I really wish I’d have given up on an academic position much sooner. When I tell people about my job now, I always say, “If I’d known I’d have liked this job so much, I’d have looked for it much sooner.” A while back someone I follow on twitter approvingly linked to “No End in Sight: Academic Research and “Time Off”” In it, Amanda Ann Klein writes about her search for a job “that might actually pay me a salary commensurate with my rank and experience,” which is what I went through for five years as a trailing spouse. It made me an increasingly miserable and unlikable person. Then she did something that I cannot praise enough:

What happens when a professor no longer has any incentive to work at the breakneck pace at which she has been encouraged to work since she first embarked upon that great and arduous journey towards a career in academia?

Nothing. Nothing happens. And, dear reader, it is glorious.

I had much the same experience in “leaving” academia. I still work in a university, but I’m professional staff. I work with international ESL students, mostly from science and engineering, to help them improve their writing. And I get paid a lot of money. Like a fuckton of money: twice as much as I have ever made in my life (which doesn’t say much for my previous earning capacity but then again it’s still more than a tenured professor makes at a state university in the US, so small victory there). I make this wonderful amount of HEW8-rank money for working all of four days a week. I work 9 to 5 and when I get home my time is my own. Monday through Thursday I read or watch movies or surf online. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, unless I have a soccer game, and when I’m not running errands, I do research during the day.

I get a lot done. Since March I’ve signed a contract for The Imaginary Geography of Hollywood Cinema, 1960-2000, returned proofs for two articles within 24 hours, finished/revised seven articles and one book chapter, finished the data-accumulation and written a two-page version of a book proposal about spy novels and clandestine geography that I will do after the imaginary geography book. I’ve also gone to two film conferences (one in town, one in Tasmania) because I make enough money as a not-contract-lecturer-without-institutional-support-of-any-kind to pay my own way to a conference. I did share a room with a postgrad to save money, but that’s more out of habit than anything else. I’ve also invited tp participate (travel and hotel paid for!) in the National Tertiary Education Union’s Insecure Work Conference. I got picked (and funded) because of my experience as an adjunct and, now, as a “soft-money”-funded professional staff member. It should be a combination of fury-inducing confrontations with the status quo and inspiring discussion of how the union can deal with it practically.

What I find most wonderful about this situation is that I do what I want to do because I want to do it. When we moved to New Zealand in 2008, I thought I just wanted to teach. But I found, in between hustling for tutor and lecturer gig and getting blacklisted by the PVC Arts that I kind of liked to do research. And that there wasn’t much that looked like mine. And that when I wrote about what I wanted to write about, I could write like a person rather than a research-unit-producing-staff-member.

So this is a rare happy story in the “adventures in academic publishing” category. I dusted off this draft because one of the editors I’m working with 1) praised my ability to turn around requested revisions quickly and 2) then asked for a very fast turnaround. When I felt OK with that, I knew that something was amiss, but in a positive sense.

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Sometimes there’s a map that could be just about anything. This map, from kinomatics, is one of those maps:

ScreeningsMapAus-300x209

This map is part of a piece that is completely dead right about the never-ending calendar of film releases. Hobbit movies come out in December, but stay in theatres longer. Does that make them movies from their year of release, or the next one? The “Hobbit Year” solves the problem nicely, and you can also imagine an overlapping Marvel Universe year.

I’ve run into this micro-periodizing problem myself – I’ve opted to solve it by using Variety’s calendar-year grosses. My approach creates some problems — it pushes some December-release hits lower on the list — but release patterns were a little different between 1960-1975 or so, which made me opt for calendar year.

Release patterns are really the problem I have with the map of places The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug played. The map of Hobbit locations looks almost exactly the same as a map of Australia’s population (from here):

Australia_Population_Map

In the end, the two messages of Kinomatics’ Hobbit map is, “every theatre in Australia played it” and “the major urban centres played it before regional locations.” I’m all for saying the things we leave unsaid, but…

The Hobbit map shows the booking pattern for any blockbuster: open wide, on multiple screens in the biggest theatres you can find, and try to get as much in the first weekend as possible, while it’s an event, not a slog ruined by word of mouth. In Australia you’d then move out to the regions (and maybe whatever remote locations you can find a bit later). For a prestige film you’d hit Melbourne and Sydney and ignore/skip Launceston and Cairns.

