I had the distinct honor to join the conversation about science fiction and society on Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk Radio Show on May 30, 2019 (season 10, episode 22). The episode is about Creating Science Fiction, with Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of The Terminator and The Walking Dead. I shared some thoughts on Hugo Gernsback’s formula for “scientifiction,” H.G. Wells and Sir Ernest Swinton’s legal fight over the modern battle tank, the power of SF to engage social issues and debate, and my personal, lifelong relationship to SF. You can listen to the episode here or embedded below:
About the episode from the StarTalk website:
The Terminator, The Walking Dead, Aliens, and a lot more. Those are just some of the producing credits for this week’s main guest on StarTalk Radio. Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with producer-extraordinaire Gale Anne Hurd to explore what it takes to bring great science fiction to life. Neil is joined by comic co-host Chuck Nice, science fiction expert Jason Ellis, PhD, and volcanologist Janine Krippner, PhD.
Because science fiction comes in many different forms and through many different avenues, there are many ways to get into it. You’ll learn how Gale’s childhood love of Marvel comic books and science fiction novels translated into a career “making what she likes to see.” She tells us how she served as a science fiction consultant to her local library to make sure their stock was up to date. Jason shares why not being able to see Star Wars in the theater sparked a rebellious love for science fiction.
You’ll hear about the history of science fiction and how it combines the STEM fields and the humanities. We debate if science fiction informs the future of every technological invention. You’ll find out about a lawsuit H.G Wells brought upon military figureheads because he claimed they stole his idea from one of his science fiction stories. Explore using science fiction as social commentary. Discover more about the famous kiss between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura, and how William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols purposely flubbed takes to make sure it stayed in the episode.
We take a deep dive into Dante’s Peak as volcanologist Janine Krippner stops by to share her take on the film. She explains why she thinks it’s still the best volcano movie even with its flaws. Gale gives us a behind-the-scenes look on how she fought for even more scientific realism to be in the film but encountered pushback from the studio. Neil also confronts Gale on the famous scientific inaccuracies of Armageddon. Chuck shares his love for The Expanse, we discuss Interstellar, and Neil tells us about his involvement in The Europa Report.
Lastly, you’ll also find out the differences between creating science fiction for television and film. According to Hugo Gernsback, the father of science fiction, sci-fi should be 75% romance and 25% science – is that still the goal? All that, plus, Jason caps it off with a story on how he was criticizing the film Sunshine right in front of director Danny Boyle’s family.
My Aunt Lettie Ann Cook passed away on May 17, 2019. I flew to my hometown to fulfill her request that I speak at her funeral and serve as a pallbearer. Her husband of 54 years, William Cook, who I knew as Uncle Doc, had preceded her in death in 2015.
They were both good people, who I and many others miss. I am reminded of fun-filled childhood pool parties at their house–one being particularly memorable during which I used a snorkel face mask for the first time and I played with my cousin Mark’s bad-ass Boba Fett action figure. That was probably around 1981. Or, learning from Aunt Lettie Ann how she made ceramic sculptures. Or, learning from Uncle Doc how to melt lead for my pinewood derby racer, use a scroll saw and drill press, and work with wood to make storage chests and other things. Or, enjoying cookouts featuring Aunt Lettie Ann’s great home cooking at their house after they moved from Brunswick to Hortense. And above all, reveling in their open door hospitality.
Uncle Doc died suddenly in 2015, and I was regrettably unable to return for his funeral. Before Aunt Lettie Ann died, she asked my dad to help me fly down and speak at her funeral as I had done for my Granny Ellis in 2012. The week before last, I said these words for her:
Remembering Aunt Lettie Ann
My dad tells me that my Aunt Lettie Ann had asked him while she was still lucid that I speak at her funeral. I’m saddened that it’s on this occasion that I am speaking with you today, but I consider it an honor to do this small thing for her.
I wanted to begin by sharing with you a seemingly mundane yet meaningful dream that I had three weeks ago, the night after I learned Aunt Lettie Ann was back in the hospital. To be honest with you, I don’t put much truck in dream visitations or other forms of clairvoyance, but this dream’s timing and content unnerved me.
