Monthly Archives: March 2011

Awesomest Cookbook Ever

Every once and awhile, you’ll go into a used bookstore, and after you finish wondering about the future of the print industry thanks to e-readers, you’ll browse the musty collections and find a gem.

A gem like what I have deemed to be the “Awesomest Cookbook Ever” — and that’s awesomest in the original sense of the word.  I mean I got down on my knees and thanked the mystical forces of Asgaard for leading me to that day.  Or I would have, if there was room in the tiny bookstore I found myself in.

Here is the item that inspired the awe:

Back in 1981, Random House put out this cookbook for kids featuring the main pantheon of DC superheroes, those that form the front guard of the Justice League.  (Nerd time: The Martian Manhunter was not included in this book because at the time of publication he was not a regular within that pantheon; he is now considered to be one of the fundamental members).

Currently, used copies of this book are selling at Amazon for $88 — I bought mine for $4.50: there were a few torn pages that needed taping, but other than that, it was in as good of condition as you would imagine a book that old to be in.

What I love about this book is how it utilizes the semantics of superheroes to instruct children on “Good food kids can make themselves” — even if it means using sharp paring knives.

The book is choke full of recipes and helpful healthy advice for children and their parents.

By using the superhero genre, the information is being distributed without completely talking down to the kids.  Instead, the kids can learn the recipes and healthy tips by getting the in-jokes from their favorite superheroes.

Using superheroes, and other cartoon characters, is a classic advertising tactic when addressing children — for either prosocial or commercial purposes.  Using their favorite superheroes allows adults to make the information more accessible by making it more relevant and more attractive to the intended audience.  It is a tactic for addressing the children on their level, by respecting their affection for these characters and the role of these characters in their lives.

We may see the use of standard superhero genre tropes and semantics and gimmicky –

– but this “playfulness” has repeatedly been shown to appeal to the intended audience.

The playfulness is most apparent in the variety of “healthy” recipes in the book.  Following the standard cookbook format, the recipes are categorized by type of food being presented: breakfast, main meal, snacks, and so forth.  Each recipe is designed to reflect or refer to a specific superhero or superhero duo, as is the case for Batman and Robin.

The recipes are all clever and humorous, and written to illustrate the process of preparing the food as a way to help the young cooks and to allude to the comics medium the children would be familiar with.

Here are some of my favorite examples from the collection of recipes:

Green Lantern battles the scourge of open-faced PB sandwiches

Wonder Woman packs a healthy punch

Perhaps this salad will give Jimmy super powers

Mild mannered bun by day...

Awesome beef-cake by night!

Equality Studies: A Call to Action

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I respect the work that has been done by critical scholars to point out the ways in which people have been created/oppressed by the social/cultural conditions into which they were born.   However, much work in qualitative studies remains focused on how such conditions creates differences in how people see themselves and each other; in a similar way, much work in quantitative studies remains focused on how psychological traits, or psychographics, determine outcomes and differentiate people.   These differences promote unhealthy conceptualizations of individuals upon which our thoughts, feelings and actions toward one another are based.

I believe it should be the work of critical scholars to criticize the focus of research on differences that are based on stereotypical sociodemographics, used basically as a shorthand and simplified means by which to “understand” people, explaining and predicting them.

I believe  that in post-modern contexts, where there is increasing slippage on the definitions of these sociodemograhic and psychographic categories and how people are deterministically placed into such categories, critical scholarship should turn towards finding the commonalities between people without reducing such commonalities to further deterministic languages; that is, moving from the sociodemographic determinism of the history of human civilization and avoiding the physiological determinism of the future of human civilization.

Thus, for such research to proceed, critical scholarship must embrace an interpretive turn.

Communication scholarship is an appropriate and pregnant field of study in which this path of research can be forged. The various branches of communication could apply, applying critical approaches from understanding the communication between people to the role of various media products in the lives of people and the sociocultural environment.

This proposed empirical approach, founded on critical theories to design a methodology that could be qualitative or quantitative, would not be restricted to any particular sociodemographic category; instead, it would be directed at all attempts to construct our understanding of humans based on their differences as preeminent and preexisting actualities rather than conditional, simultaneous and even contingent to their commonalities and the equality.

As a communication scholar — from person to person, group to person, and structure to agent, across time and space and through various communication media — my goal is to engage in research projects devoted to the study of the equality of people that has been overshadowed in our drive to understand their differences.

My proposal for this equality studies is detailed below, and I will strive to conduct and report on to the general populace so that the findings generated by such studies could become part of everyday rhetoric, to hopefully replace the rhetoric of differences that could fundamentally damage our species.

Equality Studies
* is the desire to promote an understanding of the equality of all peoples regardless of applied sociodemographics or psychographics
* understanding that we are all sense-making, cognitive/affective creatures doing our best to balance our own wants/needs with the restrictions and potentials woven into the world around us
* further explicating how age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, religion and any psychographic traits are categories constructed outside of us and into which an individual may be placed by someone or may choose to be placed
* understanding that these sociodemographics and psychographics highlight differences used by Others to generalize what an individual may be/do, but the reification of such differences can further exacerbate these categorizations as “the way things are”
* based on the belief that the exacerbation of differences furthers stereotypes that are harmful for human interaction, from interpersonal to global levels
* requiring a shift away from the continuance and exacerbation of these categorical differences to a need to elaborate commonalities, recognizing that people across categories may be more alike than people within categories
* as such, research in equality studies would be focused on discovering when commonalities occur versus when differences occur between individuals
* based on the belief that uncovering commonalities that exist alongside/despite the sociodemographic differences and educating the public as to these commonalities will provide information on which tolerance can be fostered
* using the basic foundation that “a little education can go a long way” to provide the reasoning for approaching the general public alongside the scholarly community in communicating findings.

