They grow culture in a petri dish.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Working the Presidential Mojo

This week, portraits of former President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton were unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. Commissioned portrait artist Nelson Shanks painted the unconventional eight-foot portrait of Bill Clinton standing against a fireplace and looking, er, sexy? Cocksure? Come-hither? Shanks explained his choice of posture, noting, "I think the painting really feels like Bill Clinton. It has [sic] I would not call it swagger...What? An informality? A looseness, a relaxed nature." The word you are looking for, Nelson—could it be "swank"? The man looks as if he's just come from having sex or is just getting ready to go have sex. Or both. But, while it may seem as if this presidential sexuality is new or misplaced in this type of medium, one can't say that this is the first time sexuality and power have been so linked in the White House.

Case in point: John Stewart's initially promising 1998 book Naked Pictures of Famous People. On the cover, Stewart features a defiant yet chary and almost completely naked President Abraham Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln that we all know and love? The very same. And, the Lincoln that we are not taught about in school. "Naked Lincoln" gives us insight into nineteenth-century "sexy," and, though a daring picture, it ain't pretty. Even so, this picture provides a different glimpse of Lincoln, makes us ponder another type of legacy, and affirms why stovepipe hats aren't sold in porno shops.

And, while the unclothed president seems too hot for Stewart to adequately address in his book, "Naked Lincoln" helps us begin to understand both Clinton's popularity and people's hatred of him. Though the new Clinton portrait feels overly sensual, it also seems familiar as well, yes? Certainly, Lincoln wasn't the only president to have compromising pics produced during his time as Commander-in-Chief. Dickinson College law graduate James Buchanan birthday-suited it into history with his "Open Window Birth in Light." An untrained auteur and daguerreotype enthusiast, Buchanan was affectionally nicknamed "Bucky" for his propensity to roam the White House unclothed. Indeed, Buchanan responded poorly to sectionalism and remained unmarried because few people could stand his company (his longest-running personal aide was blind). After Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson became president, and it wasn't too long into his tenure in office that Johnson got caught with his pants down (shirt off, etc.). Though usually prudish and proper in his attire, after the Radical Republicans overrode his veto to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Johnson took this naked walk into history on the grounds of his childhood Tennessee home. Ever refer to Mr. Winky as a "Johnson" (as opposed to a "Fillmore" or a "Garfield")? Now you know why. Finally, Ulysses S. Grant attempted a "dressed down" (though thankfully dressed) official presidential picture, but it was ultimately rejected on grounds of indecency. His "Uly at Rest" (subtitled: "Hey, Mama—c'mere") was described as "offensive" and "insouciant" by reviewers but nevertheless toured the country in various county fairs, drawing admiring audiences. A national treasure, Grant's picture is currently housed at the national Sex and Presidents Museum (located off of I-95, Hanover exit near the Waffle House).

So, as we ponder our own responses to sexuality and the presidency, we should remember not to be too shocked. A slouchy-portraited Clinton isn't going to proposition you, he'll just remind you that, sometimes, a president needs to feel sexy, too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Area Scholar Ponders Suicidal Plunge from any One of Seven Available Gables

For research purposes, I have been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables as of late. Written in 1851, this book was reviewed more favorably than Hawthorne's earlier (and currently more preferred) The Scarlet Letter. While reviewers were "nearly unanimous in celebrating the novel for its literary mastery, grace, and cheerful perspective on life's possibilities" (Levine ix), it is sucking my will to live. Here are a few reasons why:

1) Omnipresent portrait of dour and tragic Puritan ancestor Judge Pyncheon. Burn it...burn it!
2) Decrepit, decaying, dusty seven-gabled ediface.
3) Scowling, rustling, aged spinster Miss Hepzibah who doesn't want to work for a living. Times change: suck it up.
4) Can-do young cousin Phoebe from the country. Hate the "scribbling women" do you, H? Then stop stealing their tropes!
5) Lack of evident plot even after 127 pages of writing. Warning: don't make me build a time machine with my own hands, travel back to 1850, and bitch-slap you in front of your literary friends. I want a plot, and I want it now. You've been warned.

