Status updates: Research, Teaching, National News, and My Kitty Cat Friend

For at least another month or two my blogging activity will continue to be very minimal. I really enjoy blogging, and I have a dozen blog articles in mind to write. 

Right now life is pretty busy with working on my dissertation. I am going to finish as soon as possible. I have around 75-100 polished to semi-polished pages and many more in draft or outline stage. Delays happen as I keep having more ideas. Translating ideas based on my study of film to the written word also provides some additional challenges. Dissertating is fun – just hard and very tiring work.

I am also starting a new job! I will be teaching Texas History at Alvin Community College this semester. You can see some of my materials for this class here. Next semester I will be teaching African American History, probably Texas History again, and maybe something, else, too. Everything about ACC is great so far. As an added bonus, unlike colleges in the UH system, ACC has Dr Pepper! They have a really nice office for adjuncts the size of a classroom. AND, I noticed they have family restrooms.

National news has been filled with the on-going horrors in Ferguson. I have not been following these events. I just don’t have time right now. If I started following this crisis, it would take many days and many blog posts to gather and share my thoughts. I have learned—and am learning—that, given the nature of things in the US, there is always something going on like what is happening now in Ferguson. Yes, Ferguson is more extreme (especially different), but there are always things we should and could be actively following. I’ll read about Ferguson AMD (After My Dissertation).

I am still trying to figure out what exactly this ice bucket challenge is! I can’t participate because it would ruin my leg brace, and doing it without my leg brace would be too dangerous. 

Regardless of being busy with researching/writing and teaching, I continue to make eating healthy and getting exercise a top priority. The last few weeks I have made a friend while walking—friends with a cat. The first time I saw her, I just said hello. She ran. After a few more times, she came closer. The next time she let me pet her. I always say, “hello my kitty cat friend.” One day recently, I didn’t see her like I do every night. I said, “where is my kitty cat friend?” Out of thin air, she came running up and was meowing like crazy. Another day, she was waiting by the edge of the sidewalk for me. Today, she was under a tree. I saw her, and said hello! She came right up and let me pet her. She wanted to come home with me today! I feel bad for this baby cat (probably an adult, biologically) because she is always outside, even during the afternoon when it is really outside I see her as I drive by. She seems to be craving attention, craving love.

More next time. Have a great semester! 

 

Stop. Right. There. And Go See “Boyhood” (2014)

Boyhood (2014), which was filmed over 12 years is really an exceptional (three-hour) movie. Set in Texas, the film focuses on the life of a fictional boy named Mason, who becomes an exceptional photographer, from the time he is six years old (in the movie and in real life) until he starts college twelve years later (in the movie and in real life). Since the film was made a few days each year for twelve years—and all of the actors and actresses stayed on for the entire time—viewers get a “truer” look at how people really age, grow, and change over time.

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This movie is not remarkable per se in terms of possible contributions to film theory or Art Cinema, but it is a very unique look at life and is a first in film history.

Boyhood is not really about the story it tells as much as it is a successful experiment. The story itself is clichéd in many ways. This movie will not win any “best picture” or “best actress” awards. But, the innovate nature and the constant and authentic aging of characters kept my attention the entire time. 

Mason’s character is unique in terms of his skepticism and humor.

This film also allows for a authentic measurement of change over time. When the movie starts cellphones were not nearly as much a part of everyday life. Texting, for all practical purposes, did not exist. We see how these change characters. And the characters comment on them. We also hear “fresh” comments about 9/11 and recent wars in the Middle East.

The film is funny, too. The actors and actresses all are very convincing.

I especially like the film has no conclusion and leaves many loose ends.

Lots of reviews will focus on its merits, so I’ll mention some of its limitations.

The film is entirely too White. All of the main characters are White. There are very, very, very few non-White extras. One Black (very) minor character.

The film shows education in a negative light. Mason’s mom attends the University of Houston. Her college professor flirts with her after class one day when she has to bring her son with her. They end up getting married. And divorced. She quickly realizes he is a mean alcoholic and bully in general. After years of college and earning a Masters degree in psychology, his mom becomes a professor at Texas State in San Marcus in the movie. We see a brief scene with her teaching in a classroom once. She is a presented as a good and liked professor, but like her second ex (the character who is a UH prof), the classroom scenes are very “old school” – the professor lectures, everyone takes notes. During the scene with Mason’s mom teaching, without trying to, I kept thinking about how with a tiny bit of active learning, she would be a more effective teacher.

The film also perpetuates stereotypes in ways. Mason regularly drinks underage and occasionally smokes pot. His mom knows this and doesn’t say anything. Mason is obsessively into girls at a young age, too.

