Department of Rhetoric and Writing

The University of Texas at Austin

Shoal Creek: Perhaps As Resourceful As Urban Planning Gets

(Image credit: Jay Voss)

The park that stretches along Austin’s Shoal Creek is pretty amazing when you think about it. Starting near Lady Bird Lake downtown, the trails and bikeways wind all the way up towards 38th street. By my approximated Google Maps calculation, that’s nearly three and a half miles of gravel path, all of which feeds into the much longer Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail (discussed in my last post). Like the trails around Lady Bird Lake, in good weather the parkland around Shoal Creek is routinely flooded with Austinites seeking exercise and a break from concrete and metal. Joggers, walkers, and “mountain” bikers all frequent the trail. Around about 25th Street there is a leash free area for pets. At Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard there are three beach volleyball courts. Just north of 15th Street there’s an extensive playground and more volleyball courts. On the surface of things, there’s nothing exceptional about these recreation areas. Most communities throughout the United States provide their residents with public recreation. Indeed, community owned recreation areas have probably been a part of human settlements for longer than we can imagine. What I think is unique about Austin’s Shoal Creek and the surrounding environs is the extent to which the park consciously embodies a natural environment that challenges the skyscrapers in the distance.

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Lilo & Stitch: The Danger of Beautiful Stories

The alien Stitch lies flat on his face in front of the book, "The Ugly Duckling"

Image credit: captured from

If Frozen (as my previous blog argues) gleefully revises Disney’s traditional iconography, Lilo and Stitch does something far more interesting. Both are, in their ways, re-telling of fairy tales, but Lilo and Stitch proves far weirder, as well as far more intelligent, than its visually-immaculate descendent. We have already discussed Lilo and Stitch once at the Viz blog, praising it for its ability to subvert the “prince charming” narrative. Yet Lilo and Stitch is certainly worth at least one more look. The film is, in fact, both far more critical, and far more thoughtful, than Frozen is. Indeed, the film (despite its rough spots) is sophisticated and thoughtful in a lot of ways that Frozen never dreams of being, and may have something quite important to say about the way we engage with popular children’s stories. 

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Before the Mars Curiosity Rover, There Was Earthrise

Image source:

Yesterday, an image tweeted by the Mars Curiosity Rover with the message “Look back in Wonder . . . My 1st Picture of Earth from the Surface of Mars” proliferated on the internet. As I stared into the screen, primed by half-a-century’s worth of cultural reference points, the oft-repeated excerpt from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1997) came to mind. Looking at the latest Mars Curiosity Rover images, I couldn’t help but think about how I navigate my connection to Earth through a series of more iconic images of space, and the things which have been said about those images. In this post, I’d like to briefly walk through some of the other iconic photos of Earth that inform our present viewing experience.

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You Are What You Like: Buzzfeed vs. Joan Didion

Buzzfeed Quiz Sandwich

 Via Buzzfeed.

A particularly egregious fad has taken over my Facebook feed in the past month, and it’s one that many friends and loved ones have chosen to participate in. It’s the Buzzfeed quiz, and it’s actually not all that unlike any other internet personality quiz, versions of which have made the rounds since the early days of LiveJournal. Taking a Buzzfeed quiz and posting your results is similar to posting your Briggs-Meyers letters (INFJ), which tends to result in a steady stream of comments from friends who now realize to what extent they are (or aren’t at all) like you.

Only the quizzes from Buzzfeed, which I consider the Comic Sans of websites, are different, in a few important—and highly visual—ways. First, they are absurd. (What Sandwich Are You? What Muppet Are You? What “Mean Girls” Character Are You? What Arbitrary Thing Are You? (tagline: “Wanna be a thing? Come on, you know you do. Take this quiz!”) Slate even has a spin-off version of their own: What Buzzfeed Quiz Are You? All of which to say, I find it very hard not to comment on the post that says, “I am a PB&J Sandwich”: “First of all, no, you are not.”

