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samhain

October 31st, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Between Interval: Secret Observatory (2005)

Halloween marks the beginning of the Celtic new year and the convergence of the world of the living and the dead; according to those who study the pagan sun ritual of Samhain, tonight is the easiest night to contact and cavort with the dead, and also a time when the dead might voluntarily come for a visit. Of course, nothing today about Halloween has anything remotely do to with Samhain, but that doesn’t stop certain angry Christians from declaring the horned god “Satan.”

Today what we celebrate as Halloween is largely a commercial venture (rivaled only by Christmas, but not by much, as the aisles in Wal-Mart and Target should attest), a sort of white-washed Disnification of what was initially a Victorian era evening of divination, then a night to worry about vandalism. We know Halloween is a hodgepodge of celebrations that occur naturally at the beginning of winter and after the harvest, as all sorts of things start to change (so Halloween falls in the middle of seasonal tradition), and so it makes sense there would be various “pagan” holidays around this time of year. After Christianity took over much of the West and the popes had some power, the church re-christened Samhain activities as “All Saints Day.” English revels had costuming. Blast through centuries and you get to the effigy-crazy Guy Fawkes day in Britain (this dude tried to blow up parliament, and was caught and hanged and quartered and so forth), also celebrating in the states. Somehow all of this evolved by the nineteenth century into doing things with apples in water, or throwing nuts in the fire, or scrying with mirrors, all for the purpose of answering the question: who will I marry?

Halloween was largely imported to the states, we know, by the Irish and the Scots, which perhaps is why here the holiday was about class division in the early twentieth century. The Great Depression made sure that the cushy Victorian ladies carving pumpkins and getting glimpses of their future beloveds at midnight would soon be under attack by rock-throwing ragamuffins, disgruntled youth, clad in rags, roving the streets. According to David J. Skal in his Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween (Bloomsbury, 2002), in New York city and related areas in the north east, apparently it became common practice to beg for change on Thanksgiving. For some reason the previously generous class stopped giving, and to the ragamuffins started “pranking” and vandalizing rich folks’ homes (we’re not talking TP-ing someone’s yard here, but real damage). Apparently folks got the idea to open their doors on the night of pranks as an anti-vandalism tactic. They fed the kids apples and cider and what not. It’s likely that civc groups and schools also started organzing similar kinds of events to keep the kids off the streets. Candy companies got into the gig—and presto, “trick or treat!”

It does seem the case today that celebrating Halloween is a “lower class” or “middle class” thing, that the license to transgress that the holiday now signifies (rivaled only by Mardi Gras, of course) allows one to temporarily escape roles and social position. I am reminded here of the Halloween episodes of Roseanne, which were always about working-class “fun” with blood and guts.

Ah, so, the moral of the story today ladies and gentlemen is a Marxian one: Halloween is a holiday about class antagonism. Too bad that has been “masked” by, well, by capitalism.

Happy Halloween y’all!

expertise, yet again, one more time

October 30th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Slowdive: Souvlaki (1994)

I just got off the phone with a radio DJ from somewhere on the west coast who wanted me to do a 3:00 a.m. bit; he had “fifty-thou watts, man, we’re heard in 38 states and you can plug your book.” I said I’d be happy to get up that early if I was paid to do so. “Sorry man, we’re a Clear Channel station and don’t shell out.” He sounded just like a radio guy on the phone; I thought that excited “voice” was only used for on-air?

Yesterday I submitted about a 20 page affidavit to the Assistant Attorney General on the practice of Wicca and the history of the religion (this is compensated, although I’ve run out of billable hours for the state; anything I do from them from this point on is pro-bono).

This morning I taped an episode of The Dad Show with Kenneth, a radio show primarily but one that also broadcasts on local cable access (so I washed my hair). The program will stream tonight at 6:00 p.m. and after that you’ll find it in the archive. The show is an excellent use of public air to address community concerns (my basic message: don’t worry Dads, your kids will be alright on Halloween, and if your teen starts wearing black clothes, don’t freak out).

After I returned from the taping, I did two telephone interviews with reporters (one on Halloween, the other, on urban legends). I have two more requests for interviews in my inbox.

I’m about to hear the fabulous Chuckmeister deliver a talk on Lincoln’s queerness. Getting hard evidence for Lincoln’s sexual proclivities will be a welcome diversion from my Pez-dispenser routine as an “expert.” This is a busy time of year, when you add in all the letter writing and attempting to prepare for a conference coming up in a couple of weeks.

Maybe I should start wearing more pink.

