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it’s walpurgisnacht!

April 30th, 2010 by slewfoot

So, are you coming to the party?

it has begun

April 25th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Lucette Bourdin: “Trip to Fame Drone” (unknown date).

So much has happened to comment on that I am having trouble deciding whether to blog about a dissertation defense in a foreign field (which was disconcerting and therefore good for me), the demise of a favorite band (Type-O Negative, whose lead died of heart failure), or the reminder that Arizona is a racist state (let Public Enemy remind you). So, I will blog about my garden instead, which is just beginning to sprout.

This year I’m trying, yet again, some new plants to see what is going to work best. I learned last year that Coleus and Caladiums (and this unusual variation) thrive in my mostly shady patio, so I planted a bunch of those. The new plant I’m trying is an elephant ear, which is just starting to sprout from a bulb planted two months ago. I’m also trying the “hanging” method of growing tomatoes, courtesy of a coupon for the Bed, Bath, and Beyond store (I discovered the “beyond” is, um, gardening supplies). I really don’t like tomatoes except in salads and fried green, but the ones I am trying to grow are yellow and orange and therefore unusual and therefore something I can handle.

I almost tried to plant some okra, but I just don’t think my patio gets enough sun.

Well, anyway, the garden is now completely planted and all we do now is water and wait. I’m most anxious for the peppers—but it’ll be another month and a half before I get to eat ’em. A gallery of the garden in its sprouty state is here.

slow bloggitry

April 23rd, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Lucette Bourdin Rising Fog(2008)

There are strangely small flying creatures on my patio tonight. I have brought out a table lamp and, with the help of an extension chord, illuminated a table in sore need of its annual weatherproofing. Small flying creatures are drawn to the light—to the pages of the dissertation I am reading under the light. One creature was white, solidly. Another, lime green, solidly. As they landed my skin began to itch—on the forearm, a calf. I’m sure there was no reason to itch other than the thought that bugs were there, a thought layered onto experience, and an experience that did not actually entail bugs landing on my forearm and calf. The creature that (who?) landed now on this white page could be mistaken for a mosquito, however, it has a rather long, Y-shaped tail, which it wiggles in a strange dance of detection. I do not know what it seeks to detect, or even if it is detecting.

I learned in these past minutes I should blow these creatures away, if they were disturbing. They hover over periods, sometimes apostrophes. But I can still read the writing with them there. The last time I tried to flick one it offered me the gift of death, in the form of wet insides, that have now crusted upon my computer’s track pad. Of course, “gift” is a euphemism.

Reflecting, a colleague related a story today about a philosopher who encountered a kitten in his bathroom as he was about to disrobe, and the confrontation there—I imagined it was a tiled there, and probably brown and beige tiles, or blue, since the philosopher was French. The philosopher mused on his confrontation with the consciousness of the animal, and what recognition means, beyond—or just prior to—the cognition. The story played on nakedness, the denuding of interpersonal encounter. Except it was an interspecies encounter. And Peter Singer aside, such encounters are never certain.

I read for a while, just now. Smartness. I am caused to reflect on the Bush administration, and how I have so quickly packed away the horror of those years; this is what Freud termed afterwardness. Did we really live through that? I guess we did. The recession is, in some sense, a reckoning with the evil under our noses.

I remember the freckles on her shoulders.

I remember leaving the parking garage. I have to add on an extra fifteen minutes to my commute to and from the university, since I park there now. One must drive, loop after loop, searching for the empty spot. But at five miles an hour—ten tops. Yesterday someone almost ran into me hurrying in the parking garage. You cannot hurry in a parking garage. Such structures demand a kind of patience most of us are not accustomed to. “Most of us” meaning the sorts of people who people a university. Not the sorts who people Afghanistan.

After reading about Kabul, I’m not so sure there are parking garages in Afghanistan. Or at least not in that city. I’m probably wrong about this.

Facebook reveals someone for whom I have deep affection is losing a loved one, and while the sadness is degreed—the dying is not someone whom I know very well—there is sadness nonetheless. Sometimes prayer is not a petition. Sometimes it is wishing to be with someone to witness their grieving. At a distance, there is a tinge of guilt.