Overall, too, the film is a pretty good look at life in Texas—but in terms of the mythology of the state. In a few places, the film was “too liberal” to be “authentically Texan” in the early twenty-first century.

I look forward to seeing this movie a few more times (I preordered a copy before I saw it today!). Hopefully more films like this will be made–and all of the characters will stay on the full time. I would love to see a movie like this made–it would be days long–filmed from each character’s point-of-view or at least from a non-White male point-of-view.

Thanks for reading. 

Check out my other film reviews:

“WHAT’S THAT MATTER WITH YOU PEOPLE”: 346 Words on How to Fix Our Problems

So many of the problems in the United States today could so very easily be solved with a tiny bit of common sense and basic humanity. In the following list (below the image), I propose changes that should happen immediately (yes, utopian), changes that would actually be automatic if we were at all sincere about continuing our “great experiment with democracy.” 

 Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 7.17.45 PM
1. Businesses: Insist that big businesses pay their fair share of taxes. Corporations which seek to dodge taxes are forced to close. No employee can be made to work more than 30 hours a week. Minimum 6 weeks vacation yearly. Leave for sickness or family is automatic when needed and has no cap. Employees, not employers, hold the position of power. 


2. Government and Discrimination: The government takes a more sincere interest in ending racism and practices now known as the New Jim Crow. The law must recognize the role of racism and sexism across society. The EEOC must recognize the reality of intersectionality. 


3. Government and Paperwork: Laws/Acts/Court Rulings can be no longer than the Constitution and must be in everyday language.


4. Government and Politicians: Politicians (currently most TeaRepublicans) who deliberately speak lies and fear are removed from office.


5. The People and Education: Everyone is guaranteed as much education—including grad school or medical school—as they desire, provided they are earning the necessary grades, paid for by the government.


6. The People and Basic Survival: Everyone—by virtue of being alive—is guaranteed a living wage, regardless of working or not. This wage should be enough for internet and television service, books, recreational activities, healthy food, etc. Insurance companies are forced to close. The government assumes protection for individuals in all health care needs, as well as accidents related to fire, floods, etc.


7. The Government and Education: Standardized test are abolished. College professors have full academic freedom, colleges are rewarded for hiring more full time professors, and tenure is also encourage, for those who qualify. For-profit colleges are forced to close.  


8. Basic Respect: The president will always be respected. “Illegals” is a racially-charged word, no different than the “N” word. If used, amounts to a hate speech, punishable by appropriate measures. Systems will be created that encourage/require media outlets to reports on all of the discrimination that goes on and manifestations of privilege. 

An educated society, a society where people are comfortable and healthy, makes for a thriving society. 

 
“[Martin Luther King] has that awesome insight that white people would rather destroy democracy than have racial equality….We see it so clearly that people would rather have white supremacy and hierarchy than any other kind of justice” -bell hooks

Introducing My Glossary

After working on this a few weeks, I believe it is about ready for others to see….

I have been working on a Glossary, located here on this same webpage, that has what are hopefully basic and simple key terms related to Critical Theory and History. Those currently listed relate to my research and interests in some way or another. I have added a tab on the top of my webpage for this Glossary. I plan to make regular updates to this page. My hope is that it will help readers understand some of the perspectives I use and help others grapple with these ideas. 

Please take a look and let me know if any terms need to be added! :) 

As I am hoping to finish my dissertation in the next month or so, I will not be blogging as much for just a while. Thanks for reading.

PostStructuralism

 

Toward Explaining Clarence Thomas – A Very Brief Look at How “Race” Operates

Clarence_Thomas_official_SCOTUS_portraitSupreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas is certainly an unusual judge—frequently considered the most conservative judge on the bench. (He recently gave his OK for individual states to establish an official state religion!)

Comments across news articles and social media constantly speculate about his seeming ignorance and/or laissez-faire attitude when it comes to concerns and justice for minority rights.

People ask, how could a Black Man be so uncaring and out-of-touch? 

So, I want to make just one extended point here. Thomas is a perfect example of how money, national status, and fame can buy Whiteness—just like was a legal right in various colonial Latin American nations. He is, thus, a perfect example of how “race” is not about skin color per se. Yes, of course, the various hues of our skin and how they are broadly and arbitrarily categorized do make up the basis of our completely non-biological, yet fully socially constructed racialized mores. The socially constructed nature of our racialized mores also gets more complicated when there are any kind of ambiguities or exceptions or unusual events one way or another. People can be racialized differently depending on their specific time and place or even clothing. Thomas’s behavior and his place in what bell hooks terms the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy, therefore, makes Thomas “White” – not “Black.” And Thomas chooses to use his Whiteness to perpetuate Whiteness in such a way as to maintain the status quo of the rich White Protestant cis-Men. 

