May 2006 Archives

The Best Home Teaching Story I've Ever Heard

He went out and drank a quart of peppermint schnapps.... He ripped all my clothes off, he started to beat me with the cat furniture.... And I left him. And that's when he jumped out the kitchen window.

I just heard those lines of dialogue in a movie--and not just any movie, but a documentary about a Mormon temple worker. One of the reasons I so love nonfiction is that you just can't make shit that weird up.... OK, you can, but credibility is strained. A Mormon temple worker once drank a quart of peppermint schnapps, ripped his wife's clothes off, beat her with the cat furniture (my favorite detail by far), then tried and failed to commit suicide by jumping out the kitchen window!? (The ellipses in the dialogue, I should mention, represent not anything I have deleted but editing cuts in the film itself.) To paraphrase Aristotle, the only reason something that weird can be believed is because it really happened.

The even weirder thing is, the Mormon temple worker was once a rock star, Arthur "Killer" Kane, a founding member of the New York Dolls. In 1989, as he lay recuperating in the hospital after his failed suicide attempted, Kane called a 1-800 number and requested a copy of the Book of Mormon. Two sister missionaries later showed up at his door and taught him the discussions.

Academic conferences can bring out snarkiness, competition, cruelty in even the nicest people: they've got these intellectual territories to defend, ideas in which they have a great deal invested, and when someone threatens that territory by challenging those ideas, watch out! I've been in and observed my fair share of very heated exchanges--about like when Warren, Jonathan and Andrew argue over who was the best James Bond. (I love Andrew's resentful claim that "Timothy Dalton should win an Oscar and hit Sean Connery on the head with it"--not that I love Timothy Dalton OR Sean Connery--actually I hate the whole Bond franchise--I just can't help laughing at the line.) You'll sometimes see outright hostility flare up in the Q&A sessions after panels. It doesn't always happen, but it happens often enough.

One of the many great things about the Slayage conference was how little of that occurred: people were generally courteous and generous. I'm not saying no snarkiness occurred--it did--but the few times it happened just underscored how rare it was the rest of the time. We decided it was because we are so often attacked for having this bizarre scholarly interest in this element of pop culture most academics feel is beneath their notice, so when we got together, the main thing we felt was gratitude at being among friends. Still, it was very cool to go to a panel and hear such good-natured exchanges. By no means did everyone agree with everything they heard, but I've rarely seen criticisms presented and accepted so graciously: "Have you thought about this?" "Why no, I haven't! Thanks so much for suggesting that." OK, you hear stuff like that at conferences all the time, except that the graciousness of such statements is often a mere veneer, but when you heard it at Slayage, it seemed sincere.

Home Again, Again


I'm home. The flight home was uneventful, which is exactly how I like my flights. My house and all my stuff are fine, which is exactly how I like my house and all my stuff. The conference was fabulous (more on that later), which is how I prefer my conferences, and I'm already trying to think up something to present on next time.

One nice thing is that when I got home, several of my plants were in full bloom. I have an azalea so heavy with deep pink blossoms you almost can't see any greenery. My rhododendron and looks fabulous, as does a bunch of chives--I guess most people don't typically think of chives as decorative plants but they've got these cool fuzzy purple blossoms that I quite like. Purple is one of my favorite color for flowers: last year I planted lupine and purple columbine, both of which are healthy, established and blooming right now. The first plant I see when I walk out the back door is this vine thing (I can't for the life of me remember the name of it) climbing a trellis by my garage--it's covered with deep purple star-shaped flowers. And I finally know what color my irises are! Last year a friend gave me some cuttings from her garden but she couldn't remember what color they were. I was hoping they'd be dark purple, but they're a deep gold, almost brown--it's very dramatic and pretty, and contrasts with all the purple very nicely.

The only disappointment in the whole matter of my garden--and it's not a cause for weeping and wailing, I know, but it is kind of a drag--is that I'm leaving again in a few days, to go on a nice long vacation that will involve visits with both friends and family, and when I get back two weeks later, all these really cool plants will be done blooming for this year, and I won't get to appreciate them again until 2007. I guess next year I shouldn't plan two trips back to back, and shouldn't make one of them so long.

P.S. Now that I'm home and can manage my spam comments, I've turned the comments back on, in case anyone was dying to say something about Riley or anything else I've mentioned recently.

The Joy of Being a Nerd


In "The Nerd Voice" from The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell says something like (I'm paraphrasing because I don't have my copy here with me and so can't quote it verbatim, as I prefer to do) that being a nerd--which means caring too much about a particular topic--is the best way to make friends that she knows of.

