Thursday, June 29, 2006

Clean Slate

Just in case you aren't surfing the blogosphere endlessly, go over to and take a look at this article by Bryan Curtis. It just happens to be a "cynical pronouncement" on the AFI list that I discussed yesterday.

Who knew?

Certainly, I am not suggesting that Curtis has been an avid Fluff-reader (I just don't get enough hits for that possibility). At the same time, there are a few significant similarities in what we each discuss (the definition of "inspiration," attempting to articulate the possible inspirations engendered by particular films, etc.).

Call it a zeitgeist, call it synchronicity. me to write for you!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tired of Being Inspired

Okay, I know that I'm behind the game on this one, but since I promised you fluff--fluff it is, with extra snark.

In case you missed all of the hoo-hah a few weeks ago, CBS gives us this:

Listen, I'm as big a sucker as the next gal. I was all behind the 100 movies, the 100 stars, and was particularly into the 100 movie quotes (of course, I was trapped at a relative's house at the time, without internet access or cable...). But really, this is just too much to bear. For one thing, it's just TOO American. Do you see the BFI doing these kinds of things? I don't see Laura Mulvey suddenly throwing "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" to the wind and hacking together some sort of "top 25 British spies" list. Our ongoing, longstanding cultural fascination with lists (People Magazine's Most Beautiful People, E's The Daily 10, Cosmo's 25 things you do that drive him nuts!, etc., etc.) becomes a bit pathological here, no?

To top off that particular fixation, however, list-making psychosis turns its evil eye toward movies that inspire us?! I know that we can thank our Puritan ancestors and countrymen for this kind of theme; however, the amount of cheese present on this list makes AFI seem like a Wisconsin diary on steroids. I understand it when things like The Diary of Anne Frank and In the Heat of the Night appear (numbers 18 and 21, respectively). I have enough aesthetic sense to appreciate Lawrence of Arabia (number 30). Oh, all right, I do get all weepy (but I don't know about inspired) when I see Thelma and Louise (number 78). And hell, I was a teenager once, I can even get behind Dead Poet's Society (number 52). These, however, are, for the most part, exceptions to the list.

What we see far more are things like:
Rudy (#54). What exactly is that supposed to inspire us to do? Painstakingly make one's way through college solely to play in one crap game of Notre Dame football?

The Sound of Music (#41). Leave the nunnery, find an ex-military man with a brood of children and fight Nazis with the power of Austrian folksongs.

Cool Hand Luke (#71). Go to prison, eat eggs. Lots of eggs. Die in a shootout.

Working Girl (#87). Insert your own joke here. (If I were you, I'd go for one about Melanie Griffith, but that's just me.)

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (#6). I love me some Drew Barrymore, but come on. COME ON!! Find a little alien friend who will propel your bike into the air? Phone home?

Last but not least, and I can't believe that I didn't see it coming...The number 1, most inspiring American movie of all time (drum roll please)

It's A Wonderful Life. Gag me with a tripod.
It just doesn't get any smarmier than that, folks. At least I've been well-indocrinated enough to be able to parse the moral here, but it's doing nothing for me: you're not better off dead. Well, that's a relief.
Damn Frank Capra.

There should really be an alternative to this list, don't you think? 100 Movies that inspire you to commit crimes against nature? 100 Movies that inspire box office fiascos? 100 Movies that inspire you to put your own eyes out with a stick? "Inspire" is a transitive verb, and they should have been more specific.

I invite you to make your own list, or add to any of the above.

***For a laugh, you might take in the bun-o-vision version (say that three times fast).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What Makes it Count?

Okay, I know, I've been gone for awhile. Not a long while, mind you, just long enough to get to Gotham and stroll around in 450% humidity. Seriously, people, how do the city-folk stand it? Chrysler Building be damned, I'm sticky and I can't take it anymore!!

Enough of that--more on the weekend later. I'm on my way to the gym (you know, because now that I'm back home, I just can't manufacture the kind of torrents of sweat that I did in the city... Seriously, people, I was practically a desiccated husk by Sunday afternoon).

