Archive for July, 2010

Recently, this quotation in a review of Angelina Jolie’s new movie, Salt, caught my attention: “Had a man played the lead role, which was originally written for Tom Cruise, Salt would have come off as dated and predictable. With a woman—with this woman—all the invincible-spy clichés feel fresh and fun again.”  The idea, it seems, is that a hackneyed movie is not hackneyed if it comes with a twist.  Based on this video describing the Bechdel Test (briefly, whether a movie has more than two named female characters, whether they talk to each other, and whether they discuss something other than men), it appears that when Hollywood has completely run out of ideas all they will need to do is change a few main characters from men to women in order to be hailed as innovative.

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There have been a number of times over the past few months when either my wife or I referred to ourselves as “single.”  Rather than some sort of Freudian slip, what we actually meant by this was that we are “childless.”  Just as singles are not tied down by their relationships, the two of us are not tied down by the duties of parenting.  From my experience, being single when your friends are single can be fun, but what we are experiencing is similar to being single when everybody you know is in a relationship.  While we have met a number of people that we like on campus and beyond, those who do not live too far away to get together on a regular basis tend to have children that prevent them from doing things or, at the very least, necessitate early evenings.

Like those in relationships, the lives of those with children are perpetually preplanned.  I think that this point was driven home by the combined arrival of summer and moving into a new neighborhood where our neighbors all have children of varying ages.  I’m sure that when we eventually have children of our own we will meet lots of parents with similarly-aged children who may have been interested in hanging out in their pre-child days.  For now, however, we are single and surrounded by couples who are too busy to hang out.

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Like love (and Christmas), sociology is all around us.  It is always interesting to see entertainment outlets take sociological approaches to the media.  Entertainment Weekly recently examined the conflicting views of Bella Swan and her supernatural friends in the Twilight series of books and films, arguing that one’s view of the characters is connected to differing ideals “of what love and sex and romance should look like and feel like, of what they should be“:

A movie like Eclipse may be a far cry from art, but it’s increasingly clear, at least to me, that the movie hits a nerve, even in people who say they hate it, because it embodies a paradigm shift: a swooning re-embrace of traditional, damsel-meets-caveman values by a new generation of young women who are hearkening back, quite consciously, to the romantic-erotic myths of the past. The Bella Swan view of the world may, on the surface, be the opposite of “rebellious,” but the reason her story sets so many hearts aflame is that it is, in a way, a rebellion — against the authority represented by a generation of women’s-studies classes. Bella’s story is, by nature, a meditative, even meandering one because it’s the story of how she wants to be acted upon, to be loved, desired, coveted, fought over, protected. A movie like Eclipse represents nothing less than a new and unambiguous embrace, by women, of the male gaze.

This analysis is even more enlightening when you consider that the world of Twilight, especially in the books, is a place with dial-up internet where a vampire lends his human girlfriend (who he is constantly terrified will be harmed) his cell phone because she doesn’t have one of her own and where a junior in high school who has gone on one date with a boy in her class before prom hopes that is enough to lead to a first kiss on prom night.  In contrast to media descriptions of teen binge drinking and hook ups, I’m not surprised that this world has found an audience who yearns (morosely, if they follow the lead of their favorite characters) for a different image of teen life.

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For my entire life I have been battling the chronic Major Procrastination Disorder, which is said to affect 7 out of 10 high school students and 9 out of 10 graduate students.  This disorder tends to flare up when large blocks of unallocated time present themselves to me.  Despite being fairly productive during the academic year, winter and summer breaks tend to lead me to relapse.  Faced with my latest relapse, I have started looking for a partial cure.

Every time that I move I underestimate the workload of cable and internet installers and end up with a few weeks without access to either.  Thus, it was during my recent move from apartment living to home ownership that I discovered the healing powers of a lack of distractions.  Without TV and the internet I found myself filling my large blocks of unallocated time with activities such as reading and thinking.  If this period had been longer, I even suspect that I might have turned to productivity.  The effects of No TV and Internet were much greater than those of a sugar pill, though side effects included  a disconnection with the outside world.  For example, I missed both the announcement that LeBron James was announcing his decision regarding free agency and The Decision itself.  Thankfully, my access to the outside world was restored in time for Steve Carell’s decision.

I am obviously not the first person to find that there is more time for work when less time is spent on trivial things, but what always surprises me is how trivial those things seem when I don’t have access to them.  Sure, it is nice to know what is going on in the world, but do I really need to know which elementary school basketball players are being recruited by my alma mater?  I suspect that I don’t, yet I spend large amounts of time reading about similar things when my access to the internet is unimpeded.  While I don’t want to do anything too extreme, the idea of a tech sabbath is alluring.  If only I could pull myself away from the internet long enough to turn off the cable modem…

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Fabio has posted another of his Grad Skool Rulz over at Orgtheory, regarding the mythical end of graduate school:

Before moving on, I should note that staying too long can have dire consequences. Students can become unmarketable, dissertations are out of date, departments may cut funding. Students who have spent too much time in graduate school will be seen as folks who can’t get stuff done, which makes it hard to get a job. If you knew some was in grad school for 12 years with one modest publication, wouldn’t you be a little suspicious? It behooves you to figure out the norm in your field and stick to it.

He also distinguishes between “short clock” and “long clock” disciplines, with sociology somewhere in the middle.  This also seems to vary by program, as some students in sociology unfortunately find themselves somewhere that they are “allowed to drift indefiinitely. If you don’t finish your dissertation, no one will remind you. If you dedicate all your time to teaching, no one will care. Even if you do finish your dissertation, people will sit on it for semesters and nothing will happen. To blunt, the graduate school system is not designed to help you graduate in a reasonable amount of time. It’s designed to waste your time.”

The key is to figure out how your program fits into all of this and take the necessary steps to get out.  Trust me, it’s better out here.

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