Friday, October 1, 2010

Blog: Resurrected

I've been meaning to revive this blog for... let's see: February, March, April... about eight months now. I may or may not ever get around to writing about Sherlock Holmes or anything else that's happened in the interim, but I figure for today I'll just pick up with now, and go from there.

And the topic for now is House. I am loving the House/Cuddy relationship almost enough to make me ignore my annoyance with the medical story in this past week's episode, "Selfish." Almost.

Here's the setup: the patient of the week is a teenage girl who is very active and accomplished, and her brother is a teenage boy who has some kind of muscular dystrophy that means he is not expected to live much past twenty-five. It is established early in the episode that the girl wants to sort of make up for some of the things her brother isn't able to do, and that he does to an extent live vicariously through her. By the end of the episode, the scenario boils down to a choice between the girl dying or accepting the donation of part of a lung from her brother, which would save her life but shorten his.

There were two huge things that bugged me about this. First, while both kids were clearly intellectually competent teenagers, it was assumed by all the adults in the story that this choice should be made entirely without the kids' knowledge or input. Excuse me? I guess I could imagine some parents taking that position, but the doctors didn't blink; not only that, but Cuddy seriously advocated that House not even inform the parents that the partial lung transplant was an option! Sure, it's an awful choice (impossible, as House says) to have to make, but to deny the family the choice would have been unconscionable (and indeed House does tell the father despite Cuddy's admonition not to). To want to leave the kids (i.e. the most affected parties) out of the discussion was, I think, similarly idiotic.

Second, and even more egregious in my opinion, was that when the kids figured out what was going on and talked to each other about it (as they should have been doing from the start), the brother's position was basically that his life was pretty worthless and meaningless anyway and that's why his sister should accept his donation.

I was incensed at this. It's one thing to have medically silly scenarios, or oversimplifications or convoluted relationships and plots that are only there for dramatic tension. I am absolutely willing to put up with factual stretching for the sake of narrative truth... but this, to me, was just lazy storytelling, and that's unforgivable. The writers had established that the brother probably wouldn't live past his mid-twenties. Wouldn't it have been even more dramatic and noble if he wanted to make the donation and shorten his already-short life despite having every reason to want to live, out of love for his sister? To offer to maximize her potential at the sacrifice of his own? Instead, the implication was that he felt basically no sense of self-worth, that he was just a spectator to her more worthy life, and that was why he wanted to save her.

I'm getting more disgusted than ever just writing about it.

It was a very short scene, and I suppose it's possible that I misinterpreted it, but I don't think so. I think the House writers messed up an opportunity for a pretty great bit of drama, and instead gave us a degrading, two-dimensional portrayal. Sigh.

To cheer myself up, I will finish by remembering the last bit of the episode, in which House grabs Cuddy's butt as they're waiting for the elevator. She reaches back to remove his hand, and then smoothly interlaces her fingers with his. It sums up the delightfully complicated nature of their relationship, and I can't wait to continue watching as that relationship progresses.

If the House writers can elevate the medical stories even close to the level of the relationship arc they're developing, I will be an extremely happy viewer. If not, well, I guess nothing motivates a blog like the desire to complain.

FOLLOW UP: Several people have had similar comments to the one below: it sounds like my interpretation of the scene was a minority one, which is actually a good thing. As I said to one person, I thought the brother was saying that he wanted to donate time to his sister partly because he wasn't really using it anyway... But I agree that at least his comment about not wanting to live without her needn't have anything to do with how worthwhile he was feeling his life to be. If that makes any sense.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Into the unknown...

It's possible no one will really read this blog anymore, since my class is over, but I think it would be fun to keep it going at least for a while.

So for today, here's a link to a great NPR blog entry about "How a thorough de-gazing saved CBS's The Big Bang Theory." In other words, how making their female lead into a three-dimensional character instead of an objectified cardboard cutout allowed the show to thrive. The writer, Linda Holmes, sums it up nicely in this way:
  • [The] changes in this particular show make for a great example of the fact that you don't just avoid empty, cliched versions of women (or men, and I am looking at you, Sex And The City) because they're offensive or infuriating or anything like that. The best creative reason to avoid them is that they make your show bad.
Hear, hear!

Next up: reviews of Zombieland and Sherlock Holmes. Big surprise: I loved them both :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's Final Project Time!