Similarly, you could make a map of prestige films being released in North America and every map would have really dark circles for the first cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Toronto. Similarly, the really light circles for later playdates would be in smaller less film-buffy cities like Nashville, Cleveland, and St Louis.

I recently applied for a job in an academic department. I didn’t really want the job, but I wanted to know – I might even say needed to know – if I could least make the long list, the short list, or even the interview stage. I’ve stopped applying for academic jobs not only because I have a job that I really love, but also because I grew weary of writing carefully tailored cover letters. What I have grown even more weary of is the endless “will you be one of my referee?” emails. But I found referees on three continents to support this application and sent in the materials with a fair bit of confidence.

Needless to say, I didn’t even make the long list.

As I read the rejection letter, something one of my referees mentioned during one of our email exchanges immediately came to mind. This referee wrote, and I paraphrase, “you’d be a good hire, but they’re going to hire an Important Department Member’s former student, who is currently “stuck” teaching at a university in a sub-optimal location.”

Something Jonathan Wilson recently wrote about match-fixing in cricket seems to speak to inside-track, specially-written job description success in the academic job market. Wilson first tells a story about the press box in Romania greeting the news of Chelsea scoring two late goals to snatch a victory with the immediate response, “Fixed!” Then he tells a story about a cricketer he knows:

The former Test player told me about his greatest performance for his country. With the opposition chasing a gettable target in the fourth innings, he’d taken three quick wickets in the final session to help secure a narrow victory. He spoke of his pride, of the thought that whatever else happened, he’d helped his country win a memorable victory. Now, he says, he looks back and wonders. Was it genuine?

Why did that player hit the ball in the air from that delivery? And why had that other player missed that straight one to be lbw? The greatest hour of his professional life, he said, had been ruined by doubt, because now he wondered whether he had actually taken those wickets, or whether they had been ordered by some bookmaker on the other end of a phone.

That is terrible. It’s like finding out that the wife you thought loved you is being paid to stick around, like finding out that the friends who laugh at your jokes are actually resentful extras, like finding out that the glowing review for your new book was actually written by your agent’s best mate. It’s like realising you’re Truman Burbank. I can’t even begin to quantify how that must feel, to strive for years at a skill, to work and practise and hone and refine and then to produce under pressure at a key moment, and not to know whether you deserve the congratulations.

That former Test player had lost his faith in sport, and perhaps even a little in life. Those Romanian journalists were so browbeaten by the regular scandals of the game in their country at the time that they preferred to meet all sport with a carapace of scorn than believe a good team could score two late goals against a less good team.

And that is, in a nutshell, how academia has not changed. What used to be an old boys club is just a more diverse club. Or at least that’s a way to look at how the limited number of good jobs get distributed within the realm of possibility. I guess that counts as an improvement?

While I’m having trouble getting Tableau Public to do anything resembling co-operate, here’s a screen grab of the narrative locations of Disney’s live action films from 1960-1999.

Disney Live Actions 1960-1999

Compare that to the locations of the top 25 films set in the US during the same time period:

Top25 1960-2000

There’s much less of a focus on New York for Disney, and quite a bit of the SoCal locations are more or less speculative – it’s not quite clear where the films actually take place. For instance, a number of Disney live action films, like The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) take place in a fictional location – Medfield College. In cases like this, I combine shooting location and fictional location to say that the film takes place in Pomona. Disney featured a fair number of mountain west locations, in contrast to a relative lack top 25 films set there (although the next 25 have quite a few mountain west/southwest settings). In addition, the upper midwest features quite a bit more in Disney – again in speculative locations like “Hickory, Iowa” in Follow Me, Boys! (1966) (which was a film they showed to all of us at Hough Street School one year – a 16mm print that was in pretty good shape, seeing as how it never once broke or melted) and in real locations like the Dakota Territory ones in The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968).

