Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dublin: Preface

I spent the weekend in Dublin for that most Irish of American holidays, St. Patrick's Day. There is so much to say about that amazing city and my long weekend, so I have decided that I will split it into a series of posts, each with a different theme. But it will take time and energy, both things I don't have today. So for now, I will leave you with this picture of me in the one tourist-y souvenir I allowed myself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The X-Files raises a lot of questions

Not many people know this about me, but for a brief period in my youth I was big into The X-Files. I think it started when I saw the episode where Mulder has to stop the bank from blowing up over and over again a la Groundhog Day. As this fan video suggests, the episode was just as madcap and wacky as the Bill Murray film. Needless to say, I loved it, and I began watching the show pretty regularly. But then Mulder left and since I always had a little thing for David Duchovny, I set The X-Files aside. Until now.

With all 437 episodes available to watch on the Internet, I have decided to watch the series from the beginning. I'm currently nine episodes in, and this show has got me thinking about a few things.

First, Mulder really comes off as a crazy person. If this show weren't predicated on the assumption that supernatural things really exist, the whole thing would be like watching one man's slow, sad descent into madness. The way he uses logic to justify his insane theories only reinforces the impression that he is some sort of high-functioning schizophrenic. It doesn't help that the very organization for which he works essentially disregards and mocks everything he does. In the first episode, we learn that the FBI has relegated him to the basement and sent Dana Scully to be his partner for the sole purpose of "debunking the X-Files." So he's an FBI agent who spends all of his time investigating aliens and ghosts, but that's ok, because we the audience know it's all real.

But this brings me to my next point: what exactly is it that the FBI does? They investigate crimes, right? Solve murders, bust up drug rings, catch bad guys, yeah? So in the episode I'm watching right now, "Space," what are Mulder and Scully doing in Houston helping NASA? The premise of the episode as I understand it is that a scientist at NASA thinks someone is sabotaging the space shuttle and asks our dynamic duo to investigate. Ok, yes, the FBI investigates things, but is this really part of their jurisdiction? I suppose NASA is a government agency, so if someone were sabotaging it, the FBI might get involved. But of course, because it's the X-Files, it's not people sabotaging the shuttle, but some kind of alien ghost. (Aliens and ghosts are kind of their thing.) But of course, the NASA scientist who enlists their help doesn't know anything about the alien ghost. Most of their cases are just unsolved mysteries that Mulder has a hunch about. So in the end, they look around a bit, have an encounter with something weird or spooky, and then what? And this brings me to my last point...

They can't arrest anybody. Alien ghosts have diplomatic immunity, and as I've already mentioned, most of the FBI thinks Mulder is crazy. (Except, of course, the part of the FBI that's involved in the huge government conspiracy.) So in the end, what do they ever achieve? And I mean this on a professional level. On a personal level, they learn things about the secrets of the universe and they help the men and women who are being haunted or abducted or whatever, but professionally, what do they have to show for it? What do their case files say? "It got kind of dicey in Houston, but everything turned out ok, and I guess we'll never know who or what sabotaged the Space Shuttle." That's all they can say, really, because I just feel like if they wrote in their report what they really think happened they would get laughed out of their jobs.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that The X-Files, as a crime drama, leaves a bit to be desired. At the end of an episode you rarely get the satisfying "criminal brought to justice" scene that you usually expect from a police procedural. But The X-Files isn't exactly a police procedural, is it? It's an awesome, ground-breaking drama about the supernatural and one of the first mainstream long-running sci-fi shows. Plus, it's a delightful snapshot of early-90s fashion, bad acting, and pseudo-science. What's not to love about that?

As for my concerns about the FBI, I suspect that the only reason Mulder and Scully are agents at all is to give some legitimacy to what they're doing. Badges, guns, and Scully's level-headed skepticism allow them to continue doing what they do with government authorization. If they ran around as civilians investigating alien ghosts, NASA wouldn't let them in the front door. They would have no jobs, no money, and we likely would end up watching a show about a handsome hobo whom everyone believes to be a mental patient when he is, in fact, the only person who knows that the truth is out there.

