Frag(ments), Son of Scraps

The deadline is coming, and I hope I am Chicken Little about it falling on my head. Still no time for a real post, I think, so random thoughts have been collecting here for days. So read it, because suffering is good for the soul.

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Even in the office on weekends, I can't work here. The printers here don't like my word processor. I'm pretty computer savvy, and I've done the tweaks and surfed the help forums (fori? is forum its own plural? fuck it. but remember to do a search and replace in the manuscript.) Really, it's probably another configuration problem on the part of the network, the way my e-mail client can no longer access the mail server here, forcing me to use Microsoft Exchange.

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I'm sick of hearing people explain why the Barack Obama cover is fine. I get it.

What I want to know is why haven't we heard from the comedians, explaining why we can say for sure it isn't funny. Anybody who has ever been on stage can tell you there's a simple way to tell if something is funny: check if the people you intended to are laughing.

You can call it satire, and dress it up in First Amendment considerations, and whatever you like. But at the end of the day, if you made a joke and your audience didn't laugh, it was a bad decision. But for the record, if you want to satire a group's view, you need to reference the group in your satire, not just their bogus view.

Of course, maybe it is our mistake, though not the way it's being spun. Perhaps the New Yorker cover is a signal about just who the magazine is targeted to. Let me admit up front that I've done my time with New Yorker subscriptions. They have some great writing and some great insights. But at the same time, I can say definitively that the New Yorker isn't a magazine for whom I'm the key demographic. And in fact, academics and liberals, let me suggest that most of us aren't. Look at how much of the magazine is given over to things that will never have relevance to your life even if you actually lived in NYC. And I don't just mean ads, though these are a pretty big hint in and of themselves. Bulova watches? Nights at the Met?

If you, like me, didn't like the cover and found it questionable at best and poor taste at worst, let me offer up a new thought. Maybe the cover isn't funny because it's not meant to be funny to us.

I'm just sayin'.

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Incidentally, I'm also sick to death of anything to do with Brett Favre. I don't know why, particularly since I don't pay attention to the NFL or MLB or much of any sport that isn't basketball, why I keep hearing stories about this. But they need to stop.

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Neighbors: putting your trash in the hall to take out "later" is not a good solution. I'm tired, full of cabin fever, and if you keep it up, I might let the air out of your tires.

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Getting set for Season 2 of "Mad Men" and Season 3 of "Lost." For those of you considering either, here's my big thought.

"Lost" and 'Mad Men" are nice contrasts. "Lost" is so awash in daddy issues (and notice that, particularly in the first season, the only characters who get real relationship oriented bask stories are the males) that Freud would have to invent a new complex for it. In contrast, while "Mad Men"'s lead character is a male, some of the most interesting stories in it have to do with sexual/office politics for women.

"Lost" still frustrates me in some ways. I feel like there were a few moments in Season 2 where the writers completely forgot how they'd written characters just an episode or two back. And there is a constant character as deus ex machina shtick that will wear completely through shortly if it hasn't already. But for all of that, there are a couple of the lesser characters who I enjoy enough to continue.

"Mad Men" was a little slow for me initially, but one of the things I liked about it is that even when I knew something was coming, it always was used in a way that surprised me. I'm a big fan of anything that can take something that's nearing cliche and make me think "well, that was new!"

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It was an interesting moment when I realized, as I was advising incoming freshmen, that every moment I have to do something that is institutionally supportive (helping with incoming freshmen, strategic planning, etc) that I'm looking for ways to game the system. Not for my benefit exactly, but to find a way around some imagined and inevitable poor planning by someone above me.

Maybe worse, maybe not, I found myself explaining the visible portion of that iceberg to the incoming freshmen as part of their orientation.

It's going to be a good year, for real.

Comments

9 Responses to “Frag(ments), Son of Scraps”
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Samantha said...

So, have you grown a beard?

July 27, 2008 at 7:37 PM
adjunct whore said...

i'm honestly baffled by the liberal backlash against the new yorker cover: it is hilarious, obvious, and maybe it did reach the intended audience. that this audience is different than what "we" thought it was, well, that is a different issue.

besides the humorlessness of the response, the elephant in the room isn't the new yorker's racism, but that of its "audience."

just my thoughts.

July 27, 2008 at 8:13 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Where I think the concern with the cover is right on is this: by only displaying the idea and not linking to where it came from, anyone who misses the context, misses the satire - and let's be honest, there are a lot of people who, looking at the newsstand, will see the New Yorker and assign it a certain amount of credibility even as they completely miss the satire the cover is seeking to imply.

It makes me think of the movie "Bamboozled." It's one of thsoe moments where satire that doesn't carry its context with it runs the risk of just becoming a reinforcement of some bad habit.