I am annoyed in my wanting to find grace and poetry in my mundane, in (my) publicity. And yet, I still write about it.

I have turned out the table lamp, and not-so-miraculously, the flying creatures are gone. My dog parades under the table, “snarking.” It is a “backward sneeze,” and it sounds terrible. “Inspiratory paroxysmal respiration” is the official term, I think. “Oh, all small dogs get that,” I remember the rescue person explaining. Still, it makes me worry about him. I don’t want to give my dog a half benedryl, as was recommended. I know what that drug does to me (it’s called “sleep”).

There is now good news. My friend’s mother has pulled through, against odds. Hope explodes on status statements. The support network has gone cyber, and affect swirls around nodes (of what, I’m not sure) spread across the country. And so we, the friends, can go to bed with a hopeful thought. But there is that knowing bottom, as it were, that there is a new greeting in the morning. This is the basis of our worrying.

Inside and outside, through the door, Charlie Rose brays (he does, even in his hushed and humbled tones) with an expert about the salvation of the iPad—book publishers are relieved’s strangle on electronic books has been loosened.

My arriving neighbor’s car needs some sort of axel repair. As he arrives, his vehicle squeaks loudly. He drives too fast. I worry sometimes he will swing into the alley and mow over another neighbor’s toddler.

Two cigars were spent.

It’s another Friday night in adulthood. The dishwasher is on. I have not yet examined my navel, although the temptation is there—in jest, as a joke—but I cannot bring myself to look. The dog is now curled behind me on the bench, sharing my couch pillow (which I’m using as a cusion). I’ll check some email here in a moment. Floss. Then brush. Then curl up with a comic before turning out the light.

I’ve been reading the hardbound special collection of Sandman, a comic. I’m just now to the point where he goes to hell to reclaim a talisman from a demon.

It’s starting to rain, so the moment has arrived to go inside.

I came and went here, back and forth, reading and writing over some hours. Blogging is such sweet conceit.

it’s . . . rest-pop friday.

April 23rd, 2010 by slewfoot

a beavis and butthead moment

April 21st, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Her Space Holiday: Home is Where You Hang Yourself (2002)


April 20th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Passion Pit: Manners (2009)

I had a delightful lunch with a friend who was just promoted to full professorship and is now suddenly (that is, somewhat unexpectedly) contemplating being appointed chair of her department. As someone who has just been passed to associate, the conversation was informative, for all those projective reasons one would imagine. As my advisees would be quick to report, I’m not the best administrator. So chatting with my friend about potentially administering a department was fascinating to me. She’s in such a different place than I am in—and her grasp of what it takes to carry an academic department is beyond my comprehension.

I’ve often joked—because it is true—my advisees are more mature than I am. So the thought of someone close-ish to my age getting all administratish . . . er, it scares me. But, then again, I recognize competence knows no age.

Perhaps because I’m nearing my “late thirties,” I’m noticing this more: my friends are becoming leaders. They’re chairing national committees. They’re directing centers. They’re becoming directors of graduate studies. They’re starting to chair departments. I am proud of their leadershipy acumen, and admiring—and I’m terrified I’ll be called on to do the same at some point. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!! Given my personality, I don’t think I’ll be called upon soon.

I think the difficulty is this: to be an administrator one cannot be a sensitive person. Now, the (American Heritage) dictionary definition of “sensitive” is “having or displaying a quick and delicate appreciation of others’ feelings.” But I think this misses what I mean by sensitive. What I mean is also how one deals with that appreciation, how one internalizes it. Speaking only for myself (of course, because I’m sensitive), when another’s feelings are bruised or hurt, I feel guilty. Even if I’m not the person to blame, or am not the one truly at fault, I tend to carry guilt when someone feels wronged or aggrieved. I don’t think I would ever be a good administrator because I would feel bad if someone else felt bad. And in ANY line of work, people feeling bad is inevitable.

