Last week Twitter assigned Bart a birthday, and I wrote about it

February 28, 2011 at 10:41 pm (Pop Blitz) (, , , , , )

It was crazy. On February 22, Bart was a trending topic on Twitter and no one knew why. Then inexplicably, people were tweeting that it was Bart’s 32nd birthday. As a Simpsonologist, I was flummoxed. I knew there was no reason for anyone to think it was Bart’s birthday. So I got to bottom of it, and the story was even funnier than I imagined. So I asked Splitsider if I could write an article about it for them. Luckily, the editor said yes. Read my article here.

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I went to Fox and I got an awesome T-shirt (among other stuff)

January 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm (Pop Blitz, Writing/Language) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

For those of you not in the know, my BFF Karma and I wrote a book called The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. It was published last year by McFarland Publishing. Not only is this the gleaming accomplishment in my life so far, but it has also led me to meet some amazing people.

In July, I received an email from Josh Weinstein, who used to be a Simpsons writer and show-runner, telling me he had just ordered our book from Amazon and was excited to read it after seeing the course syllabus (adapted from the actual syllabus Karma uses at UC-Davis in her Simpsons course) that was printed in Pop Candy, where I was a guest blogger for Whitney Matheson while she was on vacation. Josh and I have been emailing since, and he hopes to be able to visit Karma’s Simpsons class in Davis in the coming months. Josh Weinstein might be the nicest, humblest, awesomest TV writer on the planet.

A couple months later, Karma and I both received an email from Chris Ledesma, music editor for The Simpsons, telling us he loves our tweets. (You, too, can follow Chris on Twitter). You can’t imagine how that made us feel! He said he hadn’t bought the book yet, but he planned to, and if we ever wanted to be his guests for an orchestral recording session for the show to let him know. (We found out later that Grammar Girl podcaster and author Mignon Fogarty told Chris about us over email, so we thank her in part for this wonderful opportunity).

What do you think we did? We let him know that we would LOVE to be his guests. Who would turn down such a generous offer? Since MLA was planned for Los Angeles in 2011, we decided to double up our trip to Los Angeles with business and pleasure (tax write-off, babies!) — MLA (we are both part of the Margaret Atwood Society, whose business meeting is held during the MLA conference every year) and a Fox visit. And I sent a book to Chris as a pre-thank you that I signed for him. In my inscription, I apologized that the book doesn’t talk all that much about music, but, in the words of Marge Simpson, “Music is none of my business.”

My parents' pool and view from backyard.

Finally, after a nice visit to my parents’ place in Arizona (I know, I know, I thought I was boycotting AZ, too) it was L.A. trip time. Karma and I landed at LAX within an hour of each other, and my very good friend Justin picked us up. He and his fiancee, Kathy, allowed us to stay over at their place. We had a fun dinner with an adorable server who we overtipped. I was still blissfully ignorant of the fact that I was getting sick (I was telling myself that my sore throat was simply due to the dry Arizona air and not drinking enough water).

That night I slept terribly and Friday morning I awoke to a full fledged cold. I took handfulls of the cold medicine Karma always brings with her, and we got in the car. Our visit began by meeting Josh Weinstein at 10:00 at the Futurama trailer (where we swiped authentic Matt Groening doodles off the table in the re-write room).

With Josh, we walked around the lot a bit and saw such highlights as Conan’s old office door and the outside of Matt Groening’s office. Karma was certain she got a smile from Shia LeBeouf, and I believe her, even though I didn’t notice him at all.

Outside the Simpsons buildings, we bumped into Ian Maxton-Graham (ridiculous fans will know him as a very tall man who inspired a character from “22 Short Films About Springfield”) and Bill Odenkirk.

Josh and Denise outside the building where the (writing) magic happens

At Moe’s Bar, Josh bought us coffee, who, in addition to being an incredibly nice guy, was co-writer of some of our favorite episodes, such as “Bart vs. Australia” and “Sideshow Bob Roberts.” Now he is co-executive producer of Futurama, and if you haven’t been watching it lately on Comedy Central, for shame! You’re missing out; they’re doing some of their best work.

At 11:00, Josh left us in the capable hands of Chris Ledesma, the music editor of The Simpsons and, after all, the reason we were there as he had invited us to observe a recording session for the show. We had a nice lunch with Chris and toured important points of interest to the Simpsons fanatic, such as the Marge Simpson ADR Stage (where Bones was being recorded at the moment, so we couldn’t enter). I quipped “You mean Angel could be behind that door?”

Chris also took us to the Fox store where we picked out swag (at very reasonable prices). Karma got her son a hoodie, I got a t-shirt, reusable canvas shopping bag, and some groovy Homer magnets (pictured below). Chris remarked “Oh, I need a new antenna topper” as if we were at Target and he was mentioned he needed paper towels. I got one, too, for the record. I chose Blinky.

Next, we stopped by the writer’s room, where we saw Bill again and met Joel Cohen, Rob LaZebnik, Brian Kelley, Matt Warburton, Mike Price, and finally Michael Nobori, who wrote the recent hilarious episode “To Surveil With Love.”

[Aside about Michael: I've been chatting with another pop culture lover, Matt, over Twitter. Matt knows Michael, so I took this opportunity to ask Michael if I might end up in a body bag or in pieces in the Pacific should I have lunch with Matt alone. "Nah," Michael said, "You should be fine." With that glowing endorsement, I did meet Matt and had a lovely time.]

While Karma and I were tempted to plop down at the writers’ table and pitch some story ideas and/or yank out our cameras and get super gooey fangirlish, we somehow restrained ourselves and exchanged pleasantries. As both of us have “Simpsonologist” on our business cards, we shared our cards, passing some out and leaving more on the table. Somehow the conversation veered towards hamboning. (I actually think Karma brought it up). At some point I asked, “Who in here are we NOT yet following on Twitter?” Mike Price announced that we weren’t following him, and he pulled out his smart phone and followed us on the spot. (We are now following him as well). Another question was answered: who writes the tweets for Homer Simpson? (There are several Homers on Twitter, but one of them is a verified account). The answer: the tweets are mostly written by Joel. Joel Cohen, Mike Price,and Jeff Westbrook write them (but Mike says Joel’s posts are funniest).

