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it’s synth-pop friday!

November 27th, 2009 by slewfoot

on gratitude

November 27th, 2009 by slewfoot

Music: Neko Case: Middle Cyclone (2008)

Today I baked a turkey, and I ate some of it not too long ago. This morning, I had the luxury of time to grade and do laundry. I read the paper and sale advertisements. I enjoyed the parade on television while I read the paper, followed by a dog show (I did not listen to the dog show, but rather ambient music while the dog show flickered). I graded a few papers. I worked on editing a manuscript. I spoke on the phone with my mother. I read a part of a chapter of a book titled, The Monstrosity of Christ. I spent the day alone, by choice, and this was a welcome solitude.

Most of my non-blood family here is dispersed across the country with their own blood-families. Most of my blood-family is in Georgia, and in these harsh financial times, one must choose between the brief visit for Thanksgiving, or a more extended stay over the December holidays. I made my choice. Today it’s just me, the dog, some cats, and a turkey. Oh, and a computer. And, I guess, some books. I could go on . . . .

I turned the television off by noon because the sentimental programming had finally summoned my inner cynic-demon. The cynic demon comes handy from time to time, but I try to keep him chained below on days like this. I confess to smiling more than once at the Neelys on the Food Channel (they have really grown on me; I think their upbeat mood is sincere, which both charms and frightens me). I did actually enjoy the tidings of comfort and family and joy until the commercials crowded them out with “buy.” I even enjoy stuff, buying it, thinking about the stuff I could have, the stuff I could use. But this year the underlying desperation of “Black Friday” is too much; the subtext of many of the televisual messages today was that buying stuff was my moral duty. My mum said on the phone today that she was thinking about shopping tomorrow to support the economy.

I recall more than three people told me they enjoyed Thanksgiving because it was “not commercialized like Christmas,” and I appreciate that. At the same time, it seems Christmas has crept into Thanksgiving, such that the two are now one big massive paean to consumption: one is about buying food, the other is about buying shit. Both are yoked to the conception of “the gift.”

You know, it’s not necessary to make everything an academic enterprise, but as someone who is supposed to be a critic for a living, I couldn’t help thinking about Marcel Mauss’ work on “the gift” today. I was rereading Mauss a few days ago in preparation for a course I’m teaching next semester titled, “The Object.” I first became familiar with Mauss when I studied the occult; I was taken, in particular, by his arguments about class and its relationship to the occult: magic is particularly appealing to the poor because it promises effortless ascent, it promises to cut through class. If you want to understand the appeal of Oprah Winfrey or The Secret, you don’t need psychoanalysis. Just read Marcel Mauss. He had it nailed.

Mauss’ work on “the gift” is deeply insightful. We are taught since youth that it is “better to give than to receive.” I have that teaching innermost, believe me. I take much pleasure in giving gifts—and often when I really cannot afford to give them (this is why I make many of them; the mix CD comes to mind). Mauss’ insight, however, was that the gift is a relational gesture of power that always entails an element of reciprocity. To gift is to say to another not simply that you love them, but that you expect some form of love in return—usually recognition, just the appreciation that you gave the gift. And to receive the gift is also to accept a form of recognition. The truth of this complicated power dynamic is perhaps no better demonstrated than with the economy of humor that orbits “regifting,” the jokes about the politics of gifting. Take the “Chia head,” for instance: it’s a gift that has the joke built-into it. All “gag” gifts are designed to call our attention to the politics of reciprocity inherent in the gift.

Thanksgiving differs from Christmas, and the holidays that have been sucked into its vortex, because it remains a harvest/fertility festival. The gift of food is at its center. Symbolically, that gift is most satisfying because it is a celebration of health. I remember the prayers my now mute grandmother used to give at Thanksgiving dinner: she always thanked God for the food about to “nourish our bodies.” That’s a gratitude marked by the Great Depression, unquestionably, but I suspect that sentiment is till widely voiced. It reenacts a very primal gratitude, in way: when we were all babes, we depended on our parents to feed us. We were helpless. Without our mother or father or whomever providing nourishment, we would die. Thanksgiving in many ways is the holiday of the gift of living.

