Happy Halloween!


Pumpkin with a weeping angel carving
My Weeping Angel pumpkin for this year

It’s gonna be fun around our place today!  We’ve got trick or treating and all kinds of goodness.  I will be visiting a class of sixth graders to talk about zombies, and if things go as planned, you should be able to see me on the 10:00pm news on CBS 2 news in Chicago tonight.  Tune in!

Tweets from 2013-10-20 to 2013-10-26

Changing the story: on plot moments that rewrite a series

Spoiler alert

This week’s episode of Castle had the usual formula for the non-serious episodes of the show: murder, something funny or weird is discovered, Castle imagines a bunch of amusing plots, it all works out in the end.  The amusing plot this time around was time travel.  Quick plot summary: Joshua Gomez (Morgan from Chuck) is suspected of murdering someone but claims to be a time-traveler sent back from the future to try and save that someone.

Castle and Beckett interview "Simon"
Castle and Beckett interview “Simon”

Like many such episodes, the plot plays out in ways that are slightly ambiguous, with a killer who turns out to have been off the grid (and thus could also be a time-traveler) and with the time-traveling hero disappearing right after walking around a corner.  But these are all explainable.

Then comes the second-to-last sequence of the show.  A crucial clue in the episode was a photograph of a letter the villain used to find a man he was trying to kill.  The letter had a prominent coffee stain on it.  When Beckett and Castle found the original letter, it was unstained (though the show didn’t draw attention to this fact).  In Beckett’s last scene, she spills her coffee on the note and creates the stain on the paper that was already in the photograph.

In other words, the writers of Castle just confirmed that time-travel exists in the future of that world.  I don’t imagine that the show will suddenly become Fringe or The X-Files, but I am amused by the idea that this world-changing revelation (which I suspect will not come up again) could change the whole direction of the show, as regularly happened on Joshua Morgan’s previous series, Chuck.

This reminds me of other key moments when shows took clear stands on world-defining questions and thus changed their own narratives:

  • The X-Files did this all the time, especially toward the end of the series.  Those conspiracies had to go somewhere, yes?
  • Doctor Who famously added the twelve regenerations rule early in the run, and now must find ways to redefine the world to keep more doctors coming.
  • Twin Peaks goes from being a weird show to being an other-worldly one when we definitively learn that “Bob” is not an hallucination but a real evil spirit.

It makes me sad that Castle won’t suddenly become a Terminator-style battle against the terrors of the future, but I suspect it won’t.  That said, wouldn’t Stana Katic make a great Sarah Connor surrogate?

Tweets from 2013-10-13 to 2013-10-19

Gave a talk, still overwhelmed!

A man on a car, beseiged by zombies (from La Horde)
You tasks shall not overwhelm me!

Greetings, dear readers.  In the past ten days I’ve accomplished five of the seven big things I needed to do:

  • Grade New Media projects
  • Give my talk on COLUMBO at MPCA
  • Write and give the MPCA Pub Quiz
  • Attend MPCA/ACA
  • Finish and give my talk at the Palatine Public Library


  • Finish gathering and send PCA Audit documents
  • Compose draft of PCA budget for 2013-14 FY

Those last two will be finished today or tomorrow.  Then I can take a breath and perhaps resume blogging.  In the meantime, I presented a talk at the Palatine Public Library Tuesday called “Zombies! Why You Should Care About the Walking Dead.” It was well received and enjoyable, so that was nice.

Zombies! in Palatine
Zombies! in Palatine


Tweets from 2013-10-06 to 2013-10-12


Juggler photo by photogreuhphies
Juggler photo by photogreuhphies

I have the Midwest PCA conference this weekend, and between now and then I have to do a whole bunch of stuff.  The long and short of it is that I won’t be updating this blog until next week.

In the meantime, please watch my Twitter feed for regular updates.  I’ll see you next week!

The Elderly and the Living Dead

Three nodes:

1. On the British sitcom Father Ted a schmaltzy singer who is very popular with the elderly shows up in the town, and the oldsters from town find out.  Very quickly, it turns into a zombie siege.  The name of the episode is “Night of the Nearly Dead.”  In this clip, the zombie excitement starts around 5:50.

Night of the Nearly Dead
Night of the Nearly Dead

2. When Charlie Stross was asked about the zombie apocalypse, here’s what he wrote:

I have an idea. Postulate a near-future setting, for values of “near future” approximating 20-30 years hence. A cure for cellular senescence is found, and it’s cheap. One injection, and your physical condition gradually reverts to where you were at age 20, over a period of years. It’s not a miracle cure: it won’t re-grow lost tissues, it doesn’t cure cancer, it doesn’t cure diabetes, it doesn’t stop heart disease … but if you can beat all of the above, you can in principle live indefinitely and in fairly good physical health. Moreover, it comes along at the same time as much better treatments for cancer and cardiovascular disease, expensive treatments to re-grow damaged organs or limbs, and the ability to clone up a new pancreas from stem cells. (link)

3. The most recent episode of How I Met Your Mother features Barney and Robin trying to avoid their elderly relatives in the resort.  They avoid saying the name “Mandy Patinkin” because it will attract the elderly (like noises attract zombies).  Throughout the episode, the elderly lurch around the resort.  At one point, Barney’s brother James gives himself up and sinking under a crowd of old relatives.