We were touched at how absolutely kind everyone was to us– we’ve often worried that the minds behind The Simpsons might see us as bottom-feeders piggybacking on the popularity of the show for our own gain, but that has not at all been the case. Everyone we’ve talked to involved with the show (with the exception of Fox legal, of course, who one writer referred to as “the ruiner of all fun”) has been very cool to us. In the case of Chris, he told us with reverence and wonder about how everything lined up for him to have his job, (from way back before his Tracey Ullman Show days) and I think he is just as awe-filled about the whole organism that is The Simpsons as we are. I think when the people involved with the show learn about our book, they appreciate that what we’re doing with our book is out of a place of immense respect. Plus, our book is original educational material and is not simply a rehashing of all the movie references on the show like so many seem to be, or, in the case of John Ortved, writing a book that comes from a place of bitterness, gossip, and cruelty. (I hated the Ortved book. You can read my review of it on Amazon). Our book talks about how the show can and should be used in various classes, which is a huge compliment to those who write and create the show, and I think the writers get that. Josh definitely does, as so many of his episodes are on our syllabi. And the fact that my email address is a nod to one of his jokes helps, too. (My email address is “marzipanjoy” and Josh came up with Uter’s candy, Marzipan Joy Joys).

It was creeping up on 2:00, so Chris took us over to where the music happens. We got the see the orchestra area and noticed music stands with sheet music that the musicians were just seeing for the first time that day. This music was for the episode “Flaming Moe,” to air on January 16. (This was January 7– very fast turnaround indeed!) The episode will feature Scott Thompson (of The Kids in the Hall) reprising his role as Grady ["Three Gays of the Condo"] as well as Kristen Wiig as a substitute music teacher and Alyson Hannigan as her daughter). Next, Chris brought us up to the booth where we met the venerable and adorable Alf Clausen. Somehow, shaking the man’s hand seemed not enough, so I told him I just really wanted to hug him. Wordlessly, he opened his arms to receive my hug (the first of many that day).

Chris brought his copy of our book and showed it to people when he introduced us, and Karma had a chance to sign the book, too. Not many people have both of our autographs in the book — just people who were at our launch party and just a few that were mailed, such as Al Yankovic (who gave us permission to reprint his lyrics in the book). I don’t even have Karma’s auto in my copy!

The music began and we were stunned and impressed at how quickly the musicians got the music and how few takes it took for Chris and Alf (yes, “Alf.” I tried to call him “Mr. Clausen” and he wasn’t having it) to get what they wanted. We were also surprised the episode wasn’t quite done at that point– there were times when the footage on the screen was still in storyboards. The show is a machine; they know what they’re doing. Maybe you’ve never noticed the music before; if you haven’t, that means that the music is doing its job. Alf’s music suits the show so perfectly and works to create the feel of the scene that it’s actually perfect if it’s not noticed. Sometimes the music isn’t background but is part of the plot, and you will notice, I’m sure, the piano music in this episode that is made in the style of an old silent film. (At that point, Chris called down to the conductor that the music should sound more “upright and less grand.” And in the next take, the piano sound was definitely the brighter, looser sound that you expect to come from an old upright piano). An hour or so into the session, there was a small break and Alf asked if I needed another hug. I did. I didn’t want to let go, and he said, “You just let me know when we’re done.”

When the recording was over, Chris let us choose some sheet music that he signed for us. Karma brought her journal and had everyone sign inside her journal; I had brought the booklet from The Simpsons Season 7 (when Josh Weinstein was showrunner) for Josh to sign, and had Alf sign it as well. Karma and I were sad to go. We walked outside and turned our cell phones on (they had to be powered completely down so as to not interfere with the recording equipment) and I found a text message from David Silverman, the director of many brilliant Simpsons episodes (such as “Mother Simpson” and “Krusty Gets Kancelled”) and The Simpsons Movie.

[Aside about David Silverman: David was the first person involved with the show that Karma and I had contact with, thanks to Twitter. One day when I was working on the book, I tweeted “This linguistics chapter is kicking my ass” (or something equally eloquent) and David responded “I would so fail your class.” When I saw that David was following Simpsonology on Twitter (and after I stopped jumping up and down, squeaking, and was calmed down enough to call Karma to tell her to get online NOW), I sent him a DM and we began a friendship of sorts. He answered several questions during the book writing process. You may have noticed that he is thanked first on the book’s acknowledgments page.

David was not able to come to Fox during the day as he had meetings elsewhere, but he was able to meet all of us at a bar called The Tar Pit that evening. (David did the drawings for The Tar Pit’s menu, and because of that, he is welcome there anytime. But once you meet David Silverman, you’d welcome him to your place anytime, too. He is funny, warm, and remarkably handsome, you know, for an animator. Or whatever).

At the bar, Karma and I supplied him with paper and pens and he doodled for us. Below is the one he did for me, held onto my fridge by the magnets I bought at the Fox store. Sadly, his doodle did not stand up well to the chaos that is my purse.

I joked with David about my holiday card– he had sent one last year, so I was wondering why I didn’t get one this year. He said “I think it’s in the mail,” and I responded with “Yeah, my mom told me the big lies. It’s in the mail. The package is on the truck . . .” (I didn’t supply the third, which is R rated). When I got home Wednesday night, amongst the bills and junk, indeed, my new year’s card was there.

Karma left L.A. on Sunday evening, and I had a few more days in L.A. to spend with Justin and Kathy (both of whom, by the way, caught my cold. I am the best house guest EVER).

Wednesday night, I came home to cloudy, gray, dirty Chicago and cried. The only feeling I can compare it to is when I finally saw Bon Jovi for the first time. I had looked forward to it for so long, and then in the car on the way home, I was let down. Not because I didn’t love the concert, but because I felt like I’d never experience anything so awesome ever again. (Of course, I have experienced things at least as awesome as my first Bon Jovi concert, but do you know that feeling that life will never be that amazing again?)