82 miles from my home is an Army base that has deployed thousands of young men and women to the Middle East to fight wars instigated in response to a wound our country suffered on September 11, 2001. Just weeks ago an Army psychiatrist, himself deeply mentally wounded, killed twelve of them in a psychotic rage. Today, stories on the television and in the paper concerned “Thanksgiving at Fort Hood,” banking on the irony of the gift. The subtext of these stories—although at times explicit—was that here are men and women that gifted their lives “for their country,” and yet, that gift was not recognized by some “terrorist” who failed to comprehend the value of that gift. He violated the protocol. He was not thankful enough.

Cynicism aside, I have to agree with the underlying logic of these stories, even if I cringe at the consumerist ends to which it is put. Most of us, at this point, are very tired at the trauma-consumerism that has fueled the American economy since Nine-eleven. I think that’s one of the many reasons we elected Obama. At the same time, and at the risk of sentimentality, I want to cut through the consumerist shit to acknowledge the men and women who are gifting their lives to fight for my country—an idea of my country, an ideal. It’s an ideal that I don’t even agree with, one, which, in fact, I think is a force of inhumanity in many ways. But I am thankful for the soldier nonetheless, and I don’t say this because of blind patriotism or because it’s fashionable. I say this because the gift of one’s life demands recognition, even if the cause or reason or rationale is unjust.

It’s terribly complicated, in the abstract, to be thankful for thousands upon thousands of men and women who gift life. I recently saw a PBS documentary that was about a tattoo parlor on the outskirts of Fort Hood. It filmed soldier after soldier getting a tattoo and talking about his or her impending deployment. It was a moving documentary because it humanized the soldiers. Most of them were from poor families. Many of them had poor educations. Many of them talked frankly about not returning. These are not stupid people; they understood, very deeply, the risk—and that’s why the tattoo is homology on a stick. The tattoos were clearly marks of sacrifice, and inscriptions of hope (of survival; there is power in the signifier). I can only understand this gift with an encounter with the individual giving it.

The injustices of our government are increasingly coming to light, and it’s nauseating. Say what you will about the Obama administration, but the recent decision of the president to be photographed with returning dead soldiers is more than a photo opportunity; I want to believe its more than politics, or perhaps more precisely, it’s what politics should be: a recognition of the gift. Today I am thankful for the men and women who give their lives for my country, whatever that is, and I am thankful for a president who understands why it is important to publically recognize that gift.

oprah is a quitter

November 22nd, 2009 by slewfoot

Music: Pete Namlook and Tetsu Inoue: 2350 Brodway, Volume Four (2006)

On Friday Oprah Winfrey announced that her popular daytime talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, will end on it’s 25th anniversary on September 9th, 2011. Thus concludes one of the most successful, decades-long rhetorics of tokenism upon which the contemporary neoliberal subject was fashioned. As my colleague Dana Cloud concluded over thirteen years ago, “tokenist biography,” such as Oprah’s famous rags-to-riches story, “serves to blame the oppressed for their failures and to uphold a meritocractic vision of the American Dream that justifies and sustains a more troubling American reality” (download her extremely prescient essay here). Oprah’s show is, in fact, synonymous with her biography, and so it is difficult to imagine what she will become or do without it.

Regardless, we should celebrate the demise of The Oprah Winfrey Show, as no other media production has done so much to promote a widespread investment in general unhappiness: suffer from racism? It’s your fault. Don’t make enough to feed your children? It’s your fault. Neoliberalism hasn’t a better poster child than Winfrey. As she brings her direct guidance to a close (we still have Drs. Oz and Phil, as well as the nauseatingly insincere Rachel Ray), it’s particularly eye-opening (or, well, not at all) to underscore where she attributes her success:

That’s right: magic. Forget the civil rights movements, feminism, and other social changes brought about by collective effort, thinking positive thoughts is the only way to make this life worth living.

Oprah, of course, is yet another easy target, and we can almost write the critique of neoliberalism in our sleep. But when we think about Oprah’s influence, we also think about care and love, we are reminded of her tearful and swollen face. It’s not simply that Winfrey is a product and vehicle of neoliberal ideology, it’s also that she feels it, and that this feeling is not fake. Her own “magic” is the sense of presence she has across the screen, and, of course, the talk-show is emplaced in one’s living room (we encounter her there, in intimate places). Her power is one of intimacy.