Perhaps most interesting to me is the way in which the Disney live action films don’t linger anywhere. It’s a smaller set of locations, but no place appears more than two or three times, with the exception of the fantastic Medfield. To preview the argument in the book, it’s this set-all-over-ness (and this includes the rest of the world) , combined with a general avoidance of avowedly urban settings, that makes Disney films so powerful as hegemonic white suburban texts – they’re set where those kinds of people are – various anonymous suburbs and small towns all across the country. But more or less minus the south. The chapter after the Disney live action chapter will cover that – first in terms of Burt Reynolds as a necessary movie star and then in terms of prestige films after the Civil Rights Act.

I just sent proofs back for my chapter, “New Zealand Lamb Is People: Bad Taste, Black Sheep and Farming.” There were two changes, one of which was a missing “g” in “includin”. But the other change was a non-change. The “offending” sentence reads like so:

But sheep remained important to New Zealand’s economic and cultural identity; their population may have peaked in the early 1980s, but sheep remain Kiwi as.

The book’s editor, Tom Hertweck, asked me about this when I sent him the first version of the chapter. I explained how “Kiwi as” and “Sweet as” and “WORD as” works. He saw that it fit in with the chapter’s larger argument: a chapter about sheep/lamb in the NZ cultural imaginary is a fair place to use NZ slang.  But the press’s editor wrote “If this is a NZ colloquialism, maybe delete?” Tom, to his credit, dusted off our previous correspondence to back up my desire to keep “Kiwi as.” He’s on the lifetime cool list for that.

Almost the entire point of using “Kiwi as” is to make a claim in the way that the people I’m talking about would make it. I mis-pronounce every placename in Brisbane that has either “wh” or “ng” in it because I completely internalised Te Reo Maori pronunciation so that I wasn’t That Kind of American. It’s not too much effort to “indulge” other English-speakers their language.

FoodonFilm3

The cover art is cute, and the book will be out for Christmas (not that you should buy it from amazon)

 

 

At long last my dream of writing about Albert Brooks has found a forum.Lost in America quit your job

The good people at Senses of Cinema accepted my proposal for a Great Directors entry for Albert Brooks. I have fairly big plans:

Read the rest of this entry »

As I figure out how to get heurist to cooperate with my requests, here are some screen grabs of the narrative locations of the Top 25 Box Office, Next 25 Box Office, and Prestige films.

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 8.59.38 am Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 8.59.57 am Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 9.00.20 amNothing in Australia or New Zealand or all of South America. The Chad locations are non-Hollywood – that’s The Passenger. And Yemen is a weird mistake I’m figuring out how to fix. All that’s a way of saying that the non-US-non-Europe settings are even more rare than they appear.

There’s a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies deadline coming up for an issue on infrastructuralism. Originally I had planned an article about Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines series, something along the lines of “a city travels on its sewers.” But I changed my mind and went for zombies instead. It may or may not have had something to do with Bruce Robbins, one of the editors, writing about zombies.

This is the current version of the first paragraph (I’ve removed the footnotes):

In Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture, Annalee Newitz connects zombie narratives to, among other things, slavery, colonialism, and race relations. Her contention that, “Zombies, vampires, and mummies bear in their half-alive bodies the signs of great social injustice whose effects cannot ever be entirely extinguished” (Newitz 91) is true, but not exhaustive. Recent articles on zombies have read them in terms of, among other things, affect, AIDS, appetite, biopolitical governmentality, dehumanization, imperialism, military occupation, postcolonial hybridity, and precarity. This incomplete list points to how the figure of the zombie can combine social critique with sales. While this is another essay about zombies, it is not about zombies and race or gender or sexuality or class or biopolitical governmentality. At least not explicitly. Rather, it is an essay about zombie novels and infrastructure. If there’s a practical undercurrent to zombie apocalypse novels, it’s to be found in their engagement with the role and form of the infrastructure and planning in everyday life after the apocalypse. Novels like Max Brooks’s World War Z,Mira Grant’s zombie trilogy Feed, Deadline, and Blackout, and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One,imagine not just fighting the zombie horde, but also rebuilding after the zombie apocalypse. For these novels, arriving at something like zombie détente is a matter of public works. In other words, zombie apocalypses in early 21st century American literature stage the danger the crumbling US infrastructure – and the way of life it supports – poses to the nation getting about its everyday business, an ambient danger that practically precludes the collective action necessary to confront social injustices.

