for daws to peck at

Wednesday, 15 January 2014 01:47 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Occasionally my life is surreal. This morning I madly registered 23 rugby players for their year's courses, an early taste of reg hell occasioned by some giant manly rugby tournament they're all dashing off to and for which they are not eligible unless they officially exist on our systems. I would not have survived the morning had I not incautiously consumed a giant slice of mocha cheesecake for breakfast, which cushioned things nicely. (The boingboing recipe. I totally recommend this recipe, it's the only baked cheesecake I've ever made that I felt actually worked, and it's a totally delectable dose of sugar and caffeine, both of which are essential to my registration-surviving strategies.)The rugby players are sweet lads, but two-thirds of the first-years evinced a desire to study Law. What is it with rugby players and Law? It does not compute.

On the subject of people who do lots of exercise, I'm still madly into my brisk evening (or, occasionally, morning) walk around the Common, and feeling much the better thereby. It's a lovely walk, and I'm weirdly even enjoying the happy community feel of all the walkers/ runners/ cyclists/ kids on scooters/ floppy dogs/ nice ladies' walking clubs having chats. But I'm also a bit of an outsider to that crowd, on account of how none of the above tend to represent my essential tribe, viz. geeks. I see this mainly in the t-shirts. Exercisers tend to wear t-shirts indicative of Serious Sports, in the form of rugby shirts, American football shirts (I have no idea), shirts commemorating particular runs or white water rafting trips or hikes other manly/sportly activities, sports commodity brand shirts, or Serious Exercise Shirts With Exciting Support Bits And Radical Cuts. I wear whatever t-shirt happens to be at the top of my two-foot-high pile of random t-shirts I bought on Teh Internets because I like the design and/or sentiment, which means that over the last few walks I have treated the Common to "AND THEN BUFFY STAKED EDWARD, THE END", "KLAATU BERADA NICTO", "Ask Me About My Ray Gun", "OH R'LYEH?", a facsimile of the original edition cover for Orwell's 1984, that Scary-Go-Round cute robot one inscribed "IT IS OK TO BE YOU", the Knights of Good, and Captain Marvel. They are, shall we say, somewhat exotically out of place. The Common's exercise community can be under no illusions that a geek is in their midst. They don't seem to mind - a lot of them smile at me, in fact - but I feel as though I'm rather visibly advertising Difference.

And I was thinking, during one of these excursions, that in fact t-shirts are the modern way that we wear our hearts on our sleeves, very much in the sense of the medieval knight tying his lady's sleeve around his arm before hieing him forth into battle. I wear t-shirts which attest to the things that I particularly love, and for which I wish to be recognised - on some level, because there's a subliminal hope that fellow humans will admit to a love of the same thing, thus short-cutting social interaction. Which is not, in the final analysis, very different to the mad exercisers wearing trophies of races or excursions. But sf geekery is clearly cooler than brand names, even outside its natural habitat. And, on the evidence, considerably more entertaining.

The subject line is the second half of the Shakespeare quote about wearing your heart on your sleeve, which I had totally forgotten was Iago speaking. I loathe Othello with every fibre of my being, it's one of those slow-motion train-smash plays where you simply have to sit and helplessly watch people being obliviously self-destructive idiots, but I have a sneaking fondness for Iago. Efficient villains are worthy of respect.
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Questionable Content has designed a new T-shirt which clearly and obviously has my particular obsessions in mind. It's not yet live for sale on TopatoCo, and I am poised to restrain myself from immediately ordering three of them by implementing the simple strategy of ordering one.


Plus, as a bonus, it's an excuse to break out into additional Mass Effect romance t-shirts, from which I have only been restraining myself because I find Garrus a bit counter-intuitive.
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that the department which spawned me also despises my academic interests, and thinks they are Fluffy and Frivolous and UnAfrican. I am aware of this, and invoke my superhero power of Sheer Cussedness to insist on simply bumbling along doing them anyway, with considerable satisfaction and in the teeth of the odds. And, to be perfectly fair, while I will defend to the death my belief that fairy tale and genre and Gothic and non-realist narrative are neither fluffy nor frivolous, and that popular forms are valid and interesting in their own right, in my heart of hearts I know bloody well that they are as unAfrican as all get-out, at least in the contexts and iterations in which I pursue them.