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The Simpsons proves once again they can bring it

October 13, 2010 at 8:26 pm (Pop Blitz) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

[this originally appeared on www.simpsonology.com, the day after the Banksy intro on The Simpsons]

I am occasionally confronted by haters.

The haters who bug me the most are the ones who say The Simpsons isn’t funny or relevant anymore. So, today, with a smile on my face and a Duff in my hand (okay, a Newcastle), I say with confidence and conviction to the haters: Suck it.

Anyone who was online today (and especially if they have a Twitter account) knows that the Internets have been dominated by The Simpsons. Not what you’d expect from a show that’s entered its tired 22nd season, is irrelevant, and hit its stride in 1993, because clearly, the haters are wrong. Irrelevant shows don’t dominate the media, from Twitter to Forbes to Chicago Now to Entertainment Weekly. Everyone is talking about Sunday night’s episode of The Simpsons.

Of course, what everyone has been talking about is the couch gag by Banksy. People have been buzzing about how “subversive” it was. How “ballsy” it was. How sassy to Fox it was. The truth is, The Simpsons has always been subversive. It’s always been ballsy. It’s always been sassy to Fox. This is not news.

The real news in my eyes is that they asked and got Banksy to do a couch gag. The news to me is that Banksy did the couch gag, the show was able to maintain about 95% of it after Fox made their comments, and that it was kept under wraps– it was nowhere on the Internets before the episode aired. According to Al Jean, The Simpsons sought out Banksy and gave him freedom to create. What other show has the good sense and creativity to reward their viewers with an intro by Banksy, a visit from Flight of the Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement that featured music McKenzie and Clement wrote and produced, an unexpected cameo by Ira Glass, and three of the cast of Glee, and a chat with Mark Zuckerberg, all in just three episodes? It’s not just the fact that they get these guests that makes the show relevant (but the caliber guest stars they continue to attract certainly says a lot), but the way that the writers create stories that allow their guests to shine while still not overshadowing the regular cast (nor messing with the chronology and the flavor of the show) makes the show fresh and germane to the culture, but it also teaches a lesson that the writers of all other scripted shows, animated or not, could learn a thing or two from. This is not new or renewed in season 22: two years ago while we were drafting the book, Karma and I actually named a chapter of our book “The Simpsons and the Outside World: Culturally Literate and Socially Significant” because we feel that it’s always reflected, affected, and satirized our culture.

Last week, The Simpsons was a big topic (albeit not like this week) because people were excited that Mark Zuckerberg was a guest star. During the week that The Social Network opened, a film that doesn’t show Zuckerberg in the most flattering light, where did he appear? The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Simpsons. And on Oprah, he had to give away $100 million. On The Simpsons, he just got to be himself.

Season 22 of The Simpsons so far has been The Simpsons at its best. They are seriously bringing the funny. The writing is sharp and clever. It doesn’t reek of effort and feel forced (like some animated shows I could mention, but won’t, because that’s not the topic here). The show has always been one that rewards close viewing (slogans at stores, etc.) and close listening (puns, inside jokes), and even reaches out to their know-it-all fans and to specialized geeks with jokes, sometimes even extended jokes like last night’s focus on obscure baseball references. I haven’t re-watched last night’s episode yet, but when I do, I guarantee I will catch jokes that I missed last night. Why am I so sure? Because it’s been true of every single episode; they’ve established some precedent. The show has always been layered– including something for everyone, including physical humor, wordplay, hysterical throwaway lines, Easter eggs, and self-referentiality. Take last night’s episode, “MoneyBART.” As soon as we learned that Mike Scioscia was going to be on, we big fans knew they’d have to address the radiation poisoning he experienced in 1992’s “Homer at the Bat.” In fact, when I tweeted that Scioscia would be on, several followers @ replied me, wondering if they’d mention it. And they did address it (an expected callback) but, perhaps to offset the expected, they threw in a bonus, unexpected reference to an different episode that perhaps casual fans didn’t catch: the megaphone bit was a hat tip to 1997’s “The Secret War of Lisa Simpson.”

I am seriously excited for this season and what’s to come. Before Banksy, the Twittersphere was stoked for Daniel Radcliffe being in the “Treehouse of Horror” episode this year. I am too, but after the past three episodes, I don’t know what else I’m excited for; I just know I am looking forward to Sunday nights more than ever.

I usually try not to engage the haters and trolls because it’s kind of stupid and a waste of energy to do that, but because The Simpsons is seriously bringing it, I’m inspired to bring it too. And, frankly, I’m seriously right.

On the few occasions that I have attempted to talk to the haters, to ask them what the problem is and what the show could do to win them over or win them back, it becomes glaringly obvious that they’ve never watched the show or haven’t seen an episode since 1998. I’ve been watching it straight through since The Tracey Ullman Show, and I assure you: The Simpsons has remained clever, satirical, and really fucking funny. The haters just didn’t know it because they were busy raising Two and a Half Men‘s ratings (yeah, thanks for that).

Anyway, why should the fact that some people aren’t Simpsons fans have anything to do with those of us who love The Simpsons? The truth is, it doesn’t. For example, I hate fishing shows. I hate outdoorsy TV channels in general, and all the shows they air. I hate their commercials for lures. I find them offensive. When I am flipping channels and I come across one of those shows, I feel my chest tense up and have to fight back my rage. But do I go on the Internet and voice my dislike? This is the first time. Do I go to The Ultimate Fishing Show with Matt Watson‘s forum and comment about how much I hate the show and hate fishing? No, no I do not. Do I think that sportsman channels should be taken off the air? Well, of course not, because I understand that not everyone has the same tastes as mine.

Nor should they. But they should STFU, as I promise to do from now on about fishing shows*.

So to anyone who has suggested that The Simpsons has lost its stride, I say it again: Suck it.

*Honestly, I’m making it up for the sake of this discussion. I couldn’t be more indifferent about fishing shows.

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Small-time book touring

July 2, 2010 at 3:58 pm (Writing/Language) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

McFarland Publishing, 2010

My main job for the past year has been writing and promoting my book, which came out unofficially in April, officially this month. The book has dominated not only my life, but my co-author and best friend’s life as well.

