Processing Extraordinary Tragedy in Ordinary Days

In the poster for Ordinary Days, four people are silhouetted against stylized New York skyscrapers

Image credit: Fresno Beehive

[Spoiler alert: if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity of attending Ordinary Days, know that the following describes much of the play’s ending.]

Manalive, the novel by G.K. Chesterton, opens with miraculous gust of wind, a meterological phenomenon described as “the good wind that blows nobody harm.” I always found something particularly memorable about that image of a moment of impossible happiness, and it gusted into my mind once more when I attended the recent Austin production of the chamber musical, Ordinary Days.

Ordinary Days offers more than a miraculous gust of wind. Instead, its climax brings all four of the play’s cast members into contact by a single, bizarre spectacle. The image is explicitly identified not with nature, however, but with one of the greatest recent tragedies of our nation: the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11. I’m not sure that the play’s treatment of 9/11 is necessarily its most brilliant moment—but it does offer an interesting example of one artist’s attempt to use visual and narrative imagination to recontextualize the image that has driven so much of America’s foreign and domestic policy over the last ten years.

Bringing "Rip Van Winkle" to Life, Part II

Joseph Jefferson as Young Rip Van Winkle Image Source: Wikipedia

In my last post, I began telling the story of how “Rip Van Winkle” came to be converted to film. The story is fraught with all of the workplace drama and power plays that one might expect from a nascent Hollywood industry. It’s a tale of stolen ideas, patents, and lawsuits, that led to an eventual motion picture industry monopoly. As I mentioned in my last post, most scholars credit Thomas Edison’s assistant, Laurie Dickson, with the creation of the Kinetoscope, an invention very similar to the Mutoscope on which audiences would have viewed Rip Van Winkle. The invention was essentially a peephole in a tall rectangular box with film running between two spools. Around the time of the invention’s 1892 patent, however, the relationship became rocky.

In Your (Type)Face: Part I

Gill Sans

Image via Parimal Parmar, Bē

I'm in the midst of the (long) process of building a digital magazine called Covered with Fur for Austin small press A Strange Object. This week I'm choosing typefaces, which, as one editor puts it, is a "vertigo-inducing" prospect, especially on the web. As I research and test various webfonts, I'm struck by a) how many exist, b) how many ugly and/or illegible fonts there are, and c) how little I know about type design and type designers in the digital age. I mean, I watched Helvetica, just like everyone else, but I don't put nearly enough thought into the people who design the typefaces I use regularly (which include, of late, Times, Helvetica Neue, occationally Didot, if I'm feeling fancy; I used to be strictly Garamond, but I grew out of that, thank God).

My first question: what typefaces, if any—old or new—are designed by women? 

Erasing Wyldstyle: Heteronormativity in the LEGO Movie

artist's depiction of the anatomy of a LEGO figure. Part of a skeleton and some organs are visible

Artist Jason Freeny's LEGO Anatomy Model

Image Credit:

In my last post, I laid out the theoretical groundwork of biopolitics for a critique of the subversive potential of the LEGO movie. Biopolitics, or the epistemological and sociopolitical forces that determine how individuals understand bodies and “life,” lets us examine both the LEGO movie's own critique of social constructivism and comment on the movie's failure to adequately separate itself from static models of gender and sexuality.

State-Craft or The Art of Leadership in George W. Bush's Paintings

Photograph from George W. Bush Presidential Center's exhibit on The Art of Leadership

Image Credit: Kim Leeson / George W. Bush Presidential Center

Last year, an adventurous hacker found and leaked pictures of paintings made by former President George W. Bush, including two revealing self-portraits from the shower. Now, the private hobby has been made public by President Bush himself. The George W. Bush Presidential Library, up the road in Dallas, has just opened an exhibit, The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy, which features portraits Bush painted of the world leaders he once encountered as President, paired alongside mementos from his travels and his musings about statecraft. However, what makes these paintings remarkable for viewers?

The Austin Zen Center's Garden as a Model for Austin


(Image Credit: Jay Voss)

Nothing sums up the best of Austin’s landscape gardening tastes like the garden at the Austin Zen Center. Located on West 31st Street between Guadalupe and Lamar, the Austin Zen Center’s garden is impressive any time of year. Every plant in the garden is native. The vegetation in the garden never, ever receives sprinkler water. The entire growing space is focused around a gorgeous old live oak tree, like a dry landscape garden is focused around a sizable boulder. It’s only when you look at the Austin Zen Center’s garden twice that you notice the massive live oak isn’t centered on the acreage – that it seems to do so is only an illusion. Everything in the garden is clean, pure, and honest, and a steadfast commitment to these virtues on the part of those who care for the landscape has the effect of producing a space that is harmonious and seemingly balanced.

Generic Branding and our Culture's Values

A black man with graying beard and dramatically wrinkled face looks past the viewer.

Image source:

Branding and corporate marketing can be bizarre. Sure, there are the big brands, the Disney’s or Budweisers or Coca-Colas, whose very names evoke our day-to-day experience of the products they market. For those of us who like to think about how visual rhetoric interacts with pop culture, these iconic multinationals can provide endless streams of data. Watching how such companies endlessly race to reflect or mold global and American cultures so as to increase visibility may sometimes be a depressing project, but it is always fascinating. But what about the guys who we don’t interact with on a daily basis?

Bringing "Rip Van Winkle" to Life

Gif illustrating how a Phenakistoscope works Image credit: Wikipedia

In adapting a book for film, a number of executive decisions are made: scenes are cut, metaphors are made visual, and wardrobes are custom fit to match the era or character’s personality, all to the chagrin or pleasure of the audience. While the conversation around film adaptation often happens with full-length feature films, it should be remembered that this is not solely a conversation worth having after the twentieth century. Of course, plays and even early forms of cinema have at times made more drastic and noteworthy changes when adapting a text for the stage or screen. In the early days of cinema, these changes were especially pronounced. Largely due to technological constraints, cinema couldn’t always replicate a narrative anywhere near its entirety – though in some ways it could do more. One consequence, especially visible in the sample that I use here, the short film Rip Van Winkle, is that the resulting adaptation has to tell the story in five fleeting scenes. In this post, I’ll offer an informational and technical overview of how one of the first film adaptations of a work of literature came to be, and in my follow-up posts I’ll offer more details about the Rip Van Winkle film itself, with a comparative analysis between the story and film.

Great Minds Leave Academia

This post has been removed by the DWRL because of concerns over rhetorical jurisdiction. In the event that it is revised for another DWRL venue, we will publish the link here. 

The Building Blocks of Biopolitics: The LEGO Movie, Empire, and Multitude

A post for The Lego Movie, featuring main characters Emmett, Wild Style, and others

Image Credit: Forbes

Not only did seeing The Lego Movie (2014) lodge the parodic pop song “Everything is Awesome!” firmly in my skull, it also sent me scrambling for a way to intelligently theorize the film's highly sophisticated commentary on politics, capitalism, gender and the body. I emerged from my search with a brief history of biopolitics firmly in hand, and, with “Everything is Awesome!” still running through my head, I will now start assembling the theoretical pieces needed to construct an insightful critique. Part 1 of my ruminations on The Lego Movie, then, provide an introduction to the theories I'll be using in Part 2. Stay tuned, all, because EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. Hopefully these posts will nicely compliment Scott's awesome thoughts on how The Lego Movie capitulates to some disturbing movie cliches in the name of creativity.

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