What I do is really very Western: it's rooted in Western fairy tale, Tolkien, Victorian fantasy, the English detective story, Edwardian children's literature, and a resolutely educated technophiliac access to internet culture. It would mean, I think, absolutely nothing to a black kid straight out of a township, or from a rural community. It would be alienating, confusing, a language and idiom which was part and parcel of the strange, only semi-permeable membrane which keeps university culture - or, at least, the culture of this particular university - in the little Europe-fixated bubble which forms its identity, try we never so hard to transform. Black kids don't sign up for my seminars. I completely get it.

And, of course, to simply say that I should study African fairy tale is not, to my mind, a solution. While black languages and cultures absolutely have their own rich and varied non-realist and generic traditions, my access to them is limited by a similar membrane, a cultural and linguistic remove which I'd have to permeate only by acquiring the several new languages and multiple layers of sociological and postcolonial theory which would effectively make me into an entirely different creature, academically speaking. It's actually a fascinating mirror of the first problem: a black kid trying to understand, for example, Mary Shelley, is having to acquire equally wholesale an entire universe of cultural experience simply to place the text in context, and they're doing it from a starting point a whole lot less privileged than mine.

All of which is not, unfortunately, going to persuade me to transform myself into the differently-shaped, less eccentric academic creature who might actually be able to talk to said black kid about fairy tale on something like his or her own terms. Because, unAfrican or not, I like the shape I am.

In darker moments, I despair of being relevant. But I can also take heart from the little moments which hold out hope of bridging, just for an instant, that cultural divide. We had a fire drill yesterday, which of course ends up with the contents of the entire building disgorged into the road outside, including those of the 450-seater lecture theatre in the basement. One of the kids from the lecture was wearing a t-shirt I immediately coveted. This one.

He was a black kid. I didn't talk to him, so couldn't gauge his background; he may well have been an international student. But I'm hoping that he wasn't; that he was, at least, a middle-class black South African whose upbringing and experience were enough to introduce him not only to the (have you noticed how lily-white? Native American Metaphors notwithstanding) world of Twilight, but to enough of the far more robust Gothic tradition which gave rise to it that he can regard sparkly vampires with ironic distaste. Because I do read about impundulu even if I don't feel competent to write about them, and I'm made happy to think that somehow, somewhere, his world and mine might gradually converge. That's a conversation I want to have.
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Can't talk, orienting. Although, in fact, most of my orientation duties are in the morning, leaving me the afternoon to catch up on all the registration and curriculum advice duties. Yay. I am taking ten minutes out to blog in a spirit of defiance.

Today has started with one defunct sound system in the main venue (NSLT, huge, my voice is croaked from projecting without amplification), one batch of venues discovered to be under construction, another batch of venues discovered not to have been booked when they should have been (not, may I add, by me), and a sharp downpour of rain at precisely the moment when we needed to shepherd 400 students across campus to different venues. Score points for cosmic cussedness, Cape Town weather, and entropy. We have dealt with all these crises with becoming grace, and are currently operating ruthlessly on time. *waves rude finger in direction of cosmic wossnames*

Upsides: students get cute, spiky hair when wet. Like puppies. Also several very good t-shirts today, the one which sticks in my mind reading "With great moustaches come great power". (Wearer, naturally, clean-shaven). And another one simply stating "BLACK IS BLACK", which seems a little Zen. However, Sod's law dictates that the two departments with the biggest first-year courses should be the ones who have failed to respond with the names of speakers for Thursday's info sessions. I have sent four different emails since November last year. I'd be tearing my hair out, but, kismet. If they aren't there, they aren't there.

I have never before tried the simple expedient of running orientation while hopped to the gills on anti-depressants. I recommend it. There's a sort of serene detachment. It works.

(Subject line? still Goats. Eighty three percent of known Goats are soothing to the soul).
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[ profile] wolverine_nun asked for more t-shirt deconstructions, foolish lady, and because they are really more fun than is probably strictly legal for an unofficial academic, I am deliriously happy to oblige. She does encourage my known proclivities very gratifyingly.

The only reason I don't wear this shirt all the time is because I incautiously bought it a size too small, and my current state of tummy sag and resulting fabric strain renders it inaesthetic in the extreme. But it's another excellent example of vintage John Allison laterality, i.e. it's a Scary Go Round one, this time still perfectly available.