Here's the thing: Mr. Fluff kindly removes himself from the premises this morn so that I can get back to work on my article. [Yes that article--pipe down.] Do I work on it? Do I even open the file? Nooooo. Of course not. Is it because I was too busy enjoying myself, watching Constantine on HBO, skimming the Pottery Barn catalog for furniture I can't afford or fit into the teeny demesne of Chez Fluff and reading the posts on sex at Bitch PhD? Noooo! Instead, I was writing an email to my departmental colleagues. Wheeeeee!

Seriously, can this kind of writing please count toward my word aggregate for the day? Because not only is it long [yup, I know, all of you want to be in my department now], it took me almost 3 hours to craft the thing. Write, erase, write, look at the thesaurus, write, have someone else read it, rewrite it. Lordy, lordy. It's as polished as anything else I've produced in the last month. Perhaps it's actually a fitting example of the model I use to approach all writing tasks--attempting to anticipate patronizing or hostile reactions while I forward an argument. And that, my friends, concludes the worst description of academic discourse EVER.

Back with more fluff, less substance tomorrow, folks.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What Makes It Work?

Those of you who know me IRL have probably borne witness to my deep and abiding love (if not oogy crush) on Tim Gunn, the mentor/muse of Project Runway. [BTW: New season starts July 12. Be there.]

Tim, also called "a hot bitch" by one of the former contestants, manages to vehiculate budding designers to new heights (and frankly, new lows) with perhaps the single greatest pedagogical mandate ever: Make it work. [This is closely followed by the line in season two where he enjoined a contestant: "That's fine, just be prepared to say: 'No Nina, I WANTED her ass to look fat in it.'" Sadly, I'm paraphrasing here, so what you have is but a pale shadow of the true glory that is this statement.] Make it work: a model of brevity and palimpsestic layered meanings. Implicit, I think, are at least two different ideas.
1) I brook no excuses; you must finish it on your own.
2) It's your vision; let's see if you have the engenuity to carry it through.
Brilliant, no? It's somehow authoritarian and encouraging simultaneously. Tim Gunn, where have you been all my educational life?

These musings are inspired by the fact that it is currently 1 p.m. and I have managed to eke out over 200 words today. New words, not synonyms of old ones. Located at the current end point of the draft, not somewhere in the introduction. And I'm not done yet. This is following on the heels of two days of futzing, trolling the internet, meeting with people, fretting over departmental politics (Generational Split, Part 2: The Revenge), etc. In other words: countless distracting minutia: 2, kfluff 0. What, I ask myself, is making it work right now? And how do I replicate it? I think it has something to do with the elusive ability to put other crap on hold; not answering the phone, not responding to baiting emails... In other words, serenity now. [Or, as I imagine TG saying off camera, "Focus, bitch!"]

***Special note to the web developer for governmental agencies: Please forego the process of placing key pieces of legislation on pages that are not linked from the homepage, leading to 45 minutes of endless searching, only to send hapless researchers to Google searches in desperation. WTF?!

****Clearly, today's edition was brought to you by the letters I,R,L,T,G... How about just by letters that find themselves in acronyms? lol.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Alas, Memory

Whoa. You know how sometimes you're sitting in front of the television, freed from spousal supervision, and find yourself aimlessly flipping around, unable to find anything compelling enough to catch your interest, and it certainly isn't going to be that little chippy Rachael Ray, and so you basically have only two choices: Cardio kickboxing on FitTV or Beverly Hills, 90210? Anyone?

Come on, don't lie!

I'll leave you to ascertain what I ended up with (but for the record, even I'm not a big enough hypocrite to lie on the couch making cellulite and WATCH 30 minutes of an exercise program). But for the record, good Christ, the BH90210 kids CANNOT act. Not at all. Not to save their wretched, multiple failed marriages-having, reality-or-Wiccan show slumming, crisped-out 80's hair-wearing lives. Seriously. Why didn't anyone tell my poor 17 year old self that so that she could have used those hours more productively--primping, or learning emo Tori Amos songs, or talking on the phone to boys with...crispy 80's hair?

