Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sammy, the Beagle: Stories 3-4

Sammy was the beagle we adopted from the veterinarian who had a kind of informal “beagle rescue” at her pet hospital. She had agreed to take the dog when its owners said he snarled and barked at their newborn baby. The goal was to adopt it to a family willing and able to take on a young beagle who did not enjoy the company of toddlers who pulled its ears and tail.

Podcast / downloadable audio...

My son, who was 10 or 11 at the time, saw the dog and instantly bonded.

Little did I know that his bond was forged of fragile straw, but the bond the beagle would establish with me was superglue.

Sammy Story 4

Life is an adventure. It’s a dog’s life. What is the difference? Does it matter? It matters if you’re the dog, I suppose.

Sammy, the beagle.

Susan, the human.

If you’re a believer in the Great Chain of Being, you’d assume that you, the human, would be on the top of the food pyramid. You’d also assume that Sammy, the dog would be somewhere in the middle rungs of the ladder. On top? The lion. On the bottom? The snake.

Life is not so black and white, nor is it so hierarchical.

Sammy should be five or six rungs (at least!) higher than I. He should be given bonuses for rain, storms, miseries, etc. for his time in the mud.

Intrusive memories are less than pleasant. What does one do to block them out?

It is fairly easy to see how one could seek altered states of consciousness in order to avoid them.

Do dogs have memories?
Do dogs have intrusive thoughts?

It is a good question. So – what do I do? I run. I run, run, and run.

Whether or not this is healthy is not something. I really want to enter my mind.

The living nightmare. It is everywhere.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sammy, The Beagle: Story 2

“Your dog is out again!” The neighbor who was convinced that Sammy had killed and eaten their pet white cat was shouting at me as I got out of my white Honda. It was a car identical to any number of other white Honda Accords, except mine had peeling paint from where a ninety-one year old woman, fresh from cataract surgery, had plowed into me as I was stopped at a red light. The accident had happened a few years before, but every time I saw the peeling surface, I felt a twinge of irritation.

Podcast: http://www.beyondutopia.net/podcasts/sammy2.mp3

My emotional perturbation, however, was nothing compared to the surge of rage that my neighbor experienced whenever she saw my cheerful beagle prancing down the road, tail held high.

The dog was out. Okay. She could have phrased it a bit more diplomatically. After all, she was not going to have to be the one to drive through the neighborhood at 10 miles per hour, gagging on the still-redolent back seats, “Eau du Dog.” Yum.

Sammy had learned to open every gate latch known to civilized man. He had also learned the trick I had previously attributed only to Buddhist monks who could “twin” their voices and sing two notes at the same time, who could melt piles of snow with their radiant heat, and who could “speed walk” hundreds of miles over mountains in a day, as reported by Alexandra David-Neel in her book, Magic and Mystery in Tibet. (buddhism books)

However, Sammy was no Buddhist monk, no matter how he made me mindful of “nothingness” and the notion that reality is really a blank slate until I populate it with the contents of my mind.

Instead, what I had on my hands was a big headache. Right now, he was standing the middle of a busy intersection, cars and trucks honking at him, and swerving to avoid flattening him like road-kill squirrel.

“Here you go, boy! Food! Treats! Mommy’s here!” I tried every tender entreaty in the book. “A pig ear chew toy just for you!”

Desperate to rescue my son’s dog, I parked the car and raced into traffic. I emerged, after receiving brutal imprecations, with a very stinky and resistant beagle in my arms.

Was he grateful?

Not at all. The first thing he did was to pee on my back seat.

Was my neighbor grateful?

Not at all. The first thing she did was to shout at me: “He killed and ate Snowball, you know!”

No one had ever seen Snowball, so I seriously doubted she had been eaten. With an owner like that, she probably ran away. One day Snowball would come back. The neighbors would have to dye spots on her to avoid losing face.

I rolled down the window to let a bit of the eye-stinging air mix with sweet prairie breezes. Sammy was whining and making mild retching noises to warn me that the urine would soon be blended with dog vomit.

What a life.

Is this the revenge of Snowball, the white cat that no one had actually ever seen?

Sammy, The Beagle: Story 1

If purgatory, or something like it, exists, I’m sure that there is a special round reserved for me. It will be a dark place, jumping with fleas, steeped in dog urine, where the hot breath of an angry beagle burns the back of my calves and I hear a low, throaty growl as the dog’s lips curl back to reveal yellow canine teeth, crusty with tartar and leftovers from Taco Bell.

podcast: http://www.beyondutopia.net/podcasts/sammy1.mp3

The dog has just rolled in his own stinkiness to get rid of the perfumed stinkiness of the “doggie spa” at PetSmart, where the blonde beagle has just had his coat gently massaged with hypoallergenic pet shampoo, and delicately rinsed with warm water, had his teeth brushed, his nails trimmed, and his ears cleaned and dried. Sammy: the overly pampered dog who hated pampering. He preferred to be on the hunt for rabbits, or simply standing in the middle of traffic, looking blankly at oncoming cars.

