15 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Graduate School

While I have absolutely loved graduate school and encourage others to attend (if appropriate), there were many things no one told me about graduate school until I was there or discovered them on my own. The following are based on experience in a history doctoral program, so they may not apply in every case, especially to those disciplines outside of the liberal arts and social sciences. I would love to hear other perspectives in the comments. I anticipate that I will be writing similar blog postings on life as a graduate student.

1. You will never read a book again; yet, you will read all the time.
When you are assigned 60-100 books every semester, in addition to many writing assignments, and any other responsibilities given by the university there simply is not time to read all of everything. No one expects you to either (with very rare exceptions). In graduate school, you are learning about different arguments, perspectives, methodologies, and specialized areas.

Good skimming and strategic use of good book reviews is absolutely necessary for success. In general, I have heard and found to be true, that you should never spend more than five hours on a book. As a favorite professors says, “Historians use books; they don’t read them.” For skimming I recommend glancing over a few book reviews and the table of contents, reading the Introduction and chapter one closely, reading two or three good book reviews closely, skim the other chapters, read the conclusion, and then read over anything else necessary.

It will probably always be difficult, but this is a very effective way of learning, and it is a habit that will stay with you. You will regularly pick up a book and be done with it in a few hours or even quicker.

Your library will grow exponentially. Before graduate school, I had around 150 books. Now I have 1,600.

2. You will write all the time.
Graduate students read and write all the time. In a typical class, you will write 35-50 pages (that’s 100-150 pages a semester). One of these will usually be a long paper. The other ones are weekly précis or short essays over the reading. The two-page paper or even ten-page that took all day or even days to write and perfect as an undergrad, will be written and edited in a few hours – by necessity. You will also get very good at writing clearly quickly.

3. Being a graduate student is just half of the gig.
You will likely be working for the university you attend. This job typically provides a small stipend, some help with tuition and fees, and state health insurance. This is a good thing. Assignments vary greatly–teaching assistantships, research assistantships, etc. They usually say these jobs take 20 hours a week; however, the actual amount of time varies greatly. Some semesters my assignment has taken more like an average of 7-8 hours a week. Other semesters, the job takes 30-40 or more hours every week. This is part of the experience, part of the work load, and having too much to do. Most institutions will forbid or highly discourage outside employment in order to help you be successful.

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 6.15.25 PM

4. Graduate school is an exercise in self-torture, but you will love it.
You will always be working – both literally and figuratively. Literally in that being a historian (or whatever your area is) will take up almost all of your time. Both by necessity and because you love it. In fact, frequently, you will have more work than is humanly possible for anyone to complete. There will be weeks when you simply really do not have time to “read” a book adequately or to read every article assigned – this is normal. As an undergrad, I was always a month (or more) ahead and doing extra work; in graduate school, there simply is not enough time.

Figuratively because it changes your outlook on the world and the filter by which you see, hear, smell, and taste everything with. As a historian, I am very interested in representations, power dynamics, and how people are treated (the sociologist in me comes out regularly), and I am always, even unconsciously, analyzing things around me – you will be too.

This full immersion—like they say is the best way to learn a language—is the best way to truly become a scholar. And it is fun.

You will likely feel like you are torturing yourself at times, but you keep going at it because you love it. The hazing ritual of graduate school comes with the comprehensive examination – but I can’t tell you about that. ☺

5. Your first semester will be the hardest.
The first semester you are getting used to a completely new institution, likely a new job, maybe getting used to a new city, and getting used to many new names and faces. This in itself is a lot. You will be asked to meet completely different requirements than as an undergraduate, and you will do work that is completely different. You will have to adjust as quickly as possible. You will likely wonder, “why does the world hate me.” You will second-guess yourself – often. It is not uncommon to consider taking up your second career option early (mine was owning a restaurant!). This is all normal. Everyone went through this. Just do your best and things will be fine. If you really do find graduate school is not for you, this is fine too, but don’t change your mind too quickly.

