with my recent obsession on the relation of form to content in film:

The eyes of Hygelac’s kin watched the wicked raider
execute his quick attack:
without delay,
snatching his first chance,
a sleeping warrior,
he tore him in two,
chomped muscle, sucked veins’
gushing blood,
gulped down his morsel, the dead man,
chunk by chunk,
hands, feet & all. &


never before had
sinherd feared anything so.

As the publisher notes, “the reader is confronted with the words themselves running together, as if in panic, in much the same way that the original passage seems in such a rush to tell the story of the battle that bodies become confused.” This is a readerly experimental mode, in which the formal experimentation is meant to assist the reader in understanding the content of the poem by replicating the experience being described. The fact that that it’s not easy to parse that second stanza is the point. (I’ve read it about twenty times now I still keep seeing the word “dreach,” if only because it sounds like a word that belongs in Beowulf.) Point being, there are far worse ways to spend your Saturday night than reading a poem in which “hot gore pour[s] upon whirlpools.”

Or with supporting an endeavor which, to quote Eileen,

Every book we make, we will give away for free in electronic form, because we believe in the richest possible artistic-intellectual para-university commons in which everyone has access to whatever they need and want, whenever they need and want it, and so that authors can have the widest possible readership. But we also believe in the printed book: as work of art, as a stylish object for one’s cabinet of curiosities, as a material comfort [or bracing cocktail] to hold in one’s hands, as something that takes up weight and space in the world and adds something of beauty to the thoughts, images, and narratives we hold in common.

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