Pangaea is, as any fule kno, the hypothesised supercontinent from which our current continental configuration springs. Way back in the mists of time they were all wodged together, and then they drifted apart, presumably because of artistic differences. The t-shirt's image of a "reunion tour" thus plays with parallel notions of groups forming, drifting apart and reforming, re-imagining the continents as a band, and creating the fan or roadie t-shirt which commemorates such a hypothetical endeavour. (To fully play out the joke the shirt would need to have a list of gigs on the back, although they would all read "Earth" plus various dates. It would be entirely in Scary-Go-Round character for one of the venues to be "Mars".) The visual impact of the design, particularly in the font choice (spiky, informal, slightly hand-written) plays very nicely on the kind of image branding a music group habitually creates, and its illusion of personality and authenticity; the re-united continent itself is a slightly bizarre equivalent to an actual band photo.

The implications here are much more subtextual and less obvious than they are in the Nosferatu shirt, but are nonetheless kinda entertaining. I think there's an additional, implied joke revolving around the notion of "super": the shirt builds on the form/separate/reform joke by potentially conflating "supercontinent" with "supergroup", in a nod to the continents' current discrete existence. More importantly, though, it stuffs around with notions of nostalgia, the re-creation of something from a distant past in a present which doesn't really have a place for it. Reunion tours by long-defunct bands are always faintly sad; very few of them seem to recapture anything like the value of the band in its original iteration. Of course, a continental reunion tour would go way beyond sad into catastrophic seismic and political upheaval.

Nonetheless, I love this shirt because I would totally be there for a Pangaea reunion. The joke is effective because it appeals to the kind of science geeky wearer who not only knows what Pangaea is but thinks it would be way cool for the continents to get back together, in the teeth of the odds. In that they're no different to the kind of geeky band fan who will be there for a Rolling Stones reunion, in their authentic early tour t-shirt, in the faint hope of recognising the old magic. Both iterations of "reunion" celebrate the special knowledge and emotional investment of the fan concerned, their existence as part of an elite faithful whose commitment endures beyond the mere drifting apart of continents and into their geo-politically unlikely, hypothetical re-formation.

Bonus background info: the creator (not to be confused with the Creator, since we're talking about continents) notes, on the blog post where he tinkers around with the design: "Do you remember in 1982 when Pangaea got back together? It was insane. Eurasia and Australiasia all snuggling up while North America complained that South America's feet were a. cold and b. in its ear." Which makes it sound more like a relationship (one of those complicated polyamorous ones) getting back together than a band, and is incidentally even more insane. Personally I want this t-shirt to actually read "Pangaea Reunion Tour 1982".

Additional bonus, unlikely layer of meaning: after writing all this, I am bloody well going to lose some weight so I fit into this t-shirt again. Which probably means I shouldn't have eaten all that malva pudding. Bugger.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
The drawback - or, possibly, the advantage - of wearing quirky t-shirts pretty much continuously, these non-working days, is that you find yourself in the odd position of having to deconstruct them to your therapist. She is a sharp lady who has been remarkably game about delving into the academic discourse of non-realist fiction, mostly on account of how its weirder corners are absolutely central to my self-definition. Today she went "Hmmm" a lot, and proceeded to prod me into an in-depth analysis of Gothic fictional tropes and their representative status vis-a-vis certain aspects of my life. My head is spinning slightly. On the other hand, deconstructing my T-shirt was fun, so I'm going to do it properly.

This is a Scary-Go-Round shirt, quite my favourite example of John Allison's severely lateral thought processes. It's weird and niche enough that it wasn't a popular shirt, alas, and is no longer available, but I do encourage you to peruse the other SGR shirts if you mind unhinges in that particular way. I think there may be a Major Teacup Space Patrol in my immediate future. And a "Devour your enemies", for those psychotic PMT days.

This is, of course, on the most obvious layer a self-consciously Goth shirt, all dark grey and black and vampires and shit. It gains serious Goth points for its use of "Nosferatu" rather than "Dracula" - "Dracula doesn't share his toffees" is far less euphonious, somehow, but also lacks the force which the self-conscious invocation of quite the most pretentious and gloom-laden version of Dracula permits. Apart from being pretentious, "Nosferatu" recalls both the hunched, grotesque, goblinoid figure of the Murnau and Herzog films of that name, and the heavily black-and-white German Expressionist gloom which permeates them. This is not, it says, your suave, sexy Dracula.

