Elsewhere on the Internet: Summer Movies Matter

Where have I been these last few months? Writing. Cooking. Job-hunting (again). Updating my food blog. And watching a lot of new TV and movies.

I have not and probably will not read anything about Jurassic World I like more than this post by Michelle Vider, “Drink up that toxic masculinity”:

So I’m walking away from Jurassic World having enjoyed it an enormous amount, both for the spectacle it provided and for its view of toxic masculinity. It isn’t enough to consume media and check off the Y/N box next to IS THIS FEMINIST. That’s not how it works. Feminism is a lens through which we can mark the continued growth and evolution of gender roles, and that learning process should never be as easy as a Yes or No question.

That’s a pretty fair summary of my own response to this movie. I had a blast.Was it a good movie? Nah, I don’t think so. Can I recommend it? Probably only if you, like me, went to see Jurassic Park twelve times in the second-run theater when you were a kid. Yet I woke up thinking about the film for several days after, and there are very nearly enough Things I Love about this movie to make a list!

  1. So much homage to Jurassic Park. Jurassic World is basically a Jurassic Park fanvid. Some of the shots are framed exactly the same. JW characters revisit the location of a significant JP scene and it’s all lovingly recreated and covered with a layer of bones and dirt. A character wears a vintage JP tee.
  2. The movie’s twin villains are Big Corporate Entity and the Greedy General Public who forces Corporate Entity to churn out bigger and scarier attractions. This conflict is delivered without either irony or false earnestness, which is remarkable because of course churning out bigger and scarier attractions than JP is exactly what the movie itself does.
  3. The level of depth, dialogue, and character development was pretty much exactly what I expected when I saw the following bit in the trailer: 
  4. i.e. not very deep, not very developed. And yet! I was pleasantly surprised by this film more than once. Mostly by which characters were allowed to survive.
  5. My companions and I laughed so hard throughout the whole movie that a man across the theater yelled at us. That’s how much fun we were having.

I would never in a million years have gone to see Mad Max: Fury Road if not for Tumblr. I’m not familiar with the series, I’m not into vehicle-based action movies, and if you told me that the series centers around a lone wolf type who wanders around the desert, I would have politely declined. But instead I heard that the film centered around women. Not just one token female character, but lots of women. “Dodecabechdel test,” actually, was the line that hooked me. I couldn’t think of another film that featured twelve women all talking together. And talk about a movie that I think about for days after viewing it: I saw MM:FR in theaters nearly a month ago and not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on it at least a little.

There’s so much good writing about this movie online and, to be honest, some of my favorites are just the one-off posts on Tumblr that zero in on tiny character moment like Nux not knowing what a tree is or the implications of Max’s back tattoo. But here are a few longer pieces I liked:

  • From The Daily Dot: “Fury Road passes the Bechdel Test, of course; it also passes the Mako Mori Test, on at least seven different counts.Mad Max: Fury Road leaves those mediocre measurements of gender representation—which the vast majority of Hollywood films never even attempt to pass—so far behind that it seems almost silly even to use them as yardsticks in the wake of the strength of Fury Road‘s narrative. . .  Fury Road is every inch the high-testosterone, manly action movie of your dreams. And even when they show weakness, its female characters are still fully in charge of their own destinies.”
  • Tumblr user and fetal amputee Laura wrote about how incredible she felt seeing Imperator Furiosa kick ass onscreen with one hand. Then she created fictionability.tumblr.com to write about it some more. Then she was interviewed by Nerdist.
  • In addition to having beautiful composition and dramatic use of color in each shot, this movie is remarkable in its use of center-framed shots to focus your eye on the action in the center of the screen. Tumblr user bonehandledknife digs into this a little further, comparing Fury Road to The Avengers: Age of Ultron and reframing shots from MM:FR to show how they would have looked if they had been framed in more traditional golden ratios. Conclusion: center-framing was crucial to portraying the female characters as people rather than decorations.
  • More Tumblr: here’s how the narrative would have gone if Mad Max got the conventional Movie Hero treatment.