While The Scarlet Letter famously caused Mrs. Hawthorne "a grievous headache" (ix), the lesser-known story holds that House of the Seven Gables caused her to kick Natty H squarely in the balls, as she screamed, "Do I look like I have all century, Nate!?! Get to the freakin' point!" I mean, this is a novel which makes Moby-Dick read like the latest Harry Potter installment. This is a novel which caused the folks over at Reader's Digest Condensed Books to consider going to pamphlet form. Indeed, this is a novel that is currently being used by Dr. Kevorkian in assisting suicide and is endorsed by 9 out of 10 Hemlock Society members.

Which is a shame. In one respect, Hawthorne had literary gold on his hands. His daguerreotypist is his most interesting and mysterious character - traveling from job to job, growing vegetables in the garden, taking people's pictures, and infiltrating people's domestic space. Who is he? What does he want? As a reader still stuck in the mire of this literary peat bog, I can only hope that he comes out on top. Even so, if the review is anything to go by, it looks as if I'll be summarily glad-handed out of the gloom. If, that is, I can make it to the end.

Levine, Robert S. Introduction. House of the Seven Gables. 1851. A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2006.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Where to Go to Get Used

Where do you go when you want to get hot and sweaty with fellow bookworms? The Friends of the Library Bi-Annual Booksale, of course. Yesterday marked the start of the spring sale, and people were out in droves. As I got to the large, un-airconditioned warehouse, I met Hot and Daniel who were already in line to pay. See, I'd forgotten to set my alarm to meet the 9 a.m. start time, and I didn't roll into Dodge until around 10:30. Talking with Hot and Daniel made me regret not having showered but only for a nanosecond. In this sort of pushy, grasping environment, BO can be your friend and a useful purchasing tool. (Curses! Should have worn patchouli-scented lotion of death!)

I was reminded of the competitive nature of this book-shopping experience as some five-foot-five woman pushed in front of me to look over the bookshelf I was already perusing. Rule of thumb: if you're not willing to muscle in, someone else will be. While we were all really happy to be there, intoxicated by the low, low prices of books, there are no guarantees about what is available, so it behooves one to move quickly. As I hit my book-gathering stride, I mentally patted myself on the back for finding so many interesting books. Then, I looked over at a fellow book-buyer who had a bar-code scanner hooked up to her cell phone. Man, I thought, I am going about this the wrong way.

FOL sells donated books for around $.50 to about $3.00. I've never bought a book for over two dollars. But, if you find a worthwhile and well-conditioned book, you can theoretically resell it to a resale store or on which is why a bar-code scanner and internet access pay off. Dusty Milhauser did this for awhile and said that it's a very competitive industry but that one can make a lot of money doing it. Sometimes, I wish that person were me.

When I was done shopping, I checked my laundry basket and headed for the "15 items or fewer" line. This essentially means that I didn't find anything incredibly useful. Even so, I paid a grand total of $17 for 14 books, and that ain't hay. Now, the only thing left to do is wait it out until Wednesday—$.10 day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I would gladly give up the funk whenever and wherever I could convince someone to accept ownership of said funk.

Man, some fragrances should come with an FDA warning. I bought a LOTION from the Body Shop a good many years ago. The last time I used it (about 4 1/2 years ago), my friend Ban commented, "what smells?" (and not in a good way). Just recently, I applied the same lotion. After a half day of this wearing it, I felt the need to shower, I showered, and then I went out. As Andretta and I were sitting in my car, she asked me what smelled so unusual. That would be me. Problem is that this scent is so all-pervasive that it has set up camp in a certain important foundation undergarment that I own, and I can do nothing to evict it.

I should mention that this lotion contains patchouli. Having had this experience with patchouli, I've been looking for it in what little fragrance shopping I do, and can't seem to find it anywhere. This leads me to believe that they don't make patchouli anymore, and that all incarnations that we smell today are actually remnants leftover from the 70s. Strong, smelly, overpowering remnants. If this theory is, indeed, correct, it explains a great deal that we've taken for granted about today's patchouli-scented individuals: perhaps they aren't applying fragrance so much as they've smelled this way from birth. Horrifying, I know, but it makes me glad my folks weren't hippies. Further, my theory explains the high incidence of pot smoking among such individuals. If I couldn't escape the cloying scent of patchouli, I'd have to chill way-the-fuck-out, too.