I made a fanpage on Facebook and started a Twitter account for our book. Our handle is Simpsonology because we are Simpsonologists.

I'm on your left, in the black. Weird Al's hair twin is Karma.

I gave a talk at the Brown Deer Library in May and in June, Karma and I had a launch party in Davis, CA.

On August 21, I’ll be speaking at Boswell Books in Milwaukee (who will shortly be carrying the book). In September, I will be speaking to the anthropology club at Loyola (Chicago) and in November, I will be speaking at the Wisconsin History Museum as part of their lecture series.

Downtown Madison, WI

So if you’re curious why I haven’t been blogging so much lately, here’s your answer!

I’m also planning for a change– a move to the Chicago area. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be living, nor do I know where I’ll be working, but I will be teaching– I’m pretty sure of that.

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Losing my patience with doctrinaire feminism (they’re all wrong about Tina Fey)

April 16, 2010 at 4:21 pm (feminism) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Why is there such a movement towards angry feminism these days?  We need a big tent, people. There’s room enough for many flavors of feminism, but I ask that you hear my argument for materialist feminism.

For starters, there’s been some Tina Fey bashing. This isn’t new– some feminist bloggers have been complaining about Fey for a while. One (Melissa McEwan) even railed Tina Fey (harshly) for not being proud of her scar. Mederma ads must offend her to the core. (Anyone with a scar knows that the feelings towards it are more complicated than just “I hate my scar because of society’s idea of beauty” blah blah blah. And Tina Fey’s is no exception).

Liz Lemon’s style of feminism has been critiqued for quite some time (some bloggers calls it “Liz Lemonism”). Liz Lemon is privileged and white, after all, and has more than her fair share of babycrazy. Some bloggers argue that Liz Lemon and the other characters on 30 Rock don’t do much for feminism. Chloe Angyal can’t stand that Tina Fey is pretty, saying she’s too hot to play Liz Lemon. In the same post as the scar issue above, McEwan shows she doesn’t get the humor of 30 Rock by explaining her irritation with the behavior of Jenna (she’s a joke, Melissa–a caricature of the diva).  She also completely misses the point of a joke made at Maxim‘s expense.

This week, Rebecca Traister wrote a very terrific and interesting article for Salon about the Tina Fey backlash, which has gained steam after feminist complaints about several of the sketches Fey appeared in during her recent SNL hosting gig. Normally, the flavor and quality of a sketch wouldn’t be pushed onto the guest host, but because Fey had formerly been head writer for the show, and because so many of the sketches had that distinct Fey humor about them, it’s safe, I think, to assume that she had some part in writing most of Saturday’s show.

Is it anti-feminist to mock Sarah Palin’s stupidity or Bombshell McGee’s homewrecking skills? What’s terrible is that someone on Twitter (who calls herself a feminist) suggested that Fey’s husband is cheating on her because Fey took issue with Bombshell McGee during Weekend Update. I say it’s more anti-feminist that women like Sarah Palin and Bombshell McGee exist; for a comedian to critique/mock their behavior (especially a female comedian) brings some equilibrium to the situation. We do feminism no favors by protecting women like Bombshell McGee and Sarah Palin. They need to be called out on their crap and crimes against other women, as Tina did so well on Saturday.

Consider the brownie husband sketch for a moment.

I’m tempted to write about how it reminds me of a certain Simpsons episode in which Homer behaves quite the same way in a motel room, but I’ll let that go. For now. In the meantime, let’s consider what the feminists have to say. One says that Fey is using this “pathetic single woman” trope as a refrain. (Referring also to Liz Lemon). To them I say, it’s comedy! Lighten up! We want freedom in comedy; we don’t want to be tiptoed around, do we? We can’t have it both ways, girls.

And besides, as I watched and rewatched the commercial, it seems to me that the parody is more of a joke on dating and how much it sucks, difficulty of finding the right guy, etc. etc. Women are not so simple as to just need chocolate at the end of the day, and men are not so simple as to be easily replaced by chocolate at the end of the day. Fey’s humor is more layered than she’s often credited for.

It wasn’t so long ago that male comedians contended that no women were funny. Fey became the first female head writer of SNL, and she didn’t turn it into a comedy show for female audiences. In fact, she wrote some of the best SNL since its second heyday in the late ’80s. She should have written sketches that were just plain funny and not necessarily worrying about them being pro-woman, and that’s what she did.

If Tina Fey stuck to comedy that didn’t mock or satirize women, it would fall flat. Women are over half the population, for chrissakes. We do a lot of funny stuff. We might even do half of all the stupid things done in any given day. Why, just the other day, a female friend of mine (with an MBA) went to lick whipped cream off her finger and forgot she was holding a mocha, consequently pouring hot mocha down her shoulder. Comedy gold! And doesn’t the fact that women can be mocked show that we’ve come a long way, babies? We all know the rules of comedy: it’s not funny to pick on underdogs and underlings. And Sarah Palin and Bombshell McGee are not weak. They can, and should, take it. And frankly, it would be anti-feminist to ask her to keep her critique of women out of her comedy. Instead of picking on Fey, I think these old school feminists should be railing against Lifetime, because that channel epitomizes the kind of simplification of women, their tastes, and their concerns that actually does do damage to feminism.

But what’s really got my undies in a bunch is attitudes such as Sady Doyle’s. She says:

Feminism is for women, but Tina Fey’s Feminism seems like it’s for  … Tina Fey

This makes me angry because this kind of attitude sends feminism back a decade or two. First of all, Tina Fey (nor anyone) owes feminism nothing except to be true to herself. She’s a comedian: the only thing she owes us is laughter. That’s the kind of freedom feminism has fought for!

Secondly, feminism is not for women. Feminism is for everyone. What is the point of a social movement that promotes any group over another? Feminism’s top concern is for all-around equality regardless of sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, age, socio-economic background, religion (or lack there of), etc. This is what materialist feminism is all about. Feminism illuminates the fact that white men (simply for being white men) having had the upper hand, more choices, more money, more respect, etc. etc. for so long is not right.