Our final projects are due tomorrow, and we're supposed to write a summary as our last official blog post. So here it is: for my project, I created a website called "Educational Resources for Studying Disabilities in the Media."

The web address is

My intent was to make something that could be a resource for people teaching disability studies, or media studies, or anything in between. It's sort of a fancy annotated bibliography, in that in that I've listed a whole bunch of websites, movies, tv shows, books, and articles that might be relevant to educators, with occasional comments or suggestions about possible class activities. I linked to several existing resources on this topic on the main page, and I also included brief introductions to the concepts of disability studies, media studies, and neurodiversity; but the bulk of the site is devoted to media representations of different areas of disability. I fully acknowledge that organizing the site in that way is problematic, because it defines people in terms of disability labels (buying into the "medical model" in some ways). However, I feel that for pragmatic purposes it is the most straightforward way to initiate the site. I am completely open to the idea of rearranging it at some point in the future. Indeed, I hope that I can keep the site active, adding to it, changing it, reorganizing it as I discover new things or get suggestions from users. (I don't know if there will actually be any users, but I can always hope!) In this way I see the site as a work in progress.

In addition to presenting the site to my classmates tomorrow, I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to share it on Friday with the U of M's Interdisciplinary Graduate Group on Disability Studies, which is currently working to develop a Disability Studies graduate minor. I expect I will get lots of useful feedback from both of these audiences, so the site should get off to a dynamic start right away!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Local News Analysis Part 2

This could also be called "Part 1," since the post I wrote before was describing the latter half of the newscast... but that would just be confusing.

There was only one commercial break in the first 19 minutes of the Friday night KARE 11 newscast I watched. Here's how it broke down:

10:00 Northstar Commuter Rail story
10:02 U of M bar has to close for 3 days as a penalty for serving alcohol to minors
10:03 Petters trial progress
10:04 Changing air traffic control procedures for reporting problems to the military
10:04 Daycare and H1N1 vaccine
10:05 County H1N1 vaccination clinics
10:05 Story about a dairy farmer who's had a run of bad luck & a benefit being held
10:07 Preview before commercials
10:08 Commercials: Sleep Express, Tonight Show/Late Show, Star Trek DVD, Gillette Children's Hospital, Ashley Furniture, WalMart, Empire Carpet
10:11 Water discovered on the Moon
10:11 Eagan U of M student breaking records as Paralympic swimmer
10:13 British rowers finished crossing the Pacific
10:14 Weather
10:18 Preview for Monday story on Vancouver Olympics
10:19 Preview before commercials

Whew. So there were seven stories in the first five minutes; and the only things even approaching world news were roughly 30 seconds (combined) about water on the moon and British people rowing across the Pacific Ocean. Coverage of the weather was twice as long as any other story.

'Nuff said. I think I could glean the same amount of information in three minutes of web browsing as I did in 19 minutes in front of the TV, with fewer commercials and MUCH broader scope. My habit of listening to NPR and avoiding TV news whenever possible (except for The Daily Show and Colbert Report, of course) has been suitably reinforced.

Film Adaptations

This week's assignment is to talk about how we would integrate media adaptations into our teaching. If I were teaching a class where this type of thing was appropriate, I can imagine a couple fun projects.

#1 Shakespeare.
Shakespeare offers rich opportunities for this kind of thing because so many versions of various plays have been created. We did the classic Romeo & Juliet vs. West Side Story thing way back when I was in ninth grade. A couple similar things would be to have students watch either the Laurence Olivier or Ian McKellen version of Richard III and then watch Al Pacino's Looking for Richard. The latter is a sort of meditation on the play, including scenes from it as well as interviews with the actors about the play itself, its history, and what's involved in performing it. The students could then discuss how Looking for Richard serves as an adaptation of the play and/or as a commentary about it, and to what degree they benefited from having seen the whole play before watching Looking.