The dream begins with me standing in the foyer of Aunt Lettie Ann’s fine house on Baker Hill Road. I see her descending the steep stairs slowly and carefully with her hands clutching the railing, but her face is beaming, and she says that she’s so glad to see me. After sharing a big hug, she tells me that I need to eat. Leaving me to sit at the extended dining room table with low sunlight entering the windows, she fusses in the kitchen to quickly prepare something for me. Then, while plying me with her delicious home cooking, she asks, how are you doing, how’s my sweet pea—that’s Yufang, my wife, what are you both up to? Answering her questions, I never got to ask how she was before I was suddenly awake.
That dream lingered in my mind throughout her ordeal. I hoped that it was more like a good memory than a kind of goodbye. I can say that it brought back many happy memories of Aunt Lettie Ann showing her unconditional love and care, such as birthdays and Christmases, visits to see her when I was at home from school or work, and times that she hosted me when Uncle Doc, who you might have known as Bill or Wilbur or grandpa or dad—helped me on Scouting projects. And, it reminded me how she demonstrated her love and care in other ways, such as wanting to know how you are and what you’re up to—listening equally about your triumphs and failures, your good health and bad, and even your daily trifles—before sharing her own, in which she emphasized the positive over the negative and made light of her own troubles; needing to take care of you and make sure that you’re comfortable and well fed; giving deeply personal gifts—in fact, thinking to get Christmas presents for our cats Miao Miao and Mose who she didn’t even have a chance to meet; and above all else striving to make you feel loved and special. However, Yufang told me that it is more than that—the feeling of being loved by Aunt Lettie Ann remains with you even after you say goodbye and you carry her love with you wherever you might go next. I think she’s absolutely right.
I share with you all a tremendous sadness that Aunt Lettie Ann is no longer here to love and care for us. I know we will all miss her great big hugs, her delicious cooking and get-togethers, and her looking out for us. However, I am deeply heartened to know that her love is still all around us, because we each carry it in our hearts and memories. I encourage you to cherish Aunt Lettie Ann’s love as a celebration of her life, an enduring remembrance of who she was, and a reminder of the kind of person who we should all strive to be.
During today’s class, we will conclude your discussion of Marjane Satrapi’s two groundbreaking graphic novels, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2000 and 2001/English translation 2003) and Persepolis 2 (2002 and 2003/English translation 2004).
First, I need to give you two reminders:
–Round 3 of blog posts are due by midnight on May 9 from Clifford, Andrew, Marla, and Sandra. The rest of the class has until midnight May 14 to post their comments. If anyone is missing any of their previous blog posts or comments, they also must be completed by midnight, May 14. A reminder for the students: these instructions and the blog schedule are on our OpenLab site.
–Their research projects are due at the start of class on May 14. They will need to have their bibliographic sheets ready for submission, and the order of individual presentations will be randomly-determined at the start of class. They can access the instructions for this assignment, as well as a template for the bib. sheets, on our OpenLab page.
Now, to begin our discussion today, let’s consider the relationship between private histories (individual and familial) and public histories (recorded, published, recognized, shared).
The Oxford English Dictionary defines history as:
A written narrative constituting a continuous chronological record of important or public events (esp. in a particular place) or of a particular trend, institution, or person’s life.
This is a broad definition of what we usually think of as history. On the one hand, it includes “record of important or public events” as well as “a person’s life.” The former tends to mean the events that shape all of our lives, such as presidential elections, wars, and national tragedies. It is recorded in newspapers, magazines, journals, books, documentaries, and other media. The latter switches from larger events to the individual. Of course, biographies and autobiographies of celebrities, politicians, scientists, etc. are about individuals and they concern the larger history that shape our lives as those recognized individuals contributed to our society and culture in some way–good or bad. But it can also be about individuals like you and me. It can be about families, too. The stories of these private histories are pass along through oral traditions (storytelling) and recorded in oral histories (recordings of interviews with persons and families about their experiences, struggles, and memory of events), life writing (diaries, journals, letters, postcards, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, and today, social media and other digital writing).