Alas, the wasted detritus of youth.

Question of the Day

I wish that the question of the day were something like: "what is my reward for writing two pages?" or the fantasy query: "is it possible that I've lost 3 pounds by going to the gym regularly for two weeks?" or even "what do I want to put at the top of my Netflix queue?" Hell, I'm not proud. I'd even take this one: "at what point in my reading of American Psycho will I actually, physically vomit?"

Instead, I find myself pondering the question "How?". I should preface this by saying that I've found, in my research and teaching, that this is consistently the question I come back to. When I started writing, the question was always "why?", but over time it's become "how". [I'm also plagued by the image of a small, severe Polish woman who grew up behind the Iron Curtain asking "yes, but what's at STAKE in your argument?!" That, however, a different story entirely...] In many ways, "how" is the more interesting question. This came to me in a blinding flash one day while I was teaching a memoir about Japanese internment to a group of rather savvy first-year students. When I asked them to contemplate why the Japanese had been interned, they were able to quote chapter and verse about the rampant racial distrust and hatred of the time, and some students, with a little prodding, were able to connect that to the significant economic influences that helped white nationalist groups lobby for internment. Frankly, I had anticipated a bit more of a struggle here, and so I found myself generally stymied by their response for two reasons: first, because of the speed with which they came to their conclusions, and second, because of the ease with which these reflections tripped off their tongues. [To be honest, I think I expected a little more outrage. Where's the outrage, I ask you?]

Thankfully, I managed until the end of the class, but thinking about it later, I realized that the operative follow-up question for the students was not "why did internment happen?" but "how did internment happen?". I don't mean how in the material sense (trains/buses, intermediary assembly areas, etc.), but rather, what kinds of mechanisms, personal and political, operated to achieve this end? Clearly more interesting, right? Because those same mechanisms are still operational for other ends (here's the "what's at stake" one. You see how that works...).

So, in many of the arguments that I make in my field, I position myself as the "how" girl--the one who works to identify and assess the ways in which various, and sometimes seemingly innocuous elements work together to produce effects (whether those are internment and injustice or the MTV juggernaut--depends on the day). Now, however, I find that same question plaguing my professional life. Without giving it all up, let's put it this way: How do various faculty members enact a compromise that everyone can live with? Embedded in that question is another: How do groups, each plagued by resentment, agree on a common good without investment in punishing each other? Here's where the "why" question does me no good. I know why it would be best for all, and I know why bitterness exists. But I don't know how to address it.

Is the mechanism invisible, or just plain absent?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

No Need to Push!

Actually, that title sounds a bit gnarlier than I had wanted it to be. Meh. Y'all'll live.

The point is, I'm going, I'm going...I'm on my way to article-land, no need to jostle me. So insistent, you lousy hooligans! Here I can only wish for the insouciance of Myrna Loy as Nora Charles (The Thin Man was on AMC last night).

If you don't know, the rather transcendent Mrs. Charles' real appeal lay in her "wicked jaw." She's a mouthy one, Nora. In an early scene she makes her grand entrance to a hotel bar, the terrier Asta pulling her along. The staff tries to stop her, at which point she takes quite a graceless fall. As they pull her up, she says "Women and children first, boys." I'm certainly not doing her justice here. See the movie; you won't be disappointed. It's an image of marriage that doesn't often appear today, let alone in the 30's. See if you can keep up with the Charles's alcoholic consumption--that may be the key to their wit and happiness.

So, as I make my own grand entrance into my open document, I leave you with this scattered reflection. In addition to Loy, I have a cavalcade of Hollywood actresses on the brain. All thanks to these people. Yes, register for free to see which famous people you most resemble. It's a lark, and a flattering one.
Rita Hayworth was my first match, with Angelina Jolie, Michelle Yeoh and Heather Locklear bringing up the rear. (Here, we're clearly testing the boundary of the word "resemblance" in addition to that of "actress.")

Things get dicey from there, as the concordance includes Roseanne Barr, Maggie Thatcher, and Bing Crosby (?!).