I never imagined myself to be a bad master, an overindulgent dog owner.

In fact, I assumed my “be free, live and let live” attitude was enlightened. Although somewhere in my heart of hearts I was guilty of what PETA claims is the crime of our age - acting as though other sentient beings exist simply to do our (humans’) bidding, and that somehow we humans are at the top of a Great Chain of Being of our own invention, when in reality, dogs are on top. No one openly acknowledges this, but it’s true. Once a person becomes dependent, emotionally on a pet, then it’s all over.

That dog owns you.
Photo: What Sammy would undoubtedly like to do to me if he ever encounters me in the afterlife...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Does Our “e-Celebrity” Culture Affect e-Learning?

Online students are encouraged to interact with each other and the world, and to engage with each other in discussions and debates that meaningfully incorporate the course content and the world at large. News has always been a focal point, but what happens when celebrity gossip and scandal begin to dominate headlines? Further, what happens when the news is influenced (or even provoked) by bloggers seeking attention by performing stunts, parodies, that place them firmly in the middle of the “conversation”?

For podcast, click here.

When Senator Trent Lott resigned suddenly only one year into his six-year term, the reasons for the powerful senator's resignation were lost in a cacophony of celebrity rumors. No one seemed to want to discuss the ethical implications and possibilities -- Senator Lott resigning for $ as a lobbyist? If so, this is an issue that really deserves discussion, particularly in the wake of the corruption scandals of earlier this year and in 2006. But, instead of an intense debate about ethics and corruption -- even among Presidential candidates, the public seemed more interested in rumors. Ethics in politics were quickly eclipsed by celebrity gossip: Britney pregnant with twins? Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie feuding? Amy Winehouse headed to rehab after all, suffering from bulimia, too? Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise controlled by a cult?

Earlier this year, when O.J. Simpson ("The O.J. Sideshow is Back") was arrested in Las Vegas for armed robbery and a host of other charges, his scandal pushed aside the news that France was threatening Iran with war.

When Britney Spears opened the Video Music Awards (VMA’s) for MTV, not only did the awards show, which had been in decline, enjoy a 25 percent ratings increase, the fact that her performance of her song, “Gimme More,” was universally panned as a “trainwreck,” a disaster, or even a career-ending humiliation, generated a buzz that was still going strong more than a week later ("Britney Proves Awful is the New Awesome"). Britney’s performance (stage fright? Tripping on the broken heel of boot? Impaired?) her appearance (overweight? Outfit too skimpy?) made it to all the traditional news outlets: CNN, Fox, major networks, morning shows, late night humor shows, and more. Further, Britney’s performance was the subject of debate in offices, Starbucks, beauty salons, radio talk shows, but – above all – in blogs and online videos.

Perhaps even more telling of that performance’s impact on the culture at large – even if only for its own 15 seconds of notoriety – was the fact that Britney’s video performance spawned a wide array of video responses. Chris Crocker, a 19-year-old fan, created an impassioned “Leave Britney Alone” video while in front of his webcam, which, within 4 days of being posted on YouTube, had been downloaded and played by 8 million viewers. Other videos were parodies of her outfit, her performance, her “love handles.”

When the rather odd photos of boxing champion (Oscar de la Hoya) came out, and he appeared cross-dressing in fishnet and a women’s black bikini, it was immediately viewed as a visual allusion to Spears and her sparkly black lingerie-look bikini & fishnet outfit.

Chris Crocker’s
video became an excellent example of a “viral video” – one that is disseminated throughout the web and gains enormous traffic as people e-mail the links to each other, post links on their blog, or embed the script in their social networking space (MySpace, etc.) His success even led to a contract for his own show ("Chris Crocker: From YouTube to Boob Tube").

It is every parodist’s or prankster’s dream to create a viral video. After all, there is no doubt that people will see it. The average American may not be able to tell you where Turkmenistan is, but he or she can tell you which celebrity shaved her head and brandished an umbrella at a car full of paparazzi.

In Florida, a college student was administered electrical shocks via Tazer when he became disruptive at a speech given by former presidential candidate John Kerry. The fact it was recorded by a phone / camera and instantly posted on the web provoked intense debates about free speech and police brutality. At the same time, there was a very real possibility that it was a prank, inspired by an entire spectrum of reality shows, many of which focus on playing practical jokes and pulling rather harsh set-ups, gags, and traps.