The only way to understand her appeal and power is in terms of the classic notion of eunoia; she exudes goodwill, from her first foray into politics (testifying before Congress on behalf of abused children) to her visible charity work. Despite however much we might critique Winfrey for her ideology, there’s no question her “heart is in the right place.” It’s in our living rooms, after all.

Although I am not well versed in Foucauldian approaches to cultural critique (in graduate school, you pick your theorist and dig deep; Foucault was not my pick—Fred Jameson and Kenny Burke were), I have taken much interest in Foucault’s later work, especially that on the care of the self and governmentality. I’ve been especially excited by the more recent work of Foucault being published, work that reveals a much more psychologically interested Foucault than previously assumed. Ron Greene recently presented a paper on the history of the field of Speech Communication in which he argued that “pastoral power” better characterized how the speech hygiene movement worked. Since I heard Ron’s paper I’ve been thinking a good bit about pastoral power, even reading up a little here and there. “Pastoral power” is Foucault’s concept for how Christian forms of management have “traveled,” so to speak, into the biopolitical domain: at once individually and collectively focused (one works toward individual salvation while simultaneously attending to “the flock”), the pastoral helps to describe, I think, the imaginary adopted by figures like Winfrey. It puts power and religion on the same plane—and that helps me better figure why I have been so obsessed these many years with theological forms. The conception of the pastoral also seems to provide a space for psychoanalytic insight.

Conceptually, I’m drawn to the intersection of eunoia and the pastoral, the site at which a viewer of Winfrey’s show is sutured to a pastoral vision in feeling. I’m thinking aloud here, and my ideas are admittedly half-baked, but I’m wondering about the link between the living room and the pulpit. Is there a way in which Winfrey and Obama help us to see better how the pastoral operates in contemporary politics, and in turn, in my kitchen? How is it that Oprah’s tearful confessions on television translate into a regime change in Washington?

I betray my reading habits of late. I’ve been obsessed with Lauren Berlant’s work. I’ve been trying to educate myself on the research on affect. Oprah’s recent announcement strikes me as incredibly important, tied up at once with the intimate recesses of our homes and the Obama presidency all at once. I wonder, too, if the end of her talk show signals a new new: it all but sounds the death knell of broadcasting. Period. Politics is become narrow . This is why I think the “pastoral” is so fecund a concept . . . both individual and collective, it captures the ministry of Apple, Inc.

it’s synth-pop friday!

November 20th, 2009 by slewfoot

slowing down, thankfully

November 18th, 2009 by slewfoot

Music: Talk Talk: Laughing Stock (1991)

I arrived home from Chicago on Sunday only to begin work anew on Monday. Prior to my Wednesday departure I cleaned house in a major way, and I cannot express how refreshing it was to return to a clean and tidy home (minus the cat pee accidents, the consequence of vengeful putties angry to be so lap deprived). I promptly dirtied it up rushing to catch up with paperwork and promised labor. As I type there is a dirty crock-pot, stacks of crusty dishes, and heaps of laundry sitting here and yon ready for pretreatment.

I missed my dog. It was nice to see someone so happy I had returned home. Jesús the break-up dog has turned out to be such a blessing. Who knew? (You dog lovers did.)

By unexpected foresight, I managed to schedule two guest speakers for my undergraduate class this week. This is especially welcome for two reasons. First, I came home with a touch of laryngitis, and so the less talking the better. I also did a guest talk with my friends at Southwestern University this afternoon, so saving my voice for that worked out especially well. Second, I’m not currently prepping a new lecture. This semester I have been up on Monday and Wednesday nights trying to prepare brand new lectures for my Celebrity Culture class. I realized that it’s my first new undergraduate prep in five years—my, how I forget the work involved in thinking about structure, and how much students appreciate structured lectures. Unlike preps of the past, however, I’ve been learning Apple’s Keynote slide program and developing slides for my lectures. The result is a very pretty, “television-like” presentation, but a few extra hours of labor. It’s nice to be spending those hours reflecting and blogging tonight, chatting on Crackbook, and reading trashy celebrity gossip blogs.