Hmm. Given my many options, I'll keep my eye on Myrna. I'm off to write--and I'll take five more martinis. Line them up right here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

She's A Maniac...(with apologies to Michael Sembello)

Greetings! My apologies to my poor neglected blog for my lackadaisical participation. To my credit, I was "entertaining" relatives for the last week, and it is in everyone's best interest, perhaps, that I not record my ideas from that time period. Right in the middle there, however, we did take a short trip to New France, which in and of itself requires a post, complete with pictures. Stay tuned!

Onto today's pre-article-writing thoughts (article? What article?! Are you still working on that old thing? Shut it, crazy negative hag inside my head...). In a fit of catching up with the blogosphere, I came across a post by the Community College Dean. Posts over at CCD tend to have two valences: the first, reflections on the blogger's work as an administrator and academic; the second, reflections on parenting. Thus, he rightly calls himself "Dean Dad." I tend to gravitate toward postings of the first sort (just by proclivity), but almost all of it is damn funny, and often insightful. His topic for today, for example, set the noggin' a'spin:
In talking with an old friend the other day, we got on the topic of the kinds of students who tend to get A’s. To generalize wildly (and yes, there are plenty of exceptions, and yes, every student is different, and yes, most people combine the categories to some degree, and yes, we’re all God’s children, blah blah blah), they pretty much fall into three camps.

The Three Kinds of ‘A’ Students:
1. The Dutiful
2. The Brilliant
3. The Maniacal

Okay, first? Funny. The "all God's children" bit slays me. (And there's something here about the ways that bloggers have to imbed some self-defensive rhetoric from the start, but that's a post for another day.) What I'm curious about, of course, are these three categories. Later on in his post, he frets that those who go on to occupy academe are largely those in the first category, who then go on to encourage others who fall into that first category. While I've never phrased it to myself in this way, I've certainly worried that as academics, we tend to encourage those students who best resemble ourselves. Way to make the academy homogeneous, and to disregard the vast number of our students who have no interest in becoming more like us.

By breaking out these other two categories, however, DeadDad has made me consider those who do go on, and what effects that bears on academic life. If the majority of us are the dutiful, what about the minority brilliant and maniacal? [Self-revealing confession: whether it's objectively true or not, I tend to throw my hat into the ring with the maniacs. It's absolutely parallel to my childhood desire to be a mutant. X-Men III, anyone?] Here's DD's take:
To the extent that any of this is right, it matters to the extent that we staff incredibly important institutions with people who got good grades. If those people share a common blind spot, it will get written into the fabric of those institutions, amplified over time, and elevated to an informal theology. That’s not to say we want maniacs running everything – nooooooo, we do not – but the right maniac in the right role is a revelation. A slight maniacal tendency in an otherwise dutiful soul can bring creativity to routine, solutions to problems. To the extent that we tamp down those tendencies, we wind up with the kind of people to whom it wouldn’t occur to find groupthink objectionable. They think it’s natural. It’s what they do.

So, how does this help us understand, for instance, the dynamics in a faculty or departmental meeting? Let's say that your colleagues, by temperment, are largely dutiful. By DD's logic, there will be more of them, and as a group, they will be wedded to a model of learning the system and continuing to prosper by adhering to the boundaries of said system (whether it's that of the administrative hierarchy, the academic schedule, the makeup of the major). I'd venture to guess that these are the people who keep the department running, on a day-to-day basis. But what of the maniacal, who, by DD's definition "have the lowest GPA’s, since their energy is directed only where they want it to go. These are the people who look bored most of the time, then break out with cryptic statements that are alternately brilliant and insane." What happens when the ideas of the maniacal come into contact with those of the dutiful? Let me venture a guess, without any reference to personal experience: the dutiful feel threatened, and the maniacal feel trapped.

What would an academy look like with more room for the maniacal? How could the dutiful channel the energy of the maniacal? Better yet, how do we encourage the maniacal students into academic life?