If so, the prank provoked hard news. The bloggers make the news itself. In the traditional classroom, the “world at large” included mass media, but the participatory world of blogging, sharing videos, social networking, text-messaging, instant messaging, and even e-mail did not exist. The staged-for- television rallies of the past, and the “show” villages for media visits and public relations seem primitive and their artifice seems all too penetrable today, with our awakened consciousness.

The result is that the average e-learner has very different expectations about the kind of information that is available today, and the way one can or should obtain it. “Serious” sources, such as television news, and blogs, YouTube, MySpace, may actually have identical information. Celebrity sites such at TMZ, x17online, Just Jared, dlisted, and PerezHilton have mainstreamed. In many cases, the “hard” news services rely on the blogs for their information, which can make it quite difficult for fact-checkers.

E-Learner expectations about current information and its access can be summarized as follows:

1---It has to entertain. As a result, short, engaging clips are better than long ones. They have to engage the emotions and keep the viewer interested.

2---The more spontaneous or “live” the production, the more believable or authentic the video is. Production values are not as important as the way it engages. Reality programs have conditioned viewers to believe that authenticity comes in pixelly, low-resolution videos and images obtained by handheld devices.

3---Authenticity is no longer automatically attributed to the “official” version, or a function of the perception of wealth or power behind the company producing the video. In fact, many viewers are suspicious of “big” media, since it is assumed that they often have a commercial or political agenda, which results in spin or outright fabrication of facts.

4---Viral videos have more penetration than videos disseminated via “normal” channels. Short, spontaneous videos that capture the imagination and passions of the viewers take off and then spawn, producing view statistics that increase logarithmically. The viral video is an excellent example of a “meme” in action, and demonstrates how waves and tipping points occur in the “wild.”

5—Interaction is a must. Viewers want to interact with the e-media event. They want be able to voice their opinion, and to see their posts being responded to. Celebrities provide the players in stories that individuals want to discuss.

6---Celebrities and their sagas create socialization events in the virtual world, and in a world where face-to-face socialization is becoming (seemingly) less important.

7---Elearners will not respond enthusiastically to stale discussion boards. They want to be able to relate their own experiences and discuss issues that connect to their ideas, views, and values.

8---Socialization process that informs viewers in the ways of the new communication norms. The socialization process is not just about the use of celebrity stories to express values, beliefs, and mores. Instead, the socialization process involves fashion, new vocabularies, and technology itself. What are the celebrities wearing? What words do you use to describe current events? What kind of mp3 player or cell phone do you have? Elearners learn more about current trends via the web and celebrity-driven discourse than in their non-virtual world.

The result is that elearners are expected to have discussions and interactions on the Internet that put everything out in the open. As a result, a non-interactive course that is heavily text-based is likely to bore the average learner. The average course is likely to feel like a tight, closed-in box rather than an elearning space where memes can flourish and students can engage in the kinds of real-world discussions, media events, and communication that makes them feel connected. Learning takes place only after true engagement occurs. Engagement strategies that worked in the past just will not work today, and it is important to keep this in mind.

Coming soon!

Doof -- lots of games. http://www.doof.com
Good for social networking and elearning? article coming soon.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Britney Spears and the Celebrity Confessional as Addiction

I thought you might enjoy this video post about britney spears, addiction, celebrity spectacles, dependency on the thrill, frisson of voyeuristic involvement, perez hilton, tmz.com.


Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love - the commodification of personal disaster is discussed from the point of view of a postmodern media confessional. This is a variant of the genre of the confession or confessional.

Susan discusses how the tabloid / media spectator confessional differs from that of, say, St. Augustine, or Rousseau, or even Thomas DeQuincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. The tabloid confessional creates a false catharsis within the viewer that drives a hunger for another catharsis. It engenders addiction.

We can apply the ideas of Baudrillard or Lyotard quite nicely to this; also Richard Rorty.

Your guide is Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D. (looking quite scruffy and anti-celebrity, as usual).

For more analyses of media spectacles, please visit


Monday, June 11, 2007

Paris Hilton In Jail: A Greek Tragedy

Podcast - downloadable mp3 file

Paris Hilton - the drama unfolds as she goes to jail. The drama is less about individual celebrity and more about the nature of popular culture, and our need for archetypal narratives that explain our society, ourselves, and our relationship to others.

