Live-tweeting Halloween, 2012

@Room34 and I did our annual live-tweeting of Halloween last night; this morning I turned it into a storify. I also included some of my history with teaching the movie in the story. There are a few lines that I’d like to revisit:

The first year that I taught feminist theory in a Women’s Studies department in 2006, I screened it on Halloween day. The class discussed it, along with Carol Clover’s classic theory on “the final girl” from her book, Men, Women and Chainsaws. I remember thinking that I had the coolest job ever; I got to watch and critically discuss Halloween on Halloween! I wish I still had that same passion for teaching in women’s studies. Oh well, that’s another story.

It’s nice to remember that there was a time when I really enjoyed the teaching. I wonder if that will ever come back or if it’s gone forever?

Continue reading Live-tweeting Halloween, 2012

Playful Resistance through Online Reviews

Recently, I’ve noticed a creative and playful approach to subverting, challenging and resisting oppressive norms and the people, institutions or products that promote them: writing a critical/humorous review of a product online. How long has this been going on? I’m not sure, but I started to see them right after the second presidential debate and Romney’s “binders full of women” comment:

There were all sorts of excellent critical responses to Romney’s ridiculous comment; Tumblrs, twitter accounts, memes were created even before the debate was over. For a good overview, check out Binders Full of Women: Know Your Meme. While it was great to see so many different creative and critical ways in which to respond to Romney, I was particularly struck by the online reviews of binders on Amazon that playfully resisted and challenged Romney’s remark. Here are just a few, found on the review page for an Avery economy binder:

I scrolled through at least 8 pages of these and they were all reviews that explicitly addressed the Romney comment. Not all of the reviews offered a critical/feminist critique of women’s roles in the workforce, but most of them did, like these:

I should note that around page 24, Romney supporters/Obama critics began posting their responses. On the whole, these responses did not seem to adopt the humorous approach and were aimed directly at critiquing President Obama and not addressing or clarifying Romney’s extremely problematic record on women’s issues. Here’s an example:

Spending time this Monday morning looking through and thinking about these reviews, has made me curious and prompted to pose many questions.


How did this review intervention begin? Were the acts of resistance/critique spontaneous? Did the first review inspire others to leave their own “binders full of women” reviews?

What impact did/does/will these reviews have on voters, especially women voters?

Are these reviews forms of resistance? Are they, as Time Magazine’s article on them suggests, a snarky joke? How/when can snark and humor be used for critique and talking back?

Do Republican/Romney supporters engage in playful and humorous critiques of the debate? Where? How? What do these look like? What tone do they take?

What is the relationship between critical thinking and consumerism going on here? What do these reviews “do” to our understanding of consumerism and to our expectations concerning online stores and what we will find or do on them?

Why did people take up the “binders full of women” comment instead of Romney’s discussion about how women staffers could go home earlier so they’d have time to cook dinner? Would the latter have been more effective than the former in generating a critical and disruptive meme?

In general, I’m fascinated by the various playful responses to the Presidential debates. I’m still thinking through what I think of these reviews and the “binders full of women” meme. Here are a few of my tentative conclusions:

Tentative Conclusions

Without social media, especially Tumblr, where I first heard about then, I wouldn’t know about these resistant reviews. I’m sure they have shown up on twitter feeds and facebook timelines for lots of people too. While this might seem like an obvious point, it’s important to note the impact of social media on how many of us process, engage with and understand the Presidential election season. Social media can provide many of us (but not all) with access to alternative (as in, alternative to mainstream media’s talking heads and endless polls) sources and spaces for reading, producing and sharing content.

These resistant reviews enabled strangers to temporarily create a safe space for sharing frustrations about larger systemic problems concerning women and work and about Romney’s troubling approaches to women’s issues. On page 8, I found this review:

These spaces weren’t safe (anyone could read them and able to post their own snarky responses). However, they did provide a way to make visible the experiences and feelings of women who aren’t just resumes (objects) collected in a binder and who shouldn’t just be talking points for the candidates. In talking back through their reviews, these reviewers attempted to hold Romney accountable for the less-than-truthful (bullshit) claims that he was making and how they did/did not accurately reflect his past actions and his proposed policies as president.