Electing Barack Obama President is just as much a boon for feminism as electing Hillary Clinton would have been.

Maybe there’s a problem inherent in the word “feminism” as it sounds like it means “pro-woman.” It really means “pro-equality.” Of course, I will argue up and down for years and years that people (like Tina Fey) should have their own flavor of feminism, (and should be allowed to be photographed from whichever side they prefer) but this doctrinaire, anti-male, anti-freedom feminism that attacks people like Tina Fey gets us nowhere. When feminism comes across as anti-male (and as though feminism is only for women), people are turned off of feminism. It makes young girls not want to call themselves feminists because the idea of seeming like a radical, man-hating bulldyke is unappealing to many girls, shockingly enough. It makes men of all ages not identify as feminists because they don’t feel welcome here. I, for one, want anyone who believes in equality to feel comfortable identifying as feminist; and to achieve this goal, we feminists have to stop claiming feminism is only for and about women (and particular types of women at that). Let’s ditch the negativity and the exclusion, girls! Melissa, Chloe, Amanda, Sady . . . I ask you all to rethink your dated, doctrinaire approaches to feminism and join me in 2010. Join me in the type of feminism where men and boys are welcome and women get called out on their reprehensible behavior (if they are guilty of it), just as we call men out.

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My book on The Simpsons is coming out next month!

April 4, 2010 at 9:42 pm (Working Life, Writing/Language) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Several years ago, Karma (my BFF) and I were at a conference and presented papers on a panel about using humor/pop culture in the classroom to reach various pedagogical goals. Karma and I are big proponents of using entertainment to reach our students (hey, if infotainment is good enough for Jon Stewart, it’s good enough for me). We especially like using familiar media to teach our students, because through that method, they are tricked into learning. Students get comfortable with new topics before they even realize it. After our panel, a rep from an academic publisher asked if we were interested in writing a book. We were, but time passed and we didn’t hear from them for a couple years. In mid 2008, we began serious talks with the publisher and started work on the book for real. Our publisher wanted us to focus on using The  Simpsons in the classroom– we were open to discussing several types of pop culture. For example, we both use The Kids in the Hall and Eddie Izzard, and Karma uses Monty Python quite a bit in class. We wrote proposals and preliminary chapters, and they liked what they saw, so it was a go! This not one of the KITH  sketches I used in class, but it’s probably my favorite, so enjoy:

At the end of December, while I just happened to be visiting Karma, the contract arrived. We celebrated (manuscript due date: Oct 2009).

Karma and I celebrate our book deal in Dec. 2008.

It seemed like a long time and generous enough, but we had a lot to write.  We spent most of 2009 writing like madwomen. One of us would start drafting a chapter, then we’d email these drafts back and forth to each other, adding material, making edits, and attempting to equalize the writing style so that the book would sound like one speaker instead of having two distinctive voices (I hope we succeeded).  In addition to writing chapters on teaching composition, literature, cultural studies, and postmodernism, we also wrote an annotated bibliography of Simpsons resources, plus, we created an episode guide with teaching points for each episode that had aired up to the point the manuscript was sent it. That was 442 episodes, friends. That was a lot of Simpsons viewing,  but it was a lot of work! I will always remember the summer of 2009 as the summer of watching and writing about The Simpsons (It was also the summer I got laid off from my position as a full-time technical writer, but I suspect that memory will take a backseat to the writing of the book).

I set up a fanpage on Facebook and invited all of my friends, some of them multiple times. (I still don’t know why a person who will become a fan of  “sleeping in on Saturdays,” White Castle, and “I love it when someone you miss randomly texts you” but won’t be a fan of my book! I mean, all of my FB friends theoretically know who I am– wouldn’t a friend want to support me?) I also set up a Twitter account, and built on the companion website that one of Karma’s interns started for us. The way I figure, the book is so cool that the only thing that would get in the way of like-minded folk from buying our book is not knowing about our book. So I wanted to get it on the internets.  I was so happy to have these distractions when I needed a break from writing– I am very easily annoyed (children screaming, dogs barking, etc.) but since so much work relied upon DVDs, I couldn’t go to quiet places every day.

Interestingly, our publisher decided to title our book Teaching with The Simpsons: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. (I had suggested “Schooled by The Simpsons,” but they didn’t nibble).  The art department starting work on our book cover before we had actually finished the book. The first version was good, but there was something that bugged me. It was this human-looking hand, but yellow like a Springfielder:

Original book cover

I sent an email telling them that I liked the cover, but that the human-looking hand was problematic and that I really wished it would be cartoonized.

In the meantime, Karma and I were still writing and editing like crazy. I had an easier time of it as I wasn’t working so I treated the book writing as my full time job. I would sleep in, get some caffeine and something to eat and stay in my bedroom for many hours, with The Simpsons in the DVD player, the books I was using as reference surrounding me, frequent visits from my feline pals, and breaks for Wordscraper and Lexulous on Facebook (and of course, lots and lots of tweeting as myself as “duve” and in promotion of the book as “Simpsonology.”) One day, I tweeted something about the linguistics chapter really kicking my ass, and I got an @reply from “Tubatron” that read “I would so fail your class.” After the hyperventilating and incoherent squeaks subsided, I called Karma and told her to get on Twitter stat. The reason we were stoked is that “Tubatron” is David Silverman, the director of The Simpsons Movie and longtime illustrator, producer, and director of the television show. In fact, he is often credited as the first to suggest The Simpsons could be its own show.

The art department at the publisher got back to us with a revised cover, and we were much happier– they did what we suggested, and changed the hand writing on the board to one that looked considerably less human:

Updated cover-- the real deal!

This updated cover, and the fact that the editors sent us a list of questions about changes they wanted to make, gave  us a very positive feeling about McFarland Publishers. I have heard horror stories of editors editing in errors, and I experienced that when I wrote for my college newspaper as an undergrad at the University of South Dakota. (I was not sad when the school year ended because I got so angry at what they had done to my pieces. I didn’t go back the next year– instead I stuck to the English department where I worked for the literary magazine and got to host a radio show on KAOR. Much cooler than writing movie reviews and weird cultural pieces for the Volante).

