Teaching Loads

October 31st, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

heavy loadA random discussion on Facebook inspired me to write a post on teaching loads. There’s this moment in one’s grad career when one learns what a “two-two,” a “three-three,” or a “four-three,” for instance, means, and these seem to become magical incantations thereafter. I often hear people on the job market intone them as if they are a reliable way to categorize jobs, workload, and quality of life, with the smaller number automatically the better. It might help to unpack how teaching works so very differently in different places, on the way to offering some better ways to measure just how much a potential job calls for in terms of teaching and advising.

I’ll start by noting that my teaching burden at Wisconsin has regularly felt like a lot, lot more than my teaching burden at Fordham, even though I have a 2-2 here and began with a 3-3 at Fordham, before they converted assistants to 3-2. Why? Answers after the fold …. Read more…

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Fall Pilots 2014, Second Report Card

October 24th, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

Continuing with my reviews of the class of 2014 …

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The Sitcoms

Bad Judges, wherein bad means "bad ass" (leftmost), "unwatchable" (center), "horrifically and heinously inept" (rightmost, in more ways than one)

Bad Judges, wherein bad means “bad ass” (leftmost), “not good” (center), “horrifically and heinously inept” (rightmost, in more ways than one)

Part of the problem with Bad Judge is that they don’t really go for it, and when television already has Judge Judy in stripped syndication, why would I need to tune in weekly for a rather milquetoast version? Sure, the main character drinks, she has sex and talks about it, and she says inappropriate things to kids sometimes, but from Judy to Cartman, Roseanne to Homer, television’s had so many more performances that are legitimately carnivalesque. And when we learn that she really has a heart of gold, and just wants to go all Blind Side and help the poor, struggling black boys of the world, eesh, I was done. Sitcom pilots are notoriously paint-by-numbers, but this show was an especially poor collection of clichés and trite sentiment.       More after the fold: Read more…

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Banning Grad Student Publications: Dumb and Dangerous

October 7th, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

Yesterday I read an open letter to journal editors at The Chronicle of Higher Education that proposes that they all ban publication by graduate students. The idea is that this would put an end to the crazy fervor facing ABDs on the market who feel the need to have published a lot already. I really, really don’t like the proposal, not just because of the (lack of) merits of the idea itself but because of what it suggests and implies about grad school, publishing, and publications. So I’m responding.

(First, though, since it’s by a writer at Fordham and I have friends at Fordham, I guess it’s not unheard of that Leonard Cassuto will be directed back to my blog. If so, first, thanks for being the second person after my mother to ever read my blog, Leonard! Second, I mean you no harm. To propose that all journals might decide at the same time to ban publications by graduate students (since they would all have to do it to make the act meaningful) is extravagant enough that I realize it’s offered as a polemic and a way to get us thinking about some things. I’m doing just that, so no hate or disrespect is being sent your way)

So why am I wearing my grumpy pants when I read this proposal? And note that I read the proposal as suggesting grads shouldn’t publish at all, and thus assume that edited collections are pulled into its orbit, even though not explicitly stated. (If not, that just seems a tedious, pointless shell game of fetishizing chapters instead of articles.). More after the fold: Read more…

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Fall Pilots, 2014: Midterm Report

October 1st, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

new-tv-oAkh. Again it’s been a long time since I blogged. But such is life. Onward:

We’re now almost half way through the new network shows, with ABC’s Forever, black-ish, and How to Get Away With Murder, CBS’ Madam Secretary, Scorpion, and NCIS: New Orleans, FOX’s Utopia, Red Band Society, and Gotham, and NBC’s Mysteries of Laura having premiered. I’ve also seen ABC’s Selfie and NBC’s A to Z already, since they’re on UVerse On Demand. My wonderful colleagues at Antenna have been reviewing them (see here for a hub post), but I thought I’d chime in here on everything except Fox’s Utopia (sounded bad, everyone says it’s bad, so I’m not even going to bother). Read on, below the fold. Read more…

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Wrestling with an Angel: RIP Stuart Hall