"But Violet!," you're saying, "why don't you just throw out the lotion?" "Because I grew up during the Depression," I fib. In reality, I grew up at the Depression's representative knee, drawing on my grandmother's sense of resource preservation at all costs. If I were to throw out this lotion, I would be transgressing the memory of a woman who routinely gave me dead people's freezer foods or unworn underwear after they'd passed (and, NO, I did not eat or wear these items). To get rid of this albatross, I'll have to use the lotion on my "solitary" days or find someone willing to take it off my hands. Either way, one day, on a wayward summer breeze, you'll be reminded that, when it comes to funk, some people just won't, or can't, give it up.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Cutting Edge Technology Allows Etching of Digital Signature Through Eye Movement
(or, If a Blog Entry is Published in the Forest, Where do They Plug the Computers In?)

I started writing this entry about the PCA/ACA Conference, and it was so boring that I almost fell asleep. My point in that draft was that we were busy, tired, and pressed for time, but I said this in a lot more words. Zzzz... So, I tried to think of how to discuss this trip in punchier, more entertaining ways. In so doing, I tried to consider my audience. But, looking through the comments I've gotten, one would think that I have no audience whatsoever. Au contraire (Mahatma)! Friends have e-mailed me to say that they enjoy the blog, or, occasionally, people will mention in person that they enjoy it. (Thank you, my people!) If I'm getting this right, other people who read my blog but don't respond exist in "lurkdom." I've only started reading the blogs of people I don't know myself, and it feels particularly vouyeristic, so I end up commenting as a kind of "I'm here! Don't freak out! I'm looking but am completely harmless!" enterprise. Not that they'll necessarily care.

Then it occurred to me that academia has its own sense of privacy, public expression, and vouyerism, and that's how I'll talk about the Pop Culture/American Culture Conference. Thursday, I drove up to Atlanta with some friends/colleagues in an all-night undergraduate-roadtrip-style drive. We had some pretty interesting and heartfelt exchanges as well as the requisite laugh-fests. Even so, I can't remember specific things that we said nor did we think to bring a camera, so my recollection will be spotty at best.

We opted not to stay at the conference hotel because it was so expensive. At the significantly-cheaper Days Inn, we did the old two-person fakeout for a cheaper room while we filled the two double beds. Since I wasn't dating my bedmate, I thank her sincerely for not ravishing me. It's kind of weird to "sleep" with a colleague like this, but I can't imagine that hotels will go to a "four single bed" format any time soon. Note to colleagues: I have great "conference bedmate" stories, but you're some sort of vouyer if you ask for them. At any rate, we got into town at around 2:30 a.m. which left us just enough sleep to "zombie" it to Toke's 8 a.m. panel. Then, we snoozed some more and made it to my 12:30 (except for Toke, who snoozed more than the rest of us did). Two papers down, crappy dinner to go.

That evening, part of me wanted to party it up with the other conference attendees. I was particularly captivated by the Motorcycling Culture and Myth Special Event: Popular Culture Poker Walk. It was described as follows:
Everyone is welcome to join the motorcycling culturists on their first annual Popular Culture Poker Walk. The route will visit the requisite number of appropriate establishments on our way to the ultimate destination where participants will imbibe various beverages, dance, or participate in other rider ritual activities. High and low hand, 50/50. Bikes not required. Since this walk is modeled after the traditional poker run, we will travel in one pack. No minors, guns, or critters. Meet at Champions Sports Bar. Um, pop culture dudes? This is kind of what normal people do every day, so I'm not sure the event needs a title. Anyway, my tired ass missed the fun only to have a different kind of fun back at the room. Yes. We all stayed up late talking and laughing which reminded me of when my church would have lock-ins for the kids. Is it normal to have adult lock-ins? If so, I want to have an adult lock-in and, NO, I DO NOT mean an orgy (so get your freakin' mind out of the freakin' gutter).

