Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Help Me With My Video Project!

I'm soliciting your help, readers, with a video project I'm putting together focusing on "American Values." Think of it as a cross between the old NPR program "This I Believe," a Pew Research Poll, a snapshot of American diversity a la Flickr, and something like your senior thesis. I want to know what you-- all of you-- count as your dearest and most cherished values. These can be lofty (like freedom or love) or mundane (like dancing or fresh baked bread). They can be political (like free markets or democracy), aesthetic (like the sound of strings or Van Gogh's colors), social (like friendship or forgiveness), or religious (like grace or prayer). I don't care what it is that you value, I just want to know what it is.

Here's where you come in: send me a photo of yourself naming one of your "core values." I'd like you to have some sort of sign (either that you hold or that is written on you somewhere) naming the value you value. And, where applicable, I'd like to see you engaged in/surrounded by/symbolically representing/or in some other manner photographically capturing the value you name. A very, very simple example (from yours truly) looks something like this:

<--- See how easy it is? So go ahead and grab a marker, a piece of paper and your camera and snap a shot for me. Then, email it to johnsonl@rhodes.edu . For all you iPhone users out there, you can even make it hipstamatic!

I'm on a bit of a tight deadline, so please send me your contributions by MARCH 1st. (That's next Tuesday.) I promise to post the finished product here on the blog.

Thanks in advance!

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UPDATE 2/26: The photos are coming in steadily now, and I've been a mixture of inspired, baffled, and amazed. But this project will only be a success if I get more, so please send yours in post haste. Some people have emailed me asking what exactly I "want" (or "don't want") in the photos. Let me just say again that I want a photo of whatever you value. No censorship here. My only "coaching" will be too suggest that you send high-resolution photos if at all possible.

Here are a few of the contributions I've already received, in case you want to see what others are doing:













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UPDATE 2/28:
THE DEADLINE HAS BEEN EXTENDED! As is the case with most projects, I suppose, this one is not conforming to schedule. The good news is that's because so many people have expressed a desire to contribute, but don't quite have their photos together yet. So, I'm extending the deadline to MARCH 3rd (this Thursday). Get your photos in!
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UPDATE 3/4/11:
The deadline has passed for submitting photos to be included in the "American Values" video. However, if you'd still like to send me a photo, I will gladly include it in the (publicly viewable) Facebook photo album that contains all the submissions I've received. I'm in the process of editing the video now. Keep checking back.... it will be posted soon!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kyle Ference Mans Up

The picture to the left is of a former student and advisee of mine, Kyle Ference (author of the Refudiating Through Life blog). During his time at Rhodes, Kyle was in many ways the very ideal of a liberal arts student. He was smart and hardworking, affable and well-liked, committed to socially-conscious extracurricular activities, a scholar, a leader and an athlete. My conversations with Kyle over the years, both inside and outside of class, were always a great pleasure. He had a contagious fascination for all things political, coupled with a real knack for thinking through the abstract principles that govern (or fail to govern) Realpolitik. He was a serious and careful thinker, generously liberal-minded, impeccably measured in his judgments, and his gentle demeanor often masked the real motor beneath it all, namely, a passionate and engaged commitment to social justice that he pursued relentlessly and without concern for attention or accolades. Kyle graduated last year, moving on to what looks to be a very promising future in law and politics, and I was sad to see him go. As all teachers and professors will attest, there are some students who are just a joy to have around. Kyle was one of those students.

Last week, Kyle published an op-ed piece in our weekly alternative newspaper, The Memphis Flyer, entitled "Macho Madness." (It's a short piece, so please click on the link and read it yourself.) In it, he critiqued the hyper-masculinity that characterizes American football culture, inspired by several pro-NFLers' recent Tweetfest about Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's decision to take himself out of the NFC playoff game because of a knee injury. To illustrate and redouble his point, Kyle drew upon his own experience as a football player in college, offering anecdotal evidence of the rampant homophobia and misogyny that goes mostly unchecked in football culture. For those of us who are a part of the Rhodes' community, Kyle's anecdotes hung out some previously-unknown dirty laundry. (Among that laundry: his elucidation of the meaning of "school fag," a Rhodes-specific epithet that goes above and beyond your garden-variety homophobia.) The op-ed published in the Flyer was a pared-down version of a longer treatment of the same issue that Kyle had published on his blog here. It was a smart, thoughtful and well-argued piece about an important topic.