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Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike: A Lasting Anchor for Austin

Hike and Bike Trail

(Image Credit: Jay Voss)

If we’re to think about landscapes in Austin, it only makes sense to start with something in the very heart of the city. What immediately comes to mind, of course, is the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail. This jogging path encompasses over 10 miles of mostly flat jogging track that weaves its way around and over Lady Bird Lake. It has proved to be an enormously popular place for Austinites to escape their concrete jungle. Go down to the area for an evening workout in the warmer months, and the trail will be so packed with joggers and walkers you’d wish you’d braved the midday heat. I’ve long thought all this activity around the lake to be one of the more inspiring aspects of living in Austin. There aren’t really any other cities that I can think of that offer up swaths of seemingly undeveloped land for outdoor recreation. Sure, there’s that stretch along Lake Michigan in Chicago, or along the quays in Paris, but nothing quite compares. The architectural thinking behind the Austin trail is completely focused on getting Austinites out and about, and given that the city is otherwise obsessed with finding all sorts of comfort via technological progress, I think the hike and bike trail is really admirable.

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Frozen: The Anatomy of a Gaze

Elsa from Frozen gazes into the distance

Image credit: The Guardian

The first song composed for (but ultimately cut from) the recent Disney blockbuster Frozen explicitly engages with Disney's presentation of female characters. In the song, entitled "We Know Better," young princesses Elsa and Anna lay out a laundry list of objections to the traditional idea of a "Disney Princess." The film's two heroes refuse to be the sort of princess who "always knows her place," insist that a real princess “laughs and snorts milk out her nose," and maintain their right to mention “underwear.” Though whimsical, the film sets out its heroines' priorities: the only things they take seriously are their sisterly friendship and the political demands of ruling the realm. In climactic two-part harmony, the girls promise to "take care of our people and they will love / Me and you." If films like Tangled and Brave taught Disney that their princesses can (quite profitably) take center stage without dressing up as boys, Frozen insists that its female leads will be more concerned with national policy than with the clothes they wear.

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Winning Humility at Awards Shows

Macklemore accepting his award at the Grammys

Image Credit: Huffington Post/Getty Images

The Grammys provided plenty of viz bait: Beyoncé twerking with Jay-Z, unlikely performing duos like Robin Thicke and the band Chicago, Pharrell’s be-memed hat, and Taylor Swift’s GIF-able dancing. However, what I want to discuss is something that occurred after the Grammys: Macklemore, who won awards for Best New Artist, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Album, acknowledged another victor after the fact. Read more about Winning Humility at Awards Shows

Destroyed Phantasmagorias in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Inglourious Basterds

 Note: contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Inglorious Basterds 

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Hello viz. readers, it’s good to be back! In my last post (way back in 2013), I remarked upon the similarity between characters Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) and Shoshanna Dreyfus in Inglorious Basterds (2009). Though Catching Fire runs through a gamut of stylistic epochs, Katniss’s home in District 12 has an intentionally Hooverville 1930’s aesthetic, placing it in roughly the same period as Tarantino’s Nazi revenge flick Inglorious Basterds. Similarly, both characters are separated from their families by totalitarian regimes. Finally, both heroines are placed in a position to be simultaneously savvy yet reluctant centers of those same totalitarian regimes’ entertainment spectacles – which is what I want to talk about in this post.


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Beyonce's ***Flawless Feminism

Beyonce confronting the camera in video

Image Credit: Screenshot from "***Flawless" video

I’m so glad to be back on viz again after some time away, especially as having to write posts again gives me the chance to discuss Beyoncé Knowles’s newest record, Beyoncé, which was released without any press or preview in late December as a “visual album.” The album has 14 songs and 17 videos included in it. While critics had things to say about Jay-Z’s verse on “Drunk in Love” and the remixed audio from the 1986 Challenger disaster in “XO,” the most noticeable song was “***Flawless,” which features an excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on feminism. Paste Magazine’s review of the album noted the album’s feminist thematics, which others have discussed as well. Since I’d like to add to this conversation about Beyoncé’s feminism, I thought I’d take up how Beyoncé’s visuals, especially in “***Flawless,” depict those concerns. Read more about Beyonce's ***Flawless Feminism


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