Considering these two meanings of history, let’s call the “record of important and public events” a public history and the smaller scale history of individuals and families a private history. Let’s explore the interaction between these two types of history. Rosenzweig and Thelen present one way of framing the relationship between public and private histories:
When we approach the more familiar content of academic history, we need to investigate how in their intimate relationships individuals used and did not use, went along with and defied larger “historical” trends. At this level the dichotomy between “intimate” and “national,” public and private, dissolves into dynamic and reciprocal interaction. Respondents more often mentioned public experiences than private ones as the most formative of their lives, but they mentioned those public events most often as intimate experiences. What they remembered was the personal contexts in which they engaged the public events (teachers and students in a fifth grade class weeping when they heard of Kennedy’s assassination) or their own participation in those events (fighting in a battle in World War II). They often drew personal meanings when they recalled public figures as the most important individuals in their lives. In distinguishing between those experiences that still live in active memory, passed on orally from individual to individual because people believe that they continue to provide meaningful anchors for the present, on one hand, and those experiences now remembered only in writing—in books, written by professional historians—Pierre Nora draws a more important distinction than that between personal and national pasts. What matters is whether something lives for participants in the present.
In other words, walling off public from private pasts doesn’t make sense. When not forced to choose between family and national pasts, half the respondents who wanted their children to learn their family heritage also wanted their children to learn their national heritage. They connected these heritages, intimate with public, each time they toured a museum or visited a site with family or friends, each time they reenacted a battle or showed objects they had collected to others. They named both national figures and family members as influences; about the same number of people in the national sample (24) named John F. Kennedy as a formative influence as named their grandfathers. Many worried about how larger historical developments—economic insecurity, waning of discipline—might have eroded the family, turning it into a source of disintegration instead of support. Respondents gave meaning to large phenomena like immigration or economic depression by describing how they had changed and been changed by passage through those experiences.
A fundamentally historical culture centered on individual participation would invite members to explore just how individuals conform to and resist larger historical trends, how the rhythms and narratives of family life fit or do not fit those of changing power and institutional arrangements in the larger society. It would envision individuals as more than examples of large and impersonal cultures and institutions. It would take seriously how they live lives and meet needs in relationships driven by forces different from those that power institutions and cultures. (Rosenzweig and Thelen 196-197).
Rosenzweig, Roy and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Rosenzweig and Thelen explore the relationship between individuals’ private histories and the larger public histories, the larger events, that they experienced. They find that private and public histories inform one another–the former giving context to the latter. They interact in deeply personal ways that shape the memories of ourselves and those around us. Public history influences private history, and public history is captured in private history in complex ways.
Rosenzweig and Thelen mention Pierre Nora, whose work might be helpful for our thinking about the private histories and public histories, or put another way, memory and history.
Memory and history, far from being synonymous, appear now to be in fundamental opposition. Memory is life, borne by living societies founded in its name. It remains in permanent evolution, open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, unconscious of its successive deformations, vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation, susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived. History, on the other hand, is the reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer. Memory is a perpetually actual phenomenon, a bond tying us to the eternal present; history is a representation of the past. Memory, insofar as it is affective and magical, only accommodates those facts that suit it; it nourishes recollections that may be out of focus or telescopic, global or detached, particular or symbolic-responsive to each avenue of conveyance or phenomenal screen, to every censorship or projection. History, because it is an intellectual and secular production, calls for analysis and criticism. Memory installs remembrance within the sacred; history, always prosaic, releases it again. Memory is blind to all but the group it binds-which is to say, as Maurice Halbwachs has said, that there are as many memories as there are groups, that memory is by nature multiple and yet specific; collective, plural, and yet individual. History, on the other hand, belongs to everyone and to no one, whence its claim to universal authority. Memory takes root in the concrete, in spaces, gestures, images, and objects; history binds itself strictly to temporal continuities, to progressions and to relations between things. Memory is absolute, while history can only conceive the relative.
At the heart of history is a critical discourse that is antithetical to spontaneous memory. History is perpetually suspicious of memory, and its true mission is to suppress and destroy it. At the horizon of historical societies, at the limits of the completely historicized world, there would occur a permanent secularization. History’s goal and ambition is not to exalt but to annihilate what has in reality taken place. A generalized critical history would no doubt preserve some museums, some medallions and monuments-that is to say, the materials necessary for its work-but it would empty them of what, to us, would make them lieux de memoire. In the end, a society living wholly under the sign of history could not, any more than could a traditional society, conceive such sites for anchoring its memory. (Nora 8-9)
Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” Representations, 26, 1989, 7-24.
An important term that Nora uses is lieux de memoire. What does this mean?