I cannot help but think of my chair and how he administers our department. Frankly, I cannot envision or conjure a better chair. He is sensitive in the right way—that is, he has a delicate appreciation of others’ feelings—but somehow he manages not to be sensitive in the way I would be (feeling guilt when others are unhappy). Perhaps he does, I’m not in his head, but it seems to me a tough row regardless. Guiding any group of people in an organization larger than two or three requires a skill and certain management of heart. My chair has a seemingly endless depth of humor—a sense of the comic—that I think really carries my colleagues and me. If I’ve learned anything from my immediate boss, it’s that a sense of humor and joy in living makes “work” worth working.

These musings lead me, of course, to thinking about humor and governance. On the one hand, humor can run cover for the inhumane, and I think we have a deep well of examples where humor has helped to mask a deep inhumanity—a lesson for those who celebrate the parodic in the public domain as corrective to political malfeasance. On the other hand, without laughter, what is the worth of work?

I cannot imagine administrating for anyone unless I can encourage laughter. I applaud and readily support those who can. Leaders who cannot laugh are suspect, and leaders who cannot make us laugh are not leaders. And while we should always be suspicious of laughter, we should be most especially concerned if there is no laughter. Laughter is the sole province of the human. Without laughter, we are machine.

changing guards: communication studieses

April 17th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Drive-By Truckers: The Big To-Do (2010)

This week I received the new issue of Communication and Critical/Communication Studies, a new-ish journal in “my field” dedicated to an interdisciplinary, humanities-style approach to critical work. I’m using “scare quotes” here because I’m not so sure this journal, sponsored by my professional organization (the National Communication Association), will retain the character of its first six years. That character has been “speechy” in orientation: the articles published in most its pages to date have been penned by folks reared in departments formerly known as “speech communication,” departments like the one I was reared in. But owing to the strange slash in the title (a signifier of something to be sure) the journal’s audience and mission are larger than speech. There are many “communication studies” in the United States. And there are many “cultural studies” here and abroad. With this inaugural issue edited by J. Macgregor Wise, the journal is journeying into other pastures of the communicative and cultural that are bound to cause confusion in the disciplinary imaginaries of many.

Ok, so, what do I mean?

My answer is, “I’m not sure.” I’m not playing coy here, I mean it. I think the shift in the editorship of this journal means there is a genuine opportunity to widen our intellectual and institutional networks (perhaps part of the vision of the journal creators, I’m not sure). Perhaps this marks an opportunity to converge the “communication studieses” of North America, an opportunity to unite us!??! But for folks who work and study in my area (rhetorico-cultural studies), Wise’s editorship of the journal is a new moment, because he comes out of a different communication studies.

Ok, so, what do I mean?

There are many “communication studies” in the United States, but (if my history is correct), all of us came from the same root [later edit: not true; there is no institutional common root; see comments below by Gil Rodman]. I have been professionalized under the banner of the National Communication Association. I hail from a discipline that was built largely in the 1920s over the object of “speech.” My field advanced public speaking and debate and “discussion” as its service to the community (since our field was a consequence of the land-grant and adult education movements). My understanding of the field’s history gets murky in the 1940s-1970s, frankly. But I gather it was during this thirty-year period that some folks stuck with speech, some folks pioneered communication technologies (known as “mass media” and, for some old timers, as “telecom”), and, of course, there are the speech sciences that branched into various directions for “communication theory.” Then, there was the introduction of “cultural studies” into the mix in the 1970s and, as best as I gather, this was inflected in different ways in the 1980s. Feeding into this was the Canadian version of communication studies, which many of us today would associate with media ecology [later edit: Again, wrong; see comments]. This journal titled Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies seems to jam all of this together under one banner, and deliberately. This journal is forcing a conversation.

And this is the problem, of course. C&C/CSis deliberately yoking many different humanistic communication traditions, which means that it’s bringing together a “promiscuous audience.” While our professional affiliations may be rooted in the same 1920s folks, the fact is that in the twentieth century different trajectories developed with different inflections, resulting in a number of different brands of communication studies.