The next day, we went to Step's presentation. She was kind of nervous in a downbeat seemingly-un-nervous way which reminded me that presenting one's work in this format can be quite nervewracking. We preserve our own senses of privacy and isolation which are rent by this dual work-disclosing and performance-demanding format. And, of couse, we have to deal with both colleagues' and peers' reactions. Dicey! Anyway, after her presentation, we checked out of the hotel and went for some fantastic vegetarian/vegan faire. I inadvertently procured a vat of fruity beverage, proclaimed it "the Marxist drink," and we headed for home.

So, I hope my version of the trip does it at least partial justice, protects the privacy of the innocent, and lets you feel a bit like the proverbial fly on the proverbial wall.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

One from the Road

Last night, my friends and I were coming back from Atlanta and ran across an interesting sign. It proclaimed:

Hide steaks instead this year, and cause a frenzy!

This took me a minute to figure out. Err...hide? Ohyeah: Easter. Time-honored tradition of egg-hiding, yes, yes! To my recollection, the only time in which the hiding of foodstuffs is acceptible, as I'm sure Halloween and Thanksgiving would become cannibalistic chaos were candy and casseroles rendered inaccessible. So, yeah, this was a beef advertisement, but I find the prospect of hiding meat disturbing on three fronts. First, I don't eat it. The only "frenzy" a hidden steak would cause me and my friends is a door-finding-and-utilizing one. Second: steaks will rot, yo? In my family, we would hide chocolate eggs which came in handy because, after the official egg hunt, we kept finding stragglers for the rest of the year. That's laissez-faire egg-hiding and finding for you. Finally, why would you advise hiding flesh to celebrate a holiday associated with resurrection? Yikes. This is worse than the year I watched Rosemary's Baby on cable one Easter. Who greenlights that kind of programming? I guess my point is that advertisers should remember multiple meanings of a holiday before rushing into an ill-conceived ad campaign. Advice: it's what's for dinner.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I Become an Award-Winning Girth Estimator

This past weekend, I went to Fernindina Beach to attend my first ever baby shower. Fortunately for me, I was accompanied by the beautiful, talented, and agreeable Andi, and I remembered to bring my present—a old-school Milne-style Tigger stuffed animal. When we got to the hotel, it became clear to me that "baby shower" means family and friends. That said, there were a lot of families. It was fantastic to see Kedash and Tavis; Kedash is about eight months pregnant, which is to say "gettin' big."

We arrived a little late, right about the time that the "games" portion of the shower was getting started. The first game was a Pee-wee's Playhouse style word avoidance game that lasted until the end of the [blank] shower. In it, everyone got a clothes pin that they had to give up if they said the word "baby." I lost mine in about a nanosecond. Baby. Babybabybaby. Your clothes pins don't define me!

The second game was a sucking contest in which players are given baby bottles filled with chocolate milk and challenged to a suck-off. Well, two things you should know about sucking: first, it's not the most efficient way of taking in liquid, and second, it'll give you a headache. The winner of the contest was actually a cheater named Perk (I kid you not on this one). He bit the nipple off of his bottle and gulped, but I think we were sort of bored with "grown people sucking" by that point anyway. But, biting? Um, Perk?...note to your wife...

The third game we played was a girth-judging contest in which we eyeballed Kedash's belly and cut a length of yarn to go around it. I cut my yarn, watched her walk around to a few tables, and cut a few more bits off. Turns out I'm not too shabby in the girth-estimating department because I officially won, and I've got a centerpiece basket of bath products in my bathroom to prove it. Someone's twelve-year old (or so) daughter was really close and won a prize, too, which is cool. I'm not afraid to share my podium.

So, the last part of the shower was devoted to opening lots and lots of gifts - big ones. We all kind of talked with each other while this was going on, and some little guy near me was playing with things he probably should not have been playing with. At any rate, half the room was looking warily at him, but I was trying hard to ignore him. At that moment, it occurred to me that if it takes a village to parent a child then I am willing to sneak away from that village in the dead of night on piano-noted Scooby-Doo tiptoes. No kids, thanks. I'm stuffed!