[A] lieu de memoire [site of memory] is any significant entity, whether material or nonmaterial in nature, which by dint of human will or the work of time has become a symbolic element of the memorial heritage of any community. (Nora xvii)
Nora, Pierre. “Preface to English Language Edition: From Lieux de memoire to Realms of Memory.” Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, edited by Pierre Nora, Columbia University Press, 1996, pp. xv-xxiv.
Lieux de memoire or sites of memory are invested with history by our shared experiences and memory of events in the past. They are communal, but the memory supporting the site (whether it is material like a place or nonmaterial like a story, language, or tradition) depends on the sustenance of the memory by individuals sharing and passing on the memory across time. A lieu de memoire is a kind of in-between of public history and private history that depends on individual memory, which takes the place of the milieux de memoire:
Our interest in lieux de memoire where memory crystallizes and secretes itself has occurred at a particular historical moment, a turning point where consciousness of a break with the past is bound up with the sense that memory has been torn-but torn in such a way as to pose the problem of the embodiment of memory in certain sites where a sense of historical continuity persists. There are lieux de memoire, sites of memory, because there are no longer milieux de memoire, real environments of memory. (Nora 7)
Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire.” Representation, no. 26, Spring 1989, 7-24.
The milieux de memoire or real environments of memory are the places, cultures, and events lost to the past that, because of changes in the world from when those things represented the idea now held (the lieu de memoire), no longer represent or correspond to that past. Some examples that we can discuss include baseball, the World Trade Center, and Persepolis [the place in Iran].
The disconnection between the milieux de memoire and the lieu de memoire points the way to our forgotten past. Some of our past is selected to be recorded as public history by historians (and others) based on a variety of criteria and influences, including politics, ideology, hegemony, research interest, etc., while other parts of our past are de-emphasized, erased, and not selected. Private history, or the history of individuals and families, plays such an important role in our better understanding of the past that gets left out of public histories.
Marjane Satrapi combines private history and public history in her autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis and Persepolis 2. Loren Baybrook writes about it in these ways:
The color fades, and the story of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 unfolds as a contest between private history, which pulls her back to her family, and public history, which has pushed her so far from them. (Baybrook 1)
Marji’s alternation between individual conscience and group consciousness, between private and public history, points, then, to the deeper culprit of civic ruin. (Baybrook 2)
Less militantly and didactically, yet still in that vein, Uncle Anoush affirms to Marji the public ideal of enforcing a “society of justice and freedom”. But only his personal history—a tale of conspiracy and death and escape, but also, as if the film is visually resurrecting the mythic promise of The City of Persians, a tale of Anoush’s journey back to the land of butterflies, floating snowflakes, flying fish, and birds presiding over the destiny of Persia—only this history actually matters to his young niece. Why? Because, as Anoush tells her, she herself matters to that history: “family memory must live on” through her. He gives her a miniature swan to seal her promise “never to forget” this intimate bond to individuals. And then comes a montage of other families’ private histories to affirm this lesson in civics. (Baybrook 2)
Persepolis is a history of private voices surviving—or not—amidst the public ones. (Baybrook 2)
In the passages above, Baybrook explores how Satrapi’s private history is intertwined with the public history in interesting ways. For example, the Islamic Revolution in Iran is ultimately what leads to her leaving her homeland and living in Austria, and the private history of her experiences in Austria (that she doesn’t share with her parents but entrusts to the reader) leads her back to her homeland and the ongoing unfolding of its public history. Additionally, her private history (such as falsely accusing the man looking at her as saying something indecent to her) says something about the individual’s potential to be the oppressor in relation those oppressing her. Finally, the importance of Uncle Anoush’s message to her–“family memory must live on”–gives power and importance to private history. Anoush recognizes that so much of what was happening in Iran before and after the Revolution would be erased from public history. It is within those who live and witness can remember and pass on what they remember so that the private history can challenge, enrich, and correct the official public historical accounts.
Public history and private history are intricately interconnected. Public history helps us make sense of and anchor our private history, while private history gives important context to the public history that one lives through and configures the world we are born into by its having created the setting, characters, and props of our individual history’s stage, which reminds me of one more thing from Shakespeare:
Jaques to Duke Senior:
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden, and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side, His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. (Shakespeare 2.4.1118-1145)
During the final phase of today’s class, we’re going to compare some passages in the graphic novels and their animated film adaptation Persepolis (2007), directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud.