Eventually, Oct. 1 came around. Since I had more time, I volunteered to be the one to send in the manuscript. They required a paper copy and a matching disk. I fried a brand-new printer cartridge on the 318-page manuscript.  (I was being an ethical person and didn’t do it at work. Yes, I know I said I wasn’t working, but I’m an adjunct at Milwaukee School of Engineering. I don’t always have classes assigned to me, but I’m always an employee, and my I.D. gets me into the office where the magic copier lives. But alas, I didn’t do it there.)

Thus begins the waiting game. And, Homer so eloquently told us in “Mr. Plow,”  the waiting game sucks.

Sometime in February (or was it early March?), the proofs arrived. My job was to proofread the drafts and create the index. McFarland gave Karma access to a PDF online, and they gave me the user name and password, but for some reason, I couldn’t get in. So for a whole weekend, I created an index the old-fashioned way, by reading the paper draft and typing the index items. Okay, not so old-fashioned, as I used Word and not a typewriter. But my point is that I didn’t have the luxury of Ctrl + F until I was able to access the PDF on Tuesday, when I was pretty much done with the index.

Creating an index is actually kind of fun in technical documents– when I created a huge users’ guide when I was a tech writer, I didn’t mind updating the index. For one thing, in FrameMaker, it’s very easy and automatic (I didn’t have to rely on my own ability to alphabetize!), but for this book, it was a huge, difficult task. I did put a couple easter eggs in the index (little inside jokes as treats for big Simpsons fans like Karma and me. I won’t tell you what they are or else they won’t be treats anymore, but here’s a hint: one has to do with Lenny).

So where we stand now:

It’s like this. McFarland is in the process of printing our book. They haven’t given us a firm date yet, but Amazon says May 4. I’d like a date because I’ve got some penciled-in events to schedule in ink, and I’d really like to do that! I’ll be speaking at the Brown Deer library and  Lost World of Wonders (both in Milwaukee) and hopefully more places and events. Karma and I will keep our website (www.simpsonology.com) and Facebook fanpage updated with news.

I put all this down because several people have asked me the story of how this book came about. People (including me!) are often astonished that we got to write a book about something that has brought us such joy for so many years. But trust me– we’ve paid our dues. You don’t know how much writing we did in graduate school. I remember a particularly painful religious historiography paper I wrote for a medieval lit class, not to mention the torture that is a master’s thesis!

Our situation isn’t typical, of course. While we did write a formal proposal for McFarland, we never had to shop around a proposal like so many writers do. We’ve never even talked to any other publishers about this idea.

I am working on a novel now. And this experience with book writing will be considerably different, I am sure. For one, I’ll have to find an agent, and from what I’ve heard, I’ll have to have the book done before I even start bugging potential agents.

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Screw You!

August 23, 2009 at 9:05 pm (Relationships, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Today, a tweet by Mindy Kaling got my attention. The tweet read “If a girl ever leaves jewelry or an item of clothing at your house after she spends the night, it is never, ever, ever an accident.” I know that she’s right, and I’m now inspired to write about the top ways I’ve found out I was being cheated on. You’ll see why at #5. So here they are in no particular order:

1. In the car with a mutual friend, singing along with “Always the Last to Know”  by the band Del Amitri, the friend says “Yep, you’re always the last to know.” When pressed, the friend verified that yes, he was telling me that my BF was seeing someone else, but he wouldn’t say who. I asked the BF, who gave it away quite easily.

2. An acquaintence overheard me lamenting to a friend that things weren’t going well with the BF, and she piped up with the information “He’s with Sasha now. I thought you knew that.” (Yes, same guy as #1. I don’t learn quickly).

3. During a hug with a BF, I could feel scabs through his shirt. So I walked around to his back, lifted up his shirt, and saw ginormous scratches. (Not the same guy as 1 & 2). I asked who did it, and he told me. I had to see her every day (in the same Love & Rockets t-shirt pretty much every day) in Spanish class.

4. I had a hunch that another girl wasn’t “just a friend,” so I asked her best friend if anything was going on between the two of them. She said no, but I could tell she was lying. So then I pushed it: I told her that I had gotten a sexually transmitted disease from the guy (total lie), and that she should tell her friend if there was even a remote chance so she could be treated. Well, that did it. She crumbled like a stale cookie. (It went something like this: Oh, poor “____”. She really believed him too that you two were broken up and that he wanted blah, blah.blah . . .”).

5. My personal favorite: Driving in my car after a boyfriend had borrowed it, I noticed on the gear shift a pair of thin, HUGE, hootchie-mama gold hoop earrings. And by huge, I mean the circumference of bangle bracelets, which is what I thought they were until a closer inspection.

So, gentle readers, I invite you to share your stories. Especially people who were screwed over by women (my exes are welcome to contribute, as long as they don’t use my name), as I don’t want to imply that only men are capable of being scummy.

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What Else is our Favorite Family Up To? (Matchflick column RE: Simpsons talent)

August 11, 2009 at 7:19 pm (Pop Blitz) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

 

 

 Spare him your euphemisms!

Spare him your euphemisms! 
 In my last column, I had the opportunity to talk about the sexy and talented Hank Azaria and his work outside of The Simpsons, which got me to thinking about the other amazing artists involved with The Simpsons but whose careers are not limited to the show. It’s hard to imagine these brilliant artists have the time and energy to do more than create our favorite show about our favorite family, but indeed they do!

For example, the people who supply some of our favorite voices have no shortage of work, such as Russi Taylor and Tress MacNeille, who work together also on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Taylor provides the voice of one of my faves, Martin Prince, and as well as Sherri & Terri, among others. MacNeille also supplies many character voices; among my faves are Jimbo, Brandine, and Agnes Skinner (quite the range, eh?)

Yeardley Smith is best known for being the voice of Lisa Simpson, but she also starred in the ever-cherished Herman’s Head, played the only likeable character in AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997), and was Putter in THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN (1985). And sisters, if you have not seen BILLIE JEAN, do yourself a favor and put it on your queue! It’s even more feminist, provocative, and energizing now than it was back when I was a tweener, when “Fair

 

 
He looks sweet and mild, but don't tick him off.

