Maximal Meta-Discourse, Engage: Ready (again) Player One

A few years ago, I wrote a response to a response to Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel Ready Player One. Without having read it. But my response was mostly about the intersection of capitalism and nostalgia, not the book itself. I stand by that post, but I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally read the book.

Let’s pretend this is timely. After all, E3 just happened, bringing with it renewed hype surrounding the Oculus Rift.

But really, I just want to make good and examine Cline’s debut novel on its own merits, not in terms of what Douglas Wolk found compelling, unsettling, or disappointing. Now I have my own grievances to air.

So if you’re so inCline’d, check out my review of the actual book over at my other site, “Books, not People.”

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Filed under Book Reviews, Meta, Nostalgia, Technology



In the wake of the racist, terrorist murders committed Wednesday night, it’s critical not only to center the lives that were lost, but also to be there for those who are left, hurting. To listen. To believe when someone says they experience violence on an everyday basis.

Wednesday night wasn’t isolated. It came from somewhere. From a culture of white supremacy.

It’s crucial to try to understand those without the power of culture’s dominant perspective. To know we are all complicit in these premeditated atrocities. To speak out against it. To work for justice.

As the author of the post shared below commented, “We all need to do more to undo this silence.”

So let’s hear that a believe it. Let’s all do more. Online. In person. Starting now. Our culture of hate won’t change unless we change what we’ve been doing. Let your voices shatter the silence and rebuild a better world for all.

Reblogged with the author’s permission.

Originally posted on Dark, On the Prairie:

I’m tired but I can’t get myself to sleep. I didn’t sleep much last night either. I sit at my desk in my bedroom. Outside it’s dark, warm, and humid. I can’t rest; I can’t sit still; my mind keeps turning and turning, spinning like the blades of a windmill in the face of an approaching storm.

It’s the mask, you see. I can feel it on my flesh, on my face. And it’s slipping. I can’t remember a time when I was so aware of it, that mask of the safe, calm, educated brown man and the pulsing sensations of the black man underneath. Maybe “mask” is the wrong word. Maybe “second skin” would be better. It’s not fake, not studied. Just a kind of shield to help me deal with the white world that swirls around me.

Most of the time, it’s not a struggle. We all, I…

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The Romance of Gratuity

The following poem was inspired by a recent episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Graphic Detail





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Filed under Art of all Kinds

Evangelical Morality: now with more time travel

The Duke is back, kids. Our long national nightmare is over. At long last, we can stop waiting and once again bask in the calm judgmentalism that will never lead us astray.

John Wayne values billboard

To whom are you speaking, sir?

Who, exactly, is the intended audience here? Clearly not females. Women can quit and not endure the disappointment of Random Cowboy at the Bus Stop. But if I identified as male, I would resent the implication that I should be interpellated with this passive-aggressive bullshit. Who are you calling “son,” old man? Why are you assuming I’m a quitter? Who are you to judge me? You don’t know my life! Maybe I should quit whatever it is I was just doing. What business is it of yours? Why should I care what you think, Vaguely Cowboy-ish White Man?

I know, I know. It’s not really John Wayne who is giving the troubled male youth of America a stern talking-to. A committee of people are putting words in his mouth and using his image to indoctrinate said youth into blissful, suburban 1950’s submission.

The Foundation for a Better Life is on a mission to instill what they hold to be classic Values into the errant youth of America…but who among today’s youth knows about the Duke? In what century are John Wayne’s ostensible opinions relevant? He’s famous among people 60 and older for embodying the 1950’s idea of what honor and courage in the 1880’s was all about. Indeed, nostalgia is a driving force of the Values: Pass it On campaign. A nostalgia for the idealized imagined past. Great for the older (white) generations of America who long for the golden age of TV and Movies, where men were men and women were…there, too, probably.

The problem is that the imagined audience of this particular billboard is a boy or young man–someone who still takes advice from older mentors. The use of “son” as an address indicates as much. Is this boy supposed to care what Random Cowboy thinks just because he is a cowboy? Because he’s an older man? The ad clearly thinks the boy should care because he is John Wayne. But the real boys who pass this billboard on the way to school do not, in all likelihood, have any idea who John Wayne is or why his good opinion should matter to them. The closest John Wayne has gotten to the contemporary zeitgeist is the True Grit remake of 2010. What I’m saying is that someone in one of the countless meetings that were held on the way to green-lighting this ad might have at least asked about its efficacy.

Other prominent figures used to evangelize for the Foundation don’t share John Wayne’s temporal distance from the public stage. They are either currently famous, or benefit from a constant presence in public discourse since they were. Mr. Rogers and Michael J. Fox? Sure. Nelson Mandela? Absolutely. Shakespeare and Mozart? Shoe-ins. Mae Jemison and Jane Goodall? …at least kids will learn who they are.

But the Duke? How many kids watch old Westerns these days? And do we really want that good-ole-boy morality to be the type that kids emulate? Maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact that this cowboy is a nonperson, a stranger–the weight of his message is considerably lighter when it isn’t bolstered by his reputation.