What do we mean by the term adaptation? An adaptation is the active recreation of a source text in one medium (e.g., a graphic novel) into a new medium (e.g., an animated film). It can be thought of as a translation of a story from one medium to another, because different languages can imply similar meanings but how they do so in terms of sentence structure, vocabulary, and idioms is quite different.
Each medium has its own unique affordances and constrains. A graphic novel includes images drawn and inked arranged in panels across pages with words providing dialog, interior thoughts and emotions, and narration. The images and text work together to tell the story. Like a graphic novel, an animated film uses images, but instead of being static, they are moving images. Action that might otherwise be implied in static drawings in the graphic novel are given movement, life, and energy. Instead of having to read text as in the graphic novel, the animated film uses character dialog and occasional narrative voice-over. Nonverbal changes of expression are fluid instead of jarring as in the graphic novel. Body language and tone of voice, cadence of speech, and emphasis of speech provide richer and nuanced meaning that might get left out of the graphic novel. Unlike a graphic novel, the film uses music–orchestral soundtrack and popular music–to imply emotional content, set the tone of a scene, and provide cues to the audience of the intensity or pace of a scene.
Now, let’s look at some specific scenes together and discuss them.
On Thursday, Feb. 14, I’m filling in for Prof. Rebecca Mazumdar in her ENG3402 Special Topics Class on The Graphic Novel.
Students were asked to read the first two books of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Chapter 3, “Blood in the Gutter” of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (1993) for today’s class.
During today’s class, we’ll discuss The Dark Knight Returns, Superheroes, and the Antihero. These topics will return for discussion in future classes when Prof. Mazumdar joins you next.
These are some resources that will inform our discussion (in the order of reference):
Tiner, Ron, David Roache DRo and John Platt. “Batman.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 15 Oct. 2018, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/batman.
Yesterday, I deleted my EA Origin account, because I was fed up with how things were “going according to plan.” EA’s and other forced online game portals plan seems to be two fold: 1) require players to login to a service to play a local-instance, single-player video game, and 2) waste as much time and bandwidth resources of players as possible in the function of updating the front end portal and the games accessed via the portal by denying users the choice to update if and when they choose to do so.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the above message from EA–“it’s all going according to plan” and the unending “preparing” to download a very large, required update for Star Wars: Battlefront II.
Finding a few free minutes before bed, I wanted to fly the Millennium Falcon through the wreckage of blasted cruisers and obliterate as many TIE Fighters as possible. I play against computer-controlled adversaries. I don’t play against other players over the Internet. Everything regarding my game play experience takes place locally on my PC.
Nevertheless, EA requires me to login to Origin before playing Star Wars: Battlefront II. Before logging in, Origin required a software update. I did this. Since I hadn’t logged in for a few months, I had forgotten my password. I had to reset it. I logged in. Then, Origin required a large update to Star Wars: Battlefront II before I could play the game. I waited. I waited some more. I only wanted to play the game for about 10 minutes before bed time. Now, I had invested about 20 minutes on updating software and resetting passwords.
While it was “preparing to update” as seen above, I began researching how to delete my EA Origin account. I discovered that they make this as difficult as possible. You have to chat with a representative instead of clicking a link after logging into your account. I began doing this while still Origin was still “preparing.” The representative, who was nice enough, followed his script to try to dissuade me from deleting my account and instead deactivate it. I persisted with deletion and after another 10 minutes, I was told that it would take some additional time to delete my account but I didn’t need to stay on the chat while this was done.
Finally, the representative asked me if I would like to share why I wanted to leave EA Origin. I told him this:
I simply don’t like having to login to a service to play a game–especially when logging in might involve downloading gigabytes of installation updates. I understand why EA and other game publishers do this, but I don’t want to have to do this. I should be able to launch the game that I want to play and just play it. So, I wanted to delete my account and give up on EA Origin and Star Wars Battlefront II. I’ll seek out those games that let me play them on my terms.
I am vociferously against the shift to enforced online-only gaming for games that have a single-player mode. Games should be able to be enjoyed locally without hindrance if there is a single-player mode built into the game as there is with Star Wars: Battlefront II. Of course, I understand the need to login to a service when the game is enjoyed in multiplayer mode, but not all players opt for this kind of game play experience. Some of us enjoy playing the various single-player experiences within the game.