I did watch the new season of Orange is the New Black. I probably won’t make a separate post–most of the Things I Love about the show still stand–but I did just want to say that I really enjoyed the season. Seasons 1 and 2 had unmistakable villains and high-stakes conflict; Season 3 stands out because those elements are much less clearly defined. On the other hand, S3 focused more on developing and deepening relationships–and showed that the ability to grow and connect is the defining trait of which characters become heroes or villains.

  1. Taystee, Poussey, Suzanne, Black Cindy, and Janae have to mend their relationships after Season 2’s big villain, Vee, tore them apart and left them wounded. Their process of making peace with themselves and each other is mostly private and internal, which is not something we’ve gotten to see much of in a show with a billion characters, most of whom don’t go in for long earnest talks.
    Taystee’s been a favorite of mine for a while, and her realization that she is effectively the new mother of the group was hilarious, touching, and wrenching all at the same time.
  2. Big Boo and Pennsatucky have both been villains of a sort in earlier seasons, but it’s impossible not to root for them in S3 because we watch them grow and confront some of their fears. I’ve always felt that Pennsatucky was a character not well understood by the show–one of the few in S1 who didn’t get a lot of depth or sympathy from the plot–but she certainly got her character development in 3.
  3. On the other hand, Piper seems not to have learned a thing. Like the New Corporate Overlords who take over management of Litchfield, her decisions generate a lot of pain and conflict and serve no one but herself. Arguably, she and they are the two Big Bads this season.
  4. Season 1 dropped the viewers right in the middle of an insular community with tensions and hierarchies firmly in place; we see through Piper’s eyes as she learns to navigate them. Season 2 shakes up those dynamics by introducing a rival queen. But in Season 3, we see a lot of the characters we’ve come to know either on their way up or down. The previous leaders have left, died, or stepped down; we’re seeing their followers attempt to step up and lead in their place. Even the subplot backstories for Chang and Norma, who are both typically treated as ciphers or jokes, have narratives about choosing to lead or follow. It may feel like a radical shift to see origin stories three seasons in, but as the series continues I think we’ll get a sense of the circular pattern of such shifts.

I am also watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and I have so many feelings about it, but since most of those feelings are “!!!!!!” I think I’ll have to wait until the series ends before I can gather my thoughts. But if you want to talk about it with me in comments, have at it.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Gallimaufry

I have half a dozen drafts sitting in my inbox on all kinds of topics–race representation in video games, The Last 5 Years, my confused feelings about the Wolf Hall BBC adaptation–and an equally mismatched collection of links in my bookmarks. And sometimes you have to just finish one thing, just so you can prove to yourself that you can finish anything, so this weekend the thing I can finish is a collection of unrelated links.

First and most importantly: you can now donate to support VIDA. I’ve written about what VIDA means to me before, but here is the elevator pitch: they provide empirical data about how many men and women are published or reviewed in literary magazines. Some argue that this is nit-picking or bean-counting, but the fact is that since VIDA began publishing its counts, many publications have taken steps to reach greater parity, and have been successful. Other publications have made it clear that gender parity is not a matter of interest or importance to them. It has been a revealing exercise.
I wasn’t able to donate enough to get any swag, but I was happy to be able to donate something. And if they ever make VIDA tote bags available for sale, I will probably buy one. I love tote bags.

The 6-minute Saving Mr. Marbles video is worth a full watch: it tells the story of one of the last currently operating marble manufacturers in Latin America, and it is a beautifully scored smorgasbord of lovely and weird vintage mechanics and many shots of gorgeous glass orbs, some still glowing from the furnace. It made me feel about ten years old: playing marbles was a thing of the past when I was a kid, but the marbles themselves were an inexpensive nostalgia item at many a flea market, and I would sometimes buy a bag after an afternoon of following my mom around a warehouse full of old furniture and salvage. I kept a jar of them and periodically sorted them by color, size, or type (purie, steely, swirly, and so on), like a dragon with its hoard.