A number of folks have asked “how was NCA?”—a question that refers to this weekend’s annual meeting of the National Communication Association, the largest professional organization of my field. My response has been, typically, “it was a blur.” “Blur” is defined as “to make or become less distinct,” and it’s accurate. My memory of the conference is episodic, little snippets of conversations and events that seemed to have whooshed by, both exciting and . . hard to pin-down. Clearly I did too much, and I hope I appear much less frequently on the program next year. One of my best friends in the world and I were only able to figure ourselves together in a two-hour window in four days! When conference duties overwhelm the ability to see my best friends, I know I’m doing too much.

Thanks for the dinner E. You helped me recharge more than you know.

NCA increasingly disappoints me as a professional organization for its calculated and strategic silences on issues of major humanitarian import. I also hate the fact that people are fearful of speaking out about basic human decency; it seems there’s something particular about NCA that makes people afraid to speak their minds. I cannot put my finger on it quite yet. I’m thinking. Nevertheless, at the same time, I enjoy going to NCA because it puts me in contact with people who share my concerns. Mostly, my experience of NCA is joyful because of the love I feel for my friends and colleagues, despite the frustrations with being a member of a ever-huge, pulsating brain in the widening corporate academiverse. While I am ambivalent about my professional organization, I am not about my colleagues. I am very fortunate to be in communication studies, I think. We are not like other fields; in general, I think we take care for one another, and I’m especially proud of how well we care after our students. You hear so many horror stories about how grads are treated in other fields. Torture-loving republichristians aside, I think you can measure any community by how well it takes care of its youth (broadly defined).

Anyway, I’m rambling (and also glad to have the time to ramble, for once this semester!). This is been one of the busiest semesters of my career. I don’t think if every semester was like this I could continue as a professor (I am simply not happy being so busy), but I do think the combination of four trips, a new prep, promotion and tenure, car repair, and textbook preparation/writing is not the norm. At least I hope so! Perhaps the anxiety about promotion is making things more stressful, I don’t know. (I’ll find out if I am “vested” here at UT in about four weeks or so.)

So, anyway. We’re heading into the home stretch. I’m looking forward to getting back to some writing. I have high hopes for a quick essay revision, a textbook chapter draft, and a brand-new, from-the-ground-up essay by the time school begins in January. And, hopefully, a couple of co-authored drafts completed along the way. It’s amazing what you can get written when you can devote weeks at a time, day after day, of concentrated thinking and writing without meetings, defenses, letter-writing, strategic planning, conferences, and so forth. And for all you grads reading this: that’s what I’m learning the average professorial life is like. Semesters are for teaching and service; breaks are for scholarship. The early assistant professor life is less clogged-up with service; take advantage of that! Write! Make babies! Do whatever! But around the associate years, you’re carrying much, much more than you can imagine. 60 hour weeks? Hah! Try 80 hours . . . .

Just sitting here in anticipation of writing, I’m getting a little excited. Surprisingly, scholarship feels like a luxury, like a time for vacation. It’s sort of like going to a movie: once you get into writing or composing something, you’re not thinking about laundry, or errands, nor are you worrying about letting others down. It’s almost a selfish pleasure.

I’m listening to Talk Talk’s later music now. Gosh it’s good. Music is good. Music still gets me by on a daily basis. Yesterday I picked up the 20th year anniversary of NWA’s landmark “gansta” album—what memories that brings. And let me just say this year brought us some excellent albums. I’m looking forward to writing my yearly best-of sitting at the kitchen table in my parent’s home.

And I’m looking forward to visiting my friends in Athens. And my peeps in Atlanta.

And I’m looking forward to watching the final season of Battlestar Galactica, which seems to be my indulgence for the holiday seasons in years past.

Can you tell I’m ready for break? “So say we all!”

is “stupidity” just another word for entitlement?

November 15th, 2009 by slewfoot

Music: Pieter Nooten: Ourspace (2006)

I think this is my first blog post written at 35,000 feet in the air.