6. You will quickly realize the consequences of the nation’s ongoing educational crises.
You will likely find that you wish you had been taught how to read, write, and conduct research much better prior to your entry to graduate school. Even more, you will likely find (especially if you are teaching in any capacity) that freshmen level students are very underprepared for college. Many of them will encounter their first essay exam ever in your class. Many will also really and truly have no idea how to study and learn in college. Learn to love teaching (as I do), and help them as best as you can. Remember college is about learning. Hold them responsible, set the standard high, but recognize that their past experiences make college psychologically, physiologically, and biologically very difficult. (Be sure to see this link on my page for articles specifically about teaching.)

7. People care about what you say. In graduate school, YOU are an expert.
You are THE specialist about your topic and areas of interests. (Although, you certainly do not have to know your dissertation topic from day one or even year one.) People care what you have to say. In classes, your participation is sincerely welcomed and required. You do not have to always be right – in fact, being wrong sometimes is good. You will always be learning more and advancing your ideas.

8. You will develop weird habits.
Graduate school will make you at least a little bit crazy, if you’re not already there. Part of this craziness happens without you realizing it. The other part is adapted as a very real and important survival mechanism. As I say: “You have to be a little bit crazy to maintain your general sanity.” One of mine is always having to have two straws in my beverages from McDonald’s and the like. You will likely sleep at weird times. You will dream about and wake up thinking about names, dates, places, citations, etc.

9. Most who start graduate school do not finish.
Graduate school is hard and different. It takes an unbelievable amount of time and energy. It requires relearning and adjustment for all students. Some people come to graduate school and discover it is not for them, some just get tired, some get good jobs, some have personal or family situations, some have interests the department cannot support, some are overwhelmed by the workload – the reasons are numerous. This all makes the completion rate lower than expected. Only three students in my cohort of ten or so are sill in the program. As long as you are doing your best and/or you are happy, there is nothing to feel bad about if you start graduate school and do not finish.

10. You will likely face rejection from family and friends.
Friends and family who have not been to graduate school do not understand what graduate school actually is or means. First Generation Graduate Students have it particularly tough. Graduate school is much more than five-to-ten more years of school. It’s a 12 hours a day, 7 days a week job and commitment. Family and friends will not always understand that even though you are at home and on your computer that you are actually working. They will not necessarily understand what it means to study all the time. They may not understand your research. You will likely encounter the occasionally comment, even sometimes from complete strangers, that you need to grow up and get a job.

11. Life starts to really happen in graduate school – if it hasn’t already.
Regardless of your age, life happens in graduate school, life really happens. As an undergraduate (3 ½ years for me), I took 15-18 hours every semester (9 in the summers), never missed a class – ever, was only sick once or twice (still didn’t miss class), and earned a 4.0.

As a graduate student, I had to miss a month of class my second semester for major surgery at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. I have been very sick several times, especially in the first semester. One of my grandmothers has been very sick for over a year, and I was a main one who could attend to her needs for a good bit of that time. I had two aunts pass away in their 50s, one of which I was very close to. Skyler, one of my four-legged family members, suddenly died my fifth semester in graduate school when he was about five. Many, many other very stressful personal and family events have happened. You will need to allow time for life. Always communicate with your professors – 99% of them will be understanding and helpful.

12. You will either have very little money or lots of debt.
You will usually receive a stipend in doctoral programs, though it is no where near enough to live on. The cost of tuition, books, gas, food, and other basic necessities (you’ll need a computer or two, too) have been increasing for a few decades. The amount the very richest are paid (rather pay themselves) is vastly disproportional to the cost of necessities and amount everyone else is paid. You will have to be very frugal in graduate school, rely on family support, and/or go into significant debt. You will need to apply for scholarships and grants when you can, but even with these you will be living at or below the poverty line.

13. Jobs are rare and endless.
Completing graduate school for individuals in the humanities and social sciences is not an automatic ticket to a tenure-track job at a university. It was not until my fourth semester in graduate school that anyone talked about this. For this past given academic year, for example, there were only four entry-level jobs at universities in the entire nation that I would have probably qualified for if I had already completed my dissertation. Maybe one or two of these were tenure-track. As a recent study said, this has always been the situation. Considering the number of people who actually graduate with their Ph.D., the job competition rate is not as bad. There are also a large group of people who desire to work outside of research universities. There are “plenty” of jobs for Ph.D.s with good experience and positive records in community colleges, other sectors of the government, private organizations, etc.