All of the above simply sets up the beautiful elegance with which the juxtaposition of "Nosferatu" and "toffees" punches a hole in Goth pretentions. The blood-lust hunger of the vampire, its obvious evil, is refigured as simple greed for sweeties, a trivialisation of evil into naughtiness which is reflected in the vampire's possessive pose - more pantomime than monstrous. It's a peculiarly childhood transgression, refusal to share. That deflation is echoed in the artwork, the minimalist cartoon both succinctly referencing Klaus Kinski's grotestque, bald Nosferatu, and rendering it innocently cute. The movement in the picture is also significantly away from some unidentified toffee-stealing threat - the vampire as vulnerable, prey rather than predator.

Above all, "toffees" is genius because their most obvious quality is their chewiness, the way they stick to your teeth. Vampires are all about the teeth, and the self-indulgent ordinariness in the idea of sticking your mouth up with toffees both defangs the vampire in a particularly comic fashion, and echoes, on another level, the deflation embodied by of the greed for sweets replacing the lust for blood. The bite becomes the chew. It's beautiful.

I love this shirt. I'm never sure anyone else ever really gets it, probably because this depth of random analysis is the particular vice of the academic. But now you do, whether you like it or not. There is no end to my evil!


Tuesday, 28 October 2008 03:40 pm
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Hmmm. Zombies are shambling all over my LJ taskbar, and it's not even Halloween yet.

On with the random, since that seems to be my preferred method of bloggery at the moment. I think the hayfever and concomitant sinus problems are fragmenting my brain. Today, random things that are making me happy despite being a bit shambling from insomnia-for-no-adequately-defined-reason.

  1. A student just came into my office wearing a T-shirt inscribed "LMAO" over a picture of Chairman Mao corpsing happily. This convoluted in-joke made me laugh in an unseemly fashion, after which said student and I cheerfully bonded over the desirability of the John Howe LotR artwork on my walls. I do like students.

  2. I Vant To Suck Your Broccoli. Alternative vampires. Is it fundamentally wrong that I immediately want to go and watch all of the ones on this list that I haven't already seen? (which, I have to say, isn't that many. There's a fine line between academic interest and dodgy obsession).

  3. This song is making me happy, even on the twentieth replay. The reunion Eurythmics album is distinguished by some perfectly beautiful tunes. (Couldn't find the actual music video, alas, so this is just audio).

Now, she says with grim determination, I shall go back to the gym, which I have been bunking for two weeks like a pale, wimpy thing, owing to colds, sinuses and general malaise.
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Invigilated an exam yesterday, what might turn out to be my last invigilation at my Cherished Institution. I feel... fairly neutral about it, actually. Meh. On the other hand, I was impelled to philosophise about the T-shirt slogans students choose to wear to a final exam. One has to give points for lateral decontextualisation to "I LOOK GOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR", which might also have a certain wistful subtext. Mad props for retro grunge to the Pearl Jam shirt, and to the very gothy shirt which educated the invigilator about the existence of Opeth - heavy metal, it transpires, gothy vibe notwithstanding.

I honestly cannot feel, however, that it constitutes good exam superstition to write an English exam wearing a shirt sporting the slogan "JUNK", or "ZERO", or "GUESS".

The whisper flies around the 'net: TV has spoken! it says, "Come back, Joss Whedon, all is forgiven!" Not only is there the possibility of a new Joss TV series of a sf nature, it's with Eliza Dushku. While I am happy about this, I am also alert to the dangerous precedents of the Joss/Fox combination. Pajiba agrees.

I am grateful to all the maddened knitwitterers who leaped in to point out my probable errors with mysterious stitch-materialisation. Personally I incline to [ profile] tngr_spacecadet's theory that it's all because of quantum, but will investigate the suggested possibilities nonetheless. I have not yet ripped back to restart my four mutant rows, on account of how I've spent the last three days completely avoiding a horrendous pile of marking, and thus haven't had time to knit. I have also, in deference to the prejudices of certain readers, set up an entirely separate blog for purposes of knitwittering, to be found at Purl-Handled Revolver, and would be delighted if knitting-inclined readers would join me there. For the record, it's all scroobius's fault. All of it.

mostly about shirts

Wednesday, 10 May 2006 01:38 pm
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The other day someone told me about a friend of theirs who is an older man, devoutly Christian and therefore frustratedly and conflictedly unable to do anything positive about the fact that he's also gay. Apparently he has seen Brokeback Mountain twenty-seven times since it opened on circuit here. He goes to see it every afternoon, and cries a lot.