As best as I can figure it, in the United States there are two different expressions of critical communication studies: the speechies and the media folk. The speechies break down into the social scientists and the rhetoricians (with Organizational Commies playing the middle ground), while the media folk have similarly broke down into the media effects/mass comm folks (sometimes associated with journalism) and the cultural studies folks. This is hard to keep straight in one’s brain, but I think the best example of the “two” communication studies traditions is found and formally institutionalized at the University of Illinois: the speechies are in the Department of Communication, while the media folk are in the Institute of Communication Research. It doesn’t help, of course, that these two programs have swapped faculty a lot in the past decade. Nevertheless, I think if one wants to understand the predicament of a journal like Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, one can look to the University of Illinois. Here is a journal that seems to be trying to bridge the institutional and disciplinary divide—in some sense literally across these departments.

I would really like to see someone write an article or book that breaks down this disciplinary history. Hell, I’m sure it’s already out there and I’ve simply missed it (and if so, it should be required reading). Provided this monograph does not exist, I’m so bad at archival work I’m not the one to do it. I think, however, a scholar who takes on this task should be knighted, or given lots of beer, or something. What I can contribute is simply this: the journal C&C/S addresses two audiences who read and see things differently, two audiences who attend different conferences (I think), and two audiences who run in different cliques. I’ve blogged about this problem of two audiences before, with the exchange between my friend Dana Cloud and a scholar whom I don’t know, Jennifer Slack. I don’t envy Wise’s challenge of editing a journal that addresses multiple audiences, with different ways of arguing, and different argots.

Evidence of the challenge is in this first issue. With perhaps the exception of Ted Striphas, whose work “walks the line” between these two audiences, the current issue replicates the divide. It’s really weird to realize that the authors of all the featured essays are friends of mine, from the speech side of communication studies (I think I’ve had a drink at a conference bar with every one), while those contributing to the forum are strangers. I don’t say this to brag or to create division, but simply to say that I get the argot of the lead article writers and less so those of the forum writers. I can only suppose the article writers were in the pipe-line with the previous editor, John Sloop, a Speechie. We were disciplined in the same kind of departments, and we write with the same habituated turns of phrase (for example, speech-comm writing is fiendishly clear, often with enumerated points). One the other hand, the “forum” section of the journal is written by scholars associated with mediated communication studies, a different tradition.

Insofar as the journal’s audience is not united under a habituated writerly gesture, the challenge is more formidable than simply communicating ideas—the ideology that motivates the journal’s title. As a rhetorician, I want to point out that this ideology—or idealism, take your pick—is going to be a problem for the new editor(s). It comes right down to writerly style, the way of making arguments. For example, the forum introduction by Briankle G. Chang opens thus:

Labor matters. It cuts and cuts into matter (mater, materia [line over the a—wordpress does not let me code for this])—the mother of all. To labor is to affirm life which begins with labor. “A child is born,” says Hegel in his Phenomenology; like a decision, the newly born cuts into being and begins to be. [cut paragraph] To the extent that labor labors on itself, labor is inescapably historical. It creates a past, and it promises a future. . . .

This kind of writing is poetic-philosophical in its orientation—a kind of writing I cotton to myself, but which is generally discouraged in speech-style communication studies journals. I can imagine folks bristling at the statement that “labor labors on itself.” So, too, can I imagine Speechies mystified by the opening paragraph of Jonathan Beller’s forum essay:

For more than two decades, the multitude, who ought, to some extent at least, be us, have been rewriting the social contract. I emphasize writing here because writing is, perhaps, the only other system of accounts legible as a direct and antagonistic response to those numerical methods that reassure capitalists that the vast social changes which they endeavor to manage are on track for next quarter’s profits. The escalating critique of an emergent sovereign order oft referred to as “Empire,” the locutions around new modalities of labor and value transfer including “immaterial labor,” “the attention theory of value,” “cognitive capitalism,” virtuosity,” the shift from the “mass worker” to the “socialized worker,” the “social factory,” the “deterritorialized factory,” the “world-media system, and the “score,” along with the refurbishing of Marx’s terms “social cooperation,” “general intellect,’ and “sensual labor” are nothing less than the products of a new poesis, an endeavor at the world-making that at once critically analyzes the logistics of capital and asserts the possibility of another world.

