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The other day I was talking with one of my best friends about academia. And how it kills absolutely everything it touches. You like Dickens? Take a class on him, that’ll fix that problem. You’re a fan of writing about and analyzing interesting cultural phenomena? Go to grad school, so you can learn to write so well you’ll be unintelligible. Want to share ideas with like-minded people? Learn how to speak jargon so well that you’ll never be understood by humanoid life forms again.

Image Credit: http://cyrano.blog.lemonde.fr/2008/01/20/jorge-luis-borges-foresaw-the-internet/

You too can speak like a library with lungs, just like Borges!

Ah, sweet academia. Being outside it – at last? finally? unfortunately? – feels odd to me. For the first time in a long while, I find myself outside a scholarly community, living in “the real world,” even if only for two years, after which time I shall go to grad school and become a Slave to Academia once more. But this little respite prompts me to ask: is academia useful? For studying fairy tales? Folklore? Does studying something actually partially destroy it, as I’ve suggested elsewhere?

First of all, before you even say it: yes, I agree. Academics need to make themselves – and their work – more accessible. It’s part of the reason why I write this blog, and why I write it the way that I do. I write about what I’m working on, and I write to be read. Understood. Much though I love certain academic thinkers, they specialize in being obscure. Like Lacan! Reading Lacan is like doing mind-gymnatics: how well can you perform on the balance beam? Can you do a triple flippy thingy? Those who cannot do a triple-flippy-thingy are abject failures whose minds are worthless. Or so the prevailing attitude goes.

Some people seem to think of academia the way that Miranda Priestly thinks about fashion. Click here to listen to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada explain it all, as she rants at her assistant for not caring about fashion. But fashion actually controls us all!

For those international viewers who can’t watch the clip, I’ve copy/pasted the relevant text here: Read the rest of this entry »

Yes I am. Ask my mom. Ever since I was five years old I’ve had the same, threefold dream: get a job, become financially independent and get an apartment. Now, at the ripe old age of 22, I have fulfilled my lifelong dream. Ha! And it feels awesome.

Sure, I’ve had other dreams. Ever since I was 12 – which was when I spoke my first words of German – I knew that I wanted to be German professor. But this was a dream which could only be realized after the primary objective was attained: Independence. That was my dream. And now that I’ve got it, my dream has expanded: enjoy it. Protect it.

More than one of my friends has called me a nutcase for being so obsessed with being able to take care of myself by myself. But you see, it’s not my fault. I blame the fairy tales. Specifically Young Adult novels based on fairy tales. Especially those written by Donna Jo Napoli.

Napoli was one of the defining authors of my early years. It was her, Leon Uris, and Charles Dickens (weird, weird mix). And the book which I remember most from that time is Napoli’s excellent Rapunzel-retelling, Zel.

Cover for the Paperback Edition of 'Zel'

This + Exodus + A Tale of Two Cities = 10 Year Old Me

I have a very clear memory of reading this book. I was in my elementary school’s library, which was purple, and had hulking green Apple computers. Read the rest of this entry »

My mother is pretty much the most awesome human being ever. The worst thing about living in Việt Nam is being away from her. I keep coming back to one especially fond – and recent – memory of the two of us together.

It was during the last winter vacation I had, in December 2009. I was busy being super lazy; I was supposed to be researching for my thesis, but I’d had enough of obscure Finnish poems. So I hunkered down with a quilt and watched *the entirety* of the SyFy channel’s Merlin Series 1 marathon. That’s about ten straight hours of Merlin. My mom watched it with me, and we laughed a lot about how Merlin looks like a scared deer.

Merlin: Scardest Deer in the History of Ever

Like Bambi, but British.

Ah, Merlin. He is forever being too clumsy to live. He goes about banging into brooms, dropping vials of Important Potions, and stuttering every time he’s caught doing something Sneakily Magical. Happens every episode. I should know, I watched them all in a giant chunk. And when do you do something like that, patterns stick out to you. This sort of clumsiness doesn’t just happen in Merlin, it happens in *so many fantasy adaptations.* Why? Read the rest of this entry »

My hatred for Taylor Swift is the stuff of legend. I kid you not. Ask anyone I went to college with. Taylor Swift’s songs – especially “Fifteen” – contain views of gender roles that troglodytes would be proud of. But that is neither here nor there. Today I will be aloof, dignified, scholarly, and talk about Taylor Swift, Jane Austen, and the Iliad. An odd combo, but that’s what’ll make it fun. We’ll start with Taylor; the specific song that I want to analyze is “Love Story,” from her album “Fearless.”