February 10th, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

Professor Stuart Hall

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The year was 2002, my grad school days. 100 or so academics from across the UK (and in some cases Europe) were in one of Goldsmiths College’s lecture theaters, assembled as part of the After Media Studies conference. We were about twenty minutes into the morning’s session when the doors opened. Bill Schwarz regularly carries a gentle, warm smile, so nobody gave his “intrusion” more than a passing glance until another man walked in the room with Bill. Leaning heavily on his cane and hence unable to get the door himself, this man hobbled in slowly. By this point, everyone stopped and was staring. One might be inclined to reach to a Western for the clichéd analogy of the arrival of the gunslinger, but this man was no gunslinger. He carried more presence, and no menace. I’d never seen a photo of him prior to that day but the presence announced him, and I had two simultaneous thoughts: “Oh, that’s Stuart Hall,” and “this dude is Yoda.” For his part, Hall smiled nervously, apologetic for interrupting, and looking like a remorseful undergrad who’d stepped into class late: if he carried presence, in other words (and boy did he), he didn’t mean to do so, and was a gracious man.

But Stuart Hall was my Yoda. I say “was” because today I woke to the news that Stuart Hall died. An amazing scholar whose mission was always directed as much to civic society as to the academy, and who regularly tried to expand what the academy was or could be, he didn’t just write good stuff and say smart things – he did good work in the world.

There are many better obituaries from those who knew him better and loved him dearly. See this from David Morley and the above-mentioned Bill Schwarz in The Guardian, for instance. But here I wanted to reflect on what he meant to me. More after the fold … Read more…

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The Inner World of Doc McStuffins

February 5th, 2014 | Jonathan Gray

doc-mcstuffins1“It’s just a kids show. Why do you have to read so much into it?”

With that preemptive objection behind us, and with the answer “because I’m having fun,” let’s talk about Doc McStuffins’ mental wellbeing.

For those who don’t know, Doc McStuffins is a pretty excellent original show on Disney Junior. Doc is a young girl who clearly admires her mother, a doctor, and thus she too has become a doctor, of toys. She has a magical stethoscope that brings toys to life when nobody else is around. Or does it? I can’t help but wonder, as I watch this show with my daughter, whether this is Doc’s imagination, whether she is indeed magical, or whether she’s delusional.

The episode that led to this post is one in which Doc herself must go in for a check-up, since she’s sick. At her mother’s clinic, the nurse is voiced by Loretta Devine … who viewers/listeners would recognize as the voice of Doc’s own nurse, Hallie the Hippo. This was a fun choice, since it’s the first suggestion I’ve seen in the series that Doc is actually making all of this toy doctor stuff up: Hallie speaks like Doc’s mom’s nurse since that’s her referent for how nurses speak. And yet in another episode, Doc’s mom comes into her room and says she could’ve sworn she heard another voice in there; Doc defuses the comment by explaining that it was just a talking toy phone (which, this time, it was), but dramatically the snippet of dialogue plays with the idea that her toys are indeed talking to her, and that her mom almost walked in on this. So the show is inviting me to play along. I will, after the fold … Read more…

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Academic Publishing: Something’s Gotta Change

November 13th, 2013 | Jonathan Gray

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Imagine I told you that the biggest name academic in a particular field had just published a new book. How much would you expect to pay to buy it?

In my own field of media and cultural studies, I’d hope that the person had published with NYU Press, so that it was $20-25. But I’d know that if they hadn’t, it’d likely be something like $40. For instance, Graeme Turner’s recent What’s Become of Cultural Studies is $50 from Sage. Angela McRobbie’s The Aftermath of Feminism is $59 from Routledge. John Hartley’s Digital Futures for Media and Cultural Studies is $41.95 from Blackwell.

But David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s recent e-book Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages is $1.99.

Obviously, something is desperately wrong here (with the other books, not David and Kristin’s!), especially since I bet Angela and David & Kristin personally earn the same amount per sale, despite the 3000% price differential. And yes, yes, David and Kristin’s book is an e-book, but Kindle versions of the above three texts are non-existent for Turner, and are still $36.01 and $33.99 for McRobbie and Hartley respectively.