The values informing the readerly habits of the two audiences of this journal are very different. I know if I had written an opening paragraph like Beller’s thatI would be raked over the coals for the abstraction by blind reviewers.

The most notable and widely read labor theorists/critics of my communication studies are Dana Cloud and Ron Greene, but neither were asked to participate—nor are they cited—in the recent forum on the topic of labor. I am absolutely convicted this has nothing to do with deliberate omission. It has everything to do with different audiences and different institutional affiliations and conceptual pieties. I don’t envy Wise’s (or the past editor’s) position here. But the recent issues wildly divergent modes of address between the articles and the forum suggests to me a profound need: we need to map our common topoi; we need an account of our different histories; and we need a forum for an open discussion of our relationship. We need more than journaled butt-sniffing. We did the butt-sniffing with Critical Studies in Mass Communication and it resulted in the see-saw problem. We need a scholar to help us to understand our common heritage and history, and perhaps we need a conference to work out our common history and purpose.

Or, to put this crudely: Dana Cloud and Jennifer Stack’s exchange was like two ships of Communication Studies passing in the prose. How can we unite the cultural/critical folks over the aegis of communication studies?

it’s synth-pop friday!

April 16th, 2010 by slewfoot

on the misdirection of, and addiction to, classing-up

April 15th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: Drive-By Truckers: The Big To-Do (2010)

A couple of years ago I remember sitting under an overpass at the intersection of Cameron Road and Research Boulevard and listening to the radio. At that time there was a lot of construction, so getting caught at the red light meant a four minute wait—enough time to wave off a church ministry panhandler and to hear a complete NPR segment about popular perceptions of wealth. I cannot recall much detail about the story except that a Very-Important-Firm’s polling revealed a majority of “Americans” believed they would be wealthy one day. The story concerned our mass delusion, as a majority of this country’s citizens would never be among that top five percent. I recall the story ended in speculation: despite a growing rich-poor gap, and the ever-increasing ranks of the poor (many who identified as the “middle class” were, in fact, the working class), why is it that a majority of those polled believed they would be wealthy one day? Television, of course.

I say, however, if there is any one agent responsible for fantasies of unlikely wealth, it’s HGTV. I jest, of course, but really: what is up with this cable channel? More rant to come.

It’s been some years since I caught up on research in television studies, but last I checked the industry rule was that television families were deliberately two or three tax-brackets higher than the target audience. Sure, there are exceptions—Sanford & Son and Married with Children come to mind, maybe Family Guy—but by and large(r) television families are much more affluent than those watching them. Chicken or egg, yes? I side with Stuart Hall on this one, but even so, television executives will tell you ratings depend on audience projection.

The exigency for these musings is a show I saw this evening when I got home from school: HGTV’s Selling New York. The show is about two real estate firms selling condos and apartments in New York city to wealthy clients. Tonight’s episode was about an international writer of “shopping guides” looking for a place in Manhattan, with about three million to burn, and a “photographer” wanting to sell his loft for six million (but being talked down to 4.9). I expected to be repulsed by the whole thing, but instead, I was surprised: both the agents and their clients seemed very down to earth. These millionaires were not pretentious, and while the places they were selling or considering were eye-popping, these folks seemed like people you could go out and have a drink with. Perhaps I wasn’t offended because the money they’re throwing around is inconceivable to me? I mean, I’m scrounging and saving to get a toilet flange repaired, so maybe their reality is so unreal to me that I just let them have it?

I reckon my reaction surprised me because I get so irritated with the people usually featured on HGTV real estate shows. I originally got cable last summer to watch celebrity-related things in preparation for a course I was teaching on celebrity. I found myself utterly addicted to the Food Network. And then, I don’t know why or how, I migrated over to HGTV—and have been hooked (if the Food Network stops creating competition cooking shows, I might go back). I cannot explain why I get hooked on HGTV, because normally I get so ticked off at the house-hunters on their real estate shows. Unlike Selling New York, on shows like House Hunters or Property Virgins extremely picky and fickle couples dither about half-million dollar home purchases. I love to watch Property Virgins cause I have this thing for Sandra Rinomato, but I usually cringe at the couples she advises who are pissy about paint color or the fact a house doesn’t have stainless steel appliances. And is a “popcorn ceiling” really all that devastating?