If you go to any celebrity blog or website, you'll see what seem to be amazingly cruel comments about a person whom very few readers can be presumed to know. And yet, despite never having met her, the anonymous posters have an opinion. The celebrity-driven public seems to be filled with schadenfreude (malicious glee) at her discomfort. They love seeing Paris Hilton punished. In fact, they'd love to see her toppled from her "society princess" position.

Video Discussion of Paris Hilton Incarcerated

Media representations are probably unfair, but they satisfy the public's need for archetypal narratives to make sense of our world; to make order from chaos.

Paris has been portrayed as arrogant, shallow, self-absorbed. What is she being punished for?

The answer is rather simple: Paris is being punished for hubris, elitism, and pride. One might say that the desire to punish her is more acute in a democracy, where hints of aristocracy, privilege and class difference go against notions of what it means to be American, and the idea of infinite and untrammeled upward mobility. However, the notion of hubris leading to a steep fall extends back to the ancient Greeks, and was enacted in the theater. In Greek tragedy, hubris, or exaggerated self-pride, resulted in the invocation of "nemesis" or destruction. The consequences of hubris often involved death as well.

In certain ways, Paris is a proxy for untouchable rich and powerful figures who seem to operate with impunity in our world today. Self-pride manifests itself in our corporate, political, and cultural leaders, and again, we see that it leads to nemesis -- complete destruction. However, the destruction is not always of the hubris-afflicted person, but of society at large. How many people have lost their lives or their life savings due to corruption, greed, megalomania? Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, and North Korea come to mind.

Not surprisingly, the public would like to see all the hubris-afflicted, pride-filled global leaders punished. However, stripping public officials and the powerful of arrogance and hubris is not possible, so the public has to be satisfied with seeing a politically insignificant and harmless celebrity such as Paris Hilton brought low.

The highly public punishment of Paris amounts to an enactment of punishment, but punishment writ large. Are the enactments of punishments cautionary? Are they examples of Foucault's depiction of Bentham's "panopticon" -- a method of sending a message to the powerful that if they transgress, they will be punished? This seems a bit unlikely. After all, what is really being sold is sensation, and the ephemeral and voyeuristic satisfaction of witnessing someone else being publicly humiliated.

Here's another possibility. Are the enactments a fulfillment of the wish to punish members of society whose actions materially affect us in a negative way? If so, the catharsis that is achieved by seeing such an act is utterly ineffectual. It's not a real catharsis, but is catharsis in an age of mechanical reproduction (to borrow Walter Benjamin's concept.)

When the media creates a "society princess" out of Paris Hilton, she becomes an object, an icon, and pure representation of something other than what she really is. She is further dehumanized when she becomes the embodiment of hubris and self-pride. Media depictions of punishment do not satisfy the public, however, and simply feed the hunger for more.

The media spectacle of Paris Hilton being punished is more sensational than cathartic; it is addictive than transformative.

This is all good -- the paparazzi will have a source of income as the blogs, tabloids, television celebrity shows, and exposes try to meet the ever-intensifying (yet fickle) hunger of the public for celebrity scandal.

Visit: http://www.elearningqueen.com

Monday, May 28, 2007

Slacker Mystics: Gen Y Visions in Joan of Arcadia and Wonderfalls

Downloadable mp3 file: podcast

In 2004, two television series, Joan of Arcadia and Wonderfalls, both of which were critically acclaimed but fairly quickly cancelled despite fervent fan bases, featured young, underachieving “slacker” females who started to receive messages from a higher power, through both human and inanimate messengers. In Joan of Arcadia, protagonist Joan Girardi, a 16-year-old C-average high school sophomore at Arcadia High School, reluctantly comes to believe that the individuals she happens to encounter in her daily life are actually God. The way they appear to her is disconcerting: God takes human form as a little girl wearing mismatched outfits, a gruff, elderly dogwalker, a high school maintenance man, to a punk high school student with piercings and safety pins in his lips, and many other quotidian personae.

For Jaye Tyler, a Brown University graduate with a degree in philosophy, who decides, to the dismay of her over-achieving family, to work as a clerk at a gift shop at Niagara Falls and to live in a down-at-the-heels trailer park, the voices do not purport to be God, but they still give her divine instructions. Jaye’s divine edicts are delivered to her by inanimate objects (all with a face) that suddenly start to bark cryptic orders at her. They range from a taxidermied trout on the wall of a Niagara Falls bar, a malformed wax lion, a chameleon puppet, plush animal souvenirs of Niagara Falls, and even the carved head at the top of a wooden totem pole outside a gas station.