(In the Land of the Dead image a highway overpass has been turned into a defensive structure, not a roadway. In the Warm Bodies image the city has turned back to an ancient/Medieval city form, the walled city.)

Comments like this from peer reviewers:

Overall, the article is very readable, but there are a number of sentences which are somewhat clumsily put together. These have been indicated using track changes. Also, the tone veers away from the academic to the more journalistic on a number of occasions.

I would guess that the moments this reader doesn’t like look like this: “Bienvenue is not a great film; instead, it’s a perfectly acceptable comedy that seems to have appealed to nearly everyone in France, selling more than 21 million tickets in a country of 66 million.” Evidently it’s best to avoid this kind of overstatement in an academic article.

A similar complaint arrives in response to my claim that,

Hollywood films set in Paris will, inevitably, begin with an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower; see, for example, An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minneli), Sabrina (1954, Billy Wilder), Anything Goes (1956, Robert Lewis), as well as later films like An American Werewolf in Paris (1997, Anthony Waller), The Bourne Identity (2002, Doug Liman), and The Devil Wears Prada (2006, David Frankel), among many others.

To my peer reviewer, this is a gross generalization. It is a gross generalization that is also true (I had a longer list – three films from the 50s-60s-70s-80s-90s-00s-10s – but cut it for space).

And a great one, that admits that I’m right, but for the wrong reasons: “Lyon, in fact, is only invisible in terms of the criteria chosen for mapping. Nonetheless, I think this is a valid point, that Lyon isn’t seen as a cinematic location in the way the other two major French cities are.” 

 

When Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the US Men’s National Team squad, the first thing I though of was Ric Flair. The more I read about how Donovan would provide leadership, or be a supersub the more Ric Flair seemed the best way to understand what the Human Interest approach to sport has wrought.

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 12.57.40 pm

Back in 2003, Ric Flair had a career renaissance. He even had a brief run at the Big Gold Belt. At the heart of the feud was the question, does Ric Flair still have it in him?

Then, a few years later, Flair was once again at the heart of a narrative about his ability to still get it done in the ring. There are a number of moments in the lead-up to his Career-Threatening Match at Wrestlemania against Shawn Michaels that show one thing that pro wrestling does so well: it understands how our memories of performers colour our perceptions of them.

Pro wrestling can have a moment like the go-home promo between Michaels and Flair, in which Flair gives a history lesson on his career and links those achievements to his upcoming match. He brings out the NWA title he won almost thirty years previous, a gesture that both indicates how old he is and how much greatness he brings with him. That greatness creates The Nature Boy. And when HBK calls Flair Old Yeller, and says that he’s going to take him behind the woodshed and put him out of his misery, putting in place a narrative that acknowledges that Ric Flair when he’s The Nature Boy, when he’s Naitch, anything is still possible.

The most common reason for having Donovan on the roster was that he would come off the bench in the 80th minute and score the game-winning goal when the team needed it, is the very sort of Human Interest narrative that pro wrestling makes its money off.  But professional football is not professional wrestling. The level of cooperation that made Flair’s last couple of runs at the top of the card possible – wrestling being fake and all – is not present in the World Cup. I sincerely doubt that Philipp Lamb or Fabio Coentrao or any player on Ghana’s squad will sell Donovan’s offense.