He looks sweet and mild, but don’t tick him off.    

 

is fair” struck me as more than just an illogical catchphrase and “Invincible” by Pat Benatar was an inspiring anthem.

Harry Shearer is the voice behind many of the funniest and/or most beloved Simpsons characters, such as Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, Burns, Smithers, Otto, Reverend Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Lenny, and, of course, Scratchy (among many, many others). But with his versatile voice and terrific singing ability, Shearer has appeared in oodles of films, including his role as G. Gordon Liddy in DICK (1999) and perhaps most famously as Derek Smalls in THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984). He also shows off those pipes in A MIGHTY WIND (2003), which might be the most underrated of the Guest, et al films.

David Silverman has been with the The Simpsons since its birth on The Tracey Ullman Show as animator, producer, creative consultant (whatever that is) and director – in addition to directing many episodes of the show, Silverman brilliantly directed THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (2007). In 2005, he got in front of the camera to teach a drawing lesson (watch “Goo Goo Gai Pan” on Hulu or wherever if you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ll thank me).

Silverman has also worked for Pixar and DreamWorks – he co-directed THE ROAD TO EL DORADO and the sassy MONSTERS,

 

 
I really liked her on Dharma and Greg, too.

I really liked her on Dharma and Greg, too.    

 

INC. with UP and WALL-E’s Pete Docter (a fellow Minnesotan, I might add) and was storyboard artist on ROBOTS.

Clearly, Silverman’s career of the last 20 years or so is impressive, sure, but perhaps the most intriguing thing you’ll find on Silverman’s IMDb page is the head animator credit (albeit spelled incorrectly) for the short TOM WAITS FOR NO ONE. In the 1990s, other Tom Waits fans and I spoke in hushed, revered tones of this film, not knowing whether to believe those who claimed to have seen it, but being jealous of them all the same just in case it could be true. If only we’d had YouTube, like the spoiled college kids of today:
According to Variety, Silverman is slated to direct a live-action film for MGM, an adaptation of the children’s book The Facttracker. Also on his schedule, IMDb reports Silverman will be directing a Disney film called THE PET,

 

 
Drawin' Krusty. Just another day at the office.

Drawin’ Krusty. Just another day at the office.    

 

in which a group of aliens make a human their pet. Let’s just hope he’s not a businessman, which is a big responsibility. (Inside Kids in the Hall reference, which I hope you get).

If you’re not already following Silverman on Twitter*, do so now (tubatron). He’s funny, announces his groups’ appearances around LA (They are called Vaud and the Villains– hint: his handle is “tubatron” for a reason!) and likes to share the occasional photo (like the one I borrowed above). And maybe eventually he’ll share some 140-character anecdotes about his upcoming films with his followers as he sees fit (hint hint).

*If you’re not already following me on Twitter, what’s wrong with you? You can follow me (duve) and/or the awesome duo of Dr. Karma and me (Simpsonology).

Happy Father’s day, fathers!
xoxo,
Du

 

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Laura Ingraham: Quit Talking about Our Bodies!

March 17, 2009 at 8:56 pm (feminism, Pop Blitz, Uncategorized, Writing/Language) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you didn’t know who Meghan McCain was last week, you probably do now. And it’s probably because of Laura Ingraham, a right-wing radio host who does not want anyone to hear McCain out. But the ironic thing is, she has drawn mega attention to McCain by calling her, among other things, a “useful idiot” who is being used by the media.  Ingraham is trying to convince people that they shouldn’t be listening to Meghan McCain because she is young (a “Valley-girl gone awry”), attractive, and not thin, but in doing so, she has helped McCain get more TV and Internet exposure than she had during the whole Presidential campaign! (Hey, I would never have written a blog entry about Meghan McCain if it weren’t for Laura Ingraham).

Ingraham hasn’t attacked McCain’s ideas, because that would make sense and doesn’t follow the m.o. of the radical right; rather, she has attacked McCain’s physical characteristics and age: Yes, in addition to that Valley girl comment, she called her a “plus-size model” hoping to be picked for an “MTV show.”

Is Meghan McCain considerably more attractive than Laura Ingraham? Yes, but not that it matters. Is Laura Ingraham thinner than Meghan McCain? Yes, but not that it matters. Is Meghan McCain younger than Laura Ingraham? Why, yes, by over 20 years. But not that it matters. I’m not quite sure what Ingraham hoped to accomplish, but I’m guessing it wasn’t the actual result: a bevy of articles and blog entries like this one, where their photographs are placed side-by-side:

Meghan McCain

Meghan McCain

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham

In response to McCain’s request over Twitter that Ingraham stop talking about her body, Ingraham said: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the punditry business.” Next time, just for fun, Meghan should pretend that she’s had a change of heart and is now a pro-life conservative. Then she’ll really see how the Mean Girls treatment feels” (Times Online).

Say, what?!

Being a pundit means people get to critique your body all they want? Awesome, that  means we’re allowed to call Rush Limbaugh a big, fat idiot– Sweet! Accurate as it is, I’ve grown a tidge bored with the “hypocritical druggie” bashing I’ve stuck to for a past couple of years.

Or is Laura just hazing the new girl into the GOP’s Blonde Pundit Sorority? Did Peggy Noonan inflict a harsh, secret initiation ritual on Dana Perino? Hot! If only the GGW cameras had caught that moment!

Or is Ingraham saying that since she’s been blasted by the left, it’s perfectly okay for her to attack Meghan McCain? I don’t know that Jesus would approve. Plus, isn’t that like saying that I am justified in stealing a car if mine is stolen first? When I insult the likes of Laura Ingraham or Ann Coulter, it’s because they’re hypocrites, not because they’re unattractive, bony, bottle blonde, old, or shrill.  Nope, it’s because they went TO LAW SCHOOL and GET PAID TO TALK, oftentimes railing against feminism, when without feminism, they wouldn’t have been able to attend law school. Without feminism, they wouldn’t be paid to talk for a living. Without feminism, Ann Coulter wouldn’t have had the chance to be fired not only from MSNBC, but The National Review, too.  Without feminism, Laura Ingraham wouldn’t have an “addictive” radio show or a podcast!