Female Fans From the Beginning

I’m late in putting this out there, but it’s worth watching. This is a video from a Star Trek convention from 1973: that’s before the motion picture that reignited the franchise. So these are the true believers, those who followed the television series, and perhaps were starting with the short lived animated series.

These were the precursors for all the conventions that would come, and the conventions that would become the mega-merchandising and marketing affairs of Comic-Con in San Diego.

But what struck me most about this video was not the way people discussed how they related Star Trek to their everyday lives. This is something we find all the time in fandom — and perhaps is a primary reason in why fans, especially scifi/fantasy fans, are marginalized in society and pop culture (until recently, due to how much money Hollywood can make off them).

No, what I found amazing was the presence of women at the convention, engaging in cosplaying and discussing the significance of the series in their lives. Growing up in the 1980s, I thought I was abnormal for being a female geek/nerd. I grew up isolated in the country, in the era before the Internet. I remember a love for Star Wars when the first movies were out — I should tell you the story of my Ewok stuffed doll some time, don’t let me forget — and I even dressed up at Princess Leia once for school (1st grade, get that image out of your head). But I don’t remember any of the kids I went to school with sharing my love. There were only 17 kids in my class, and by the time I got to a bigger school in 6th grade, Star Wars had receded in my mind, and I didn’t really find anyone to talk to about my other loves of The Turtles, The Ghostbusters or The Thundercats outside of my two younger brothers.

And the idea of a girl to talk to about any of this? In elementary school, there were only five other girls in my class. My best friend was the girl who lived closest to me, and we definitely did not share that interest. Even when I did find my re-love of all things science fiction in high school, it was boys that I hung out with, not girls (although I did try D&D once with some girls, and that was interesting). Whenever I saw nerds/geeks in the pop culture, they were boys.

Maybe I just had my head in the sand. Maybe I just wanted to think I was special for being a female nerd/geek, so I could curry favors from the boys around me. But I just did not think women were that prevalent in fandom, and for that long.

Of course, maybe this film is showing the women because they were outliers in the sampling: that they were as uncommon as I thought they would be, and thus were special people to interview.

What I do know is — I’m a fan of fan studies, because as a geek I find all of these questions interesting and fun to investigate.

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Comics Adaptations and True Believers

Think about all of the movies being made lately adapting a comic book or graphic novel.  The superhero movie has become it’s own genre, with every major Hollywood studio trying to create tentpole franchises on well known, and not well known, superheroes.  The studios are even “re-imagining” superheroes who have been in franchises, or attempt at franchises, that have failed or petered our.  X-Men, SpiderMan, Superman, the Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider are some examples of current superheros that are undergoing attempts to remake their images.

But why should they have to remake their image?

Apparently, in their first go around, the producers failed to produce a media product the audience wanted.  In the cases of X-Men and SpiderMan, this failing occurred in the third film. With Superman, an initial attempt at a re-imagining fell flat.  With Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider, the first real adaptations did not sell well enough.

But what makes for a good superhero movie?

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In my paper, Comics Adaptations and True Believers, I argue one thing producers should consider are the expectations the fans of these original comic books and graphic novels have when they attempt to adapt such media products to another medium.  These expectations could be formed on several aspects of the canon: the visual representation, the implied aural representation, characterization and plot elements.  For a shorter version of this theorization, I gave a presentation at the Comic Arts Conference of Comic-Con 2007:

Now, I would not argue this should be the only consideration for producers of any adaptations. Of course they should attempt to make the best movie possible at that time, even if that means straying from canon. Naturally, their concern is to appeal to a larger audience who may not have even heard of some of the superheroes being adapted from comic panels to film strips. And the ability to be faithful to canon is impossible for many superheroes whose histories have often been rewritten to adapt them as time went on: a process known as retconning.

However, I would argue that no producer should completely disregard the canon from which the adaption comes: especially for iconic elements in the visual, aural, characteristic or plot aspects of the superhero’s representation. The more iconic the aspect, the more the fans will expect it. Failure to adhere to these icons could be interpreted as disrespecting the material and the history of the superhero.

More important than being completely faithful to the canon, producers should not disrespect the canon through their manipulation of the material or how they engage with the fans before, during and after production. Above everything else, disrespecting the material is disrespecting the fans. And in this day and age, when fans are interconnected via the Internet, share spoilers and criticisms with the speed of electrons, and are the financial force behind ancillary marketing profits, no producers can feel save if they do not respect the fans and the fans’ love for the canon.

To disrespect the fans it to hamper the adaptation, and most likely insuring a re-imagining down the way.

The Otaku of OSU

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, in graduate school I learned about, and experimented with, slash. That journey started with exploring more of my interest in Japanese anime and manga. Perhaps in another post, some day, I’ll introduce you to hentai. Now that will be a fun discussion.

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As part of my exploration of anime and manga, I took a class from Art Education about this particular art form. In that class we watched Otaku No Video, an animated spoof on the otaku. An otaku is what people used to think a fan is, until being a fan meant making loads of money for people. Being an otaku means being obsessive about something: such as certain anime and manga characters, shows, books, etc. I learned about the otaku as I learned more about the conceptualization of the fan, and the intermingling of these identities is tremendously fascinating.

Being oh so fascinated, I and a classmate worked on a presentation about the otaku at Ohio State University: those in the separate anime and manga clubs. Yes, there are two different clubs devoted to these products of Japanese pop culture — a rift between organizers led to the split, with the anime club, or Animate!@OSU, organizing anime conventions. And, yes, I even participated in those conventions.

What I have finally (since it has been years) done is uploaded the short documentary I made of these otaku at OSU. In this video, on this subject, I was truly a stranger in a familiar land.

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