Speaking of a love for beautiful but weird old-fashioned things: toile. So pretty, so classist and wrong.

An oral history of the last days of Mad Men.

I’ve already posted this to Tumblr, but “Lighten Up” is a gorgeous comic about coloring comics–the mechanics of creating shades of skin tone in different lights, and the politics of same.

I’ve been wondering how the Prado museum was going to make its Touch the Prado paintings for the visually impaired. Well, here they are: beautiful and amazing.

stillifefortouching

Gallimaufry, by the way, is an old-fashioned word for medley, or more literally a kind of stew. Says Wiktionary: “probably from a combination of Old French galer (‘to have fun, to enjoy oneself’) and Old Northern French mafrer (‘eat gluttonously’).” Awesome, definitely adding that to the food lexicon.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Jobhunting real talk

Career change the fourth (or third or fifth, it’s a little hard to keep track): I recently left my publishing job for a similar marketing position in another local nonprofit. I lucked out: the new job happened to be a good fit with the kind of work I want to do and the kind of schedule I need to have, the latter of which only became apparent to me about three months ago. Before that, I looked for jobs casually over the course of a year, looking primarily when I was feeling frustrated with my existing job, and primarily for jobs that offered greater compensation for greater responsibilities. (Ultimately I took a job with less compensation for greater responsibilities, but substantially more flexible hours–which is my most pressing need this year.)

Over the past year:
I sent approximately 50 applications
I was asked to submit additional materials (editing test, portfolio, etc.) 3 times
I was invited to 10 interviews (3 of which were on Skype or phone for various reasons)
I withdrew my application after 4 of these interviews
I had 2 second interviews
and was offered 1 job, which I accepted.

I like to be transparent about these numbers. I’ve been on the other side of the hiring process often enough: I interviewed candidates for my replacement when I was promoted, I’ve hired student workers and interns, I’ve reviewed resumes for potential new staff within my department. I’ve been involved in enough hiring processes, particularly with small companies and nonprofits, that I’m well aware what a crapshoot the whole procedure can  be; it’s easy to overlook strong candidates in a deluge of applications, it’s extremely common for two reviewers to have completely different impressions of the same  resume, and it’s very hard to judge from one or two interviews how well a candidate will perform and fit in. (Though I pride myself on making several very good calls in the last few years.)

But even with that experience, and even though I approach the interview process as though I am trying on the company for size instead of the reverse, there’s still a voice in my mind whispering that I must be doing something wrong, that I must make a poor impression or have glaring mistakes in my cover letters. And regarding the stats above: if I had estimated them rather than looking through my files for hard data, I would have guessed that I applied to “more than a hundred” jobs and interviewed for “several.” Being on the market felt a great deal more laborious and fruitless than it actually was.
I know that some of my dear friends are applying to jobs right now and grappling with these anxieties. So, jobhunters, my stats and the following links are for you.

Via The Billfold, a Medium piece about how the hiring process is broken. It opens with a story about the author’s participation in a hackathon, and then examines some stats that sound a lot more familiar to me (and probably also to you):

  • In 2005, a firm ran a “mystery shopper” experiment with more than 100 healthcare employers. Professionals posing as job candidates applied for work with tailored resumes showing skills that matched or exceeded the posted job requirements. Yet 88% of the candidates were rejected. Even perfect applicants don’t get interviews.

  • “Usually when people talk about hiring for fit or culture fit, it’s a shortcut for saying I want to like you,” says Ji-A Min, a research analyst for Ideal Candidate, a Toronto-based company that uses predictive analytics to help employers hire sales professionals. “That’s where hiring breaks down and all these biases are introduced.”

  • “Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for people operations, told a New York Times reporter in 2013. “We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess.”

I also really appreciate that the Medium author, Deborah Branscum, ultimately takes a more expansive view toward hiring success than “the best possible candidate was hired.” It’s clear she got a lot of good out of the hackathon; similarly, my feeling has been that no application and especially no interview is wasted, since each time you put yourself forward is an opportunity to learn something new.

