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August 4, 2004

Too Many Threads

Classes start in twelve days here at Georgia Tech, and I'm starting to feel a little excited and just a little overwhelmed. I'm working on my syllabus for my fall semester freshman composition course (3 sections), in which I'll be using an election theme. I'm still sorting out the details, but like my compsotion courses last year (1101 and 1102), my election-themed class will have a blogging component (while you're in the neighborhood, check out Alex's plans for using blogging in one of his courses).

I recognize that having an election-themed course can be risky, but it seems like one of the most important ways to convey to students the importance of developing their skills in analyzing and producing argumentative writing. Because I've just finished wrapping up loose ends on my summer film course, my ideas here are still tentative.

Also excited that some things are coming together on a September Project event or two here in Atlanta. According to the map, there's already one event planned for the Dekalb County Library, but I've been talking up the event at Democracy for America MeetUps and other events, and there's a lot of enthusiasm and interest out there. I'll have more details about TSP in the next few days.

Still (sort of) working on my Fight Club article (and a few conference papers), but haven't made much progress lately. I'm still dissatisfied with the fact that Fight Club looks at globalization from the perspective of a major film studio. Most of my ideas here are still too tentative to share with such a large audience, but hopefully I can talk about the article in more detail soon.

Posted by chuck at August 4, 2004 10:13 PM

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You ever read the book Fight Club? I haven't, but I've read a couple of other Chuck Palahniuk books (Choke and Survivor). I'd bet he goes into more detail there. The movie touched on globalization early (the Microsoft galaxy, etc.) but seemed to keep its focus broader on the consumer culture in general.

Posted by: Rusty at August 5, 2004 1:03 AM

Yeah, that's one of the problems I'm trying to negotiate. A friend of mine pointed out that when Project Mayhem engages in their Adbusters-style rebellion, they destroy a piece of corporate art resembling a globe, implying a utopian image of globalization. Blowing up the credit card company buildings also seems to suggest an interesting ambivalent take on global financial capital.

I did teach the novel first and then the film, which made for interesting conversation, but the film might actually be more compelling on globalization. I like Palahniuk quite a bit and recommend Lullaby if you haven't read it.

Posted by: chuck at August 5, 2004 12:01 PM

Funny, I'm in the midst of reading _Fight Club_ right now. It's been a number of years since I've seen the film, though, so it's a little fuzzy for me. I'm mostly enjoying the novel--seems to me the whole "surprise" of the movie about the narrator's utter unreliability is not any where near so surprising in the novel. That's of course a little hard to judge because I've seen the movie, but it seems hard to imagine getting too far into the novel without recognizing that this narrator is seriously troubled. I'm only 30 or 40 pages into the novel, but it doesn't seem to spend any more time on the problems of globalization and consumer culture than I remember the film doing--it's there as an issue, but it doesn't seem to be going much of anywhere (yet?).

I just stopped to read your earlier post, and I see that you taught the novel as well. I'd definitely like to hear more about how your students responded to questions concerning that nexus of consumer culture and masculinity--those are issues that my dissertation deals with, at least in part, though almost a hundred years earlier. Have you looked at Gail Bederman's _Manliness and Civilization_? Her time period is 1880-1917 and she is mostly concerned with questions of race, but she deals with the ways in which white American men defined their masculinity through identification with (consumption of [?]) the heavyweight championship in boxing. If I remember correctly she spends at least some time discussing the transformation of the American workforce from farmers and other types of self-employment into clerical workers in stores and in office places and how this transformation led to new notions of manliness. I don't think she's dealing explicilty with any kind of globablization, but there are some clear similiarities between the process she describes and what Pahlaniuk (I'm sure that's spelled wrong) is dealing with.

This is obviously not exactly central to what you're doing, but it might provide some useful context. Sounds like a cool paper. How did the students respond to the movie?

Posted by: David at August 5, 2004 12:02 PM

The Bederman book sounds intriguing, especially given the role of fighting in defining masculinity. One of the "subplots" of the paper wil entail how I would teach FC if I were to teach it again, and that text might be useful as a means of "historicizing" what's happening in FC with my students--one of my goals with the film was to contextualize the film within transformations in employment in the 1980s and 1990s (away from factories and into service and office jobs).

Generally male students seem to like FC unless they object to its violence, sex, and/or profanity. Many female students acknowledged that they were unconvinced by the film's attempt to deconstruct hypermasculinity and suggested that the film wasn't terribly kind to the female characters Marla and Chloe (the dying cancer patient).

Posted by: chuck at August 5, 2004 12:13 PM

I went and pulled out my copy of the Bederman text and I've spent the last ten minutes skimming through the opening chapter, "Remaking Manhood"--your thread is the spur, but I've been meaning to look back over it for my own work--you really should look at it. I'd guess students would find it very tough going (fairly dense theory), but she it could be useful.

She lists assaults on white middle-class "manliness": the kinds of class issues and employment shifts I mentioned earlier, the growth of a consumer culture (and the concurrent pressure to find identity in leisure instead of work), political pressures with the growth of working class labor, woman suffrage and feminism, the "discovery" of the new "disease" of neurasthenia. In response, she argues, men undertook a range of strategic responses to remake manhood into "masculinity" (a word that existed in the nineteenth century, but was still considered rare until the twentieth cnetury): an obsession with physical exercise and sport (particularly boxing), the growth of fraternal societies, man-making organizations like the Boy Scouts and the YMCA, opposition to feminism and "excessive femininity," a reworking of class expectations, and a re-investment in racial dominance of whites over blacks.

