11.23.2016

Respect for Pete Burns

Pete Burns, lead singer for 80s synthpop/dance band Dead or Alive recently passed away. Burns was originally noted as part of the '80s wave of androgynous New Wave (mostly) UK musicians: Boy George, Annie Lennox,  Jeremy Healy of Haysi Fantaysee, Marilyn, and others. After his music stardom faded in the US/UK, he continued to have major success in Japan, and experienced a comeback in the UK as a television personality and reality TV participant.

Underappreciated by cultural critics at the time, Burns stands now as an impressive queer trailblazer and icon. He was not "out" in the way that Jimmy Somerville or Marc Almond were understood; his reality was more complex. His vocal style blended a 'feminine' gospel house diva style with his 'masculine' baritone register. Pete was very butch -- and a screaming queen. It didn't fit into the categories of the time. His queerness splurts out all over the video for "Save You all my Kisses" to see the gay stereotypes of flamboyance, camp and hypersexuality, with an audiences of rough trade pretty boys and the looming titillation of sexual violence. Not to mention Burns rubbing what looks like a razor strap underneath his crotch.

Yet the earlier video for "(That's the way) I Like It" is more explicitly transgressive. The band takes a macho, heteronormative disco song from KC and the Sunshine Band and musically transforms it into a quirkry, jerky New Wave number that echoes their earlier goth days. The video begins with closeups of muscular bodies flexing, which are later revealed to be female bodybuilders. Pete ogles them in front of a sign reading "No Boys Allowed." The flipped scripts are then complicated by the final shot of the band surrounded by what appear to be the dead bodies of the bodybuilders. This could be read as a containment of the gender nonconformity of the women or, considering Pete's gender ambivalence, a sober acknowledgment of the violence facing gender nonconformists. Such a dark take would be in line with the band's original goth spirit. Ultimately, what is the way Burns 'likes it"? Considering the women and himself, he likes it quite genderfucked, to a degree beyond the cool androgyny of the 1980s pop music scene.
Did I mention that, at the time and for many years, Burns was married to a woman? They amicably divorced, and he later married a man.

Burns greatest notoriety came after pop music success, with a series of well publicized plastic surgeries. These became infamous as examples of 'plastic surgery gone wrong,' and he had reparative surgeries as well. Burns' augmentations and refinements were resolutely, ostensibly, 'feminine.' Yet, he never claimed a transgender identity. He built up his lips and cheeks, but not breasts. He asserted unequivocally that he was a man  - but a man who looked different that societal expectations. This is revealed best in his appearance on the BBC's Celebrity Wife Swap reality TV show. Burns and his husband roll their eyes when people debate whether he's a man or woman. Burns reveals himself to be far from the stereotypical 'wife.' He's inept at housekeeping and childrearing, and more comfortable bantering in a T-shirt with his swapped 'husband," a former UK footballer. Their time together in many ways comes across as more of a bro-bonding lad house (until Burns demands equal support in household duties).
Burns was an ultimate queer in his refusal to define who or what he was. He refused the minority burden of explanation to mainstream culture. As a celebrity whose livelihood was dependent on popular opinion, this is all the more significant. That being said, I really hate the Nude album.

11.22.2016

One week later: Four thoughts.