Perhaps Jennifer Beals and her body double have the answer:

UPDATE:If you're following along in the comments over at CCCD, you'll see that the vast majority of those weighing in either identify themselves as maniacs or praise the ones they know. So, is it time to adjust the theory? Is the academy actually made up of MORE maniacs than duty-bound? Or is it simply that academic bloggers tend toward the maniacal?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Higher (Priced) Education

I've pulled out my soapbox, so settle in. In the comments to an earlier post on student-loan debt, Nester pointed me toward Lynnae Brown's project The Garnished Life. There, you'll find plenty of information about the documentary she's making by soliciting stories about "the student loan debt epidemic." Brown herself has a particularly heart-wrenching story about having accumulated $60k in loans, only to be plagued by chronic illness, default on those loans, and now finds herself saddled with a quarter of a million dollars to pay back.

As I watched her story (because not only does she have her own video at her site, but also embeds video of her participation in a piece on 60 Minutes), I was struck by the equanimity with which she faces this debt. In both pieces, she laments the feature of the system that does not allow for what she calls, alternately, "human error" and "life." She explains that despite the fact that she's working, and has worked, consistently, she cannot begin to make a dent in that huge figure.

I have no such equanimity, I'm afraid. Perhaps Brown is strategic, and is engendering empathy for her plight in an attempt to call people to action. I find myself enraged. The problem, it seems to me, is not that the system disallows human error, which mistakenly places the role on the actions of the individual. Instead, the problem seems to be a very fundamental trifecta: the economic need for a college degree to attain a white-collar job; the exponential gains in college tuition; and the unwillingness of the government to commit to recognize this with monetary assistance.

Apparently, the original Higher Education Act (called "a mammoth act" by the Chronicle), ca. 1965, provided the first governmental attention to wide-scale student and institutional loans, and by most accounts, provided significant access to higher education for students who would not have been able to attend college otherwise. Periodically, however, Congress must vote to renew the act as is, or to make changes to the law before renewing it. As time has gone on, then, the original act has been stripped of much of its civic potential. At Inside Higher Ed, this post details the most recent changes to the Higher Education Act, which include both cutting funding AND raising interest rates for students and graduates. Pay more principle, pay more interest. Meanwhile, the nation's most popular lender, Sallie Mae, has found its stock price up over 2000% since it became a private lender. Does it seem to you that students are destined to live life in penury so that SM stockholders can buy country estates?

It's been documented in a number of places that the fear of impending debt-doom drives students away from professions that don't pay well, and those same professions are the ones that function at the bedrock of society (teachers, nurses, police officers, etc.). provides links to sources such as the Christian Science Monitor that explain how graduates delay significant events (weddings, purchasing homes) because of their debt.

At Ascesis U., I teach many students who are first-generation college attendees. The vast majority of them have student loans, and, simultaneously, the vast majority of them deeply believe that education will save their lives. (Seriously, while reading Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, they chimed like a Greek chorus: "If only these people were educated...). What I see is an ideology that utterly conceals the reality of life with debt incurred by education. At some point, this becomes a serious moral dilemma for those of us who teach: is it ethical to sell that ideology to our students? I can't help but believe that education is vital and necessary and life-saving, but is it worth decades of payback? In a steel-cage death match between erudition and a garnished life, which wins?

Monday, June 05, 2006

This is How Productivity Ends...

For Eliot, it was the world; for me, it's something close, I'm afraid. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. After my truly fabulous stretch of work, I managed to take a day off, and then just haven't been able to get back on the horse. Yes, dammit, I'm mixing metaphors--sue me.

There are several thousand Google images of procrastination. One of the most common, and the most aesthetically pleasing, can be found at a site optimistically named Here's a link to their store, where you can buy yourself somethin' purty. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on their take on procrastination:

