My Recent Publications

Haven't tooted my own nerdy scholarly horn lately, so here goes:

You'll find my chapter on gender in the sitcom Red Dwarf in the just-published anthology British Science Fiction Television: A Hitchhiker's Guide. It's an academic critical romp through shows from The Avengers and Blake's 7 to Dr. Who and Hitchhiker's Guide. I was happy to be invited to contribute, and studying masculine anxieties and queerness in popular culture is something I very much enjoy.

I also published an entry on feminism in Gary Westfahl's three-volume Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Feminist SF is a primary area of research for me, and it's nice to know I was chosen to write this entry and that the subject is valued enough to merit mention in the summary of themes on the publisher's webpage for the book.

In 2006, I'll be busy too: my article on feminism in 1975 as viewed through Laura Mulvey's theory of the "male gaze" and Brian Forbes' The Stepford Wives will appear in Feminist Media Studies and I'll be writing then shopping for publishers for a piece on queerness and romantic triangles in three films directed by George Cukor. And over the summer, I'll be writing my chapter for an edited collection called Critical Forces: Reading Star Wars and the Expanded Universe.

I love pop culture research!


Happy Non Religion to You!

I was thinking about how I’m already sick of Christmas decorations, Christmas music, Christmas movie previews, endless toy commercials for Christmas presents, and all the rest of it, and I wondered just what percentage of Americans actually are Christian…or of other religions. With the help of a website of Composite U.S. Demographics, here’s what I’ve learned:

Christians make up 76.5% of the U.S. population.
24.5% are Catholic.
12% are Baptist.
5.6% are Southern Baptist.
4.6% are Lutheran.
2.9% are Methodist (United Methodist Church).
2.7% are Presbeterian.
2.1% are Pentacostal.
1.93% are Mormon.
1.7% are Episcopalian.
.7% are Non-denominational.
.6% are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
.55% are Menonites.

Meanwhile, outside the Christian faith…
1.3% are Jewish.
.87% are Buddhist.

.5% are Muslim.
.5% are agnostic.
.4% are athiest
.36% are Hindu.
.3% are Unitarian.
.28% are Neo-pagan.
.05% are Baha’i.

This lets me know why we see so much Christmas everywhere, why the Religious Right can take up so much space without even people who disagree with their extremism objecting, and many other things about life in the U.S. of A.

Yet, there is another category I found on this site. Did you know that a whopping 13.2% of Americans identify as “non religious”? We don’t outnumber Catholics, but we do outnumber Baptists! (You’d never know that living here in the South, where Baptists have somehow convinced themselves they are the majority denomination in the country.)

The problem regarding Christmas is that we just get lumped together with everyone else who isn’t putting up Christmas decorations, and it's tough to find a way to put up “non religious” decorations that let people know you’re non religious and proud of it.

But hey, what about lights for windows that spell out “Non Religious Decoration”... or "Proud to Be Non Religious"... Think I could make an ebay business out of that?


Why I Am a Critic

I love being a critic. With particular emphasis on entertainment television and Hollywood film and their representations of gender, race, class and feminism(s), engaging in criticism gives me great pleasure on many levels.

“Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to just sit back and enjoy the show?” I am sometimes asked. Or, somewhat less kindly, “Don’t you ever turn your brain off?” I get the dismissive “I just can’t look at it that way” on occasion, as well as the “I hate to see you get so upset over TV.” Then there’s the guilt-inducing “You’re ruining it for me,” which is most true, of course, when a friend or family member makes the mistake of actually watching a movie with me and has to listen to me analyze and gripe the whole time.

Now, in my defense, I am capable of “turning off my brain” or at least actively choosing not to engage in overt critique as I watch a particularly favored program. Sure, I can give you a postcolonial critique of Doctor Who, a nuanced feminist reading of Katharine Hepburn or Angela Bassett, or a queer studies take on The Daily Show, but I reserve the right to opt not to at a given screening.