This is an older column, but because Ask Polly is so good (and also because some of you need this): I Hate My Job and Feel Like a Fraud. What Should I Do?  Or if you aren’t sure why you hate your job or what kind of job you’d hate less, there are some good links in this old roundup.

By the way, Ask A Business Lady is there for you at The Toast.

Finally, if you’ve made it this far and want more sympathy and commiseration, feel free to share your Weird Hiring Stories in the comments. I don’t have any doozies from this go-round, but plenty of mild disappointments: the friendly, conversational interview that ended abruptly after I revealed that I didn’t have training in a field that wasn’t mentioned in the job listing; the hiring manager who asked me very little about my qualifications but grilled me (pardon the pun) about my food blog and where I get my CSA. And I found one sad Email chain in my files: a message containing my application, a brusque reply asking for my salary requirement, my reply containing a lowballed salary requirement (nonprofits, what can you do?), and then silence.

 

 

 

Elsewhere on the Internet: Game stories

I have a post up at The Ontological Geek as part of their romance series this month (which Critical Distance kindly linked and quoted as well). I’m writing about a pattern I’ve noticed in the Bioware video games I love to play: a fantasy race (elves in Dragon Age, asari in Mass Effect) whose people possess great power or wisdom yet occupy an oppressed and/or objectified position in their fantasy universe. Sometimes the game storytelling explores that dynamic, permitting the sexualized characters some optional dialogue for expressing individuality and agency, but more often it exploits the dynamic.

If you, like me, favor games that focus on character-building to the extent that you can opt to pursue a nonplayable character romantically, you’ll enjoy the rest of Romance Month at OG. I was particularly entertained by a post about a game in which romance was the main quest, not a side quest–designed “for women,” naturally. I kept thinking of Adrienne Rich: “Heterosexual romance has been represented as the great female adventure.”

Lastly on the subject of romance plots in video games: this series reminded me of one of my favorite gaming posts of all time, mostly about Alistair but dipping into the stories of other Dragon Age characters and plot choices. It’s one of a series styled after the hilaritragic 80s board game Girl Talk, all of which have some great commentary from fellow ladygamers.

 The Millions had a post recently discussing the intersection between game storytelling and literary storytelling. There’s a fun recap of some major video games of the last decade and the novels to which they partly owe their design, and eventually the article turns to contemporary discussions among game developers about how they can attract better writing talent. There’s a conscious movement in gaming to employ literary devices, the author suggests, though there isn’t a parallel movement in literature to incorporate elements of gaming. But for many kids, video games will be their first contact with storytelling; the author suggests that we should be making literature that builds on game storytelling just as we make games that build on literary device.
Intriguing theory, though I have a hard time imagining how it would look in practice. Certainly there are a few books and films that consciously play on video game visual or structural elements–Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is an obvious one. The Magician King by Lev Grossman incorporates the gaming trope of leveling up (and its companion activity, level grinding), and it’s fairly seamlessly worked in–you might not recognize it as a callout to gaming if you’re not in the habit of gaming. Those are the only examples of gaming devices in non-game media that come to mind, but if you know of more, I’m curious.

Via Critical Distance, I fell into a rabbit hole of reading “How Not to Fail at Writing Inclusive Games and Game Settings” at Go Make Me a Sandwich: Parts 1 (Overview)2 (gender and sexuality), and 3 (race and culture). These posts are long reads, but cathartic if you enjoy fantasy games except for the hamhanded characterization of fantasy races, and invaluable if you create fantasy media of any sort. I really wish I had read the series before submitting my OG piece, honestly: I would have linked to it in case readers wanted more detail about what’s wrong with the deeply powerful/deeply objectified “sex alien” race.

