Saturday, June 11, 2011

RBOC, End of Research Edition

  • Dr. Crazy has a great post about the ways that grad school affects most of us on a long-term traumatic level.  Spoiler alert: the best line is the final one.  "Summation: critical thinking is a motherfucker and it will fuck your shit up."
  • I'm having a little trouble keeping my mind focused on writing at the moment, because I'm going home in just a few days.  I'm dawdling on packing up everything, which is stupid, because a frequent issue for researchers doing long-term study in Research City is how to transport all the stuff they acquired.  Last time I did this, I had to go so far as to buy a humongous new suitcase, a situation I'd like to avoid this time.  But I won't know if I need another suitcase if I don't start packing everything now.  Crap.  I hate packing.  At least I have relatively few books to transport this time.
  • Did I mention that I'm having trouble focusing on my writing?  I think I did, right before I veered off into the suitcase issue.  So yeah, it's a little hard to write, with all kinds of exigencies around to deal with.  I'm just barely engaged with the online writing group, since I have trouble remembering to check in.  Lack of routine makes these things more difficult, you know?  And since I'm trying to multi-task my book manuscript and two separate journal articles, as well as struggling to keep up my field notes, writing everything that I should be writing at the moment feels like herding cats.  (Oh, and thanks to Anthea for introducing me to a seriously funny commercial featuring professional cat herders!)  Still, I'm slowly making progress on all fronts.  Slowly.  Once I have a little time to breathe in the States – and that will be a pretty short window of time, I have to admit to myself – I need to bang this shit out.  The mostly-developed article needs to be polished up and submitted to the target journal, and I need to get a dirty, ugly, functional first draft of the book manuscript on the scene so I can structure a convincing book prospectus and tone up the MS itself.  As always, I struggle with drafting perfection versus drafting a draft that can then be improved.  Sigh.
  • I've pretty much finished my research here, just because I'm running out of time and whatever I end up with is inevitably a kind of synchronic snapshot of Research City at a particular historical moment.  But wow, so much is still going on!  If I expanded my field notes to track everything going on in the region, rather than RC and its associated country, I'd die of starvation while trying to finish the field notes for a single day.  Interesting times we're seeing over here.
  • The 2011-2012 job hunt has already begun!  (Sob!)  My success at scoring a VAP in early May allowed me to push the job hunt out of my mind entirely for...let's see, counting the days...thirty-nine days.  Yep.  That afterglow fades, don't it?  Universities have begun to post their want ads for positions to start in the Fall 2012 semester, so I'll have to keep an eye on this stuff all summer.  I wonder: is there any point in bothering my soon-to-be-colleagues for letters of reference?  I can't imagine what they could say about me before they have worked with me and gotten to know me a little, so I assume that they only reasonable path for the early applications is to call up my erstwhile professors and ask them for an encore performance for Fall 2011.  My thought is that, by the wintertime, when I'll have been teaching for a semester,  I should really switch over to tapping colleagues, my department chair, etc.  I'll look foolish if I'm employed somewhere and still calling upon former advisors from several years ago for recs, won't I?
  • Lady Gaga continues to colonize my brain.  I resisted for a while, but she's devilishly persistent.  I started loving at least some of her music a while ago, as I have mentioned on a few occasions.  I also admire her politics, which helps a little: lots of famous people make little feel-good statements about this or that to curry favor with the public, but not a lot of celebrities are willing to take a serious economic penalty by pulling out of an endorsement deal with a company they consider oppressive.  I'm a harder sell on her videos, though; I'm not a huge fan of big, weird music videos that turn upon images that have no purpose other than to call attention to themselves.  I find it slightly unsettling, really. 
    I'm kind of surprised, then, that I'm starting to dig the video for Born This Way.  In some ways, I can't even explain why, since it's very much of a piece with her other videos: images of the monstrous, the self-consciously freakish, the reality-bending.  But something clicked for me here, and I'm perfectly willing to admit that it may be because I am irredeemably tethered to text, and I didn't get the aesthetic until I became familiar with the lyrics to the song.  Somehow, though, that did the trick: the monstrous, the freakish, the surreal, mixed in with the plain old gender-bending, the androgynous, the queer.  And then I got it.  Gaga is taking drag as a broad-based visual metaphor, expanding it to include a wide variety of costumes and roles that (please forgive the scare quotes) "aren't real."  Look at that get-up of hers as the tuxedo-clad corpse — that's a serious genderfuck costume as well as a serious Halloween costume.  And Halloween itself, as I once heard someone observe, is "the only holiday with a distinctly gay feel to it."  Whoa, is someone working on this?  I'd love to read an article on this stuff!
  • I think I just spent more time crafting this blog post than I have spent so far today working on my professional writing.  Have I mentioned that I'm having trouble focusing on my writing lately?  Well, I am.