Unlike fictional television families, real estate shows on HGTV are in the “reality” genre, which means the tacit claim is one of fact: the bulk of 20-somethings are white and wealthy; they can afford homes that are hundreds of thousands of dollars. They exhibit an expectation of a dream home, the kind featured in magazines and, er, on HGTV. And while the folks featured on this cable network can probably afford the homes they are buying, the fact remains the vast majority of viewers cannot—and these viewers are getting younger. They’re the folks sitting in my classes.

In a time of recession, massive layoffs, high unemployment, foreclosures by the fistful—in a time when young people are finishing college and moving back in with their folks—in a time when the average student can no longer afford a college education at a land-grant university, it seems like the affluence fantasyland is growing like the blob. Commentator after commentator warns that people need to be adjusting their expectations and “living within their means,” and yet, we seem to be bombarded with fantasies of excessive extravagance (stainless steel appliances and granite countertops seem to me the key signifiers). HGTV thrives on the promise of effortlessly produced value—the promise of lifestyle magic.

So why is it that I get pissed off at the young couple who turns up their nose at non “open concept” home but not the uber-rich professional shopper dropping a few million on Annie Lebovitz’s loft?

I’m not sure. Perhaps it is because of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous thing, that the uber-rich are presented that way: out of my reach. Perhaps it’s because what’s advanced as “normal” for HGTV is impossible too, but does not come with the signature disclaimer? Perhaps its because the fantasy of “middle class” puts off the vibe of magic, that one’s stuff is the way to recognition and love, instead of who is sitting on the couch, drinking coffee with you?

Here’s one thing I noticed: the uber-rich folks looking for places to live in New York are thinking about where they will be living. They comment about where they will be sleeping, bathing, doing their writing, and doing their cooking. The “middle class” folks on the other shows mention, time and time again, how their home will show to their friends. Almost every one of them make comments about “entertaining”—about showing off their home for friends and family. It’s not about living, but rather, the appearance of a life. The rich folks comment about life in their lofty lofts. The “middle class” comment about living life in the tomorrow. Thoughts of Baudrillard on Disneyland come to mind.

I keep thinking of one of Walter Benjamin’s theses on the concept of history. He says that the Hegelian notion of progressive history encourages us to put our hopes in an abstract future instead of reckoning with the brutal reality of the present, and the sins of the past. Maybe I get so pissy with HGTV’s presentation of normalcy because it encourages the young and the working class to think of themselves as something other than the young and the working class?

Ultimately, I think the reason why Selling New York doesn’t bother me, and House Hunters does, has something to do with the way the former impresses upon the viewer her class standing, while the latter works to erase it. If there is anything good about the recent economic recession, it’s that it has reminded “Americans” of their class standing, and that this standing is neither “natural” nor “fair.” Home ownership is the dream of affluence, of course. The more MSM promotes the fantasy of the unattainable, the less likely we are to be pissed off about where we actually live.

a manufactured haunting

April 11th, 2010 by slewfoot

Music: David Sylvian: Dead Bees on a Cake (1999)

Last Wednesday night Nike broadcast their newest commercial featuring Tiger Woods on a cable golf channel. It was strategically planned to come before Wood’s Master’s tourney appearance on Thursday and after his press conference on Monday. Reaction to the commercial has been mixed. While almost everyone I’ve heard or read who has seen the thing seems to agree the spot is “creepy,” folks are divided about whether or not the commercial is appropriate, ethical, or shrewd. The division has everything to do with the way in which the commercial makes explicit its purpose: it announces itself as a statement of authentic affect, and at the same time, is unapologetically commercial with the foregrounding of the Nike swoosh (it’s doubled for that smack-on-the-forehead effect). Having studied the commercial and thought about it for many days, I agree with Donny Deutsch that the ad is, in fact, genius. Just in case you haven’t seen it, here we go:

So, why is the ad genius? The party line of commentators on television seems to converge on the notion that any publicity is good publicity, however controversial: “people are talking,” and ultimately, this supports the brand. I think this is exactly right. The ad walks the line of taste, but the black-and-white and slow-zoom communicate the kind of “respectful” production values of Shindler’s List (I’m sure the ad agency discussed, but decided against, making the swooshes red). I’m not sure what to make of the flashes at the end (except, perhaps, to communicate “this is in the past”). In other words, the aesthetic values communicate “taste,” however tasteless the ad actually is.