On the subject of race in fantasy worlds: “You’re a Wizard, Negro” isn’t exactly a gaming post but is certainly relevant to the racial representation you tend to see. The author points out that the archetypal wizard is an old white guy, then goes on to describe what kind of wizards you might get in fantasy writing if magical power and presentation were informed by black culture. I was reminded of two things: on the one hand, poor defensive Trayvond in Oblivion, possibly the only Redguard mage in all of Tamriel; on the other hand, Akata Witch, a gorgeous novel set in a magical school in Nigeria which draws on the fantasy fiction tropes I’m familiar with as well as magical stories and ideas specific to Nigeria.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Writing in Public

Did you know that it is NaPoWriMo? Last year I challenged myself to read a poem every day, since I knew I’d be too busy to write so many and too shy to share. This year I made no such committment, but fortunately I follow a few poets who are churning them out, so I am more or less reading a poem a day after all. Nicole Steinberg has been posting poems that riff off the headlines of posts and articles from high-traffic websites like The Awl and Salon; I like that they veer into territories I’m familiar with from her other poems, but they are their own strange new beasts. She plans to take them down after a week, so today might be your last day to read “Why are millenials so unfuckable?” which is my favorite so far, probably due to 90s video game references. Hannah Stephenson, too, posts poems at an alarming (to a slow writer like myself) rate. You’ll probably like “Let’s Have Class Outside Today” especially if, like me, you’ve been both the student and the teacher in that conversation, and the ever-so-slightly warmer sunshine of April makes you want to do everything outside.

Former museum colleague Kara linked me to this Museum 2.0 post about Hemingway, an online tool designed to help streamline your writing. I felt very wary at first–remembering too well my encounter with the unfortunately named Writer’s Diet–but 2.0’s Nina Simon makes a good case for the tool as a way to produce concise copy for exhibit labels or grant applications. I was intrigued, since right now I am rushing to polish up piles of catalog copy by the end of the month and a key element of that task is streamlining. I ran a couple of works-in-progress through the app and was unsurprised to see them both rated “bad” (too many “very hard to read” sentences plus passive voice and excessive adverbs); however, they are in pretty good form for copy which must appeal to a fairly specialized class of people and fit in a number of keywords to increase search relevance. You can’t please everybody!

Approximately a thousand years ago in internet years, I linked to an article in which two scholar looked at the question of “Should Academics Blog?” and came up with a resounding yes. Their evidence mostly comes from an quantification and analysis of the reception of an immensely popular article (also about academic blogging) which they wrote, promoted, and tracked through social media. I’ve been meaning to compile a longer post on the debate for some time, but I have to accept that I never will, so here’s a quick rundown.
First, my entrypoint to this argument is that I am an academic (sort of) who blogs. I blog because I read a lot about the topics that interest me, and my response to the reading tends to spill out of me in writing. The blogging platform has other benefits: namely, it has brought me into conversation with other thinkers and writers, which never ceases to surprise and gladden me since I began my research in comparative isolation. Blogging also has certain costs: mostly time, I think, as it takes a certain amount of time to write and briskly proof or factcheck the posts before I make them public and attached to my given name. It also takes a certain amount of time to engage with that broader community through social media–rewarding and pleasant time, but that’s time I’m not spending on further research or writing. But for me, there’s no question of whether to blog or not; it’s just something I do.

But the question is often posed to me by academic friends who’ve observed my blogging and wonder if it would be worthwhile for themselves and by first-time authors who ask me, as a university press marketer, what they can do to promote their book. And my answer is quite different from the post I linked above: only if you want to. The authors of that post (Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson) authored an extraordinarily successful article in terms of clicks and downloads for several reasons, and their social media platform was only one of them: they also had a much more broadly relevant topic than the average journal article can claim, and their work was available (non-paywalled) for much longer than a typical article for that academic journal. So while blogging can allow academics to seize a greater part of the “attention economy” (I am fascinated by this term, indicating that attention is finite and commodifiable), like any economy, you have to pay in to get payout.