I purchased the game when it was on sale, so I will consider the money that I spent on it already invested in the times that I was able to fly the Millennium Falcon through the blasted wrecks of space battles.
However, I will never purchase another single-player option game from EA or any other video game publisher that doesn’t give me a modicum of respect to enjoy the game on my terms–no logging into online services (if I’m not playing against others online, I don’t need to login) and no required updates (I should be able to choose how and when I update the software on my computer).
I encourage others to avoid these games and seek out those made by publishers who respect players who value single-player game experiences.
My article on the public debate between H. G. Wells and Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton about who originated the idea of a motorized, armored weapons platform or tank, which first appeared in The Wellsian: The Journal of the H. G. Wells Society (no. 33, 2010, pp. 42-57) is now available as a reprint in Short Story Criticism, Volume 264 (edited by Catherine C. DiMercurio, Prod. Layman Poupard. Gale, Cengage, 2018, pp. 256-265).
N.B.: Gale’s Short Story Criticism series is an excellent resource for scholars and students to easily and quickly learn the discourse on a particular author’s short story oeuvre. These volumes collate scholarship from a wide variety of academic journals on the works of a particular author. For example, Short Story Criticism, Volume 264 includes three sections of collected articles for these writers: Mary Caponegro, Mahasweta Devi, and H. G. Wells. I believe that the series is a good addition to libraries serving the needs of English departments and literature programs, because it provides a wide array of research on its selected authors for convenient access to scholarship.
Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with colleagues about what Publishing Studies means to me. I edited my thoughts into the following note.
Publishing Studies: Theory and Praxis
Publishing Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that encompasses rhetoric and composition, media studies, history of the book/newspaper/magazine/websites/etc., and practical skills including writing, editing, design, layout, production, marketing, business administration, etc. Publishing Studies programs prepare students for publishing industry careers.
Publishing Studies should be grounded in theory and praxis. Theory provides a foundation for understanding the field and its development. It gives ways of seeing and thinking about the process and purpose behind publishing. Theory helps one be a confident problem solver, an open-minded thinker, and a dynamic life-long learner who can adapt to changing work conditions and challenges. Balancing theory is practical skills. These skills are what help students build a portfolio, gain experience through internships and entry level positions, and obtain a job on their desired career path. Through their understanding of theory, students will understand that the skills they have when leaving a program will only go so far as the publishing industry changes. They can leverage their current skills to grow their skill set over time and be engaged members in their profession so that they know what new trends they should pay attention to and what new skills will keep them competitive in the job market.
Publishing Studies is founded on rhetoric and composition. Publishing is all about communicating particular ideas to a particular audience using a particular (production scale/mass communication) medium. Knowing audience, rhetorical techniques, modes of communication (WOVEN=written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal), and the writing process are essential skills for anyone interested in the publishing industry. Furthermore, being a reflective practitioner–using journal writing and reflection–supports the acquisition, integration, and improvement of the use of rhetoric and composition principles in the work place. There is a lot of overlap in this regard (as well as in the tools employed in the publishing field mentioned below) with Technical Communication.
Media and materiality are really big components of Publishing Studies, because publishing is all about using mass communication media technologies to reach an audience. Important issues for Publishing Studies from a Media Studies perspective might include: the effect/affect of media on audiences, how does media change over time, how does media influence other media, what biases are built into particular media or how those media are used, and are there issues with particular media at scale (e.g., Facebook and Twitter’s role in Brexit and the 2016 US election). Aesthetics, design, layout, and UX are important, too, and they overlap (as do many aspects of theory) with practical skills.
History of the Book/Newspaper/Magazine/Website/Etc
Perhaps under the umbrella of Media Studies, the History of the Book and other produced media such as newspapers, magazines, websites, social media, and others, are key to a fundamental understanding of Publishing Studies. The field encompasses many different forms of mass communication technologies, and the intertwined histories of these media provide a useful context for how we are at this particular moment in publishing history while also revealing how the history of publishing is not a Whig historical progression, but in fact, contains many interesting dead ends and forgotten technologies whose time might not have been right but contained some aspects that were useful and might deserve revisiting in the present. Layered in these histories are issues of labor, capital, production technologies, world historical events, and societal movements, all of which have influenced the development of the publishing history.