Another fun Shakespeare adaptation is a version of Macbeth called Scotland, PA, which satirically transposes the story to a fast food restaurant in 1970s Pennsylvania. Students could watch the 1948 Orson Welles version, followed by Scotland, PA. This would give them an opportunity to discuss adaptations that change the tone of the original: is it a "faithful" adaptation if it's now a comedy? Where is the line between adaptation and parody? Students could then come up with their own original take on the story: instead of a fast food restaurant in the '70s, where else could the story of Macbeth be made to work? What themes - as well as characters and plot points - are intrinsic to the story that make it so "universal"? (This type of exercise could be done with any work that's had this kind of makeover, such as Emma Clueless, or Taming of the Shrew10 Things I Hate About You (or Kiss Me Kate, for that matter), though arguably the tone of those examples is not significantly altered from originals to adaptations.)

#2 Book ≠ Movie.
I find it interesting that, while I enjoy some movies because they are such faithful adaptations of their source material, I enjoy others despite (or because?) they are distinctly different from whatever book they're based on. For example, the adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is notorious for its dedicated in its attention to detail. In contrast, this year's Where the Wild Things Are is equally famous for being a 101-minute movie based on a book that's only 48 pages long (and mostly pictures). Other examples of adaptations that turned out quite different from their source books while still being arguably "good" are Wicked (the musical is based on the book) and Jurassic Park (movie based on book). Watching and reading these pairs of works will give students the opportunity to discuss (similar to the first activity) what makes a "good" adaptation; and what themes, characters, plot points were kept or changed from one version to the other and (perhaps most importantly) why. They could also do an activity where they have to adapt a book they have read into a less-than-two-hour movie: what elements do they think would be crucial to keep? What would they change? Would they rather do a page-to-screen transfer a la Harry Potter or a more abstract interpretation like Wild Things, and why?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Post About Music

This week's assignment is to talk about our music preferences and pick a song that illustrates those preferences. This is difficult for me - I'm a lot less knowledgeable about my music tastes than about TV, movies, or books. I grew up with - and have played and sung - a lot of classical music, so I often like that. With pop music, I tend to like things more as they become more familiar, and there's not a lot that I really don't like. I will often think I really like a song without ever bothering to really listen to the lyrics, and then feel disappointed when I actually learn what it's about... I tend to like things with tight harmonies, clever lyrics, and/or catchy melodies. My main Pandora station is seeded with people like Coldplay, U2, Dar Williams, and Dido.

I definitely have emotional associations with a lot of different music. There are certain songs that I associate with particular periods in life because they were playing on the radio a lot at that time. For example, I might not usually care for a song like "Meet Virginia" by Train, but it was on the radio my senior year in college so I always think fondly of my dorm room when I hear it. And one of my friends in Peace Corps had Dido's album No Angel, so when I hear songs from that album I usually think of the dilapidated CD player we had at our house.

One song I picked to exemplify my musical tastes is "Young James Dean" from Girlyman's Little Star album. Back in 2005 or so, my roommate and I got tickets to a Dar Williams concert (I think it was at Macalester or something). I almost never go to concerts, but my roommate loved Dar Williams (she's from Iowa, though of course that's not the only reason) and I liked what I'd heard of her, so I was happy to go. But before she came onstage, this band called Girlyman opened for her. We were a little skeptical at first, but they totally won us over with their energy, charisma, tight harmonies, and clever lyrics (as I mentioned, things I tend to like in my music groups). So I actually bought their CD! And now every time I hear one of their songs, I remember the great time we had at that concert.

This particular song has interesting lyrics and imagery, plus great harmonies and a catchy tune. Here are the lyrics (sorry I can't link to the full song - the band only has samples posted online). (Note that there's an added dimension of complexity because the song is sung by a woman).

In the back of a camouflage truck
They locked me in once with the materiel
I was full of a rage no one could handle
I was a private in the army
All the real girls with their backs turned called me crazy
Called me crazy

I worked for a while at a diner
Manager said I had to wear that little uniform
Said I was part of the problem
But I was in love with that blonde girl
She kissed me twice behind the counter
But when I asked her to get into my car
She called her man, said 'don't bother her'
She called her man, said 'don't bother her'

I guess I'll feel less than real all my life
With these feathers I made
Under me lifting me up
But I was a young James Dean
With a way with ladies
All the real boys in their black jeans called me crazy
Called me crazy
Called me crazy
Called me crazy

I could go on and on, or write a whole other post about musical theater, but I won't (at least not for now).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Disaster Movie Addendum

A friend just forwarded this link to a hilarious montage of destruction called "Hollywood vs. New York." I like the way it uses the soundtrack for dramatic pacing and extra touches of humor.