I have spent the last few days at the Slayage Conference held in Barnesville, Georgia (there's a whole long story as to why it's being held at such an out of the way location, the short version being that a college here offered to host it), indulging in nerdiness, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I am currently operating on less than five hours of sleep because I stayed up way past my bedtime last night to drink cheap beer and discuss, among other things, whether or not the cruelty of "Hell's Bells," the episode in which Xander jilts Anya at the altar, was necessary or not--I argued that it was really awful in that he not only broke her heart but humiliated her, and someone else argued that it was that extra element that made her reenroll as a vengeance demon, which made all these other plot twists in seasons six and seven possible yada yada yada. The thing is, this was an extracurricular discussion: this was after a full day of organized panel discussions of the Whedonverse. This was a conversation where people took of their shoes and sat on beds and talked informally about text and subtext and so on and so forth in BtVS and Angel and Firefly/Serenity--as well as other things. There was a discussion on Harry Potter, but I'm not really into that and so could add little to it, and as for the Jane Austen hints I dropped, everyone else was content to let them lie on the floor among the bottlecaps and carpet lint.

Riley, Ultimatums, My Absence and No Comments

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I am one of the few Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans who really digs Riley, Buffy's cornfed Iowa boyfriend who is also a member of this covert military operation, the "Initiative." Most people find him too wholesome and bland, but I think he's physically hot, dryly funny, decent to women, and very appealing.

Spike, Sunday's guest blogger, became my friend when he and I collaborated on a presentation on BtVS. He worked on Buffy and labor; I worked on Buffy and sex. He has been helping me thinking out some of the ideas I wanted to develop for the paper I'm presenting this weekend at Slayage 2. Blog Spike (as opposed to BtVS Spike) and I both like Riley but disagreed about how we felt about his departure from the show.

As you might have noticed, I'm not exactly developing lots of original ideas in my entries this week--too busy. As another time-saving blogging technique, I'm posting an (almost unedited) email I sent Blog Spike about Riley and what was going on when he left Buffy in Season Five--it's both topical (to me, anyway) and something I can just cut and paste.

I would love to hear from any other Riley fans out there, if any more read my blog. Unfortunately I got up this morning to find I'd received over almost 500 junk comments in six hours, so I'm turning off all comments until I get back. At that point, I'll try to figure out some better way of filtering out the crap comments from the legitimate ones.


When I was home for Christmas, I ended up going on this dreadful drive out in the desert with my parents, my brother and his family. It was a Sunday afternoon and we had driven less than a mile when my brother up in this HORRIBLE cd of little kids singing the Articles of Faith (13 statements of belief for the Mormon church) set to music. It was cloying and gross, and I was revolted to be confronted with so overt a method of socializing little kids into swallowing all that codswollop. I took a deep breath; I listened for a few moments, and then I said, "If you want to listen to this, that's fine. But I can't listen to it. If this is what's going to be playing in the cd player, please take me home before we go any further, because I cannot and will not listen to this."

And Brother said, "Well, uh... OK." And he took the cd out and put in a cd of silly lyrics set to classical music.

My six-year-old nephew asked, "Why are listening to this? I wanted to listen to the cd I got today at church."

"Holly asked us to change it," Brother said. "We're going to listen to this."

Someone Else's Sense of Humor


Here's a link Spike sent me (one of these days he'll have to stop giving me all this stuff for my blog and use it on his own) to an article in the Guardian UK about the problems of translating jokes in English into German and vice versa. Stewart Lee, the author, notes that "a commonly held contemporary British view is that the Germans have no sense of humour," then asks (and eventually answers, in fairly interesting ways) "But can this be possible? Can there genuinely be a nation incapable of laughter, or is it just that the German language of laughter differs so greatly from our own, that it appears non-existent?"

My favorite observation (and this is the kind of thing I would have liked to have been able to cite during grad school) is this, about attempts to depict a British stand-up comedian in Germany, where stand-up comedy is "alien":

this instinct to formalise a genre of comedy we accept as inherently informal is not indivisible from the limitations the German language imposes on conventional British comedy structures. The flexibility of the English language allows us to imagine that we are an inherently witty nation, when in fact we just have a vocabulary and a grammar that allow for endlessly amusing confusions of meanings.(Emphasis added, of course.)

Lee notes that humor in English relies on

Better Than a Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Stick


In case you didn't know, a standard way to publish a book of poetry is to submit your manuscript to a contest. One of the most prestigious prizes is Yale Younger Poets (which I am now too old to enter), but no matter what the level of prestige, the system is pretty much the same: you send 50-70 pages of poetry, a check for $25.00 (or thereabouts), and a self-addressed stamped envelope. You then wait six months to a year, at which point you usually get your SASE back with a xeroxed sheet of paper telling you who won. Occasionally in the list of finalists, you'll notice your name, and wonder why they never bothered to tell you that you were a finalist.

A lot of people consider it a racket; there is even an "American poetry watchdog" website that "exposes the fraudulent ‘contest,'" and there is also a Council of Literary Magazines and Presses that has set up rigorous contest-judging guidelines so that there aren't fraudulent contests to expose. Anyway, the whole thing is costly, demoralizing and time-consuming, but it's also how the system works, so I sent my book to half a dozen contests earlier this year.