14. You will receive lots of advice but do the opposite.
This one partly derives from some quotation I read or heard, but it has a ring of truth to it. You will hear lots of people give you lots of ideas and opinions about how to best do things. Of course, listen to these and consider them. Listening to what other people say based on their experience is an excellent way toward achieving what you want. But, you also need to recognize that at the end of the day only you know what will likely actually work for you; after all, you achieved entrance into graduate school for having an already strong record. You should take risks. You should try new things. At the same time, part of graduate school – for better or worse – is figuring you own way though the program. Sometimes this is half of the battle and there frequently will not be anyone who can or will tell you what you specifically should do or need to know.

15. Graduate school will completely change everything.
As discussed in the other fourteen points, graduate school really is a life-altering experience that can never be undone. It changes how you see the world and yourself. Graduate school should make you even more open minded as you study and learn about all of the countless perspectives on the world and all the vastly diverse peoples who occupy it. To me, by going to graduate school, you are signing a life-long contract of sorts, to use your knowledge for the greater good – to in some way try and make the world a “better” place.

Here’s a really good article that address how graduate school is different from the days of being an undergraduate and how to approach graduate school as something other than being a “student” again. 

From Facebook. This meme says it just about perfectly. 🙂

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Historical Perspectives, Cultural Readings, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Last night I watched the 2012 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (hereafter, ALVH) for the second time. As a historian, I always unavoidably see movies with a somewhat different set of eyes. After all, everything has a history and involves history; therefore, movies, consciously or unconsciously, unavoidably touch on historical issues, and involve political agendas, and other concerns for the scholar. In an ideal world, movies would get history accurate, but no one really expects this. How these films present history, though, is worthy of comment. Substitute “history” for “science” in this meme, and it pretty much sums up the situation perfectly.

Image 1: From Facebook

Of course I realize movies are basically made and watched for entertainment purposes. I actually do enjoy movies. ALVH is no exception. ALVH is full of exciting, suspenseful, and generally unique events; albeit, it has a bit too much violence and blood – but isn’t that what killing vampires is all about? On two occasions, the plot suddenly jumps froward a decade or more. There are creative cuts, too. The accompanying music is enjoyable, too (although Linkin Park is certainly far too modern for the Civil War). ALVH recasts the United States Civil War, a war lasting from 1861-1865 and basically fought between the North and South over the issue of enslavement, as a war basically between Lincoln in the North and vampires in the South.

If you haven’t seen the film or need a refresher, take a look at the trailer. There are also plenty of other good clips on YouTube.

Obviously, the vampire part is fictional. Likewise, neither silver nor Lincoln’s superhero fighting skills were in any way necessary to win the Civil War. Numerous other inaccuracies also exist. Enslavement is almost never mentioned, except for a few brief and inaccurate scenes sprinkled here and there. At the beginning of the film, set in the late 1810s, Lincoln sees William H. Johnson, a black child who is not enslaved, being beaten and despite objections from his father Lincoln runs to save him; thus, Lincoln is shown from the very beginning, even as a child, to be a hero and destined for greatness. Johnson is a life-long friend and personal assistant of Lincoln’s in ALVH. In reality, the historical Johnson and Lincoln met in the early 1860s and Johnson was hired as a personal servant for Lincoln. This error gives a false impression about the possible relationship and corresponding acceptability and equality between a white and black man at this time, especially one between the President and another man who was radicalized as black. We also know from evidence that Lincoln was far from perfect in his ideas – he was a product of his time. In ALVH, it is really as if racism does not exist.

Inaccuracies also include Lincoln’s mother boldly announcing to the enslaver attacking Johnson and her son: “Until every man is free we are all slaves.” Lincoln’s mother then dies from a Vampire attack, rather than from a mysterious illness as in reality. ALVH, as does popular culture, portrays the Emancipation Proclamation as having freed enslaved peoples. (I’ll be making a post about the problematic nature of saying “Lincoln freed the slaves” in a few days.) The film mistakenly says Africans sold other Africans–while this is “correct” no shared concept of being African existed. The film also says that slavery only ever existed in the South. Errors also relate to when Lincoln met his wife, the number of children they had, etc.

More than just counting the inaccuracies, though this is indeed important and fun, as this Twitter user says, we also need to figure out what they mean. 