At the beginning of both series, both Jaye and Joan are quintessential slackers. They resist attachment or involvement in the lives of their family and community. Further, neither Jaye nor Joan is religious nor has religious leanings, although Jaye’s brother is working on his doctorate in comparative religion and Joan’s mother is immersing herself in Catholicism. Nevertheless, somewhere within a nihilistic consumer culture in a kitschy tourist destination where Native American myths and heritage have been commercialized (Niagara Falls) or a decaying, ethically empty American city (Joan’s Arcadia), voices appear, and they ask the young women to resist the constructivist pressures of their environments, and to replace emptiness and passivity with activity.

Both Joan of Arcadia and Wonderfalls reflect contemporary culture’s anxieties about imparted wisdom, and they question the assumptions that are embedded in the skepticism that characterizes an existentialist legacy. Yet, Gen Y lives and operates in a world where there is enormous tension between observable, Newtonian views of reality and seemingly irrational quantum world of unpredictable possibility. The generation is comfortable with believing in processes they can neither see nor understand. In Joan of Arcadia, Joan’s younger brother, Luke, is an honor student whose interest in science and physics gravitates him toward string theory, quantum mechanics, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which he describes in almost every episode. With a degree in philosophy, Jaye Tyler is comfortable with multiple explanations for reality, although she does worry about her sanity when the wax lion speaks to her.

Further, Gen Y and the “millennial generation” are of special concern because they seem to be two generations that embody the digital divide. While other generations have learned to navigate a world with rapid technological change, they are not “digital natives” like Gen Y and the millennial generation. Are “digital natives” truly different? If one believes in environment pressure and adaptive speciation, there is cause for concern.

Rather than relying on the latest handheld device, powerful computer, or wireless gadget, both Jaye and Joan tend to find their messages in people or “things with faces.” As a result, one might conclude that the digital natives may be skeptical of digital information (knowing that everything digital can be manipulated) while people and stuffed animals possess more authenticity.

The two series also reflect a certain view of Gen Y’s response to a context that includes both religious fundamentalism and New Age spiritual eclecticism. As platforms for re-examining determinism, free will, ethical dilemmas, and other philosophical issues through often quirky, touching Gen Y lenses, they provide a fascinating opportunity to examine how kitsch and popular culture are deployed to impose a sense of mission and purpose upon two nervous, intimacy-averse, Gen Y slacker grrlz.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Too Close to the Tornado

podcast / mp3 file:

The Medic was not there, although I could feel his presence in my bones, which heated and seemed to boil, even though the early afternoon had suddenly taken on a brisk, chill edge. Wind scoured my face with Panhandle grit. An eerie mustard glow came from underneath the clouds that plowed across the sky from the west.

The parking lot was filled with pickup trucks driven primarily by oil field workers and employees of the nation's second largest slaughterhouse and packing plant. A woman smoking cigarettes with a pink band explained how the company avoided waste. Every last scrap of meat, muscle, hide, bone, and gristle was used -- everything except the tail, she explained.

I felt my stomach heave uncomfortably. Nausea surged anew as I recalled that I was just now recovering from two beastly days of food poisoning. I never quite determined what it was that made me ill, but I suspected it was the fish chimichanga from the Sirloin Stockade buffet where I ate a late lunch at around 4 pm. By that time, the fish chimichanga had been under heat lamps for at least 6 hours.

The packing plant was ten miles away. If you parked near the parking lot, there were no smells. When the wind wafted down from the north, it was enough to make your eyes water.

The feedlot was pungent with an unidentifiable something -- fear and death - at least that is what I viscerally registered, even though it was tempting to say the thought was all too cliché.


Most nights were clear, warm and oddly silent. The short-grass prairie stretched out like dark dreams, inverted. The sound of soft breeze through grass, chirping birds, and coyotes triggered intrusive thoughts.

In the afternoons, scissortail flycatchers perched on telephone lines, eating twice their weight in destructive insects.

For the last three years, I had shadowed the flycatchers. I had perched myself on a line, engaged in a solitary frenzy of work and cross-continent migrations. Not a single animal behaviorist could possibly rationalize my actions, except to say that the quiet rhythms of work were strangely soothing to me. Before my "scissortail years," I was, at least on some level, deeply traumatized by pain, fear, and loss. My response was to fight fear with fear. I masked the fear, even as others saw me as fearless.

I was anything but fearless.

I felt the presence of the Medic in the cold chill. He was the semi-fictional persona I had constructed from a chance encounter. Now, he was a presence that animated my waking dreams and the dark, dreamless hours spent in a room where, when I looked in a mirror, I was unrecognizable to myself.

The Medic floated in on the curl of smoke from the slaughterhouse employees' cigarettes.