Moving through hotels this weekend I have been amused by the media blitz for Carrie Prejean’s new book, Still Standing: The Untold Story of My Fight Against Gossip, Hate, and Political Attacks. Just as I was about to leave the house for Chicago I happened to catch Prejean in an interview with Meredith Vieira on the Today show. Vieira plays the soft and friendly counterpoint to Lauer’s more pointed questioning and Curry’s ass-kissing, something like the baby bear’s porridge of morning pabulum. Prejean was incapable of answering questions that required her to actively think; she only spit-back ready-made scripts about the liberal MSM’s double standards. At one point she accused Vieira of asking inappropriate questions and attempted to pick a fight, which was somewhat surprising given Vieira’s soft and friendly demeanor (I mean, c’mon—this is the morning talk show person voted most likely to give you bail money). Apparently Prejean has been acting similarly outraged on the talk-show circuit, as I spied another clip of her in the Hilton hotel elevator television feed. This morning I saw that she had a tantrum on Larry King’s show, removing her microphone and threatening to leave the set because he was asking inappropriate questions (she didn’t actually storm off the stage, though; a self-styled “Professor of Popular Culture” on CNN rightly observed that if you’re going to make threats like that, you’ll sell more books if you actually follow-through). From the snippets I’ve heard, Prejean’s handlers helped her with a “talking point list” that she memorized, and which goes something like this: (1) talk about the double-standard of the media; (2) defend marriage for straights only (not heteros—there is a difference); (3) discuss censorship by the Miss USA people; (4) redefine the masturbatory sex-tape as “sexting” and confess it was wrong; (5) accuse the interviewer of being inappropriate. Rinse. Repeat.

Of course, Prejean is a very easy target, which led me to dither about whether I should even bother posting this (stay tuned, however). Whenever I saw her speak, all I could think about was Perez Hilton’s post-pageant video blog in which he screamed Prejean was booed for her comments about gay marriage, not because of her politics, but because she “is a dumb B*&^5!” I stopped reading Hilton because I think he is mean—downright cruel at times—and when I first heard his rant I thought it was simply unabashed misogyny. I still think he is a hater, however, when watching Prejean all I could think was (er, ok, yes, she’s very hot, I won’t lie) . . . all I could think about was Hilton’s sound bite: “Miss California lost because she’s a dumb . . . .” I now sort of think he called it, with an emphasis on “dumb.” I’m also rethinking what Hilton said, because if you subtract this dude’s own narcissism, he’s right: it’s not really about gay marriage. The subtext is that she said that because she’s remaining consistent to a platform, a network of scripted positions (pro-gun, pro-life, pro-death penalty, anti-health care reform, and so on; we can list the issues in our sleep, right?). And the case for stupidity is manifest in other ways. For example: trying to fashion oneself into a role model for conservative young people by selling your body and taking out a loan from a beauty pageant for breast implants isn’t really going to work, even if you groom your nether bits in the shape of a cross. (I mean, Hooters is a family boobie bar, but that did work because they’re open on Sunday.) It’s also simply not smart to accuse the MSM’s milquetoast contingent of being unfair and inappropriate. The only thing I can imagine that would be even stupider is to accuse Ellen Degeneres of being hater (and I’d LOVE to see that interview).

Reading reviews of her book, however, I started to feel a teensy guilty about my smug enjoyment of Prejean’s confused publicity campaign: she’s barely 22. She looks (to me, at least) much older, and her discussions on television also help to create this impression. For example, when responding to questions about a “sex tape” she made for a boyfriend, she noted that was when she was a “kid” and she’s grown up now. And how many 22 year olds do you know who have made a sex tape? Right, no fingers left to count on. But what about a memoir? Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. So, how many 22 year olds do you know who have had a memoir ghost-written from a stack of notes on ruled “college” paper? None, I would hazard a guess.

I don’t know about you (and most of you are closer to my age than Prejean’s), but I was un-smart at 22. I was also young and full of . . . dung (to put it truthfully, I’m still pretty much full of it, or at least I’m told so). Knowing her actual age, I think I’m much less critical of how un-smart and dull her media appearances have been. Yes, she’s dumb or stupid, but in a more technical sense, not in the sense of some intrinsic or essential deficiency, not in the commonplace sense of “dumb,” not in the angered sense that Hilton probably meant it (and, well, I think we could also say Perez Hilton is calling the kettle black).

As soon as I discovered she was 22, I couldn’t help but think of a certain form of student behavior I am noticing, a behavior becoming more common (but thankfully, not commonplace). You know this student behavior, longtime readers, as . . . [DUN! DUN! DUNNNNN!] the petulant demand!