Twitter Doc
Image 2: From Twitter

A cultural studies/American studies analysis of ALVH, consist of countless possible readings, including the following. But, first a definition of vampire. 

Def of Vampire
Image 3: From Google

In ALVH, vampires serve as a metaphor for all things said to be evil and everything bad or unfortunate. Vampires receive such blame. Vampires are responsible for the death of both Lincoln’s mother and son, as well as other innocent people. Vampires are also responsible for the rise of enslavement in the South and for its distinct political identity. Although vampires could possibly represent obstacles broadly, ALVH makes it clear who vampires specifically are. Vampires are enslavers in the South in ALVH, and Lincoln fights them his entire life, in one way or another.

A few different readings come to mind:

On one hand, it could be said that vampires in ALVH demonize southerners or at the very least in an odd way hold them responsible for their actions. Southerners receive blame, though metaphorically, for their firm insistence on maintaining enslavement-although enslavement is never mentioned or dealt with in any meaningful, accurate way. For example, at one point a character in ALVH briefly mentions that the presence of enslaved people kept vampires (i.e., southerners) from being even more evil. Demonizing southerns, however, is problematic because such southerners are “othered” and made into something besides human. It also perpetuates the false notion that problems of racism were limited to the South. This does little to historicize and honor the agency of anyone.

Image 4: Southern Vampire From Google Image Search
Image 4: Southern Vampire, From Google Image Search

Another take: At the end of ALVH, we hear Lincoln in voiceover saying that the enemies (i.e., vampires) fled for Europe, South America, and Asia because they knew America was forever a land of free and living men and that as a result all problems ended with the war. Thus another and equally problematic possible take on the film’s Civil War message is that since vampires were responsible for enslavement and left the nation after the war, those living here today really don’t have ancestors who were enslavers and guilty of racism and thus, aren’t in any way responsible or associated with past racism. Moreover, this would tend toward perpetuating very false arguments found across southern literature (most notably, Gone with the Wind) that say the Civil War was not about enslavement when it absolutely was. On another note, history tells us that racism was far from over after the Civil War. Many would say, it only grew worse across the nation for many decades. History also indicates over and over that the United States is in no way a land for everyone. Finally, if all vampires and thus all things evil left the nation after the war, then the film tends to demonize the rest of the world and perpetuate the equally false idea the the United States is uniquely better than all other nations in the history of the world.

And as vampires stand for all things evil, except for the one good vampire, Lincoln, the star of ALVH, stands for all things good and noble in something akin to “great men history.”   Simultaneously the film has a much more negative depiction of Lincoln than typically found anywhere. From a very young age, Lincoln has an extremely strong hatred of vampires and has the goal to kill them. Indeed he does kill many. It is never really explained why the vampires are not dangerous until they are provoked. As Lincoln has this vampire-hunitng side-life, ALVH also paints him as a very mysterious man who lies all the time throughout his life in order to keep his secret. As tension rises toward the end of ALVH,  Lincoln fights on the front lines and his efforts are what win the war single-handedly. Even though he receives help along the way, Lincoln receives and takes full credit in ALVH. In ALVH, this would parallel historical interpretations that say, “Lincoln freed the slaves.” The movie also oddly places full blame for the war and its progression on Lincoln. Lincoln is regularly told it is all his fault, especially, the continued vampire attacks. In this sense, ALVH takes responsibility away from southerners and ignores all of the real issues. Some interpretations elsewhere suggest Lincoln is presented as something like a “Superman” or “Spiderman” for the United States – noble, yet mysterious.

Image 5: the ALVH Lincoln before he kills more vampires, from Google Image Search
Image 5: the ALVH Lincoln before he kills more vampires, from Google Image Search

Ultimately, then, by using vampires as a substitute for Southern enslavers, and Lincoln’s absolute hate and desire to murder vampires as a substitute for all of the real political and social issues of the mid-1800s, ALVH eliminates any responsibility for enslavement from anyone and “otherizes” all of the issues and people at hand.

Regardless of other readings, the use of vampires as a substitute for slavery is very concerning and significant considering a long tradition in Southern literature that removes direct responsibility from all individuals, in the North and South, for the Civil War. Gone with the Wind (1939) being the most important and famous example.