From the mustard sky, a wall cloud dropped down. Cloud-shreds tangled themselves in nearby power lines. In the distance, I saw the wall cloud rotate and take on conical dimensions. Before its geometry registered in the limbic system of my brain, before I could have a fight or flight reaction, I watched three funnels form. The middle one achieved a tight, thick tubular shape, and a dark, oval-shaped debris cloud flew up at the base.

The tornado had formed. The F-1 or F-2 twister was not moving toward us, but north, directly on track for the slaughterhouse, toward the grain elevators, and toward the flat, short-grass prairie and the state highways now choked with men in pickups trying to get home, trying to call home although cell circuits were busy and we were on the brink of losing electricity for the remainder of the night and a stretch of early morning.

I felt the Medic leave me and his presence race north toward the slaughterhouse, where his trembling hands would busy themselves trying to revive his gravely injured friends.

I looked down at my own hands, which had begun to tremble in sympathy. I heard the roar of the storm. I longed for the Medic's heat in my bones. The tornado had changed direction and was headed our way.

A lone scissortail still sat on a telephone wire, as though calculating the impact of the storm on one's way of life -- in the flycatcher's case, on the insect population.

Before the tornado hit, its center did not hold, and the twister unraveled like thread, or a fanciful destructive thought, slouching toward the slaughterhouse.



Monday, April 02, 2007

Anatomy of a Scandal: Anna Nicole, Britney, Monica, Karl, Valerie Plame (?)

Video cast - click here.

All scandals, to be effective as scandals, must contain within them echoes of previous scandals. This idea is evocative of Jacques ... all » Derrida's idea of the trace, and Bakhtin's the dialogical imagination.

What are the functions of scandals and celebrity scandals? They reinforce societal norms and help people understand what "polite" limits are.

Why do people love the idea that as many as ten men have claimed potential paternity of Anna Nicole Smith's child? Observing her behavior scandalizes and liberates -- vicarious experience provides a "frisson" of transgression without actually having to break the rules.

At the same time, let's think a bit about the gods of Greek and Roman mythology. Weren't they just like humans, but with worse manners and bigger appetites? Further, they had magical powers...

Are today's media celebrities yesterday's gods of myth and folklore?

Susan Smith Nash is your guide.

e-learning queen...check it out!

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Ghost of Anna Nicole Smith - with podcast and video

Podcast, downloadable mp3

Anna Nicole Smith is already a ghost, hyper-dressed for the role. Her pink satin, the ostrich feathers, the campy smile and drowsy eyes are both a promise and a parody of romantic love.

And, well, where is her ghost? We see it on the web, her image surrounded by a cacophony of voices. They all have their own questions which they only imagine are unique. Who is the daddy? Which pills? What kind of injections did she give herself? Why? How?

Isn't it funny how we persist in seeing parallels with Marilyn Monroe, that Anna Nicole herself engineered, and we simply do not see anything at all to do with other famous accidental overdoses --

"She didn't suffer."

That's what we hear most of all. Who really knows? I think she did suffer -- especially in the months after her son's tragic death in her hospital room where she recovered from the birth of her baby girl.

Anna Nicole, while alive, paid the price of being part of the world of phenomena while she should really have been a part of the not-real, as she straddled the divide between the myth, the Hollywoodized, gazed-upon, the victim of the voyeuristic fanzine, and a stop along the way of this year's Graveline Tour.

Now that she really is dead, a shimmering rhinestone ghost, there is no cognitive dissonance. She is a construction, an exaggeration, a camp elevation of the notion of romantic transcendence. She is not flesh and blood. At least not any more… Anna Nicole is now what she always was, pure camp. Before, we may have forgotten to maintain our position of being in on the joke with a knowing wink and a nod.

Perhaps it's time for a paradigm shift with respect to camp.

Susan Sontag suggested that for camp to be camp, for drag to be drag, the author (or performer) and the audience have to be complicit in the intentionality of it all. They have to know that they're creating a parody and are exaggerating. It's not camp if it's not on purpose. You have to know you're doing something deliberately exaggerated, and it has to be very tongue-in-cheek. Otherwise, you just have bad taste.

Paradigm shift? Let's turn to Thomas Kuhn and the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I always thought he was the coiner of the phrase, paradigm shift. But, I was recently introduced to the French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, whose work on the spirit of scientific investigation was published in 1938. Did Kuhn borrow ideas from Bachelard?

Let's look at a paradigm shift for camp. Let's say that camp is phenomenological. Teleology has nothing to say in this equation. Camp is in the eye of the beholder and "innocent camp" may be almost more a stroke of genius than the intentional mockery of bourgeois striving.