Again, it's outside your time period but it's useful context. I also think it's good cultural studies theory work--I don't know how fully-developed your theoretical tools for discussing masculinity are, but mine need work and I've found Bederman useful in that regard.

By the way, your Comments box has a button for "remember my information" but it seems to refuse to remember me. Know what that's about?

Posted by: David at August 5, 2004 12:40 PM

I'll certainly take a look at Bederman. I haven't really backed off asking my students to read some fairly dense material. After all, I assign Benjamin's "Work of Art" essay pretty frequently, but at the very least that's something I could discuss with my students without requiring them to read it.

Interesting: didn't baseball really take off as a popular organized sport at the beginning of the 20th century? Boxing would certainly be primary to her argument, but based on your representation, I can see any number of other examples and how they fit her argument.

I'm not sure why it refuses to remember your information. I think that happens on a lot of MT blogs. It may have something to do with whether you click the comments icon below the entry (creating a new comments window) or click the entry title on the sidebar.

Posted by: chuck at August 5, 2004 12:50 PM

I am doing an election themed course with a blogging component this fall as well. The great thing is that Dan Gillmor's new book, We the Media, is available for free download under a CC license. It should come in handy.

Posted by: dr. b. at August 5, 2004 12:56 PM

Thanks for the suggestion, dr. b. That sounds really useful. I'm planning to spend at least 1-2 days with students discussing the rhetoric of past TV advertisements (all of which are now collected on the "Living Room Candidate" website). I'll spend some time this afternoon looking at Gillmor's book.

Posted by: chuck at August 5, 2004 1:25 PM

Chuck, re: "...the film wasn't terribly kind to the female characters Marla and Chloe (the dying cancer patient)."

Palahniuk's books, at least the two I've read, have never been kind to female characters. Choke, in particular, gave the ladies pretty vicious treatment.

Posted by: Rusty at August 5, 2004 2:22 PM

I didn't find Fight Club, book or movie, kind to women. However, I'm not overly concerned about it; while no issue can really be addressed in a vacuum, you do have to pick what to focus on, and focusing on hypermasculinity means less room for focusing on femininity and gender relations.

That said, I'd have liked to see one sympathetic female character, you know?

I look forward to reading more about your class. Almost makes me wish I had taken freshman comp.

Incidentally, any idea how many freshman comp teachers placed out of that very class?

Posted by: Cassie at August 5, 2004 4:16 PM

Cassie, I'm glad you're finding my discussion of my class interesting. I wouldn't be able to guess how many of my colleagues placed out of taking composition. I know that I placed into the "advanced" composition course at my college, but I barely remember taking it (other than the fact that we read "The Glass Menagerie" for some reason). I'd imagine that composition instructors have quite a range of experiences with taking freshman composition, but I *think* you're asking whether or not composition instructors really understand how students perceive their composition classes. That's a much more difficult question.

I think you're basically right that FC (novel and film) can only do so much in terms of addressing contemporary life. What I'm interested in is *why* these texts (and/or their creators) chose that particular focus, what it means that during the late 1990s this model of masculinity became so attractive (and also what it means that Marla and Chloe are the only women who are present in that world).

Rusty, for some reason, I don't remember the female characters in "Choke" at all, and I'm more or less drawing a blank on "Lullaby" as well. Perhaps I need to revisit those books while working through this essay.

Posted by: chuck at August 5, 2004 4:41 PM

Cassie, I am a comp professor and I completely placed out of first-year comp too. I have often over the years wished that I had taken those classes, in part so that it would be at least a little bit easier for me to understand what my students go through in my comp classes but also because the more comp I teach the more convinced I become that they are absolutely essential classes for incoming college students. If a comp program is run with any degree of competence (and in my experience, they almost always meet at least that standard, even at not-very-good colleges) I don't think anyone should ever be allowed to place out of first-year comp. The transition from (even good) high school writing to college writing is too difficult, sometimes especially for students who were good writers in high school.

Posted by: David at August 5, 2004 9:44 PM

Chuck, Fight Club, the film is about choreography. It is about teaching. Masculinity? Puppetry? I invite you and your classes to close your eyes and listen to any five minute portion of the film. Cue a second monitor to another segment, turn off sound, play with the sound from the previously heard five minutes. It's about choreography. Kaja Silverman "[T]he desire to perceive similitude where there was as yet scarecely a discernible image speaks to the imperative of finding a surrogate with which to cover over the absent real." p. 5 of The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema. I think the key to a non-boy dominated approach to the film Fight Club is through some of the work that Siverman has done on synchronization.

Chuck, it is your own words recorded on Weezblog August 25, 2003, that alerts me to the them of the choreography. http://weez.oyzon.com/index.php?/weezblogtemplates/comments/114/

A friend once told me that in the classroom, you have to "play f the ones who are dancing." I figure if I can get a few students to enjoy the backbeat, no matter how eccentric, then I'm doing a good job. I'm in my second week already, and I've got a few students who seem to be tapping their toes, nodding their heads. Now to play something fast and get the joint jumpin'....

Fight Club as classroom. Cherchez the teacher. Cherchez la femme. Who teaches who in the film? Who learns what?

Posted by: Francois Lachance at August 8, 2004 10:35 PM

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