And that would be a pretty depressing show to watch.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Friday night

Drinking a beer called Rasputin while reading The Satanic Verses is probably the closest I will ever get to being a badass.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

So many, many books

I know that my blogging has not been terribly frequent over the past two months, so by way of explanation, this post is about all the books I've had to read for class during that time. Admittedly, I didn't finish every one of these texts, but it wasn't for lack of trying. So I hope, dear reader, that you will understand if I haven't been able to take a lot of time out for writing. Here's the list:
  1. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
  2. Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
  3. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
  5. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
  7. The Passion of New Eve - Angela Carter
  8. Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter
  9. Serious Money - Caryl Churchill
  10. Money - Martin Amis
  11. Neuromancer - William Gibson
  12. Crash - J.G. Ballard
  13. The Heat of the Day - Elizabeth Bowen
  14. Hangover Square - Patrick Hamilton
  15. Beloved - Toni Morrison
  16. Feeding the Ghosts - Fred D'Aguiar
  17. Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
  18. Endgame - Samuel Beckett
  19. Briggflatts - Basil Bunting
Yes that's 19 novels/plays/books of poetry in 8 weeks. Numbers 1 through 6 were for my Modern American Novel class. The rest were for my core Master's course, which is Literature and Modernity. Good times! I also read The Hunger Games a few weeks ago, which, admittedly, I did not have time to read, but I did anyway. So you see how I haven't had much time to compose many thoughtful blog posts. But to make this one a little more thoughtful than a mere listing of books, how's about a few recommendations? 

My favorite of the lot was, naturally, Beloved. I say "naturally" because this is one of three novels by Toni Morrison on which I am writing my dissertation this summer. Morrison is a genius, and you should read anything you can of hers. Beloved is haunting and sad, but so so good. This woman writes novels that are sheer poetry.

Of the rest, I liked many, if not most of them (in fact, the only one I really can't recommend is Crash because it is downright pornographic), but I have to recommend Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton in particular. 

If you went to high school with me, you likely groaned at the mention of ZNH, but when I read Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was really blown away. I don't know if it's because I'm older now or if as I student of literature I just appreciate it more or what, but I really enjoyed it. I found the story really moving, and it didn't hurt that it is set mostly in central Florida, of which I am a huge fan. Throughout the book, she would mention various places and I would be all, "Hey! I've been there!" Not many of my classmates could say the same.

As for Hangover Square, that is the story of a man with split personalities, one of whom is in love with a woman and one of whom wants to kill her. It's so fun! It's actually pretty dark and tense, and this woman he's in love with, Netta, is just begging to be punched in the face, but I enjoyed it. It's worth a read.

I hope this has given you some food for thought, my friends. I will try to be more diligent in the future, but I've still got seven more books, two 4000-word essays, and a 1000-word dissertation proposal to finish between now and August 12, so no promises. But I will do my best. 

Until next time, here's a very untimely synopsis of X-Men: The Last Stand by a kid on YouTube whom I find amusing. Cheers!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Children of the Quorn

I spend a lot of time in my day-to-day life complaining about the food at my residence hall's cafeteria. It comes up every weekend when I post pictures of my lunch on my other blog. Every now and again a dish will appear that is surprisingly tasty. Tonight, for example, they had turkey chili with sour cream and guacamole, with which I made some pretty good nachos. For the most part, however, the food is edible but falls short of being really great.

And then there's Quorn.

You read that right, dear reader. I didn't misspell "corn." It's called "Quorn." It is a vegetarian "mock meat," not unlike tofu, I imagine, made from a lab-grown fungus. It hasn't nothing to do with corn, though its name suggests otherwise. And it is delicious. I know I really sold it for you with "lab-grown fungal meat," but trust me when I tell you that this is my favorite thing they serve at the JMCC.

It probably helps that they serve it breaded and fried. And underneath the breading there is some sort of tasty mushroom cream sauce, so you don't even need to put anything on the patty. But by far the best thing about Quorn is that the cafeteria can't mess it up. They almost certainly buy these things frozen and then fry them up, which is fine with me! Because I always know what I'm going to get with Quorn, and it is always great. Nights when they have it, I usually just eat two patties and nothing else. And it's vegetables, so I feel slightly better about eating my breaded and fried "meat."

Quorn can also be used in other ways. Sometimes they'll put it, unbreaded, into a chili or some other dish as a meat substitute, but nothing beats this.

Which, now that I think of it, really says a lot about what I'm given to eat on a daily basis.