In the aftermath of her death, Anna Nicole seems to be on the verge attaining the screen immortality she sought. Ironically, it's through over-the-top camp television, The Anna Nicole Show. The last time I checked, it ranked #498 at amazon.com. I'm sure that Anna Nicole would hate it that her immortalized image would be that of zaftig Anna, and not the svelte Trimspa spokesmodel.

On the other hand, perhaps that is part of the construction, the farce of reality television that she created. As an exaggerated play on reality television, The Anna Nicole Show was camp magic.

I'm sure that somewhere in the world of phenomenological projections, the shimmery, rhinestone-studded, pink-satin-draped ghost of Anna Nicole Smith is smiling.

The Casket Scarf of Anna Nicole Smith

Check out E-Learning Queen :)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Witch Trials, Peasant Uprisings and the Strange Case of Jon-Benet Ramsay


I've been doing a lot of reading in world history and civilization ... the witch burnings and witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries are very strange. They coincided with waves of peasant uprisings...

A coincidence?

Not a coincidence?

Peasant uprisings occurred throughout Europe from the late fifteen hundreds until well into the late sixteen hundreds. What was the reason for them? Basically, the peasants were angry about the growth of absolute monarchy -- an autocratic rule that looks a lot like what today we would call dictatorship. The autocrats were definitely cruel. We have to remember that this was a time of drawing and quartering. Religion played a big role because of the Reformation -- Protestants questioned the authority of the papal structure.

Likewise, people questioned the authority of the absolute monarch, especially if he happened to be cruel or repressive, or abused his power.

I'm thinking now about a rather strange phenomenon that also had to do with another perceived abuse of power. For some reason, at that point in time, it was believed that powerful and dangerous women lived among the normal folk and bewitched their animals, children, and crops. This was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

What precipitated this rather bizarre belief? One has to wonder if some of the aristocrats found it convenient to deflect attention from themselves by stirring up witch hunts. Perhaps more than a hundred thousand people were prosecuted throughout Europe on charges of witchcraft. Although larger cities were affected first, the trials spread to smaller towns and rural areas as the hysteria persisted well into the seventeenth century.

If fomenting internal discord was a good way to put a cap on the peasant rebellions, it was an effective stopgap. The peasants did not pull out the guillotines and use them on the gentry until a hundred years later.

I've read a few transcripts from the witch trials. After a few stretchings on the rack, the women tended to confess to anything. They weren't even in it, like John Mark Carr and the Jon-Benet Ramsay confession, for the celebrity. Nor did they confess in order to establish paternity, as in the case of Anna Nicole Smith and her daughter, Dannielyn.

I think that the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts were a bit different. Reading about the witch trials in Europe in the sixteenth century has made me curious, though.

Lessons from history....

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Who's the Daddy? Anna Nicole a Human Komodo Dragon?

Audio file / podcast.

One of the Marshalls needs to come forward and settle it once and for all that J. Howard Marshall II's frozen sperm was used to impregnate Anna Nicole Smith, and the father was not one of the twenty or so pretenders, even if one is Zsa Zsa Gabor's Prince (formerly known as Hans Robert Lichtenberg). Where's Zsa Zsa in all of this? She's 90 and an invalid after a tragic 2002 car accident. I suppose she likes the idea of being married to a stallion. I thought of Catherine the Great. I also thought of Royal Lippizaners. That's another story, though. In the meantime, I'm thinking Komodo Dragon. I'll get to that later, though.

Let's get back to the Anna Nicole "who's the daddy" media circus. Could it be Howard K. Stern? He is currently being held out as evil incarnate.

Could it be one of the others? We seek concrete evidence, but without a narrative framework, and without multiple working hypotheses, nothing makes much sense.

Even with them, the multiple working hypotheses we're regaled with -- the conspiracy theories, and the fantastic speculations -- have more in common with fairy tales.

At the center of the maelstrom was Anna Nicole Smith herself -- a simulacrum of Marilyn Monroe -- a copy that serves only to reinforce its "copiness" and to refer back to the real. But, in this case, the real was a copy and a construction. What do we do?

The copy-Marilyn Monroe (Anna Nicole Smith) began to fold in on itself. It began to suggest the falseness of itself. The more vapid (slurring or incoherent) Smith's performance, the more she became a caricature. The more cartoon-like the image, the more it pointed to the real, the original -- even to the point it erases the real. It also simultaneously erases itself. It is the copy that, when held to the light, looks garish and cheap, and even makes the original seem garish and cheap -- not by association, but by pure action of mind.

What was the original anyway? I would argue that the original construct -- the Marilyn Monroe -- was a tongue-in-cheek lampooning of male visual fantasy. Yes -- the image was male visual fantasy lampooned -- "punked" as it were.