2007 deadalicious photos

October 27th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Scary Bitches: Lesbian Vampires from Outer Space (2002)

Hair of the dog today; I’m afraid there’s not much more to say . . . except that the party theme this year was, “It’s What’s On the Inside that Counts,” and Jill’s fetus in fetu costume was (in my opinion) one of the best costumes ever. So, too, did the contest winners elevate the theme. Smashing! Click on the photo for a gallery from last night.

prelude to erotic vomiting

October 25th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Simian Mobile Disco: Attack Decay Sustain Release (2007)

I’m a fan of the glitch-tro scene, twicthy house, if you like. I was an early addict with Kissy Sell Out’s remixes a few years ago, and have been enjoying the relative explosion of twitch/glitch in the past year (check out the big stereo blogroll below for the latest vinyl cuts). Simian Mobile Disco’s full-length is a great album for dancing, jamming, working out, you know, dance-floor goodness. They just released a video for “Hustler,” which at first sort of bored me until the flashes of food, and then I knew something interesting would ensue. Like last year’s video for “Don’t Be Shy,” this is strangley addictive: an obvious commentary on consumerism (yawn), but also something resistant, like Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner’s “Sex in Public” essay, only less gross:

It makes me think it is time for a party. Oh wait! It is time for a party! w00t!

willie is christ, sort of

October 20th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Between Interval: Radio Silence (2007)

Yesterday morning my colleague, Madeline Maxwell, emailed me to say that some seats for a benefit dinner did not sell and that I could have one if I gave as much as I could. The seats were normally $300.00 a pop, obviously above my modest means, but I did, at least, pay for my meal. And what a meal it was: for most of the evening I was less than twenty feet away from Willie Nelson!

Madeline heads up the Conflict Resolution Center, and trains students to mediate conflicts. They’re gearing up for a new re-centering, as it were, and with luck, more resources to expand the enterprise. The benefit dinner was part of that fundraising plan, and Willie wanted to help ( I’ll never forget the day when Madeline popped in the front office, somewhat dazed, to announce she just got off the phone with Willie Nelson last year; we were, like her, star struck . . . and this just after he had been arrested in Louisiana for having a bunkerload of pot in his bus!).

So the dinner recognized Willie for a career of using his stardom to help mediate conflicts and contribute to peace (Farm Aid, etc.). His children played a few tunes (all very good), and Ray Wilie Hubbard was simply phenomenal, but lo . . . Willie played a few tunes as well. It was stellar, and I must say I was “caught up” in the religious adoration of this man. He sounded good too (all the musicians were top notch). There’s just something about him that says “nice guy,” a certain sweetness (and a certain sadness) that bespeaks a unique form of “working man” charisma. As we listened to him play last night, I found myself thinking I’ve only had this sense of charisma around a few other musicians, and the one who immediately came to mind was Jerry Garcia. I’ve felt that star-struck feeling with Sarah McLaughlin (whose show I worked as an ugrad; she was the NICEST musician I’ve ever met) and Ali Shaw of the Cranes (who I still have an immense crush on).

In any event, the adoration in the room was so thick if you breathed deeply you’d cough. Little happy coughs. The whole thing was just friggin’ awesome.

Here’s a gallery of photos, which I had to take without my flash (sorry for the poor quality).

why i left southern

October 20th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Indochine: Wax (1996)

First, I wanted to have an MP3 of “Southern Air” by the immortal sage, Ray Stevens, playing as a soundtrack for this entry. It’s a song about a no-frills airline that flies both people and livestock at the same time, with bails of hay as seats and Minnie Pearl as the stewardess. It’s hee(haw)larious, but I only have an audio tape of the album, and I cannot seem to find it for download. Ah, well, you’ll just have to imagine the banjo . . . .

Although I do not regret my suggestion that scholars should avoid publishing in The Southern Communication Journal, I do rue the impression anyone developed that this has anything to do with the editor-elect, whom I respect and admire very much. Apparently my call came at the moment the new editor issued a call for papers on CRTNET, which I knew nothing about (the UT spam filters delay CRTNET posts by hours, sometimes days). Because my respect for the new editor, I wanted to set aside some space and time to explain more of the reasoning behind my call, which is admittedly better contextualized as part of a years-long, growing dissatisfaction with the Southern States Communication Association, of which I was a member for four years, and who publishes SCJ.

First, I think the recent problem I had with SCJ has less to do with specific people and more to do with a larger structural issue within SSCA, of which SCJ is a symptom. If there are specific people to hold accountable for six months of delay, a lack of communication to authors during that time, a failure to explain to authors why there was a delay, and a failure to deliver feedback on essays that were rejected, then it would be the guest editors: Robert Ulmer and John Patton. Yet Patton and Ulmer were appointed the editorship by the normal editor, and by extension, the SSCA leadership, and the problem was allowed to continue for a year under apparently no-one’s watch, and so on. I just don’t think the embarrassment is reducible to any specific person, but rather exists in a larger discourse—a set of norms, expectations, way of doing things, practices, and so on that are typical of any organization. Now, I do think the decision to empower the new editor elect represents smart thinking and a desire to change this culture, but cultural change is going to take more than one person.