These are not grand refusals, but, in the spirit of Michel Foucault, small acts of resistance that have the potential to subvert and disrupt. They become more significant when we think about them in the context of the wide range of ways that debate viewers (and followers of the debate through twitter or facebook), critically engaged with the debate.

Playful and humorous responses to the candidates like these reviews are an opportunity to have important conversations about the nature of resistance and its relationship to humor, how/where resistance is possible through social media, and how Romney and Obama address and think about women.

Note: This isn’t the first time that resistant reviews have shown up on Amazon. Reviewers also talked back to the Bic’s for Her Ballpoint Pen. 

Problematizers: the Series

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve decided on a name for my TUMBLR experiments: Problematizers. Hopefully soon, I can write more here about why I picked that name. The post will involve a discussion of Foucault and his idea of problematization + my musings on a super hero named “The Problematizer.” 

I’ve spent all afternoon experimenting with Pixelmator to create a poster featuring some of my images + texts so far. Here it is:


how I’m using social media to make trouble, part 4: vimeo

Today, on this beautiful Tuesday afternoon in June, the final day of school for the kids, I’m finishing up my four part series on how I’m using social media to make trouble (here are parts one, two and three). It seems fitting to end with Vimeo today; I just uploaded a digital video on my one year anniversary of running yesterday.

This running video is the 4th one that I’ve made since mid-March (I’ve also made 2 private, family videos). The others are: Student Progress Report: An Undisciplined Account, Stories from the UP, and TROUBLE: an introduction. It’s been a lot of fun experimenting with new techniques and new ways for creatively expressing myself.

In my first video, my goal was to reflect on the concepts of discipline and self-control by closely examining (and being curious about) one of the few artifacts that I still have from when I was a kid: my first-grade report card. As I discuss in the video, I (apparently) lacked self-discipline. In addition to using this video to tell a story about my childhood and explore a troublemaking concept (being un/disciplined), I also use it to continue processing the loss of my mom and experimenting with how to be curious about an object (the progress report).

In my second video, I wanted to trouble the typical vacation narrative by documenting the struggles and difficulties of going on a family vacation along with the joyful experiences and memories of it. Using footage (done by me, STA and our kids, FWA and RJP) from our trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan last summer, I dissect (deconstruct?) a few typical parts of a story—the path or goal/purpose/telos, the characters, the place and the action—and focus on narrating the “difficult and ongoing negotiations of 4 different, all strong, personalities living together as a family.” In addition to reflecting on the trouble of trying to enjoy a vacation with 2 young kids, I also try to (at least) hint at my feelings of disconnection from the UP since my parents sold the family farm and my mom died. I think this haunting is most effectively conveyed by the soundtrack (from STA/Room 34).

In my third video, I experiment with how to tell the story of this blog. In addition to my voiceover narrative about the blog and how/when I started it, I also try to tell the story through images of blog titles. I was partly inspired to create this video after STA, somewhat jokingly, told me that I needed to work on my “elevator speech” about the blog. Of course, this video doesn’t really work as an elevator speech or a 30 second commercial, but I hope it’s still helpful in introducing visitors to my blog, my research and writing, and my life-as-a-troublestayer.

Working on the video, enabled me to further articulate my current state of being troubled by the academy. In one section, I say:

In experimenting on this blog, I’ve not only reflected on the value of trouble, but I’ve managed to get myself into trouble; I’ve come up against the limits of academic spaces and institutions. When I started my blog, I imagined it would allow me to experiment with connecting my academic self to my experiences and practices outside of the academy. And, in some ways, it has. But, it has also forced me to confront the problems with the academy.  And I’ve become troubled by how academic work seems to more often come at the expense of my meaningful engagement with ideas and with others. So, instead of enhancing or complementing my academic work, this blog has made me question its very purpose. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so, but it certainly causes trouble for me and my ability/willingness to function within academic spaces.