Tweets from 2013-09-29 to 2013-10-05

Comics roundup: Nemo’s daughter, a cross-breed alien baby, a man of stone, and six bedeviled guns

A brief roundup of the comics I read in August and September (and the first couple days of October):

NEMO: heart of ice Saga, Vol 1  Complete Concrete

Nemo: Heart of ice – Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

Moore and O’Neill’s side story about Captain Nemo’s daughter is a refreshing addition to the League world.  The art continues in its spindly glory, with cool Victoriana and vast expanses of ice.  In this episode, Nemo’s daughter travels in a Lovecraftian hellscape hidden in Antarctica.  These comics always make me feel like I should have read more literature.

Saga vol 1 – Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

In a distant place where there are multiple warring species, two people fall in love and have a baby.  It’s an age old story — he’s a devil man who has sworn off violence, she’s a fairy lady just looking for a safe place for their baby.  Also, ghosts and rocket trees.  That’s right, rocket trees.  Weird and wonderful.

The Complete Concrete – Paul Chadwick

A superhero comic where the hero ain’t so super.  A man stuck inside a cyborg concrete body decides to go adventuring, helping people sometimes but also testing the limits of his new body’s endurance.  This could have been a corny superhero story, but instead it ponders the difficulties of someone stuck in a bizarre situation.  A thoughtful and well-written comic.

 the-sixth-gun-cover The Sixth Gun  vol 2

The Sixth Gun vol 1 (Cold Dead Fingers) and vol 2 (Crossroads) – Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, Bill Crabtree

Scattered across the Old West are six magical guns.  Each has a mystical power and is bound to its owner for life, unwilling to fire for another.  The Sixth Gun follows Drake, an former villain on a quest to find the guns before people who’re even worse do.  He inadvertently teams up with Clarissa, daughter of a man who was guarding one of the six to hide it from the malevolent forces that are coming for them.

Vol 1 develops these initial premises, explaining the eternal nature of the guns, and setting Drake and Clarissa on a crash course with an evil Civil War general (from the Confederacy, natch) and his posse of supernatural lieutenants.  The characters and story are set in motion nicely

Vol 2 finds Drake seeking mystics who can tell him how to destroy the guns.  Clarissa has come along for the ride, but there’s animosity between them and she’s got her own ideas about how to proceed.  Plus, it seems to be the first time she’s off the farm and she’s finding her way as an adult.  There’s an obligatory visit to the swamps of New Orleans, and a giant crocodile.  Plus, we get the first glimpses of the larger story and menace facing the characters and, perhaps, the whole world.

Found this comic via BoingBoing


Privilege and humor – Whose experience is being mocked?

5 Minutes There’s been quite a bit of commentary lately about privilege.  It’s a concept that finally seems to have some mainstream bite, and deserves serious consideration.

In case this is new to you, the basic idea of privilege in this context is the idea that different people have different experiences in society because of factors outside their control such as skin color, sex, economic status, nationality, first language, and many more.  The difficulty of this concept for privileged people to accept is that they don’t see the extra friction involved for the unprivileged, so it can be hard to understand or empathize.  I like John Scalzi’s explanation here.

Four things that have come across my transom in the last couple days.

1. Privilege tournament – YUCK.

The most hurtful thing about Gawker’s “Privilege Tournament” (which invites readers to vote on NCAA-type brackets for who is the least privileged “category” of people, black, Hispanic, gay, etc.) is not its contempt for civil rights discourse, but that the prideful display of a white man’s humor is more important to a large liberal media outlet than compassion for people who suffer the dehumanizing effects of discrimination.  Gawker, of course, presents the Tournament as an above-it-all humor piece, and this is exactly the problem: Gawker believes it is speaking from a place of objective remove, but it is, in fact, acting out emotionally. The site is either willfully naive about the daily pain experienced by people whom society devalues or, worse, resentful that white men are being wrongly denied equal sympathy. Either way there’s nothing objective in this perspective.

Not only is white male humility in discussion of race/gender/sexuality absent here, but in its place is a vicious, sneering resentment at the suggested need to be humble. When a white man decides that a conversation about privilege has gotten out of hand, gone to absurd lengths, and needs some comedic cutting down, he is reestablishing white, male dominance, plain and simple. Who is asking who to laugh? Whose experience is being mocked?… (Salon writing about Gawker)

2. Whitewashing – a term for the overwhelming default use of whites as main characters and the assumption that white male is the default.