UPDATE: Notice my comments are all about me. "I, I, I." Not "you" or "we." These are my thoughts about the choices I'm trying to make, not an argument for what others should or shouldn't be doing. I fought against Reagan/Bush. I blanket opposed everything W said or did. Which was how others treated Obama. I choose to long longer perpetuate that.
One week later: Four thoughts.
1. I don't support or want to replicate the obstructionist "just say no to everything" approach that was taken against Obama. I don't support Trump, but I don't think blanket opposition is an effective way for democracy to work. I'm going to focus my efforts and responses to specific legislative proposals and actions. If he comes up with a proposal I agree with, or is willing to compromise and work with Democrats, I'm not going to oppose such efforts simply because they are coming from him.
2. I'm breaking up with Nate Silver. His "we were closer than others" defense doesn't work for me. The polls were one thing, but their probablility-of-winning regularly showed HRC way above. And I learned to pay more attention to polls than probabilities.
3. One reason I like living in South Carolina is because progressives here are not sidetracked by debating issues like safety pins. We've got bigger catfish to fry.
4. I wish I'd had more -- any? -- opportunities when I was a student to talk about electoral politics in class, beyond generalized theories. There has to be a better way to respect opposing views and create a space space for dialogue and deliberation beyond simply avoiding the topic. The stereotype of the liberal, brainwashing professor has created a chilling effect. I'm struggling with this now as a teacher but heartened by the efforts of my colleagues and the willingness of my students. I did not bring up the election when discussing hegemony the day after; one of my students did. I was grateful, but also somewhat sheepish. I felt like I should have made more of an effort to go there.

Some reflections on my experiences with the tenure process.

I started my current job 6+ years ago. At the end of my 5th year, I started submitting my tenure materials and was tenured last May. I do not come from a family of academics. The highest degree in my family was my birth mother's MA in Folklore. I was so intimated by graduate school that I never even considered it (let alone an academic career) for a decade after I finished college. Once I began contemplating it, I put materials in a file folder with a hand-drawn 'scared face' emoji next to the words "Grad School." I applied for an MFA creative writing program and, despite having published a novel, was not even waitlisted. After a couple of more years in advertising, I applied to a professional master's program and was accepted. That program did not include a thesis, and I was advised by some not to attempt one. In spite of such advice, I completed a thesis, for which my program provided no support or credit hours. (To those who did help me in this - endless thanks.) I was told by some not to apply to PhD programs. I did, and was rejected by the program in the very department that I was currently in, despite others in that department who were actively lobbying for and encouraging me to get a PhD at that institution. I was accepted elsewhere, and got my PhD. All of this is not to sprout sour grapes, but to say I never, ever took the academic life, tenure, or graduate school for granted. It terrified me, and my imposter syndrome was strong. I felt unworthy and unprepared for years into the job I currently hold.
Now I am on the other side. The tenure-track process in many ways does not support (or 'incentivize' to use neoliberal parlance) many things that are incredibly important to teaching, advancing knowledge, and serving communities. My research, teaching, and service were all impacted by the demands of tenure criteria. However, I still struggle to remember that tenure is intended to provide protection for doing that very kind of work. Tenure should provide a degree of protection and support for risk-taking, innovative teaching; unpopular or unconventional research, and service that goes beyond mere participation in so many committees. I acknowledge this conflict. It is something like that of strategic essentialism: While we can acknowledge and explore the social construction of categories such as gender or race, for political ends and social justice many times we have to treat those categories as stable, fixed categories. All of my syllabi include this quote: F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
Tenure is a privilege and privileged. It is something with few parallels in other occupations. That does not make it unimpeachable: There are many things wrong with the process. And there are many hardworking lecturers and adjuncts who do not have access to it. It was through a very specific combination of circumstances that I was even able to secure a tenure-track job. I consider myself lucky and privileged (and yes, I mean it in that sense of being the recipient of privilege) to have been offered this opportunity.
I'm not suggesting some kind of Stockholm Syndrome here. ("Be grateful you got the opportunity, boy!") I'm struggling to make sense of and, by sharing, seek others' input on this process. I don't want to take it for granted; I want to make it work. As a tenure applicant, I wanted my efforts recognized. As a tenured faculty member reviewing tenure-track colleagues, I want their work to be recognized but also to make sure they achieve tenure so they are protected and able to do even more important, powerful work in the future. Yes, applying for tenure kinda sucks, but achieving it can help us to do even more powerful work.
As a gay, liberal kid in Reagan-era Texas, my strategy was to do what was expected of me so I could get where I wanted to go and have the freedom, power, and protection to do and be what I wanted to. I played and faked the game in order to escape. That's the compromise I made. I understand this is not the route for everyone, and that it colors the way I look at things today. I'm not making an argument here -- bad professor! -- nor am I trying to suggest there is a right or wrong way to approach tenure, or to refine the tenure process. I'm just talking out loud and sharing my experiences, which will hopefully be of use to others and bring useful feedback and insights to me.