This is a level of investment in a film that I personally only associate with the madder, more geeky fringes of Star Wars and LotR fandom. In this very different context, it's probably the saddest thing I've heard in ages.

In other shirt news, I have finally worked out who the much-drooled-over Sawyer is in Lost. I'm sorry, ladies, I don't get it. No amount of pretty-boy de-shirtage is ever going to make him into anything other than a total dickhead.
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Today's student T-shirt discovery: "WILL SHAG FOR FOOD," the lone gesture at individuality among a sea of brand names. Alas, I fear he'll starve.

In other news, shock! and likewise horror! The boob tube is back. I must have seen at least three of the gazelles in them, accompanied by that ineffable, unmistakeable air of precarious unease, together with a tendency to hitch at intervals. Of all the solecisms of the 80s, the boob tube was probably the worst. I'd hail it joyously as clear proof that the last few years' horrible tendency to featured bra straps is at an end, except that the alternative is so much worse.

Curriculum advice this morning was a bit of a blur, I hope I haven't accidentally signed anyone up for underwater basket weaving. Hell, let's face it, this whole weekend has been a bit of a blur. Blurry components as follows:
  • Saturday: wrote encyclopedia entries all day. Was distracted in late afternoon by jo&stv in need of cheering up; boozed. Fled them in direction of Shakespeare only slightly sloshed. (Twelfth Night at Maynardville, beautifully warm in the open air, fun production with a good cast, but an itsy-bitsy-teensy-weensy bit flat, to my possibly jaded, or even drunken, gaze). Got home around midnight. Slept really badly.
  • Sunday: woke up too early, wrote encyclopedia entries. Spent afternoon constructing complicated salads, possibly as an escape from Shrek. Fed complicated salads for supper to [ profile] strawberryfrog and [ profile] short_mort, meeting the latter for the first time (she's cool, and also knows modern fairy tale parodies I don't). Played Fluxx! until way too late (interesting card game with madly changing rules, possibly ideally suited to my fundamental tactical inability to plan ahead more than one and a half steps). Went to bed around midnight. Slept really badly.
  • Monday: woke up too early, gave curriculum advice, with a short break to give intro talks to ickle firsties on why they really want to do English. Staggered blearily into office, wrote incoherent blog entry in attempt to escape from Shrek. Now all I have to do is wait around until 4.30pm, when I give another info talk to what I confidently expect will be an utterly empty lecture theatre, since students work out really early on that only strange Law aliens and social work students are on campus after 3.30. I may, facing my inescapable fate, also write an encyclopedia entry on Shrek, although it won't be coherent.

ickle firsties

Friday, 10 February 2006 09:43 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I have a new hobby: collecting undergrad student T-shirts. I gave curriculum advice (on a particularly tangled curriculum) yesterday to a large, muscular young man wearing a pale pink T-shirt emblazoned "TOKYO LAUNDRY", which, if it's a contemporary pop cultural reference, goes right over my head to the extent where it's completely surreal. The buxom lass with the black-and-white shirt reading "YES, THEY'RE REAL" was somewhat more straightforward. As was the thin, long-haired geeky type (male) whose shirt read, simply, "shaggable", in small, curly letters. (He wasn't).

After the last few days I am in a position to conclude that I still rather like students, even if a lot of them are the stick-thin, wide-eyed, gazelle-type girls, carefully accoutred with skimpy clothing, beautiful tans and a variety of devoted young men, who are most calculated to make me feel old and frumpy. Their tribal dress is getting wilder and more skimpy by the year; if I were digitally camera-enabled I could probably set myself up as a campus rival to Go Fug Yourself, since I suspect that interest value I lost on the lack of celebrities I'd more than make up for in the basic beauty of the subject matter. Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young. Adolescence is, certainly. *considers own wasted adolescence, sighs regretfully*

I am also in a position to conclude that I no longer like Robin McKinley that much. Concentrated into a week of everything she's written in a sort of dizzying high-speed parade, the flaws in her style (memo to self: must work the phrase "emotionally overwrought" into encyclopedia entry) are making me chew the desk and become a misanthrope. Although I suppose re-watching Return of the King didn't help much on the turgid emotion front. Goldarnit, eighth time of watching and the wretched movie still makes me cry.

*goes to bed, miffed*

p.s. today's happy snorts of laughter courtesy of Ursula Vernon's cold-fluffed feathered dinosaurs.


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