Seriously, it surprises me that people still don’t get that “whitewashing” doesn’t just mean “taking a character of color and turning them white,” but also applies to “focusing disproportionately on the stories of white people,” “glossing over or altering parts of a story to make it more palatable or make white people look better,” and “treating ‘white’ as the default race”…

Because that’s the thing. People often assume that when someone’s race isn’t explicitly specified, they’re white. People insist that Katniss Everdeen must be white because it is possible for them to rationalize that idea in their head. People think of white as “raceless” and every other color or ethnicity as “raced,” and that’s what we call “eurocentrism.”

And that’s the thing about whitewashing. It’s this idea that a “person” is white, and a “person of color” is black or asian or arab or latin@ or whatever they might be.

It’s why people call John Stewart the “Black Green Lantern” but just call Hal Jordan the “Green Lantern.” It’s why Miles Morales is called “Black Spider-man” but Peter Parker is just “Spider-man.” If you want to throw gender into the mix, it’s why Jennifer Walters is the “She-Hulk” but Bruce Banner isn’t the “He-Hulk.”

People think “character” is white and “character + black” is black. There is no default race….
(rapteriffic  via Geek Girl Playground via Jeanne)

3. Junot Diaz on men writing female characters, and whites writing minority characters:

If you’re a boy writer, it’s a simple rule: you’ve gotta get used to the fact that you suck at writing women and that the worst women writer can write a better man than the best male writer can write a good woman. And it’s just the minimum. Because the thing about the sort of heteronormative masculine privilege, whether it’s in Santo Domingo, or the United States, is you grow up your entire life being told that women aren’t human beings, and that women have no independent subjectivity. And because you grow up with this, it’s this huge surprise when you go to college and realize that, “Oh, women aren’t people who does my shit and fucks me.”

And I think that this a huge challenge for boys, because they want to pretend they can write girls. Every time I’m teaching boys to write, I read their women to them, and I’m like, “Yo, you think this is good writing?” These motherfuckers attack each other over cliche lines but they won’t attack each other over these toxic representations of women that they have inherited… their sexist shorthand, they think that is observation. They think that their sexist distortions are insight. And if you’re in a writing program and you say to a guy that their characters are sexist, this guy, it’s like you said they fucking love Hitler. They will fight tooth and nail because they want to preserve this really vicious sexism in the art because that is what they have been taught.

And I think the first step is to admit that you, because of your privilege, have a very distorted sense of women’s subjectivity…. (Diaz via Mason Johnson via ofgrammatology and others)

4. Clark at Popehat has been writing a series mocking the overwrought press coverage of the government shutdown.  His pieces document his daily life, the non-trauma of going to the store for some milk and so on.  While there is a bit of truth to them, I also cringe at the ingrained privilege in the pieces, the callow joking idea that if the shutdown isn’t a big deal for him, it must not be that big a deal.  I wasn’t surprised at one piece that makes the point about the apocalyptic tales, but he’s done four as of today, and frankly they’re getting a bit grating.


I just can’t love you… because of HER! (Piccolo theater’s hilarious production of THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP)

Still from Les Vampires depicting vampire  Irma Vep
This play’s namesake – the original Irma Vep

Jenny and I went to see the Piccolo theatre’s comedic romp The Mystery of Irma Vep last weekend, and boy was it a blast.  The play loosely follows the tale of a troubled Lord, his new bride, the crusty housekeeper, and the jaunty groundskeeper.  The central plot is Rebecca, with healthy doses of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre mixed in.  Then they add a dash of Universal horror monsters and away we go.  A few thoughts:

  • The play is a triumph of allusion — nearly every plot element springs from either a classic monster tale or from classic romance/gothic novels.  The novel uses allusions the right way, though, adding more for the audience if you understand the reference but not depending on the idea that you would recognize them.  They make liberal use of Mel Brooks’ joke from Young Frankenstein regarding the horse-whinny cue on the phrase Frau Brucher (sic).
  • The actors in the production show amazing endurance and craft, as the four parts are played by just two actors (Lord Edgar and the housekeeper Jane are played by Ben Muller while Lady Enid and groundskeeper Nicodemus are played by Brandon Johnson) doing lightning fast costume changes and managing accents and shifts in voice.  They do this very well.
  • The name of the play springs from a French film serial (Les Vampires), and toward the end of the play one of the characters cackles “Don’t you get it?! Irma Vep is vampire anagrammatized!” Then they manage to say anagrammatized two or three more times.  Genius.
  • My favorite moment came toward the end of the play, when Lady Enid was looking for help from Nicodemus, so actor Brandon Johnson popped in and out of a French door, changing voices and costume and popping his wig on and off to create a conversation between the two characters.
  • The Piccolo theater is situated in a train depot in Evanston, making the venue a cute little gem making the most of urban space.  It was a nice theater–just the right size for a show like this.  Some of the humor gets a *little* blue and most of it is aimed at grown ups (though not sexual), so this probably isn’t a play for children.

The Mystery of Irma Vep is thoroughly entertaining and goofy, so if you aren’t able to catch it in Evanston (it runs through Oct 12), be sure to keep an eye out for its next revival.