The most terrible thing about this song is that I absolutely love it. I’ll come back to that in a minute. First of all, I want to note the things which the movie – both explicitly and implicitly – makes reference to:

Fairy Tales. This is an implicit reference; however, we do have Taylor Swift standing on a balcony in a tower. (Rapunzel anyone?) The song’s title, “Love Story,” is also a gesture towards the fairy-tale genre, as is its opening line, “We were both young when I first saw you.

Romeo and Juliet. The classic love story, no? Swift is Juliet, Dashing Man With Very Styled Hair (I’ll call him DMV) is Romeo.

The Scarlet Letter. Not a good idea on Swift’s part. The line: “Cause you were Romeo, I was a Scarlet Letter, and my Daddy said, ‘Stay away from Juliet.'”

Jane Austen. Here I am not talking about any particular Jane Austen book, movie, or other adaptation, but rather the sort of romantic “brand” that Regency England has become, and which is often talked about under Jane Austen’s name. This sort of Jane Austen has several things: waistcoats, lovely dresses, women with diamonds and/or gold in their up-dos, country dances of the like shown in Swift’s music video. In fact, that dance is basically just a flashier, more polished, less witty version of the dance between Darcy and Elizabeth from the 2005 film (which in turn was a flashier, more polished, less witty version of the same dance from the 1995 mini-series). You’ll find the video after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking lately. This is because I’ve been doing far less of it than usual; my Vietnamese is pitiful, and many of the people I interact with on a daily basis speak little to no English. It’s an odd feeling; I have this whole (crazy, nerdy, whatever) self that I am completely unable to communicate to the world. Same goes for those trying to speak with me, I guess, except their problem has less to do with “the world” and more with “that gal.”

So I’m a mute in my own life. This makes me think about fairy tales! And cultural crticism! Surprise! Joseph Jacobs – collector of English Stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – is my target today. Like many fairy tale collectors, Jacobs saw himself as preserving a vanishing tradition. England, he warned, was losing its folk culture due to industrialization. Also, and way more importantly, they were being shown up in the Folklore arena by the Germans and the French. SO not okay, people. But! In his otherwise rather pedestrian Preface, Jacobs says something really interesting:

Who says that English folk have no fairy tales of their own? […] The only reason, I imagine, why such tales have not hitherto been brought to light, is the lamentable gap between the governing and recording classes and the dumb working classes of this country–dumb to others but eloquent among themselves. It would be no unpatriotic task to help to bridge over this gulf, by giving a common fund of nursery literature to all classes of the English people, and, in any case, it can do no harm to add to the innocent gaiety of the nation.

Dumb to others but eloquent amongst themselves. When you first read it, it’s pretty easy to dismiss the comment as dated and classist. And in a way it is. Though Jacobs isn’t using dumb to mean “stupid;” Laura Gibbs of the University of Oklahoma believes that Jacobs’ comment refers to a lack of literacy in the non-governing classes. And this might be the case. But I think that there’s something more in Jacobs’ comment, soemthing more telling, even if there’s also a hefty dose of elitism mixed in.

Joseph Jacobs

I'm a bald elitist with a large moustache, but I still may have a point.

Thing is: the idea that the underclasses – for lack of a better word until later – can’t communicate themselves may have a grain of truth in it. But it’s not because of a lack of intelligence. It’s because of the nature of communication itself. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been in Việt Nam for almost a month, and I have yet to take a single picture. I find myself 100% incapable of even taking my camera out in public, and even if I did, I know that I’d never have the guts to actually point it at anything.

I had this same problem when I lived in Germany. Ask anyone in my family about my time in Hamburg, and they’ll probably rant about how the only pictures I ever posted were of graffiti. I never took pictures of monuments, parks, natural wonders, anything that normal tourists take pictures of. Instead, all my photos were either of run-down buildings, tags, pieces, or sidewalks.

Graffiti Piece from MSP

Typical picture taken by me. This one is actually from Minneapolis.

Why do I suffer from an inability to take pictures – at lest normal pictures – in public? Read the rest of this entry »

This post is a sequel to yesterday’s post about beauty standards, whiteness, and “the uncanny.” If you haven’t read it yet, you gotta. Otherwise this post will make no sense at all.

I’m going to use this post to talk about the concept of “unheimlich” or “uncanny” specifically as it relates to the restructuring of fairy tales in contemporary adaptations. Sound complex? It’s not. I just mean this:

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter

Like Carrot-Top Meets Mutant Muppets

Now you get it. So what’s that all about? Read the rest of this entry »

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