Stuart Hall, Foucault & Trump: New Publication

New publication, just in time for Thanksgiving! Proud to be in the new special issue of Critical Studies in Media Communication on the late Stuart Hall. Final section reflects on Trump's rise from my perspective of late summer. Unfortunately full version is under embargo unless you or your institution have a paid subscription. I'll upload a free version when I can.

ABSTRACT
This essay addresses Stuart Hall and discourse theory, focusing on his essay “Signification, representation, ideology.” Reflecting upon recent events involving representation and identity—US legalization of gay marriage, murders at a gay nightclub, removal of the “Rebel Flag” from the South Carolina state capitol, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—I attempt to destabilize the counterproductive dualism of material/discourse in Hall’s critique of poststructural discourse theory. Finding amenability between Hall and Foucaultian discourse theory, I describe Hall’s utility for discourse scholars, such as his perspectives on ideological practices and generation of new discourses as an interventionist act.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2016.1224909

9.12.2016

Technopathology presentation

I'll be presenting Technologies as Epidemics: Contagious, Pathological Usership as part of the panel Relating to the Other: Viral Discourses and the Self during Contagion, the Society for Comparative Literature and the Arts 2016 Meeting. It will be at the University of South Carolina – Columbia Oct 13-15. I'm presenting Friday morning.

7.02.2016

Fight video article

My article Participation, Pain, and World-Making: Affective Political Economies of Irish Traveller Fight Videos appears in the journal Television and New Media. Abstract: This article examines media participation through affective political economy, using as a case study the documentary Knuckle, a profile of Irish Traveller fighting. The film incorporates videos recorded by fighters and their families. Boasts and threats from one clan to another expand in circulation and become increasingly monetized as they are repackaged. Combing media political economy with Sarah Ahmed’s concept of affective economies, this article explores how, through such circulation, the videos help accomplish the affective work of world building, not only within Traveller society but also beyond it in realms such as mixed martial arts (MMA).

Food Systems publication

My article with Sallie Hambright-Belue, "Pedagogies of Spatial Perception: Collaborative Insights from Rural Food Systems" appears in the journal Space and Communication. Abstract: An ongoing exploration into the teaching of space is the focus of this article. As instructors of architecture and communication, the authors have collaborated on engaging and researching the spatial aspects of a common service-learning project for their client, Feed and Seed, a new, nonprofit food hub in South Carolina. Initially, we collaborated as colleagues comparing notes from our separate classes; we are now co-teaching an interdisciplinary class.  We describe encouraging spatial perception among our students and distill four pedagogical strategies for teaching spatial perception: encouraging students to conceptualize sites and locations as, not neutral, geographic places, but meaningful, affective spaces in the experiences of everyday life. We synthesize four strategies: experiencing, uncovering, conceptualizing, and articulating. We conclude by providing examples of tactical implementation.

Food systems student work

This video shows the work done in the Creative Inquiry class Site-Specific Messaging: Communicating Food, Identity, and Culture. I've taught this for two semesters with Sallie Hambright-Belue in the Architecture Department at Clemson, and our client has been Feed & Seed, a food hub in Greenville South Carolina working with Spinx convenience stores. Students from Communication, Architecture, English and Landscape Architecture works on site designs and messaging strategies for a community garden at a gas station in Greenville.

9.06.2014

The awesome Sarah Banet-Weiser has a nice description of my essay on telephone training films from American Quarterly. She's the editor of their flagship journal published by Johns Hopkins University Press. They also have my essay available for download: "Intimacy Threats and Intersubjective Users: Telephone Training Films, 1927–1962."