The staging: I teach large lecture classes, and one method of evaluation I like is the “pop quiz.” I learned this from a mentor as both a way to encourage reading and attendance. Over the course of the semester, I give 10-15 surprise, 5 question, multiple-guess quizzes on the previous evening’s readings. My policy is to let students drop three quiz grades, which helps to correct for excused absences, traffic, oversleeping, athletic events, obscure Buddhist holidays, doctors appointments, and other legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons to skip class. I always give the quizzes at the beginning of class, and late students are often super-bummed and always want to take the quiz late. My policy is not to allow this (and for all sorts of legit reasons). Since coming to Texas, it never fails that at least once a semester a student arrives late to class, demands to be allowed to take the quiz, and then makes a big scene when I say no. For example, recently a student did this, huffed, slammed the door, and so forth (drawing audible gasps from other astonished classmates). After class he came to “apologize.” The apology included mention of an injury, others having swing flu, the distance from one class to the next—anything he could think of. When I mentioned that in general it was rude to make a scene like that for an audience of 150 some-odd students, he told me that I was, in fact, the rude one for refusing to let him take the quiz.

It seems to me Prejean’s talking-point script and the petulant demand are vehicles for the same affective hormones, if you will. Rhetorically each is very different—the MSM have a liberal bias, teachers who don’t let late students take quizzes are rude fascists—but the sense of entitlement is the same at the level of disposition and, quite literally, anality (footnote to Karl Abraham). The cultural catch phrase is, I underscore, “sense of entitlement,” which is not about justice, but a certain feeling, or as Nietzsche might put it (footnote to the genealogy of morals here), a certain sense of debt. Whereas the debt Nietzsche describes is masochistic (guilt), however, in the recent evangelical turn the debt is the other’s (think, here, of the Bush II administrations “bankruptcy reform” bill, which actually deregulated credit card companies; the moral behind the bill was it was the debtor’s fault, their inability to live within their means).

Strictly speaking, entitlement is a formal right to something, like compensation for one’s labor. Entitlement hormones, however, are not about rights in the formal sense, but an economics of affect. Feelings of entitlement produce an inherently conservative outlook, which seems homologous, if not identical, to emergent forms of narcissism tied to spectacle and celebrity (I’m thinking here that the desire to be “on camera” is analogous to the desire to make a scene in front of 150 of one’s peers at the teacher’s expense). The disposition of entitlement is skewed toward the psychotic: others are merely objects in the show of my life, a fantasy played out nicely in The Truman Show; I have little or no understanding of limitation.

The contemporary “sense of entitlement” is autonomy run amok. Now, enlightenment autonomy concerned the entitlement of right, be it natural or political. And I think all of us are entitled to certain basics, such as life, liberty, and . . . affordable healthcare. Righteousness is well served by certain forms of enlightenment autonomy, and I don’t dispute this as a political necessity. What troubles me is this postmodern form of entitlement that is an embodied anger toward those who tell you “no.”

Prejean and the petulant student are good examples of this postmodern sense of entitlement and autonomy. Prejean feels she has a right to express her opinion in the sense expressed by the oft-heard phrase, “well, that’s my opinion and I have a right to express it,” or, “well, that’s my opinion and you can take it or leave it.” The petulant student feels he has a right to demand special treatment because he has worked so hard, because he is a good person (and for the teachers out there: how many times has a student tried to “argue” he or she feels entitled to X, not that he or she thinks X is warranted because of Y?). Prejean’s entire publicity premise is that she has been ridiculed for expressing her opinions (regardless of what they are). What’s missing from this reasoning is, of course, the critical faculty of judgment and this crazy thing Persig terms “value”: not all opinions are worth listening to, and not all effort is worth reward. And let’s face it: it’s not so clear that Prejean’s opinions are even her “own” in the sense that she cannot articulate her scripts—leading to contradictions and the ecstasies of Gotcha Culture© (I’ve copyrighted that phrase, thank you; I’m entitled to a citation if you use it).