Praxis is tempered by theory. Theory is made meaningful by praxis. The two support one another and enrich one’s experience of the publishing field in a way that helps propel students toward dynamic careers instead of cookie-cutter jobs. Publishing careers include writing, editing, design, layout, printing, IT, programming, procurement, representation, marketing, fact checking, research, and business administration. All of these rely on a basic set of writing, communication, and interpersonal skills, and each branches off into a discrete set of current (but always changing) skills involving knowledge-based work (e.g., planning, research, summarizing, extrapolating, etc.) and tool-based work (e.g., Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, CMS, etc.). Each career path’s set of widely accepted skills (i.e., those skills that employers are looking for in employees) are those that should be researched and taught by faculty. Besides their course work, students can learn more about these through trade publications and books, mentors, and internships.
I began this new LEGO MOC (my own creation) project while reading Michael Brooke’s The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding (1999) and after assembling my Mike McGill re-issued skateboard.
Some ideas from skateboarding culture inspired this project. First, there’s the tension between Thrasher’s “Skate and Destroy” and Transworld Skateboarding’s “Skate and Create.” The former appearing in the December 1982 issue and the latter appearing in response in its first issue in May/June 1983. When I first skated, I didn’t know about this difference of ethos, but I can say that I was drawn to reading Transworld Skateboarding more so than Thrasher. Transworld’s ethos of making something from the act of skateboarding fits well with my own attitude of doing good in the world through teaching and making (as opposed to wrapping the act of destruction into an aggressive skating attitude–understanding, of course, there is a certain amount of hyperbole in this motto and more back story worth investigating–see the interview by Adam Creagan with Craig Stecyk in Thrasher March 2010, pp. 80-81, and Konstatin Butz’s Grinding California, pp. 73).
Second, many skaters talk about riding as an act of self-expression, creativity, and doing. While the act of skating is ephemeral, skaters build analogies between the sport and other creative endeavors such as writing, playing, painting, expression, and language. For example: Rodney Mullen writes, “[Skateboarding] has been the arena where I could stake my claim, the play where I would contribute my verse, and even the pen with which I write” (qtd. in Brookle 11). Chris Long writes, “‘How glad I am that I skateboard’ . . . finding my own lines and creating my own ways of playing” (qtd. in Brooke 173). Darrel Delgado writes, “Skateboarding in a pool is like being a painter, and every new pool is a blank canvas and you are the artist. Every artist has a different approach and every pool is different, which keeps the intrigue alive. You can go wherever your mind and the transitions will let you go” (qtd. in Brooke 135). Mike Valleley writes about finding skateboarding, “I got an identity and something productive. It was creative, physical activity and I used my entire being to do it” (qtd. in Brooke 137). Tony Alva writes, “Just do something that’s in tune with an individual type of expression. I think that’s what’s so important about skateboarding” (qtd. in Brooke 175). Dave Hackett writes, “Pure and simple, [skateboarding is] a healthy, radical art form. . . . Skateboarding utilizes the every-expanding environment of steel, concrete, plaster, or wood as its canvas. . . . The skater becomes one with his board, while the board in turn translates the language of the terrain” (qtd. in Brooke 176). On these points, I think skateboarding and LEGO building overlap–in both cases, skateboarding and making, the fulfilling goal is creative and imaginative expression through a given medium–the former being the assemblage of body, skateboard, and terrain, and the latter being the assemblage of builder and brick.
I wanted to combine different aspects of skateboarding into a single model. I grew up with street skating, because there weren’t any local skate parks (though, I have discovered in my research that there was a skate park in Brunswick in the late-1970s called Nova Skate Park–more on that in a future post). But, I always wanted to skate vert and pipes, so I thought about combining what I knew with what I wanted to learn.
I got the idea for the ramp’s vert and transition design from LEGO 60200 Capital City set, which has one component that is a combined skateboard ramp/wall climb/basketball court. It uses dark grey inverted arches for the transition, which I agreed was the best choice of brick–albeit in tan color to emulate the color of wood–for the ramp that I had in mind.
The next consideration was how large a model to make. I knew that I would have to purchase the inverted arch bricks for the ramp, so I looked for a seller with a good price and selection of elements that would help me realize the idea crystalizing in my mind. Alphabrix, a seller with great feedback had 20 tan, inverted arch bricks, which would let me build a 10-stud wide ramp. I figured that its length should be at least double its width, if not more. Ultimately, I settled on a 10-stud wide ramp with a 28 stud length including both tables. This allowed two studs on either side of the ramp for stairs if I went with an overall length of 32 studs for the model. Since I opted for a 32 stud length, I figured that a 16 stud width for the overall model would be enough to add a street skating scene in the model’s foreground.