Here are the pros of academic blogging, near as I can make out: Blogging is in most cases a free public forum; this is less of an issue in the States, one of the last bastions against mandated Open Access, but in many overseas publications, it does or will cost scholars money to have their work published. A blog can be a broad forum, reaching many more people than a journal, and it may be linked up with social media to exponentially increase readership if social media is handled effectively. An author’s existing social media platform is very appealing to publishers. On the web, scholarship can become much more of a conversation, since your feedback and response can be instantaneous. And–this is more important for some authors than others–you can reach a broader range of people, nonacademics as well as fellow scholars. (However, Mewburn and Thomson note that the academic-general reader dynamic is not usually what’s at play: “While arguments are made for blogging as an outreach activity, where academics ‘translate’ their work for a non-academic audience, in our sample we saw more evidence of conversations happening between academics – and much of it about academia itself. This led us to conclude that the blogging discourse, is similar in purpose, if not necessarily in form or content, to the academic discourse happening in journals: academics talking to academics in an effort to advance knowledge and understanding.”)
The cons include: blogging and social media promotion is just one more example of unpaid labor that the young academic is expected to perform in order to compete in the academic economy. It takes time–a valuable resource to the busy academic–and the time you spend is not always repaid. Managing blogs and social media effectively is a skill: it’s one that many of us develop to some degree in our personal lives, but deploying social media savvy for promotion is a delicate business of getting the relevant information to your target readers without annoying them. And there’s nothing more annoying–and sad–than an author who signs up for Twitter or WordPress for the first time just to promote their work; tweeting is a genre, blogging is a genre (or a collection of subgenres), and promotional writing is too; it takes time to learn and adapt to writing in those modes. (Which can be a pro as well, if you are invested in reaching nonacademic readers.)
Those of my readers who are also blogging academics, I am deeply interested in your thoughts on this.

Finally, just to make this a truly eclectic linklist, here is an adorable infographic to breakdown the effectiveness of serif and sans serif fonts in print and electronic contexts.

Elsewhere on the Internet: Language Acts and Artifacts

From The Toast, linguist Gretchen McCulloch offers a sort of taxonomy of doge, a meme which startled and perplexed me the few times I encountered it.

Her explanation helps contextualize both the syntax of the doge meme and its appeal. Internet dialects are taking up the same kind of space as a silly accent or character speech would; people will play with language for hilarity and emphasis, and it is fascinating to see how these things grow organically in text. It’s such fun, too, to look at playful systems of speech which appear to be breaking language apart but which actually follow strict rules that become all the more apparent when you see bad doge. (Like these clunky attempts to doge-ify classic literature. Very syllable!)

I’m glad I’ve been pointed to McCulloch’s work in general: here is a collection of her thoughts on the construction “because ___,” an abbreviation that feels so natural to me that the words had been rolling out of my mouth long before I was aware of hearing or seeing it used by anyone else. For example, cooking with my neighbor, one of us will often ask “Should we add this ingredient to this thing?” and the other will respond “Yes, because delicious” or sometimes just “Yes, because [meaningful pause, indicating the merits of said ingredient are self-evident].”

For Valentine’s Day, another of my favorite internet linguists Arika Okrent offered the linguistic breakdown of a kiss–or  bilabial lingual ingressive click.
The long form sounds surprisingly appealing, despite having way too many syllables for doge style.

Today is Edward Gorey’s birthday. Of all the posts and reposts I saw in his honor today, my favorite has to be this Paris Review piece from a couple of years ago about a writer who won one of Edward Gorey’s actual fur coats in an auction.

I was a little astonished to learn of how many fur coats the man owned. Of course I was used to seeing them in his artwork; I’ve been sending out numerous postcards this year to honor a New Year resolution to communicate more frequently in print, and I am sure that several friends have received postcards featuring fur coats in Goreyland.

goreycoat

But then, like most artists and writers whose work I enjoy, I think of Edward Gorey as an amorphous attachment to his work, or an abstract idea behind it. I don’t think of him as a formerly corporeal being, with a body that enjoyed warmth and texture, a body that left behind intimate traces such as a coat. But once that idea occurs, it can take possession of the mind. Reading about the auction bidders’ pursuit of these decades-old coats, I was reminded of Proust’s Overcoat: the story of a man who befriended the executors of Proust’s estate in hopes of acquiring not just his papers–things of potential literary value–but his things, object he had touched or worn or loved.