If you clicked on the link above, you’d see there is indeed a narrative behind the billboard. They fill in that reputation–or at least the part of it they want to highlight. But it’s not a well-known narrative among “kids these days,” and it’s certainly not conveyed in the billboard’s message, much less alluded to. To be sure, John Wayne’s story of stick-to-itiveness, wild commercial success, and beating cancer only to have it beat him in the end, is inspirational in its way. This narrative posits that his success is do to his positive attitude and inner drive. To his never giving up. It’s simplistic, sure, but encouraging kids to keep trying isn’t inherently harmful. Wayne’s commitment to spreading awareness about cancer, and his children’s decision to establish a foundation to continue that work? That’s wonderful. No qualms there. Shout it from the mountain-tops and bus stops of America!

But the billboard doesn’t tell us any of that. The billboard uses the image (and words) of an outmoded authority figure to chastise us for presumed laziness.

Sure I’ll pass.


Filed under Contemporary, Media, Nostalgia

Artful Bodies: “The Michelangelo of Taxidermy”

NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story earlier today about four centenarian hyenas who reside in the Chicago Field Museum. The hyenas were revealed to be the work of the notorious Carl Akley, described by Field Museum exhibit developer Sarah Crawford as “pretty much the Michelangelo of taxidermy.”

This phrase filled me with a particular type of glee, the same glee I often felt while researching my theses on human-animal relationships (first in North Dakota, then at Lincoln Park’s Farm-in-the-Zoo). In addition to awkward interviews and tentative field-work, I read some epiphanic books and articles about zoos, language, museums, abattoirs, systems of classification, Theodore Roosevelt, and taxidermy. All of these things are related.

The compulsion to unpack (or un-stuff, if you will) NPR’s 1 minute 50 second story about the Filed Museum’s quest to build a designated hyena diorama is too strong to resist. Dinner can wait. There’s so much going on here, and I’m not even going to cover it all.

Briefly: In the United States’ dominant culture, non-human animals are classified based on a system of closeness. This organizing principle predicts the types of relationships humans have with various categories of animals. Animals need to be in the sweet spot to be edible, for instance. You don’t typically eat a dog because it’s too close of a relationship, and you don’t typically eat an emu because it’s too “exotic.” Cows, on the other hand, are perfectly acceptable to consume in U.S. culture. 

Hyenas belong to the “wild” category in U.S. culture–they are very far from humans. Most wild animals become exoticized for their perceived rarity or out-of-place-ness. The relationship humans in the U.S. have with exoticized is characterized by viewing: exotic things are fit for display. Display and viewing is accomplished through such mediums as nature shows, zoos, and natural history museums. Museums are a particular form of exhibition, disciplining both human and animal bodies to communicate the desired message, demanding that visitors experience the animals on display in proscribed ways. One tactic that helps visitors zero in on the intended message is to display animals in discrete groupings. In the case of the Field Museum, animals are apparently grouped by taxonomy and geography.

It seems that the four hyenas in question have been taking up unwanted space in the reptile area–a veritable crime against the taxidermic arts! It’s also a slight against the taxonomic and geographic organizing principles that dominate such displays.* The museum’s ultimate goal is to mount these stuffed carcasses with their geographic brethren in the Hall of Asian Mammals, a monument to big game hunting and the Akeley origins of American natural history museums. To be placed in this hallowed hall is to have Made It for any diasporic mammal worth its stuff…ing.

Field Museum curators see this move as benefiting the (human) public good. “Most people aren’t going to get the chance to see these animals in real life,” says Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent at the Field Museum.  “Seeing them in a museum is the next best thing.” This argument is built upon the assumption that humans have a right to experience a relationship with these animals that is in some way authentic. Viewing them in real life is the paramount example of this relationship, while seeing them dead (which incidentally also occurs in real life, at least for the human) is positioned as once-removed from the ideal form of viewing. (Either Graslie implicitly categorizes zoos as a type of museum, or she forgot they exist in the heat of the interview moment.)

Graslie’s statement seems to be grounded in the virtue of human education, but it is non-consenting animal bodies that are the conduit for this education. Exoticized animals are there for human viewing, and this viewing is best when it leads to learning. That is also one of the current rationales for zoos–these are places within which to educate the public about wild animals, conservation, etc. But both museums and zoos extract the subjects of their exhibits from their natural habitats and place them in highly controlled environments optimized for display, all benefiting humans.

For the museum employees, the atrocity here is amplified by the fact that shunting mammals into the reptile section is not paying taxidermist Carl Akeley proper homage. Leaving the hyenas with the reptiles is “the equivalent of having some unframed work of da Vinci just kinda sitting in a corner for nobody to see,” they insist. Well, when you invoke the metonym of the Mona Lisa, that is a shame.

In this metaphorical calculus, the manipulated bodies of dead animals are held up as artistic creations, historic in their ability to breathe new life into the accomplishments of a man who made a career out of hunting, stuffing, and displaying wild animals. For the betterment of the (human) species, you understand. Nobility, thy name is OLD HYENA CARCASS.

As Donna Haraway writes in Teddy Bear Patriarchy, American natural history museums were founded by men who thought that going on safari, both at home and abroad, was a legitimate way to preserve the feminized natural world and bring it to the masses. “In the upside down world of Teddy Bear Patriarchy, it is in the craft of killing that life is constructed” (The Haraway Reader, 154).

There you have it. Taxidermy as art. Carl Akeley, Renaissance man reincarnate. For the love of life itself, give this man’s hyenas a diorama!

*Americans really like their categories. This is why structuralism works so well in cultural analysis of U.S. animal-human relationships.


Filed under Animals, Contemporary, Historical