That said, I do pity the friend who catches me just after I’ve seen something that’s truly disturbed me (like those who had to hear me wax maniacal after seeing The Incredibles and wondering how the film earned 5 stars from every critic in the country despite the reactionary 50’s setting and message that white middle-class women’s disempowerment through return to suburban housewife drudgery is less worthy of attention than middle-class men’s midlife crises). It is sometimes difficult for me to assume that all is right with the world when I fear I’m the only one who makes counterhegemonic (resistant, oppositional) readings of certain popular texts.

Keeping all this in mind, I find it important to pause to note the importance of criticism, and of critics--particularly entertainment media critics.

First and foremost: I enjoy being a critic. While I may at times feel driven to critique for political reasons, I also get personal pleasure from it. There is downright masturbatory glee in delving into a text I thoroughly enjoy, in discovering clever and creative ways of reading the texts that others have not yet considered, in using language effectively to inspire challenges to mass-produced crap that invades our minds and makes it difficult for us to question the status quo. Plainly put, media criticism is intellectually satisfying and feels politically empowering.

This commentary has been partly inspired by rereading feminist media critic Bonnie Dow’s Prime-Time Feminism (U PA Press, 1996). Her comments on the critic via rhetorical studies are insightful and persuasive (despite the whiteness of her gaze throughout the book). For instance, Dow opines, “I view criticism as a species of argument rather than as a quest for truth” (Introduction, 3). Moreover, she reminds us that media criticism is “a kind of argument that, whatever its value to the reader, articulates the interests of the arguer first” (3). Good reminder there: you learn more about me than the music video we’re watching when I offer my critical take on it.

Criticism encourages the listener or reader to reevaluate a text, to see and evaluate it anew. Hence, says Dow, “criticism is not about discovering or reporting the meaning in texts. Rather, it becomes a performative activity, that is in some sense, dedicated to creating meaning” (3). When we do criticism best, we “persuade the audience that their knowledge of a text will be enriched if they choose to see a text as the critic does, while never assuming that that particular ‘way of seeing’ is the only or best way to see that text (or that all audiences do, in fact, see it that way” (4). And that is a real challenge: I must be persuasive yet remain humble, knowing I am offering but one of many possible readings.

And the feminist critic must be respected in her own terms, by “her own equivalent right to liberate new (and perhaps different) significance from […] texts: and, at the same time, her right to choose which features of a text she takes as relevant because she is, after all, asking new and different questions of it” (Annette Kolodny, qtd. in Dow 6).

Dow helps me stand proud as a media/cultural studies critic. In whatever arena (from after-movie chat to classroom teaching to academic scholarship to blogging), being a critic gives me personal-political pleasure and is a form of activism I esteem highly.


Odd Quiz I Took (Because Friends Did)

This Is My Life, Rated
Life: 7.5
Mind: 7.4
Body: 5.9
Spirit: 6.5
Friends/Family: 6.9
Love: 7.3
Finance: 9.4
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

Worth a gander, but if you take the quiz, also take the time to analyze what questions are asked and how. Many assumptions here about what makes for happiness and what doesn't (e.g., more friends = better life, what does "strong moral code" mean and do I really need one?, etc.).

In reviewing the quiz's commentary on my score, I got this, for example:

"Spirit: Your spirit rating seeks to capture in a number that elusive quality which is found in your faith, your attitude, and your philosophy on life. A higher score indicates a greater sense of inner peace and balance. Your spirit score leaves room for improvement. Consider making a concerted effort to redefine your attitudes and focus your beliefs. Boosting your spirit will lead to greater life satisfaction."

Ok, I do agree that in life in general I'd like to feel more at peace. But I think I got this fortune cookie comment because I did not put that I believe everything happens for a reason. And who is this stupid quiz to tell me otherwise! If my "moral code" were "stronger," would I get "You are super happy giddy girl" in response?

I think I prefer superficial quizzes like "What Kind of Dog are You?" They're inane so they don't piss me off.