When we left, though, I was reminded just how much I miss Kedash - I volunteered to come back and visit, which anyone who knows my feelings about Jacksonville knows is a sure sign of devotion. Best of luck with [blank]!

Monday, April 10, 2006

You scored as Geek/Nerd. Haha! ok. go computer geeks!







Emo Kid














What Highschool Clique Do You Belong To?
created with

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Long-Awaited Egg-Coloring Pictures

Finally! The pictures we've all be dyeing to see—the long-awaited egg-coloring pictures from our small, festive and cliquish egg-coloring party post BWWC keynote. Yes, while some of our colleagues chose to go drinking and dancing at the Round Bar, we few begged off. In order to color eggs. I'll admit, this was a surprise crafting session, as I had no idea what we'd be doing that night (thank God—thank God—it wasn't clay). I think I got Marlin and Andretta back, though, by subjecting them to the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Just Friends. If you look closely, you can actually see Andretta losing brain cells. So, the month's a' wasting—color 'em if you've got 'em!

Beauty and the Barely Visible Beasts

Awhile back, I decided that it would be a good idea to purchase a few hibiscus plants for my apartment balcony. My favorite complex in O-town used to have some beautiful hibiscus which bloomed profusely with little care (or so it seemed at the time). Lowe's had just what I was looking for - a bright red version and a peachy-orange version which has a double flower. "Aces!" I thought; here's one of my lovelies when it was new:

A few weeks after getting my plants, I started getting yellow leaves on the peachy one. Predictibly, I started thinking that I was a bad mother - that I was either watering too much or not watering enough or sending my baby to the wrong college prep boarding school. I looked online and got some more feedback which included the possibility of bugs. While I hadn't seen any bugs, I also didn't have a lot of time to look. I'm busy, dammit! Why can't these damn plants look after themselves? Say it: bad mother.

Well, it's been dry the past few weeks. That wouldn't mean much to my plants as they're in no position to get water without my help. But this does mean something when it comes to the surrounding trees, their inhabitants, and my balcony which rests almost inside of a huge oak tree. Which is apparently why I have tiny yellow spider mites which were biting the shit out of me yesterday. I was hanging out on the balcony, making some calls when I looked down and saw dozens of tiny yellow flecks. Moving flecks! The horror!!!

This unexpected turn of events prompted me to find What's that Bug? (, a great website for those of you who've got a bug and don't know what it is. Right now, my facination with this website is only matched in fervor by my hypocrandriac attraction to WebMD. I'm afflicted inside and out! At any rate, it seems that the arch nemesis of the spider mite is...water. Um, I'll see if I can manage that extermination, even though it means getting a water sprayer.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Steaming Cup of Huh?

A few weeks ago, I was driving down Newberry Road and saw a marquee for a bank which proudly proclaimed:

Coin-machine coffee for customers

This has got to be the most inane sign I've seen in many moons. First off: coin-machine coffee? Really proud of that, are ya? I've got a wee suggestion...some gourmet shit might net you a few more new accounts. Second: is the coin-machine coffee free for customers? If not, does that then mean that only customers can buy the coffee so lovingly offered by this coin machine vendor? And, if so, what kind of perk (excuse pun) is that? All I can say is that I hope they're better with your money than they are with their words.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sadism...Wait, no, Masochism!

I need to find a freakin' academic support group before I hammer hot awls into my eyes. It's essay grading time again, and it looks like some people are taking the "essay" out of essay (i.e., nobody's "trying" anything). From my self-assured, bright students, I've basically received reports. Which hurts...both me and them would be my guess. Teaching someone to argue is sort of like teaching someone to dance or figure skate. There are only so many ways to talk about the extension of the hand or the artistry of expression to someone who has no heart for the work.