What we have in the sense of contemporary entitlement is a sense of feeling, an embodied feeling, an anality (think of tensing-up, of squeezing yourself closed and hunching-inward, fists shaking), a disposition that, arguably, is rooted in deep, infantile demands. Now, I’m not saying Prejean or the petulant student are infantile and I’m therefore better. I have those feelings too—we all do (I mean, the guy sitting next to me in the airplane is hogging the armrest and his elbow is in my seat-space; I’m fantasizing about ripping his arm off and beating his head with it, his glasses askew and cracked across his face . . . ). We all have these feelings and fantasies, and it used to be the case that fictional entertainment provided us an “escape” with which to “feel them out,” so to speak. This contained infantalism has become “reality” (“reality television,” anyone?). In our contemporary environment, it would seem that the entitlement-of-right has transformed into an affective conviction that masquerades as an entitlement of right: “You” or “They owe me X” because “I’m a good person” doesn’t really even work here. It’s a feeling, born in infantile omnipotence that is beyond reason.
For example, there’s nothing I could say to the petulant student that would ever right the wrong my “no” has done to him. Once, I asked one of these students, “what would you like me to do?” He responded, “well, I’d like you to let me take the quiz.”

“But it’s a pop quiz, and we’ve already gone over the answers in class.” I said. Why don’t you just let this be one of the three quizzes we dropped? It’s reasons like this that I’ve created the ‘drop-three’ policy, in fact.”

Instead of responding to my statement, the student stormed out of the auditorium without responding. Now, how different is this from how Prejean has handled her interviews: when the prepared scripts of her talking-point memo don’t work, she refuses to engage, but rather, accuses interviewers of asking inappropriate questions:

Settlements do not preclude answering King’s questions, of course. Vocal tone and facial gestures betray the brand of righteousness that replaces good reasons with conviction. It used to be the case that “love is all you need.” Now it’s just conviction.

Well, it appears my airplane is on it’s decent into Austin—we’re only 100 miles away—so I should work on wrapping this up. Let’s do so with a recap and a question. So far I’ve been reflecting on my amusement with Carrie Prejean’s publicity campaign for her new book, which I’ve suggested reveals a certain inability to think on one’s feet; the contradictions commentators (well, all of us) are pouncing on reveal a very scripted Prejean who is incapable of reconciling competing scripts. My first conclusion was that Prejean was simply not very smart, but when confronted with her young age I noted some similarities to the unreasonable, affective demands of students. It then occurred to me that if we think about stupidity structurally (a la Avital), there’s a connection between contemporary notions of affective entitlement and what folks recognize as “stupid.” So, the question: is stupidity simply another name for affective entitlement? If stupidity means “lacking intelligence or common sense,” then stupidity is not simply lacking the conceptual repertoire to express oneself, low “cognitive complexity,” and so on, but also the absence of a common sensibility. In other words, “lacking common sense” means that one does not have a group-minded disposition, an understanding of “right” as a tacit contract to behave in a certain public in a particular way. Prejean’s interaction with her interviewers this week is a great illustration: the interviewers she’s selected are known for being particularly warm and friendly, very “other-oriented.” King is especially renowned for his disarming demeanor. Yet even with these people, she cannot seem to play the game of give-and-take. It’s all take. It’s all entitlement. It’s a fundamental inability to negotiate difference; she can only interact with “same,” that is, with herself.

I’m starting to think that if we understand psychosis properly as a psychical structure or disposition (orientation, tendency, habit, whatever) that has not opened fully to the social (for your Lacan-heads out there, I’m thinking about the failure to admit of the paternal metaphor), then Prejean is yet another example of an obsessional neurotic (that is, classic narcissist a la Tom Cruise or Christian Bale) become celebrity. If this is the case, one would expect that Prejean has come from a broken home. And lo and behold, I just found this. More father trouble, indeed.

Psychosis. Stupidity. Narcissism. Entitlement. These are all intimately related. I’m sensing a new academic project, and I think it has everything to do with social movements. Righteousness is a problem in Gotcha Culture. If modernity was neurotic, postmodernity is psychotic. Thinking aloud. Thinking thinking. My tray table must be returned to its upright position. Closing. Computer. Now.

busiest. conference. ever.