  1. Ugh. Good luck getting home with all your stuff, but double good luck on the market. I'm sure you know this, but I found it really helpful to have my chair observe my classes and then write a rec letter for me. That way she could be much more specific about my teaching. I probably should have had more colleagues do that, but I relied on my old profs for the entire four years I was on the market for the meat of my recommendations. Then again, who knows what works? It's mainly luck, I think.

  2. Maybe your next book should be on Gaga.

  3. Huh, I had the opposite response ---- I really got into "Bad Romance" despite myself, because it is so over-the-top in its weirdness, and then I was quite disappointed in "Born This Way" because it didn't seem visually catching in the same way. That and the song itself is such a bad rip-off of Madonna's "Express Yourself." I mean worse ripping off than all of her old songs, which also "quote" 80s pop songs extensively.

    And someone has already started a journal on Gaga Studies, which I turn up my nose at. If it's this popular and big now, no one will read it later, is my opinion. Kind of like those hundreds of critics who published on the X Files and now nobody teaches it or assigns their work. But I'm a curmudgeon that way.

  4. @Sis: A Gaga Studies journal is a hilariously bad idea; I agree with you on that. Treating every pop-culture phenomenon as its own sui generis stream of inquiry that requires its own dedicated journal is taking an interesting idea way too far into the depths of absurdity. The people who lose their shit over every new trend seem to lack any sense of historicity, and you can see that in their work as much as in their breathless pronouncements about the scholarly value of their enterprise.

    But I can't get upset about the similarities between "Born This Way" and "Express Yourself." Madonna is not Beethoven; it's not as though Gaga is mining some sort of treasure trove of classic music. They're both dance-pop acts who built careers for themselves outside of the recording studio with huge, over-the-top theatrics and a variety of gimmicks and stunts based on their engagement with various aspects of shunned or marginalized female sexuality. Dance-pop only has so many chord progressions and rhythms that it can utilize effectively for its intended purpose. And hell, a lot of Madonna's shtick has been glomming onto one older pop-culture reference after another while making use of one slight permutation in dance-pop after another. I just can't believe the claim that the older thief is somehow more respectable than the younger thief.

    The funny thing to me is that until you pointed out the musical resemblance, I was muttering to myself all day today trying to remember which Madonna song "Born This Way" sounds like. I knew it wasn't "Vogue," and yet somehow "Vogue" kept intruding in my head every time I tried to work out the chord resemblances. And I happen to love the video for "Vogue," even though I now get kind of angry when I pay attention to the lyrics. It makes no difference if you're black or white, if you're a boy or a girl. Because YES IT DOES. It made a hell of a lot of goddamned difference to the people from whom Madonna copied voguing, because they were gays and transgenders of color living in very poor circumstances in Harlem, and voguing was an aspect of an extraordinarily poignant bit of popular culture that threw into high relief how excluded they were from mainstream society. Madonna was pretty great in her heyday, but she was just as problematic then as Lady Gaga is now, if not more so.

    Jeez...maybe I shouldn't mix myself a margarita before responding to blog comments. Was this too much?

  5. I thought it sounded like Madonna at first (I think because of the spoken part, which reminded me of "Vogue"--you know, the "don't be a drag, just be a queen." And a bit like "Express Yourself," but after a few more listens, it didn't sound Madonna-esque anymore. I don't know what that means, other than I don't think it is a rip-off as much as an influence. I mean, she's obviously influenced by Madonna but what pop sensation SINCE Madonna hasn't been?

    Speaking of vogueing, I'm guessing you saw Paris Is Burning, Dr. K? That film is amazing.

    And I have read a few critical articles on Gaga which were super-interesting. (I think there already may be a Gaga Studies Journal online because I think that's where I read them...but I don't know exactly what it's called...was just poking around during office hours one day.) Her emphasis on border crossing via performance and fashion hits on my research area, so I find her fascinating on a variety of levels (and, to be circular in this blog post, I opened one of my dissertation chapters by comparing a character to Madonna, LOL).

  6. @Ink: Agreed about Madonna's level of influence, at least as far as dance-pop goes. Madonna was pretty well seismic in that field. And oh yes, I have seen Paris is Burning numerous times, and I fully agree that it is amazing. That film, as I now realize, was something of a life-changing experience for me, when I first saw it in my freshman year of college. (When I took Intro to Pseudology!)

  7. Love that it was in the Intro class, wow.

  8. I'm really glad that you liked the professional cat herders. This little clip made me laugh and reminded me of trying to organize a group of academics to do something. Good luck with organizing everything and definitely good luck with the job market again. Yesh it seems that many people I know are doing this again. Ack!

    As for Lady Gaga...I also see a correlation between her and Madonna especially as Lady Gaga's antics (maybe this isn't the right word) become increasingly outrageous as I remember Madonna became. The songs of both are catchy but I do think that they draw on elements of pre-existing musical traditions (I saw a documentary on popular music a few years ago which talked about the popularity of Madonna). Wow about a new journal about her..but as Sisyphus points out that it will probably end up a forgotten research area like those journals that discussed the X Files and Buffy.