Speaking of "no heart," we went to see The Libertine at the theater yesterday. It's one of those "really good but not really great" movies. The introductory direct addresses by Johnny Depp's John Wilmot (the Earl of Rochester) were great and quite promising. "You will not like me," he asserts. I squirm, and vow not to like him. In truth, though, the film does not paint him as incredibly unlikable though this isn't for lack of trying. Note to directors: he's a libertine—lets see some action, lots of action!

Throughout the movie, Wilmot interacts mainly with two women, his wife and his mistress. His relationship with his wife Elizabeth, played by Rosamund Pike, is effectively depicted, especially the way in which she reenacts his initial abduction and defloweration of her. Their early scene recapitulates this to tremendous effect and is hotter than any of the other sex in the movie. He goes on to treat his wife carelessly or unkindly, and Pike registers these slights well.

As for Samantha Morton's actress, Elizabeth Barry, she gets lost in a hurried crush of narrative including a sex montage, which would have been better served as evidence that Wilmot visits prostitutes. Libertine=remember the prostitutes. Where one sex scene with Pike says volumes about her character's relationship with Wilmot, Morton's sex scenes form the cruelest montage of all, muddling our understanding of what, exactly, Elizabeth Barry means to Wilmot. One assumes that they are a hot item, but the narrative won't indulge this affirmation. Further, when she finally explains herself at the narrative's end, Depp and the director fail to capture the brutality of her gentle proclamation. Ironically, her speech is more cutting than his libertinage or syphillis and holds the potential to unravel Western society. That said, it seems Elizabeth Barry deserved equal status in the film. By the end, I'm much more interested in her.

I guess my criticism of the movie brings me back to something that happened in class. We were discussing Laura Wexler's article "Tender Violence" in which she asserts that though scholars claim that novels of domesticity have formed a sort of masochism for their readers, the forced transmission of a singular type of domesticity to people of other cultures is sadistic as well. At one point, we confused the terms "sadism" (you hurt others) and "masochism" (you do it to yourself). My point here is that it's easy get something wrong—from terms to sex scenes—if you're not comfortable with the proper application of them.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

(In General) Keynotes Make Me Queasy

If you know me, you know that I'm an "ambience" person—in most situations, I get more enjoyment out of being comfortable than I do in experiencing an event. For example, when considering where to go to dinner, I'm more apt to think about how I want to feel in a restaurant than what I'd like to eat. I know this is an unusual way to approach life, but, when considering why I'm not crazy about attending keynote speeches, it makes perfect sense.

Keynote speeches are odd events: they are part social gathering, part concert, and part lecture. This mix of events makes me nervous because it calls on one to multi-task so that you schmooze with your colleagues, listen attentively to the lecture, and discuss the speech afterwards. My biggest issue here is the "listen attentively" part; I don't process information audibly so any attentive listening on my part is only accomplished through furious note-taking. And furious note-taking is not usually undertaken at a social gathering. You get the point.

Nevertheless, I had a comparatively good time at last night's keynote speech. Usually, a keynote speaker is pretty well known so that s/he will attract a large audience. That said, the Marxist Reading Group Conference's choice of theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak was a good one—she drew professors, grads, and undergrads alike. Even so, after being introduced, Spivak sat down. This action, coupled with a lack of microphone, made it almost impossible to hear her. I'd say that I heard about 40% of her speech, but what I did hear was wonderful.

After the speech, I got to catch up with people I hadn't talked to in awhile, which was nice, especially because I wasn't called on to detail how "my work is coming along." Also, I don't think I said anything especially problematic, which is good considering my propensity to view the world as my own personal comedy club. (At our last conference, I encouraged a colleague to take a picture of a particularly cute guy—really professional.) At one point, I was standing with some people, eating a bit of the fantastic reception food, and Lila Heder and I were debating whether a particular petit-four was tasty or not. I'd had already eaten one and insisted that it was quite good. She took one bite and indicated disparagingly that it had cream cheese in it to which I replied, "Put that shit on my plate!" I think I alarmed her because she backpedaled with, "I don't have any germs or anything" to which I rejoined, "I don't care. Put that shit on my plate!" Needless to say: good petit-four. Good keynote (I think). Good night.