Here's an email message I got yesterday:

In an email message to me a couple of days ago, Spike noted that comments on various threads had revealed certain categorical errors. He said he'd try to find time to respond to the comments himself, and I said, "Look, you write such interesting, insightful stuff; I don't want it buried deep at the end of a thread, especially since I have the feeling these issues might come up again. If you're going to write an analysis of this, why not write something I can post as an entry? I'm really busy right now and could really use a guest blogger, if you wouldn't mind...." And it turns out, he didn't mind at all, and very graciously agreed to write a post for me.

So here it is: my very first guest post, courtesy of Spike.

In the comments to From the Perspective of a Man and Carnival of Feminists XV, two criticisms of Holly's statements made the error of confusing physical properties with culture. Timothy was concerned that while the thread of the comments under "From the Perspective of a Man" emphasized the importance of not damning a whole category of people when insulting a particular individual, this concern ran against the grain of what he felt was Holly's critique of "straight white men." Holly's response has already made the point that criticizing the dominant perspective is not the same as criticizing a group of people. What interested me was the way Timothy collapses a cultural or ideological category (the dominant perspective of the straight white male) with a biological category (men).

In the discussion of the Carnival, a similar, but slightly more complicated error led Jay to question Holly’s use of a Chinese character in the design of her web page: he was concerned about the appropriation of Asian culture by non-Asians. It seems to me that Jay’s concern also rests on a conflation of a cultural or ideological category with, here, a geographical one. This mistake is a bit less obvious than Timothy’s so I should explain why I think Jay makes it. Jay suggested that it was ironic that Holly included a link to Jenn’s piece Unbound Feet in the Carnival, when Jenn had also posted a little rant (Jay’s term) about Western appropriation of Asian culture, since it would appear from the top right of Holly’s page that she’s a white woman but she includes a Chinese character. (Holly and Jay have already had an exchange about this over the issues of etiquette and the reason Holly has the character on her blog so I won’t belabour these points.)

Now it may be a bit unfair for me to discuss Jenn's writing here – it's not her blog, I don't even know if she's reading this – so I will stress this qualification: I am not attributing any intent to Jenn, I'm only commenting as a reader. I have read both of the posts that matter here. The first thing to be noted about the "rant" is that it is a rant. It is not a thoughtfully crafted argument about the point she wants to make – unlike the elegant piece she wrote on "unbound feet," which is a careful and powerful argument. Now ranting is quite important and I would encourage more of it. But I suspect that the tone of the rant is part of the reason Jay felt he had license to question Holly's use of the Chinese character: the rant reads like a defence of the integrity of Asian culture against Western power. It would be possible – but I believe it would be very ungenerous – to suggest that this goes against the argument made in "unbound feet," which is a powerful claim for feminist resistance to female identities imposed by Asian American men on Asian American women.

What Was I Saying about Perspective?


I recently came across a blog editorial entitled, "Supreme Court Officially Sends Taxpayers into Early Menopause."

Just kidding! The actual title was Supreme Court Officially Emasculates Taxpayers.

That's right: Taxpayers are officially gendered male, and the supreme court has officially castrated them.

Now, I am not happy with what the Supreme Court did in this particular case, but I wouldn't call it "emasculation." The Supreme Court has decided that "State taxpayers have no standing ... to challenge state tax or spending decisions simply by virtue of their status as taxpayers." But I don't think that really qualifies as "cutting off the testicles" of taxpayers. I suppose you could argue that "emasculate" in this case simply means to "deprive of strength of vigor," but still, that definition only works if the person being weakened is male; you wouldn't say, "My grandmother was severely emasculated by her struggle with breast cancer."

So--anyone want to suggest again that I'm "overreaching" when I say that the world happens from the perspective of a man?

Carnival of Feminist XV


Thanks to everyone who nominated posts, and special thanks to Natalie, who organizes and oversees the carnival.

Feminism, Friendship and Fun

Carnival is supposed to be a time of pleasure and fun, so this carnival begins with a post from Mind the Gap!, pointing out that Fun Is a feminist issue:

Fun is also a feminist issue because it builds friendship. And friendship is a feminist issue. Friendship among women and their male allies is radical because women are not really supposed to be friends with one another, and they're certainly not supposed to be friends with men on equal terms. In refusing to compete and sell each other out for the attention of men, we work to break down patriarchal norms.

The post was generated as part of Blog for Radical Fun Day, the idea of Brownfemipower. On Woman of Color, she writes about her fondness for the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (which contains both feminist and uh, not-so-feminist elements) and lists all the blogs who participated. Definitely check this out!

In the spirit of feminist friendship, Pomegranate Queen creates a blog Forum for Women and Trans Writers of Color to share written work for purposes of critical feedback and support, called Securing our Writing.

Here's to feminist fun and friendship--I hope you enjoy this carnival, and find some new friends here.


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This page is an archive of entries from May 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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