Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Magical Girls for the Masses

For the past few weeks, I've been watching an anime series with my daughters, Princess Tutu. We just finished it last night. I can't recommend this series highly enough. And I find that very, very strange.

Princess Tutu is a japanese anime of the shojo, or magical girl, genre.

Magical girl stories feature young girls with superhuman abilities who are forced to fight evil and protect the Earth. They generally possess a secret identity... Magical girls generally obtain their powers from some sort of enchanted object such as a pendant, a wand, or a ribbon. By concentrating on this object, in addition to speaking a special phrase or command in some cases, a girl undergoes an intricate transformation sequence and changes to her fully powered form. A major theme of magical-girl stories is learning to harness these powers and develop them fully.
The LumpenProf is not really the target audience for "magical girl" animes -- I'm a few decades too old and the wrong gender -- but I was fascinated by this unlikely story. It concerns a duck that is changed into a girl, who can then transform herself into a magical ballerina who tends to resolve each episode by inviting the antagonists to dance with her -- which sounds like crap, and which ought to be crap, and yet somehow manages to be very, very good instead. Even stranger is the character of Drosselmeyer (yes, the mysterious uncle from the Nutcracker) who is the author behind the story and who intrudes every now and then when things are not tragic enough for his characters to suit his tastes. Mixed into these Western ballet motifs are some thoroughly Japanese mythologies as well of soul-stealing crows and a ballet-teaching cat who threatens to marry the young girls in his class if they don't practice and pay attention. It makes for a wonderfully disorienting mix.

This series is so much more interesting than any Disney fare. The plots and and characters are complex and subtle, even though the basic story revolves around a thoroughly Disney-esque plot of Princess Tutu's quest to restore the lost pieces of a handsome prince's broken heart. It's wonderfully strange. It's also wonderfully strange that the LumpenProf finds himself moved to write about a cartoon of a magical pink ballerina.

I recommend watching at least two episodes before you decide whether you want to commit to watching the entire series. I also recommend watching it with subtitles and the original Japanese voice actors.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


In all the media coverage surrounding the Kennedy endorsements of Barack Obama, the LumpenProf's own endorsement of the candidate seems to have been lost in the shuffle. So I'll have to settle for just posting this link instead:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Survivor Issues

“I feel fortunate,” he said, of his position, “and I have survivor issues.” -- Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works from Inside Higher Ed's Call to Arms for Academic Labor, by Scott Jaschik.
Survivor Issues. That could easily be the title of my entire blog. I resemble too closely the people described by Bousquet and in the various online posts provoked by his recent book (in particular, a headsup from Ortho and posts from Professor Zero and The Little Professor.)

Inside Higher Ed quotes Bousquet:
“Degree holders frequently serve as university teachers for 8 or 10 years before earning their doctorate.... Many degree holders have served as adjunct lecturers at other campuses, sometimes teaching master’s degree students and advising their theses en route to their own degrees. Some will have taught 30 to 40 sections.... During this time, they received frequent mentoring and regular evaluation.... A large fraction will have published essays and book reviews and authored their departmental Web pages. Yet at precisely the junction that this ‘preparation’ should end and regular employment begin — the acquisition of the Ph.D. — the system embarrasses itself and discloses a systematic truth that every recent degree holder knows and few administrators wish to acknowledge: in many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career.”
This describes me. The one very important difference is that, miraculously, my career didn't end with the Ph.D. and I ended up with tenure after another decade-long soujourn through the adjunct wilderness. And like Bousquet, "I feel fortunate, and I have survivor issues."

You can find more interviews with Marc Bousquet on YouTube.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Leave Karl Alone

This my new favorite video. If you hated/loved Chris Crocker's plea to Leave Britney Alone, or Seth Green's plea to Leave Chris Crocker Alone, then you'll hate/love this.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Theory Which Is Mine

My current theory is that tedious committee work is actually the glue that cements the relationships among the faculty on a campus. A great deal of bonding happens over stacks of file folders and the labyrinths of budget codes. This is very different from the heated exchanges that take place at department meetings. I'm talking about the plain-old, everyday, garden variety committee work that nobody likes, but that everybody has to do.

I've spent the past few days toiling over application files as part of the work for a faculty search committee I'm serving on. I've been sequestered in a cushy administrative conference room alongside a handful of my colleagues reading through stacks of files and busily taking notes. The work isn't hard, and it's often interesting. But, still, there is a lot of it and it can get repetitive. During our confinement, folks talk. One of the first subjects tends to be the shared common ground of the time-consuming committee work itself. We're all in it together, so we can safely grouse about it to each other. Like cafeteria food. Or airport parking. I may not have much in common with my colleagues in the Math Department or from over in the College of Business but, by God, we can all be bored to tears by the same committee assignments and we can commiserate about it together.

It may even be that committee work in academia provides some of the same social function as boot camp in the army, or hazing in a fraternity. We bond over our shared suffering. Committee work is simply the substitute form for middle-aged intellectuals who are ill-suited to more physically demanding forms of collective pain. What's important, though, is that it hurts and that we do it together.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Graphic Gift

This has been one of the LumpenProf's favorite gifts this year:

The book is the graphic (in both senses of the word) account of the author's girlhood during the Iranian revolution. I'm looking forward to seeing the animated film version now which has been getting such rave reviews. Somehow wrapping my social history in the form of a graphic novel makes this painful bit of recent history trick me into thinking I'm not working. I've taught Ruis' Marx for Beginners, but somehow I've overlooked the more recent graphic novels as possible classroom texts. I'll have to give some thought on how to remedy this.