November 14th, 2009 by slewfoot

Music: Talk Talk: Live in London (1986)

I had hoped to steal away a few moments to blog a bit about the conference I’m currently attending, the National Communication Association Conference in Chicago. Unfortunately, to attend everything that I was assigned to meant . . . there was no time. I’m currently late for a “party” (departments sometimes host parties in conference rooms for friends, alums, and hopefuls).

I do have this “late” moment to blog this: as exhausting as these conferences are, they’re also energizing. Also, this year more than any other, I’ve noted much less cynicism and more goodwill going around. The mood of the conference is upbeat and friendly. Perhaps that’s just because my friends are upbeat and giving. Or perhaps it’s because we like Chicago. Or perhaps it’s because Obama is president.

I don’t know the answer, but tonight that will be my questions for the parties: (1) how would you characterize the mood of this conference? and (2) how would you account for it? Report forthcoming, and likely from an airport.

it’s synth-pop friday . . . an hour late

November 14th, 2009 by slewfoot

Sorry, I’m really busy with travel and all, but, you know, at least I remembered before I hit the sack:

at the circus: two years later

November 11th, 2009 by slewfoot

Music: David Bowie: Lodger (1979)

Yeah yeah: so you were wondering if Dr. Juice would blog the NCA. I’ll do my best. I’ve got free wifi, afterall. The problem is, after this evening, I don’t have a lot of free moments.

It’s nice to be back in Chicago. I don’t know if I’ve confessed this before, but: Chicago is my favorite city. Austin is fabulous. Minneapolis is Amazing. But Chicago is the shit: food, mass transit, music, trees, even. The Bean. How can anyone not like Chicago?

I arrived a few hours ago and basked in the brilliant presence and optimistic love of a dear friend en route to the hotel. It’s a surprisingly nice joint, the Blake Chicago. Shh. Don’t tell anyone about this hotel. It may be my Chicago go-to sleep place for perpetuity.

Riding up the elevator, David Bowie’s “China Girl” was playing. It got me into the proper mood. When I got to the room I put the ghetto blaster (I always bring one for travel) on to Bowie. Lodger seemed appropriate. I’m heading out now to meet my mentors and a friend for dinner. This, of course, is the whole reason for coming. As for the panels . . . .

never too busy to party

November 6th, 2009 by slewfoot

Music: Amon Tobin: Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005)

Last week was among the most overwhelming of my career: I returned home last Sunday from a conference in Minneapolis, but with my advisor in tow. The following day I picked up a guest speaker from the airport, dined, and whined, then the next day was playing host. Factor in two, brand new lectures. Wednesday I spent the day with my advisor, made a visit with some friends from Minnesota who now live in Leander, and then high-tailed it back to the university for guest number three, who was also giving a lecture. Two things happened in the midst of this busy Wednesday: first, my laptop hard-drive died. Just up and died. I lost two weeks of lecture materials. Bummer. Second, some shit put nails under my tires on the passenger side; between the guest speaker and dinner, my kindly advisor hung out in the Sears tire place who repaired one of my tires (the other was not repair-able and so we used my spare). Then, the following day I woke up with my eye-swollen shut: stye in my eye. Painful, but I had a new prep, then errands, then dinner with advisor and friends. So, come Friday I was completely toast. I went to the doctor. Got some meds. Didn’t make the presentations that day.

Given the heavenly hell that was last week, I really wasn’t in the mood for throwing a party, but I picked up the keg and threw it anyway. That was a wise move. As soon as it got underway my mood changed, and I was feeling better. By 4:00 a.m. I was feeling quite good, in fact, and the mood of positivity has carried me to this Friday. Of course, I was back in the car repair shop today and have another $1,500 estimate (I’ve spent almost $6,000 on the car already in the past four months). But I am not going to let it phase me; party vibes will get me through. Now, all of last week is honestly a blur—and the lack of blogging is a testament to the hectic pace of life lately. I’m having a cigar and catching up on email messages on the back patio. I shall sleep in tomorrow. And if I start to feel overwhelmed (I have five presentations to prep between now and Monday for our annual conference next week in Chicago), I can always look at the gallery of party photos to cheer myself up and remember what’s really important. Dancing. Dancing is important. And costumes. And smiling. Smiling is good. And friends. All these papers . . . well, these papers can go to Hades.