Such a framework of money equating to Whiteness per se could help explain Condoleezza Rice “having lost her heart,” as one of my grad school professors put it.

Likewise, it might help explain how Oprah’s big encounter with racism was being told she couldn’t afford a £24,000 bag while on a trip in Switzerland.

I’d venture to guess that these individuals are also, at least somewhat, racialized as White by the general public – especially Thomas and Rice among White conservatives, and Oprah among television-watchers and her followers.

This is by no means to undermine Thomas’s, Rice’s, and Oprah’s national and international accomplishments – these should be celebrated. They are very accomplished (though out-of-touch with everyday people) and (depending on the given group being asked) very popular individuals. But by looking at their accomplishments and behaviors, we can see in at least some additional ways how “race” is a social construction and a function of a variety of subjective, selective, always changing, and potentially individual factors in exceptional cases.

(Updated 7/5/14, 12:35 AM: For a somewhat different and extended perspective, check out “Clarence Thomas’s Counterrevolution” by Corey Robin”. HT to Jonathan Dresner on Twitter for telling me about it!)

See also from this webpage:

“4th of July” vs “Independence Day” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #11

Do you refer to the United States’s birth by saying “Happy 4th of July!” or “Happy Independence Day!”? If you are like most, you have probably almost always thought of today as the 4th of July. As Bruce Martin points out in his blog article, “On Independence Day, Fourth of July, Fireworks Day, Whatever We Call It,” there are many important rhetorical differences between the two, and our common choice speaks volumes to what we do and do not really value. 

Before going further, here is an image (click to enlarge) from GoogleBooks (nGrams tool) that gives a really good idea of how the two have been used in printed English over time: 

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 7.51.03 PM

Additionally a quick search on Google brings:
  65,700,000 results for “Independence Day”
351,000,000 for “4th of July”

4th of July conjures up images of BBQs, family get togethers, maybe a day off from work if you are lucky, fireworks, parades, powerful classical musical (though historically misappropriated), Christmas in July sales, and a kind of high-mark of the summer in general.

None of this is bad in and of itself. But this in no way actually celebrates or reflects on the ideals of how the United States was formed. Although Christmas, for example, is not without similar issues created in part by hyper-consumerism, there is still an emphasis among those who celebrate it in Churches to reflect on the founding of Christianity.

By not saying “Happy Independence Day” all the time, we consciously and unconsciously (further) avoid all of the on-going (and increasingly of late) contradictions between the United States’s long history and its ideals and its still current trajectory and ideals. For a nation so ready to scream,  “FREEDOM OF RELIGION” and “ALL ARE CREATED EQUAL” and to proclaim “THE AMERICAN DREAM AWAITS,” we sure do have a ridiculous time actually coming anywhere close to actually meaning this – we should be ashamed and embarrassed as a nation.

The other problem with today–although it is only natural and perhaps needed given the nature of humans–is the deliberate re-writing of our nation’s founding. This national mythology is very powerful today. Even President Obama is guilty of perpetuating this. Take a look at this address from today. (Email subscribers will probably need to visit this webpage.)

Our so-called Founding Fathers really did mean “all men are created equal.” Women–even by the language of their time–were deliberately left out and were not “included” in this male-centric diction. And if you would like to debate this point, I’d ask that you look at how women, Blacks, Indians, and others were treated. White cis-Men are the only group in the United States’s history that have not faced codified, institutionalized, perpetual discrimination. 

The nature of racism by the 1770s and 1780s was so assumed and so everyday that it was not necessary to say “all White men are created equal.” Just as I discovered in my research on the University of Houston during the Culture of Segregation: it was so assumed–part of the historical unconsciousness–that Black individuals were not going to be admitted, that there was no contradiction between this fact and UH’s fully open-admissions policy.

Additionally, these Founding Fathers also had in their grand and radical vision a society where this would only be extended to wealthy individuals. 

While things have absolutely changed and we have expanded on these grand and radical ideas in many ways–such that the so-called Founding Fathers are “rolling in their graves” to borrow the cliché–a simple look at history–history defined as everything from less than a micro-second ago–shows us how much things have not changed.

Perhaps if we sincerely reflected on the nation’s true origins (including that the so-called Founding Fathers created something much more like an oligarchy than a “democracy” or republic and had a deep-rooted fear of the common person) and true problems even 20% as much as we sincerely celebrate the (racist) institution of Football, every one would feel comfortable saying the Pledge of Allegiance, especially it’s promise with liberty and justice for all.”

Click here for my blog–Personal Histories and Reflections about the 4th of July–from Independence Day last year.

Additionally, you can find the full Hidden Power of Words Series here.

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