So if the recent failure at SJC is a symptom of this larger cultural issue, what other symptoms do I have in mind: (1) my last publication with SJC also encountered issues with a different editor, taking three years to come to print from the moment of acceptance with a previous editor; (2) winning an SSCA award but being unable to receive it because I could not afford to pay for the conference (I was a fresh assistant professor and, as everyone who is or was one knows, those first few years are very tight, we only got $400 bucks a year for travel at LSU, and I had just done a very expensive NCA conference); (3) SSCA conferences are in consistently bad places (a bad part of Birmingham, a worse part of Baton Rouge, then the strip mall-land in Denton?); (4) not receiving my regional journals for almost two years, despite having paid for them through SSCA, and despite numerous phone calls and assurances from SSCA leadership I would receive them (I never did); and I could continue with any number of complaints, but they’re all the same kind of thing. Working with/through Southern four years and going to the conferences, it became clear a small clique was “running the show,” as they say, and in my opinion this led to very insular opinions and a gradual decline in the quality of the conference, and obviously some administration issues. I know I’m one of at least a dozen folks I’ve talked to who feel the same way, and I suspect this will be reasonably reflected in a decline in conference attendance in the past four years.

I was speaking with a colleague recently, who reminded me of what has happened to the American Communication Journal, which used to be the premiere (and pioneer!) online journal for Communication Studies with a respectable editorial board and very good research. Now the journal has become the equivalent of Ray Steven’s “Southern Air” airline—and boy, do I have some stories about this too. The organization that presumably “runs” the journal has ballooned with leadership positions aplenty. Perusing the ACA website there seems to be stuff going on, conferences and such, but why is the journal defunct? What, exactly, does the ACA do now? Accredit departments? Apparently an organization who cannot seem to maintain and edit an online journal will stamp your communication program with a seal of approval for a modest fee. An easier alternative to SACS, perhaps?

With ACJ in mind, I think of SCJ in a similar way: it’s a symptom of the organization who publishes it, and rightly so, as flagship journals are supposed to “reflect” or “represent” the interests, concerns, leadership, and so on of its publishing organization. Admittedly, I was (and remain) angry about how scholars were treated by the special issue editors and there is no way to rationalize away my emotion from my subsequent call to avoid the journal. The only thing that kept me from posting about this on CRTNET was a phone call from one of the editors. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend scholars send their work to SCJ for the above stated reasons—at least not until the new editor “cleans house,” as they say, and something changes with the larger governance and leadership of SSCA. And to be fair, I must admit I also discourage rhetoric folks from sending work to Communication Quarterly, after one of my former students had a critical media analysis rejected without review because the editor said it was “not related to communication.” After a few unfortunate experiences with Communication Studies, I also don’t recommend our ilk send work there either (it seemed to have gone into the “social science only, please” mode). That leaves only The Western Journal of Communication, which is thankfully quality and open to all kinds of research (as is Communication Monographs, by the way, under the new editor). I think regional organizations are important, and I cannot speak for the conferences of Western, Central, or Eastern, as I have nothing but the journals to go by, but I’ve left Southern, and I don’t encourage students to attend their conferences.

What I will really miss about Southern—what I definitely missed last year—were the good people whom I get to see when I go, especially the LSU mafia and my friends at Georgia State. But I cannot justify going any more.

Finally, my comments here are party to a larger, discipline wide conversation we’ve been having about “our” journals and representation. As Communication Studies struggles for wider recognition in the academic world and the “public,” for better journal ratings, and so on, there is a move afoot to “educate” peer reviewers. Peer reviewers need to provide constructive feedback in a timely fashion (duh!), and fortunately, the new editors of our national journals are imposing review deadlines for their various editorial boards. I personally review things within a two-week frame, sooner if I’m not swamped, sometimes longer (though very rarely) if I am swamped. But I hope this process continues. There are also workshops for new editors, and so on, that are contributing to this larger effort to sail tighter ships.