Now, I love these people for shamelessly mocking those horrendous, smarmy motivational posters that academic administrators and coaches tend to hang in their offices. In fact, now that I think about it, those posters are probably the adult equivalent of the "hang in there!" posters we used to have in 3rd grade classrooms--you know the ones with a kitten dangling above an abyss by a single claw? Who ever thought that crap was funny? Regardless, as much as I love the peeps for performing such a necessary public service, I object to their equation procrastination=laziness. Because what have I learned from my in-depth study of my own neurotic attachment to refusing to work? Not laziness at all! No, on the contrary, finding ways to eat time is hard work (I'm sure George W. would agree with me). And like all hard work, it's driven by fear and insecurity. I am the very model of the "anxiety-based procrastinator." And basically, I'm giving the virtual finger to those lucky "relaxed, pleasure-seeking" procrastinators. They don't need a demotivational poster of their own! So really, those people at Despair need to get back to work. If I had photoshop, I'd do it myself, but here's the one they need to attach procrastination to:

Or else I'm going back to the kitten poster. Seriously.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Me, Myself and I

If you are expecting a post about the good ol' De La Soul song from the 90's, you will be sorely disappointed by what is to follow. Feel free to avert your eyes.

For the rest of you, who are probably scraping your memories for a band called De La Soul, I'll quickly move on. Due to some relatively significant shake-ups at my home institution (which really needs a pseudonym, for future reference; perhaps Ascesis U. will work best), the last month or so has reflected an odd juxtaposition of the end of the semester. The first was expected: rest, recharge, return to research; the second, not so much: resistance to change, doubt, weary expectation of what said change will bring about. Up til now, I've been thinking about the oscillation between these two poles. Reading around the blogosphere this morning, however, I'm caught by the ways in which, in our profession, these two positions may be par for the course, and in fact should be brought into collusion with one another.

What could bring me to such an epiphany? If you glance to your right (except those who read this in the evil, jerkface Internet Explorer, which pushes my damn blogroll to the bottom of the page. grrr.), you'll see quite a few academics who blog as a means of detailing the vagaries of professorial life. And what does the aggregate reflect? The shifts as Ascesis U. are not all that unusual, nor are the tendencies to be emotionally eviscerated by them.

If I were a dyed-in-the-wool Foucauldian (actually, given Michel's own proclivities, dyed-in-the-leather might be a better adjective, but then again so would a ball-gag), I would reflect on the ways that the institutions make all of their constituents, professors and students alike, into subjects. In other words, we'd all be simply locked in systems of power and knowledge that condition our responses to others, the institution, and ourselves.

But it's that last word that I'm most interested in at present; what is the status of the academic self? Does it exist outside of, or as a location of resistance to, the academic subject? If so, what does it look like? In what ways can it respond to the architecture of the institution? More to the point, how can awareness and encouragement of an academic self prevent that nauseating see-saw effect from hierarchical change?

I don't have any answers to these questions, of course, but since it appears to be the season of the self-help book, this looks promising:

Hell, everybody has to have a hobby. And it's a damn sight better than haunting San Francisco leather bars. Not that I would know.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I'm Not Worthy...

Actually, this phrase flits through my head several times a week, with reference to everything from random bits of praise, to my job, to my very excellent green wedge heels--truly an apotheosis of shoe-dom:

Yes! Like that! Only green! (See title in case you're grasping for the appropriate emotion...)

Shoes and such aside, however, let me say that I was inspired to mutter this phrase in rapturous tones this morning. Here's the set-up. Weeks ago, Gawker ran a story about an, hmm, altercation, between Tommy Hifiger and Axl Rose. Yeah, you heard me, Tommy "crappy clothes for teenagers" Hilfiger and Axl "buns and hoses" Rose. What the hell kind of two-second altercation could that be exactly? In your head, you're imagining a drunken, coked-up Axl stumbling into the perfectly-pressed and botoxed Hilfiger, singing "Take me down to Paradise City, fashion girl!" as he pummeled TH, right? Or something like that?

Hah! Instead, in a moment that probably ripped a hole in the space-time continuum, Hilfiger bitch-slapped Axl. Close your gaping maw and click on over the the USA Today coverage.

So, clearly after having read about this, I proceeded to forget about it, in that way that you forget about things too impossible to be believed. Today, of course, I was perusing Sarah Bunting's post, which has the best write up of this event. Ever. In a million years. Which is totally typical of Bunting's work on Tomato Nation (see blogroll), but this is beyond good.