After receiving the Bricklink parts and sorting out some necessary elements from my collection, I built the vert ramp first. Even though this would occupy the rear part of the model, it would dominate the model and be its focus. I wanted to get it right. I thought about how I would build a real one. I wanted a steel foundation that would be elevated off the ground. The ramp and tables would be made out of wood. As a new ramp, I wanted to give it a little bit of style with alternating color–light and dark tan tiles emulating different sheets of plywood. On the right side, I wanted a sloping launch that divided two drops on the front and back–this was a ramp design that I saw many years ago that gave the skaters a divided coping for new trick opportunities.
With the vert ramp complete, I turned my attention to the base and its foregrounded street skating area comprising 6 studs by 32 studs. The bottom of the base are dark grey plates supporting a circumference of Technic bricks and filled in with 2 x 4 bricks. I covered the surface mostly with tan 4 x 6 plates. I built up a curb with 1 x 4 and 1 x 6 bright yellow plates covered with the same colored tiles. Within that area, I filled in with a single layer of light grey tiles–some with single studs and the rest without to allow placement of obstacles like barrels and trash cans, which can be skated around or ollied over. Finally, I put concrete cones down to support the ramp behind the street skate area.
Finally, I combined the vert ramp with the base and its street skate area. I used yellow, dark blue, and orange tiles to skirt the Technic bricks around the base. The vert ramp’s coping permits posing of skaters doing hand plants. In the foreground, I added a stereo (probably playing an eclectic mix of They Might Be Giants, The Beastie Boys, and Technotronic) and snacks including pizza and cookies (shredding fuel).
Usually, it takes me several days to weeks to complete a build like this, which I have chronicled on other blog posts. However, I built this model in a single evening. I think my mind had been working on the project while I waited for the needed bricks to arrive in the mail. Even though I wasn’t haptically manipulating the bricks in my hands, I was daydreaming and imagining how to put the model together at odd times between placing the brick order and receiving them in the mail.
While imagining myself shredding on my completed LEGO skateboarding model and thinking about picking up my McGill deck to hit the streets with, I’m reminded of the Kevin J. Thatcher’s first editorial in the January 1981 issue of Thrasher: “The average individual was never properly exposed to the unlimited possibilities of a platform with four wheels under it–a simple basic mechanical device which serves as an energy-efficient mode of transportation, a basis for a valid sporting activity, and as a vehicle for aggressive expression. . . . Thrashing is finding something and taking it to the ultimate limit–not dwelling on it, but using it to the fullest and moving on. Skateboarding has not yet reached its maximum potential, and who can say what the limits are? To find out–Grab that board!” (6). Grab that board, grab that LEGO brick, grab that camera, grab whatever it is that you can express yourself with, because that is the thing with which you can leave your mark on the world.
Brooke, Michael. The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding. Warrick Publishing, 1999.
Butz, Konstatin. Grinding California: Culture and Corporeality in American Skate Punk. Transcript Verlag, 2012.
Creagan, Adam. “Skate and Destroy: The Stecyk Scrawl Lives On.” Thrasher, March 2010, pp. 80-81.
Lowboy. “Skate and Destroy, or Multiple Choices (Something to Offend Everyone).” Thrasher, December 1982, pp. 24-29.
Thatcher, Kevin J. “Talking Ed.” Thrasher, January 1981, pp. 6.
Tracker Peggy (Peggy Cozens). “Skate and Create.” Transworld Skateboarding, May/June 1983, pp. 13-15.
Our little cat Miao Miao passed away on December 26, 2018 after a battle with cancer. She was 13 years and 8 months old. Y rescued Miao after her mother had abandoned her when she was only a few weeks old in 2005. She was sick and small, but Y nursed her back to health and adopted her as part of her family. I came to know Miao beginning in 2008, after I met Y at Kent State. Soon, I became a part of the family, too. Miao was strong willed but also very loving. When we had guests over, she was an enthusiastic host. She brightened our days, which now seem diminished without her around. Even though Miao never really took to our younger cat Mose, we can tell that he grieves in his own way for her, too. She will be dearly missed.