I’ve noticed a propensity with these types to fabricate and even invent statistics when it’s convenient*.  I’ve never insulted Meghan McCain, and it’s because I haven’t heard bullshit from her. In fact, the other day when Rachel Maddow asked McCain if she agreed with her father about the economy, she said she didn’t know enough about economics to judge. IMO, some honesty from a Republican is a refreshing change. No wonder why the others are attacking her– “I don’t know” isn’t supposed to be in the GOP lexicon.

Oh, Laura, I haven’t seen this many logical fallacies since  my last batch of freshman essays. Of course, there’s ad hominem (that’s fancy Latin for attacking the person instead of the argument). Basically, Meghan McCain asserted that the Republican party could do better in reaching out to young people. McCain said that extremism (like that of Ann Coulter) is not good for the party.  Since Ingraham had nothing of substance to contribute in rebuttal, she responded by remarking on McCain’s body, looks, and age.

Ingraham has created a red herring– she’s trying to make the discussion about whether or not a 24-year-old can have anything to say about politics. Or if someone that pretty (and, I have a hunch, naturally blonde) can have an opinion about politics. Or if someone who has curves can have an opinion about politics. And Ingraham is reinforcing what feminists have fought against for a very, very long time, but we’ll never get over until clueless monsters like Ingraham knock it the fuck off— It’s the idea that, ladies, to a large portion of the population, we are bodies. Nothing more. Thus, we should have no say about our bodies; if our bodies are kept up front and center they do not belong to us.  And women’s bodies are some pretty good real estate. (Actually, I’m not exactly sure why the religious right wants ownership over other people’s bodies. It’s an interesting question. It must be related to their obsession with sex. For an interesting discussion about the difficulties in developing healthy sexuality in such an anti-feminist environment, see the terrific book Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti of feministing.com ).

Abortion? Emergency (or any, for that matter) contraception? Not about the sweet little unborn babies. It’s about women’s bodies. (If the issue really were the children, the right wouldn’t have such a spaz attack about providing health insurance for children, WIC, or food stamps). The fact that selling a vibrator gets you thrown in jail in Alabama doesn’t have anything to do with . . . morals?  Hey, what is their justifcation for making them illegal, anyway? Well, anyway, whatever the fake reason is, the real reason is to try to maintain some ownership of women’s bodies. The mere idea of a woman getting herself off and owning her own sexuality is terribly frightening to these sex-obsessed right wing radicals. And I’m not sure why. What is the religious right’s obsession with sex all about? Maybe if they got over it, they wouldn’t transfer the obsession to their kids and then the teen pregnancy rate could drop. Just sayin’.

This whole war on science, yeah, it’s about women’s bodies. Take stem-cell research. It’s not about the “sanctity of life” or any other such nonesense. If it were about life, creating the embryos would be the sin, not the using-of-the-stem-cells part of it. If it were about respecting life, not using advances to help people with things like spinal cord injuries or Alzheimer’s would be the sin. If the war on stem-cell research got canceled, the religious right would lose just a tiny bit more of their hold on women’s bodies. And remember all those people fighting over what should happen with Terri Shiavo’s body? In 2005, George Bush even interrupted his vacation to sign some legislation to keep her body on life support. Did he do that to save Terri Shaivo’s life? Of course not; she hadn’t had a life in years. She’d been in a vegetative state for 15 years at that point.  Her body was some sort of pro-life symbol for the religious right, and the real victim was the husband, whose life was on hold. And at the time, I remember thinking if Terri had been a man, it wouldn’t have meant so much to the right.

The religious right voice their desire to own our bodies by policing our reprodution and by calling us fat or hot (or not) when we get the crazy idea in our heads that we’re smart, have something to say, and deserve to be heard.  They voice their desire to keep ownership of our bodies away from us by calling for abstinence-only programs instead of actual sex ed. They voice their desire to own our bodies by encouraging girls to sign virginity pledges and to even have ceremonies with their dads. (Yeah! How creepy is that? A ceremony in which a girl says her body belongs to her father until she gets married, when it becomes property of her husband. Icky. For something disturbing and funny, see Valenti’s take on Jessica Simpson’s virginity pledge in Full Frontal Feminism).

So my desperate cry to Laura Ingraham is  a plaintive “come on, sister!”  We already get this crap from everywhere around us. Don’t contribute to the old-school tricks of reducing women to our naughty bits. Stick to your inane links (on http://www.lauraingraham.com/) about the entrepreneurial spirit inspired by Obama (“Obama Sushi: You’ll Come Barack For More”). Keep up the good work in keeping Middle America terrified of and pissed off at immigrants (“Illegal Aliens Get Creative”).  And kudos on your hard-hitting and immensely useful reader polls (Hold onto your hats– at the time of this writing, 51% of Ingraham’s homepage visitors report to wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day!  However, we are told firmly that the poll is not scientific, so do not use that statistic for anything official, or really, anything at all).

*Laura Ingraham is notorious for lying, especially about her “two week” trip to Iraq in 2006. In fact, the observant folks at http://www.lauraingrahamsucks.com/ are keeping a running list of Laura’s lies, including recent false information she gave about Obama’s stimulus plan. As for Ann Coulter, she has been busted more than once for plagiarism and inventing footnotes.

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Progress on The Simpsons book

March 10, 2009 at 10:50 pm (Writing/Language) (, , , , , )

Someone asked me today how the book was coming along, and I said that except for thinking about what I need to do and setting up a Twitter account for our book (@Simpsonology), I haven’t done too much lately. But it turns out that setting up the Twitter account was one of the best ideas I’ve had since going to see Patton Oswalt in San Francisco (where we met Dana Gould[!]). I am positively TWITTERPATED. David Silverman (producer, creative mind, and director of many episodes AND The Simpsons Movie) is now following us on Twitter.

Yes, I’ll tell anyone who asks, we are making progress on the book: David Silverman knows Karma and I exist.

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