So, you're not worthy either, but I encourage you to read it for a great laugh. You may want to put a towel under your chair, however. Prepare to wet yourself.

Friday, June 02, 2006

No Sleep Til Summer...

Wait, it is summer. So why, I ask you, was I up at 7?! A time I would normally refer to only as "the ass-crack of dawn"? Honestly, what good is summer "break" if I'm awake so early (and yes, you heard it here first--I even got some writing done. Not good writing, mind you. It's mostly a string of two-syllable words. But I think I can go back and fix that later).

So, what's my excuse for turning my back on the squishy warm luxury of bed on a Friday morning? The first thing I can remember is that the damn birds had bullhorns today, I swear. This may be a sick plot by some avian mastermind who's determined that flying creatures will take over the world. It could also be that it's cooled down a bit, and so we slept with the windows open. I'd say it's a 50/50 chance either way.

Regardless, I'm now up, and sleepy, and have that "woke up too early and had coffee and now my stomach is gurgling" feeling. I meet with the provost in 2 hours.

In better news, Jenn over at Reappropriate has come up with a fab listing of Asian American characters in Marvel and DC comics, pretty much from inception to the present, in honor of Asian American Heritage Month. [I bet you didn't even make a cake.] Whoa. What a job. Way to go, Jenn.

Perhaps I need to martial my own secret Asian American superhero identity today--"overcaffeinated sleepy girl" somehow just doesn't do it for me. If you have other suggestions, don't hesitate...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Who Are the "Volk" in "Volkswagen?"

I should preface this post with a disclaimer: I love Volkswagen(s). I've probably coveted one since I was in high school and the smart boy who drove a candy-apple red Jetta blared Kraftwerk at a decibel-level that shook my braces in my mouth. [He's an oncologist at Duke now, just in case you were getting all judgy...] When it came time for Mr. Fluff and I to buy our first new car, we bought a Passat, which I drove for a year before it ignominiously disappeared on us. Sigh. When my colleague pulls up at the office in her brand-new, shiny VW, I swallow a lump of jealousy.

Volkswagen has traditionally had not only fine German engineering (dammit, they ARE fun to drive, but I'll spare you the Farf-word), but also exceedingly fresh, clever advertising for said engineering. There was a particularly excellent one a few years back, in which an ethnically-ambiguous couple drove their VW in the rain, and the entire world around them began to move in time to the rhythm of the windshield-wipers. No dialogue, just music. Ahhh. There is, in fact, a thriving net discussion on the music that VW picks for its ads (I'll admit to downloading Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" because of an ad. I'm not proud.)

So, with all of that, all the love, what the HELL is up with the new commercials? VW, why hast thou forsaken me?!!

In case you haven't seen them, the ever-useful YouTube has posted a couple, but I'll give you the most egregious two (and the only two I've seen actually broadcast):

Urgh. Do you have that gross feeling in the pit of your stomach? That's usually the identifiable symptom of discomfort when privilege is claimed as oppression. It makes me a bit nauseated to think about the way that these are constructed so as to make the white male characters here portray themselves as victims of stereotyping thrust upon them by uninformed/bigoted people of color. Damn those people of color! Why can't they be more sensitive?!

You see what's happening in these commercials, right? It's notable, I think, that VW stages these confrontations as problems of stereotype, which do, in fact, affect everyone of every race, body type, occupation, ability, and now, consumer practice. I suppose one who were so inclined could make the argument that the ads actually make use of the ways in which stereotypes are used against minorities, and that their clever hook comes from reversing these. I can't get away from the fact, however, that a simple reversal of the stereotype does not have the same effect; when the Jetta driver in the first commercial is asked to teach his friend how to dance, for example, his job opportunities are probably not going to be limited by that same assumption. Likewise, in the second commercial, the assumption that the boyfriend can hike is not as potentially life-altering as the assumption that the father would be passing governmental nuclear secrets to China (see Wen Ho Lee) or presumed to take part in the Japanese dominance of the auto market (Vincent Chin).

Oh Volkswagen. Did it have to come to this?