In my fourth and most recent video, I decided to celebrate my first anniversary of running by documenting “my process of loving and living (mostly joyfully, sometimes painfully, but always intensely) through running.” While I hope others will watch and appreciate the video, my main purpose in creating it was to record my feelings about and experiences of running a 5k, 3 times a week (usually) around Lake Nokomis in South Minneapolis for my present and future self. I want to have a record of what I’ve been thinking and seeing as I run.

This video fits as a troubling video for a couple of reasons. First, the second half of the video focuses on grieving for my mom and my troubled relationship to exerciste/being healthy after she died. Second, in making the video as a (mostly) joyful story about running, I challenged/troubled my own impulse, fostered by years and years of academic training, to critically unpack and theorize about why I hadn’t exercised for so many years. In early drafts of my voiceover, I devoted a lot more time to connecting my lack of exercise with feminist theories and critiques of the mind/body split in the academy. I had a breakthrough when I decided to take all of that out and simply write:

What happened to that younger me? I could speculate on all of the reasons how and why I lost my powerful physical confidence, drawing upon personal experiences and academic feminist theories. But not now. Why spend time dwelling on that past, when I could reflect on my joyful present?

Here’s a second paragraph that I cut out of the final script; it further articulates how my choice to take out the most explicit theorizing signals a shift from critical to creative:

Instead of looking back on why I lost it, I’m much more interested in celebrating my reclaiming of it. This desire to not look back signals a shift away from a critical self who tirelessly analyzes and assesses reasons and towards a creative self who, while not uncritically ignoring causes or “oppressive structures” (to use my feminist-speak), joyfully experiments with new ways of being (or maybe old ways, once lost).

In each of these videos, I’ve experimented with learning new techniques and new ways of inserting myself into the stories. I think I’m most present in the fourth video; not only do I have voice-over and images, but lots of moving footage of me running. It was great to work with STA on capturing this footage at Lake Nokomis (on a beautiful Friday evening). At some point, I might want to further reflect on the history (starting with my farm films from 2002 and 2003) of my experiments with self-representaiton in my videos. Ha! I’ll just have to add that to the queue of projects.

As I look over these four videos as a whole, I’m struck by one common theme. They all represent a desire to move beyond (or, at least outside of or beside) my recent past of grieving a dying/dead mom and struggling to fit in and survive in the academic industrial complex.

In Student Progress Report: An Undisciplined Account I say:

While I could dwell on the damage that that need to calm down and conform did to me, I don’t want to. Instead, I want to take a minute to celebrate the 7 year old self that was full of life and passion and curiosity and wonder and managed, in spite of much adversity and resistance, to hang onto it for 30+ years. I started making trouble at an early age (mostly the good kind!) and I’ve stayed in it for all this time. I think that’s pretty cool.

In TROUBLE: an introduction I say:

Now, 3 years into writing in this blog and over 2.5 years past my mom’s death, I’m still very interested in critique and questioning, discomfort, and grief but I’m more invested in what’s beside these things: being creative, joyful, full of wonder and living, not grieving. I think that this wondering, curious and playful spirit is a key part of virtuous and effective troublemaking; it’s a needed complement to the demanding rigors of always questioning and never accepting ideas or rules or norms.

And, as I mentioned above, in RUN, I say:

What happened to that younger me? I could speculate on all of the reasons how and why I lost my powerful physical confidence, drawing upon personal experiences and academic feminist theories. But not now. Why spend time dwelling on that past, when I could reflect on my joyful present?

In creating these videos, I didn’t set out to document these shifts. Instead, it was through the process of working on these videos that I fully realized that that shift was necessary. I love that about experiment with digital storytelling; creating new products is rewarding, but the real value comes through the process of reflecting, thinking through and paying a lot of attention to the images, stories, and experiences of my life.

Some Other Important Links
Experimenting with Digital Storytelling, Part One and Part Two