Again, yes, the vampire part is ultra fictional, as is virtually all of the story (except the strong use of historical characters, names, places, and issues), but the writers didn’t pick the Civil War without deeper reasons and agendas. Lincoln, of course, is a natural box-office attraction, but there is more to it than that. The movie could have easily involved all fictional people and settings, especially given the on-going popularity with all things vampire, zombie related. That vampires were transposed onto the Civil War is interesting and deserves analysis, but if we can peel away the vampire story and read what the vampires stand far, important insights can be revealed. Such subtle messages are important in terms of historical memory.

Probably the most accurate and powerful parts of ALVH come at the beginning and end. They speak to interesting and important larger historical truths.

At the beginning, ALVH’s Lincoln in voiceover says:

History prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood. Whatever history remembers me, if it remembers anything at all, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth. For what ever else I am, a husband, a lawyer… a President… I shall always think of myself as a man who struggled against the darkness…

These are not the historical Lincoln’s actual words, but these works speak to truths. ALVH even is a perfect example of this being true.

And then ALVH concludes with this powerful and odd image and Lincoln Park song Powerless. When I see it, I think of all the actual blood, much of it from enslaved individuals kidnapped from the continent of Africa, involved in building the United States and perhaps the blood that remains on our nation’s hands, to use the cliché.

ALVH ending image
Image 6: Image created from Image Capture


You hid your skeletons when I had shown you mine
You woke the devil that I thought you’d left behind
I saw the evidence, the crimson soaking through
Ten thousand promises, ten thousand ways to lose


And you held it all but you were careless to let it fall
You held it all and I was by your side, powerless

I watched you fall apart and chased you to the end
I’m left with emptiness that words cannot defend
You’ll never know what I became because of you
Ten thousand promises, ten thousand ways to lose

[Chorus x2]

And you held it all but you were careless to let it fall
You held it all and I was by your side, powerless

Powerless [x3]

Altogether ALVH has an usual mix of thought-provoking metaphors, accurate and inaccurate information, packaged in a seemingly harmless film. The concern from a moral, historical, and political standpoint, however, relates to the continued inability for people to face important historical events head-onWe, as a society, need to be careful to give the memory of Lincoln, the Civil War, enslaved peoples, and all the others justice.

Image 7: From Facebook
Image 7: From Facebook

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Is social media creating forces to end racism?

social.mediaOf course, such a question is a bit more hopeful than I usually am and is slightly dangerous per se. But is there something to it?

This week Sebastien De La Cruz has been a focus across the media, especially social media. He sang (and did a wonderful job!) the United States’s National Anthem this past Tuesday before game 3 of the NBA finals.   News reports have explained how there was an outpouring of anger and racist postings on Twitter, Facebook, and other places. Check out this link, this one, this one, and this one for coverage.

What many of these and similar articles do not touch on, however, is the very positive response that also occurred on social media sites. Check out the following twitter clippings, and this is only a very small selection.

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It is still at least somewhat problematic, of course, than some of the positive comments still refer to Sebastien as “boy.”

In another recent event, people had similar outpourings of hate, anger, and frustration when Cheerios released the following commercial featuring a “modern” diverse family.  People complained about it featuring a “biracial” family and a “biracial” child. (“Biracial” is in quotation marks because scientifically/biologically, everyone is biracial. Moreover, there is no such thing as “race.” If you have questions about this, please read the American Anthropological Association’s “Statement on Race.“)

This following video, which is hilarious, featuring not only a “biracial” but also LGBT family, was created in response, and it has been quickly circulating social media today. 

These are just two examples of many possibilities. Social media regularly provides many individuals with a powerful and loud voice. Social media, of course, has its share of haters as the saying goes. Sometimes we (especially mainstream media) focus too much of the individuals trying to hold society back, the ones with racist feelings, the ones who don’t recognize basic truths and realities. Sure it is important to know about them and to still work toward change. Social media gets it share (probably deserved in many cases) of criticism too because people tend to spend too much time on it (including me at times.)

But, also we need to remember the good out there. Social media makes it possible to hear more of the “good” voices – voices of progress and change. It makes the world a more open place. Racists thoughts and individuals can be and usually are quickly countered by voices of hope and equality.