But, what accounts for the creepy? Certainly the overall effect of a sepia-toned gossip chic is part of it. Some say it’s the fact that the voice is of Wood’s father, who is dead. Some say it’s manipulation of his father’s voice for different ends (it turns out the father’s statements were made about Wood’s mother in a documentary, and that the address “Tiger” was spliced in). Some say that creep has to do with the fact that someone’s pain—er, and lack of shame—is being used to sell athletic clothing and equipment. Some say the creep has to do with credibility (Wood’s father was, apparently, a philanderer too).

Of course, it’s all of these things.

Because I’ve been working on a book about disembodied voices, of course, I’m drawn to the way in which Wood’s dead dad haunts: it’s Hamlet warmed over. In the popular imaginary, the narrative of Tiger Woods is, pretty much, an Oedipal narrative: the driving discipline of the father molded Wood into one of the most successful and popular athletes of all time. This makes the Freudian effect rather obvious: if it’s the case that the superego—what most folks would recognize as the voice of conscience—is really the internalized expectations of our parents, then we have a staging of the charioteer. The bad horse of the “id” was let loose for years on end, and now, the good horse of the internalized father is reasserting it’s dominance. Never mind that the good horse, in reality, was in the end a naughty horse. The staging of the commercial is that Woods’ internalized voice of conscience is back and calling the shots.

The brilliance of the ad, seems to me, is in the moral ambivalence—something all of us can identify with. It’s that moral ambivalence that humanizes Woods in a way that allows us to allow him to be a great athlete, and to sell Nike goodies. It’s the fact that Wood’s father was also a philanderer that makes this ad so powerful. This is to say, the labor of the ad is not in its immediate impact, which is “creepy.” It’s in the commentary, in thinking about it, in “working it out” that the ad does its brilliant work.

Ok, so what do I mean?

Well, upon first viewing the ad, the spectator identifies with the voice of the father. Viewers are not encouraged to identify with Woods, with his puffy, puppy-dog eyes. Rather, the viewer is asked to identify with the father, the voice questioning him. We’re asked to identify with the law and to take a side with the moral high ground. As viewers, we get to punish Woods “at a distance.” It reminds me of Chris Hansen busting would-be pedophiles in those abhorrent To Catch a Predator television shows. The enjoyment offered immediately by the ad is one of emasculating Tiger.

But then, upon reflection, we’re caused to reflect on the construction of the ad itself. The commentary about Woods’ father this past week has been precisely about his shortcomings, and the logic, “like father like son” quickly comes to mind. Now we’re dealing with hypocrisy as one of the fundamental truths of the human condition.

In the end, the commercial is fundamentally Freudian—it relies on a Freudian logic and the shock most of us feel as we become adults. Let me be clear: I’m not saying that Freud helps us to make sense of this ad (even though he does); rather, I’m saying that the ad draws on the Freudian logics now soul-deep in our culture. The ad announces itself as a psychoanalytic ad. It does not make sense unless one knows about basic Freudian ideas.

That said, the creepy factor is also based on common experience. There are two truths of adulthood that are devastating: (a) love is not enough; and (b) adults are just kids with experience. Who among us has not been shocked to learn that someone whom we looked up to and admired turned out to do unsavory things? Who among us has not been disappointed to learn an authority figure did something that was contrary to the law he or she ceaselessly intoned? Isn’t this the basic plot of (melo)drama?

In the end, the advertisement stages what it means to become an adult, it replays the shock of leaving behind the idealism of childhood. It stages the realizations we all have about getting to a space of responsibility. In some sense, Nike’s ad shifts the locus of Woods sins to the father, however subtly. I would submit that is what is so creepy about the ad. Or in other words, it stages something uncanny and all-too familiar: the possibility there is no God.