What is rather tragic about Anna Nicole Smith's simulacrum of Marilyn Monroe is that is seemed to lose the humor embedded in lampooning straight males. After all, we live in a rather different self-reflexive world, and television has made a history of making a visual echo chamber of itself. Let's think of The Simpsons, as an example. It is absolutely impossible to enjoy The Simpsons without a high level of television sitcom and popular culture literacy.

Could Anna Nicole Smith have been a better object of Borat's desire than Pamela Anderson? It's hard to say. Anna Nicole Smith seemed to be stuck right in the middle of an endlessly repeating scene from How to Marry a Millionaire. The pink she surrounded herself with in The Anna Nicole Show was punctuated by flashes of impossibly small dogs and exotic animal print throw pillows.

As Anna Nicole decorated and redecorated her house, she approached it (and her body) as would any good Hollywood starlet, which is to say she mutilated it.

But for some reason, we loved watching.

Anna Nicole Smith utterly effaced the boundary between the real and the unreal, the constructed and the re-constructed. She embarked on an endless reification process, an ourobourous-like self-swallowing, self-devouring metamorphosis. We could see the transformations occur as she bloated, shrank, bloated and shrank again, and as she slurred, stumbled, and drooped her eyes.

In the end, though, something strange happened. Anna Nicole Smith, although she was ostensibly simply a self-constructed copy of a self-construction (the Gatsby-esque Marilyn), seemed more real.

It was all about Daniel. Anna Nicole was a mother. She gave birth, and kept Daniel at her side. We saw him grow up. We saw her devastation at his death only three days after the birth of her daughter, the paternity-challenged Dannielynne (sp?).

The way she grieved was touching in a way that does not seem to have been a part of the Marilyn Monroe persona, and we had the sense that Anna Nicole disintegrated at the death of her son. The construction deconstructed. The grief was the ultimate effacing mallet of fate.

Perhaps it will turn out that Anna Nicole Smith is like the virgin Komodo dragon that gave birth to five Komodo pups on (of course), Christmas Eve, in a zoo in northern England.

That would be the ultimate irony and the ultimate gift to the media circus. The copy has finally been able to copy itself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Five Things Meme

Okay -- I admit it. I am very flattered to have been tagged. So here goes ...

Five things you may not know about me...

1. I was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, located halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas. My dad, a petroleum geologist, met my mom, who worked in oil and gas lease management, at a square dance at Turner Falls, or someplace in the Arbuckle Mountains.

2. I started my professional career as a petroleum geologist.

3. I learned to play the piano at a young age. For years, I wanted to be a harpsichordist - between the age of 14 and 17, I was obsessed with harpsichords, and even bought plans to make my own harpsichord. I listened to recordings of Scarlatti -- absolutely mesmerizing performances by Fernando Valenti. They still give me chills.

4. My first week at college, I broke my foot wearing 4-1/2 inch platform sandals...

5. If I could time travel, I'd like to hang out with Alexandra David-Neel in Tibet, drink mate cocido with the Chalchaleros on a finca in Argentina, while they rehearse Zamba... de mi esperanza...

My five blogs for the five things meme ...

Albert Ip - Random Walk in E-Learning

Stephen Downes OLDaily

Karl Kapp at Kapp Notes

Tex2All -- the "journeyman curmudgeon" ... great stuff!

Corporate E-Learning Strategies Brett Schlenker

Five things I'm watching on DVD... (I think that the big screen is doomed ... Hollywood will continue to languish as feature-length films played in movie theaters become inconvenient and incompatible with people's lives (unless they are on a long flight)... the future is in the series... the writing in some of the shows is AMAZING.

Veronica Mars



The Medium

House, MD

What I'm listening to...

Kizombas... Don Kikas, Philippe Monteiro, Irmaos Verdade

Mattafix - signs of a struggle...

Greg Laswell, "Sing, Theresa Says" (love the video... reminds me of the French videographers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere... & of course the Georges Melies ... "Le Voyage Dans La Lune" (1902) )

Felix da Housekat -- Now that Love is Gone..from happiness to loneliness..

any questions?

(happyface) ...
(by request, here's a link to "Confessions of a Pom Squad Wannabe")

Monday, January 08, 2007

Loss: A Poem

Click here for the podcast

sleeping under nets
desire is transparent,
yet seemingly impenetrable
where the air sweats

sweet thick dreams
sleet slick freeze

night released you
thin-winged & whining
belly like waxpaper
me, a gift, shining

salty hot awakenings
dark sticky bleed

-January 7, 2007
Guilderland, New York