Something really must change in publishing. Many have been saying this for a long time. But Bordwell and Thompson are showing us ways to make it happen. In the rest of this post, I want to discuss this, and to invite you to dream with me about a better system, then to put on your practical hats and perhaps help make it happen. Read on: Read more…

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Fall Pilot Score Card — Week Three

October 13th, 2013 | Jonathan Gray

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Yikes, I’m getting behind. So much so that We Are Men was cancelled before my review. Ooops. Sorry. So here we go (Ironside to come later).

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Betrayal

Wow, now that is some bad acting. In the final scene, the plot twist is revealed, as we learn that the protagonist’s husband will be facing off in a very public lawsuit against her new boyfriend. I consider the fact that I was still awake by that point quite an achievement, since that was arguably the only interesting moment of an otherwise thoroughly dull, trite script acted out by actors who aren’t up to the task. No, I lie, there was another moment. When the protagonist (played by Hannah Ware) gets a hotel room with her new man, and just as they’re about to consummate things, she gets a call from her husband who is looking for a kid’s book that their child loves. We then cut back to a chilled-out protagonist and man lying on the bed and chatting, as she describes the plot from this book. I’m currently reading the book – Giraffes Can’t Dance – to my daughter many a night, so my ears perked up at its mention. I don’t know how to feel about it being used as a metaphor for the protagonist’s need to find the man who will let her flourish. That said, I’m not surprised to see the writers are experts on stories that put people to sleep.  More shows below: Read more…

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The Amazing Race: Global Othering

October 4th, 2013 | Jonathan Gray

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Recently, a truly fantastic book was published by NYU Press, How to Watch TV. Edited by Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell, it collects 40 essays, each on a different show. I’m humbled and honored to be included, given the remarkable pedigree of the others in it, and I can’t wait to use it in class. At $29, there’s no way you can beat it (though — shameless plug — how awesome would it be with Television Studies or Television Entertainment?)

Anyways, NYU, Thompson, and Mittell have been nice enough to let me post my piece, on Amazing Race and Othering. It tries to come to terms with my deeply conflicted feelings about a show that is trying what very few other American shows bother to try, yet that can still so often make me wanna puke in my mouth a little (and no, that phrasing isn’t in the official piece).

So here’s my piece, below the fold: Read more…

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Fall Pilot Score Card — Week Two

October 2nd, 2013 | Jonathan Gray

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Week 2 had a LOT of shows, so after noting that my reviews for Hostages, The Blacklist, Lucky 7, and The Goldbergs are elsewhere (follow the links), let’s get down to it:

First up was Mom, the latest move in Chuck Lorre’s master plan to fill American television with uninspired comedy. Mom beats Dad, not only in the show, where the fathers are piss-poor, but in a battle of networks, where Dads is just plain old bad. But being better than Dads is hardly much to brag about: so is leprosy. Ultimately, it may smooth out, but right now this isn’t even a sitcom: it’s just a series of jokes, and is one of the choppier pilots I’ve seen. Anna Faris is okay (though the opening scene’s supreme lameness left her needing to fight her way back up from the bottom all episode long), and might be able to hold a show, and Allison Janney is always great, though the television gods clearly hate me and Janney and are punishing us both for something by bringing CJ Cregg down to this. Won’t someone give her a better vehicle, since we all know she can drive? I’ve read reviews from those touched by the mother-daughter love, but I didn’t really see that show – the show I saw just strung together a whole bunch of jokes about sex and private parts that I’m sure I would have found really hilarious when I was nine: “I saw you at McDonald’s going down on a Filet-o-Fish,” “That’s a castrated chicken they beat with a hammer,” “My daughter’s an easy lay, and it’s not my fault” (which sets up the later “What did you do tonight?” “Watch TV” “Is your TV on your ceiling?”), “Don’t lie to the woman who washes your sheets,” “My mother taught me how to beat a cavity search and still feel like a lady,” “It is nice to see you wearing underwear. And not on your head,” “What time do you get off work? I could use a lap to cry on,” and the interchange “I think I may’ve found a way to pay you back for childcare” “Trust me, you can’t sell that much semen.” I’m sure it’ll do fine, since everything Lorre touches does fine. Luckily that means it doesn’t need my support, so I won’t be forthcoming with it.

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Read more…

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