It's also interesting to me to think about when we deploy the idea of satire as a defense. Could we put a cover on the New Yorker of a man beating a woman to keep the home fires happy, as at least some people would suggest is a good habit and call it satire? Or of a doctor withholding medical treatment based on religious beliefs? Or of whatever minority you want to run with as dumb/lazy/etc? It seems to me, though I could be wrong, that the latter three examples would likely be seen as unacceptable ideas to portray even though they would be satire of real views people hold.

For the Left, what seems most problematic to me is that it's yet another moment where a stupid idea from the right has been given a national voice, and that initial moment has carried on and on and on. And since we know that for many people seeing or hearing something many times in the media comes to equal truth (think "There are WMD in Irag"), having this picture out there - satirical or not - just means it's going to be taken as Gospel.

July 27, 2008 at 9:19 PM
adjunct whore said...

i understand your point, dr. c, i do, but here is my thing with this position: first of all, to act as if the right hasn't LONG since taken over the discussion seems willfully naive. democrats, to say nothing of the left, have not proved capable of moving the discussion over. in part, i think, this is because it involves more than two minutes in the spotlight, more nuance (rather than none), and this gets suppressed by right-leaning, right-controlled media.

second: the response assumes an audience incapable of discerning. it seems patronizing. one need only look at the flag burning, to say nothing of Obama's backward glance, to know that this image of him as a terrorist is being exaggerated. that conservatives like this image, well, they were out on the internet anyway. you could even argue that the new yorker cover is taking the stupidity back and reflecting. what would the missing context be that would make this image okay? bush in the background? then it wouldn't work.

third: if the current public conversations were circulating ideas and images that suggested that men should keep their women in line with a little smack--and these images and ideas actually had some cultural purchase--then yes, it would be fodder for satire and it would work. but that isn't the case. and so it wouldn't work.

in other words, it seems like the liberal critique of the new yorker cover doesn't acknowledge the obscene racism that has driven this election. saying racism is bad doesn't change the fact that the perception of Obama has been utterly controlled by and through racism.

i guess, dr.c, i respectfully disagree. but thanks for posting something on it for discussion.

July 28, 2008 at 10:12 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

I love me some respectful disagreement.

I wish I had your faith in the American public, AW. I can think of too many examples -starting in the classroom, working through family holidays, and into the great wide world - were the audience could have been discerning but wasn't.

It feels to me like there's a sort of proof in your argument that flows like this:
1) the right has controlled the public debate for ages, so complaining when it happens once more is silly
2) because the American public is/can be discerning
3) so the use of a negative image isn't a problem because it's one among many.

For me, one more is two too many because I know that while the public can be discerning, it isn't always (if not, those folks in the Media Studies department are, by and large, out of a job).

But really my issue is that the left (and I'll broaden it to that since I don't find "liberal" or "Democrat" fit me as well in the U.S. context) spend ages debunking the idea that the media is liberal only to complain when they get proof it isn't (as in this case). Part of the complaint here - the bit that tires me - is that a media source liberals privately believe represents them really doesn't.

I would disagree, though, that talking about this means Democrats/liberals/the Left has missed the larger racist problems. For some of us, at least, this is one more example, and so a good example to try and put the problem into the public eye in a very real way.

July 29, 2008 at 1:15 AM
adjunct whore said...

fair enough, though i'm not sure i agree with your assessment of my logic.

does this mean satire has no place in politics? or in culture more generally?

just wonderin. thanks for the sparring...

July 29, 2008 at 11:39 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

It'd be the worst sort of irony if I said I didn't think satire had any place in politics or culture. If nothing else, it'd make half the entries on this blog self-defeating. But (and this may still shoot much of this blog and myself in the proverbial foot), I do think careless satire has no place in either.

I'm not sure if that's the case with this New Yorker cover. It seems to me like it has the possibility to have been either completely careless - for all the reasons we've talked about - or so completely well thought out that it could be unbelievable.

In any case, thank you for the gracious sparring. I've needed a bit of a distraction from all the book stuff. It's been nice to have something to think about (and to think about in a variety of ways).

July 30, 2008 at 12:19 AM
Mindy said...

Hi, for the New Yorker cover...check this out http://caraf.blogs.com/caraf/2008/07/when-satire-doesnt-work.html

It explains nicely.

July 30, 2008 at 3:56 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Thanks for the link, Mindy.

The irony of all this was that just following this exchange, one of my best friends (who doesn't read the blog) e-mailed me a link to a John McCain ad that she thought was brilliant. It wasn't, but it was a nice kick in the gut.

July 31, 2008 at 11:20 PM