So going back to the first question: Will social media–Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and all the comments left everywhere–force positive change to happen quicker than otherwise possible?

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The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) and Gender

The Lincoln Lawyer (which has nothing to do with President Lincoln or things he would stand for), by everyday standards, is basically a good movie. It received positive reviews from the public and critics. BUT, its portrayal of women and gender really stood out to me as problematic. Check out Wikipedia’s brief summary of the film here


The Bechdel Test provides one measurement of the place allowed for women in a film. Since I first learned of this test about a year ago from a friend, it has really transformed the way I look at films. This minimal test looks for films that:

  1. Have two are more women in it (most versions of the test add “who have names”)
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man.

Surprisingly, the vast majority of movies fail to meet this test. To read more on the test, check out Anita Sarkeesian’s The Feminist Frequency. She has several really good videos on the Bechdel test (and other things), including this one.

In The Lincoln Lawyer there are a few women, but not one of them speaks to another woman and most are unnamed, so the movie utterly fails the Bechdel Test. Screen time is minimal. Their speaking lines—if they even have some—are even fewer.

Women have the following roles in The Lincoln Lawyer:

  • non-white murder victim and prostitute (no speaking lines, only seen in photos after murder)
  • non-white rape victim and prostitute (shown 1 time with brief speaking lines)
  • non-white incarcerated drug addict and client of lawyer (shown a few times with minor speaking lines)
  • white widower and mother of murder and rapist, murder of lawyer’s investigator, and attempted murder of lawyer (shown 4 times with speaking lines)
  • white ex-wife and state prosecutor of lawyer (shown several times with and without speaking lines)
  • white assistant to lawyer (shown 4 times with brief speaking lines)
  • white state prosecutor (shown 1 time with one very brief speaking line)
  • non-white detective (shown 3 times with two very brief speaking lines)
  • white assistant to male prosecutor in courtroom (no audible speaking lines and no name)
  • white and non-white jurors (no speaking lines and no names)
  • white court clerk (no speaking lines and no name)
  • numerous white and non-white extras of all ages (no audible speaking lines and no names)
  • white daughter of lawyer (no speaking lines)

Like in many movies, clearly then, everything revolves around “male characters” and “male stories” and “male questions” and “male needs” in The Lincoln Lawyer. Given the same basic story, this movie could have easily given women a greater place by simply having a female character instead of a male in many instances. For example, a few more of the prosecutors or detectives could have been female without any other changes to the script. Even the defense lawyer could have been female and her ex male or something. Another story could have even followed the story from the perspective of one of the female characters.

Even with the women included there are never any audible lines where two females speak to each other – there are two (maybe three) instances when we see women talking in the background. Females when they talk are always only replying to males. Females are referred to by their beauty if they are white, in most cases. Non-whites are regularly called derogatory names, such as “hooker” and both victims are non-white. Female characters have little autonomy or power in this film.

There are only a handful of instances when it could probably be argued that males and females have “equality” in this film. One would be when the defense lawyer and his ex are drinking at a bar and spend the night together. Another might be when two detectives (one female) are searching the defense lawyer’s house after his friend was murdered. The later scene is a few seconds, while the former is a few minutes.

Male characters (mostly white male characters) have the vast majority of speaking and screen time. They have all of the power for all practical purposes. The defense lawyer is male, his driver is male, his investigator is male, all of his clients (except one) are male, including a male motorcycle gang (consider the symbolism of this in terms of power and strength and the “stereotypical” role for women), most of the detectives are male, the DA and assistant are male, the police officers are all male, etc. Male characters are at various times sexist and homophobic (gay men are referred to as “faggots”).

Problematic gender representations is a problem found in the vast majority of Hollywood productions. Virtually any movie could be selected and criticized in a similar way. This posting shouldn’t be read as a critique of just this movie but of almost all movies. There would not necessarily be any problem with this movie (characters and people have faults and stories and their perspectives are different) if we had numerous other movies that featured women predominately or even roughly equal to that of men.

Please note: I use white and non-white in these comments to help further the point about the problematic nature of representation and film. Of course, “race” is a social constructor, but its consequences are all too real and make it necessary to discuss.