Nevertheless, reputations for fields are built on the quality of their journals and how they are run. At happy hour last week, I was talking with a colleague who publishes in a more established, social-scientific field and we were sharing stories about working with journals. He laughed somewhat hysterically when I told him about the special issue situation with SCJ, and my recent publication experiences with QJS and its previous editor. “That’s an embarrassment,” he said. We were lamenting about the reputation, or lack of reputation, Communication Studies seems to have from the perspectives of political science, psychology, and so on. The issue is not the length of time it takes to get reviews back (which can get loooooonnnnggggg in a lot of fields); the issue is professionalism, finding the right reviewers for essays, and communicating with authors and reviewers in a timely way. He suggested that perhaps we should move to the model of other major journals in social science: associate editors are four in number (not simply reviewers as they are in Comm Studies), and handle their own specialized areas of expertise with the power to accept, reject, and so on. This might solve the divide some editors seem to enjoy forging between the humanities and the social sciences in our regional journals. I dunno.

Regardless, the ACJ model is a very bad one to emulate, and one worries—I worry—that our field might be seen like some of us see ACJ: it’s “Southern Air,” with piglets running around and chickens clucking. Given the early history of our field, this view is somewhat justified and part of our own internalized feelings of inferiority. Could it be, perhaps, that this sense of inferiority is self-perpetuating?

sneakie peekie

October 18th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Nine Inch Nails: Fragile (1999)

I wanted to blog a Foucauldian reading of Sen. Larry Craig’s “I’m not gay” routine on television a couple of nights ago, but whatever I was thinking to say—in the key of surveillance—inflated to the size of a pea and rolled out my ear. Instead, then, I am posting a sneak peek of my Halloween costume. Here are two elements of said costume (click image for larger version). I am magical, however, in a week’s time I will be even more magical, in full costume. With mushrooms. I will protect your precious things. And will DJ your collective booties into dance floor submission. w00t!

an antidepressant

October 16th, 2007 by slewfoot

expertise, continued

October 15th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Between Interval: Radio Silence (2007)

My apologies for not posting for some time; I’ve been swamped/overwhelmed. I did recently post about a couple of guest editors for a Southern Communication Journal special issue on Katria, but then deleted that post because I didn’t want some of the folks implicated to get the shaft. The short story on this is that good scholars everywhere should boycott SCJ, period. I’ve got two articles in it, but in the past three years the journal has really gone downhill, and has been treating authors very, very poorly. Let me repeat: don’t send SCJ your work. Or, at least, if you’re a graduate student don’t send them your work, because when it’s rejected after six months you won’t get any feedback.

[Later edit 10/19/07: Dr. Mary Stuckey is taking over SCJ, and has expressed some concern, as have others, about my call to not send work to SCJ. I am personally very fond of Mary and have no doubt she will be an excellent editor. She is a top-notch scholar and I suspect has little patience for unprofessionalism. Nevertheless, my issue has nothing to do with any one person; my concern is about leadership structure and Southern organization, a structure that permitted this disaster and let 40 scholars flap in the wind for more than six months.]

But I digress.

A few days ago I was sent the paperwork for my first case as an occult expert with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Of course, I cannot make comments about the specific case, but it’s pretty safe to say that it is interesting. For the filing, there is upward of 300 pages, most of which I can read and comprehend (without a law degree)! What’s even more interesting, to me at least, is that I can see the validity of both sides of the case. As I continue reading, both those who brought suit and the defendants are earnest. I am charged with making a report, which will require some days of research. I know all of this is vague, and it needs to be, but here’s the challenge: occult belief systems have exploded in the past twenty years. There is, for example, no one “Wicca” but many Wiccas. I know a lot about Wicca circa 2000 . . . Wicca 2007 has morphed and changed so much that I now have to “read up” on what’s new. There’s a post here on postmodern religiosity, but bedtime is nearing . . . .

On this tip, I received a voice mail message today from a defense attorney involved with an exorcism case. I don’t know the details, as I was unable to reach him, but: I never dreamed I’d be a consultant on occultism when I listed that as an area of interest on my UT webpage. I certainly never thought I’d be tapped as a consultant on exorcism—until Inside Edition came calling last year. I regret I didn’t land that interview, now (I passed them on to an expert in New York, a Jesuit). Today in my Rhetoric and Religion class I lectured on Satan in the New and Old Testament, in preparation on our next case study: demonic possession. Exorcism is increasing as a practice again, and much like it did after The Exorcist debuted in 1973. How do we account for re-arrival of this practice?

I’m unsure. But I do know this: if I had originally set out to be a paranormal and occult investigator/expert, I’d have work today.

dead-a-licious 2007: time to par-tay!

October 11th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Her Space Holiday: The Young Machines (2003)

It’s that time of year again . . . COSTUME PAR-TAY! Yay! My costume literally just arrived in the mail, or at least parts of it. I am going to appear as a critter who guards precious things in gardens. Anyhoot, if any of you peeps who live far-flung want to come, tag the spare bedroom and couches before someone else does! This year’s party is going to be SICK! Click the gruesome pumpkin carnage to the left for the official invite.