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Some Perspectives on Memorial Day

This is the first blog entry of many that I anticipate will involve articulating many sensitive issues. The ideas discussed here have been on my mind for sometime and are not entirely original, but these were on my mind more than usual this past Monday.

"Choking back tears, Christian Golczynski accepted the flag from his father's casket. Photographer Aaron Thompson described this moment as 'the most emotionally moving event I may have ever witnessed and may ever witness in my life'." From ABC News
“Choking back tears, Christian Golczynski accepted the flag from his father’s casket. Photographer Aaron Thompson described this moment as ‘the most emotionally moving event I may have ever witnessed and may ever witness in my life’.”
From ABC News

Memorial day tends to present special concerns for those keenly aware of the troubled nature of war in the United States. On Memorial Day there were numerous reminders across social media and news outlets about the importance of honoring men and women sent to war but who never returned home. Without these men and women, these posts say, we would not enjoy the democratic and free life we love and take for granted.

While these individuals, of course, deserve to be honored and recognized for their efforts, there is seldom a discussion on Memorial Day or otherwise about war itself. As in widely known, the United States has almost always been at war. Many, though certainly not all, of these wars have had more to do with discriminatory, economic, and/or imperialistic motives than with actually protecting and spreading freedom. This juxtaposition of reality vs. ideal is generally well known and studied among historians and other social commentators. Our most recent and on-going military engagements in the so-called Middle East are only the most recent example. How, then, do wars, especially recent wars, serve to actually promote freedom at home or elsewhere? Is this the elephant in the room that no one talks about? Have are wars actually just become a way to promote the status quo?

We can and should still honor soldiers, but we should also criticize the government and not glorify violence so much. Soldiers, as I explain to my students, usually fight wars for completely different reasons than the governments that perpetuate and finance them. Men and women in various service branches serve to honor their country, to show patriotism, because notions of masculinity say you are supposed to, or because they feel a sense of duty, for example. Others serve because they have no choice and are forced to serve and have no way to avoid the draft, consider the Vietnam War. Others have few opportunities at “success” (whatever that is to him/her) or opportunity outside of military service. Soldiers (like the government) too are a product of their society and occasionally support wars at least in part because of shared prejudices.

Memorial Day is important – absolutely. But so too are wider conversations about the consequences of military action. We need to also remember the individuals who come home. Veterans’ Day presents similar opportunities for further discussion. Celebrations and ceremonies are important, but equally important are the conditions and obstacles veterans face when returning home. It is certainly not a smooth ride.

Memorial Day is by no means the only holiday that obscures larger realities. Our national holidays and discussions for that matter tend to celebrate the privileged few and perpetuate the notion of the United States’s greatness without recognizing problems or areas for improvement. These days tend to be problematic because they tend to ignore or obscure the surrounding problems and the reality that of irresponsible and greedy actions by the government.

So I leave you with questions to ponder and a quotation: What is the best way to honor soldiers? How can we give a true voice to those who have sacrificed theirs? Perhaps the truest way to honor soldiers, living and deceased, is to approach war much more carefully and to actually care for veterans. Remember too that people in all kinds of occupations with all sorts of different interest serve the nation.

“When our laws, our leaders, or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism.”


Added Monday, May 27, 2019: In response to a WaPo OpEd article, I find myself today thinking about the students, teachers, protestors, trans people, and others who fight for and defend freedom at home in our everyday world. Some of these people die in the process. Why don’t we think about them on Memorial Day?

My First Blog Posting

Welcome to my blog. With this posting, I am finally becoming a blogger I suppose.

One of the more recent inspirations to start a blog came from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education called, How Blogging Helped Me Write My Dissertation.” Now that I have finished my comprehensive examinations, I will be devoting most of my energy to researching and writing my dissertation.


I plan to use this blog to record my progress throughout the journey of a dissertation. I also see myself blogging about contemporary issues, new books, among other things. I think blogging is important because it is one way to regularly write for a broad, general audience, and it is an extremely unique and powerful way to exercise freedom of speech.

Not much else to say in this posting. I look forward to learning about the world of blogging. Please look for many more postings in the future. Also, please look around the rest of my website. As of today, I have only had this website a few days, so please give me time to post everything and learn how to build a webpage.

Thanks for reading.