But, alas, no good deed goes unpunished.

Just a cursory glance through the comments section below Kyle's piece on the Flyer website shows the burden he has taken upon himself with what should have been a largely unobjectionable piece. Who knows what else he's heard in person since his op-ed was published, but online Kyle was called a "quitter," his sexuality was called into question, and there was even a thinly-veiled threat of ostracism ("You lost a lot of powerful connections with this article, so your writing career better take off or you'll be s*** out of luck"), each leveled in the online equivalent of full-throated Manly Indignation. This week, in the followup issue of the Flyer, the Rhodes College Director of Athletics wrote a Letter to the Editor responding to Kyle's piece, in which he stated that he "read the article with great regret, because the use of abusive or derogatory language is not what we stand for at Rhodes." That letter wasn't an outright denial of Kyle's claims, but neither was it a verification of them. I was just about to begin feeling sorry for my former student when, yesterday, I received an email from Kyle in which he reaffirmed the convictions expressed in his essay and made it clear that, although he had not anticipated the response, he did not at all regret writing it.

Let me go on the record here as singing the praises of Kyle Ference for his insight, his courage, his conviction and his resolve. I remember just a few years ago when he was in my Feminist Philosophy course-- one of only 3 male students in a class of almost 30-- and watching him struggle through many difficult, contentious and often awkward conversations about gender and sexuality. I've had very few students who so easily won the respect of their classmates; Kyle's ability (and willingness) to step outside of himself and seriously think about the world from the point of view of the lesser-advantaged was one of his great virtues. That is a virtue I'm proud to see him continuing to cultivate and act upon, in a world that is far less regulated and forgiving than a college classroom.

Way to man up, Kyle. If only there were more like you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Update From Snowy Memphis

I basically took the month off from this blog in January, so I hope I haven't lost too many of you. Making the transition from sabbatical life back to full-time teaching was more formidable than I had anticipated, and before I knew it, this blog had lapsed a lot. My apologies for that. For whomever may still be reading, here's some quick bullet-list coverage of the last month, which I hope can serve to bridge the gap and allow me to get back to regular, real-time blogging.

•>It's been SNOWING in Memphis! Four major snows in as many weeks here has been strange to say the least. Throw in a few days of almost-70 degree weather with that and the strange only gets stranger. Because of my teaching schedule and my College's refusal to declare any "snow days" (despite the fact that practically everything else in the city was closing), the winter weather hasn't affected me as much as it could have... but I did have to break down and dig through my old life-in-the-Northeast boxes to try to find a pair of gloves.

•>Football season is over. Auburn won the BCS championship, which made me very happy. But for the first time in a long time, I couldn't have cared less about the Super Bowl. All of my favorite NFL franchises got knocked out in the playoffs, leaving only the Steelers and the Packers, both teams I like but don't love. Oh, if you didn't see the complete DISASTER that was the Super Bowl halftime show, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Ah well. On the upside, this year's game did feature one of the greatest Super Bowl ads I've ever seen. Here it is:


•>Major stuff has gone down in Tunisia and Egypt. Like most people, I've been watching the revolution on YouTube and Facebook. Considering how many wonky politico-bloggers I have for friends, I'm surprised that not many of them have written much about Tunisia or Egypt. (Then again, I haven't been blogging about it either.) There was this from Anotherpanacea, which is thoughtful and reflective as always. But one of the best things I have seen so far is the video below from a protest in London, in which an Egyptian ex-pat speaks about and to his compatriots in their struggle for freedom and democracy. This is one of the most moving declarations of solidarity I've ever seen:


•>I won the Student Lottery in two of my classes this semester! For the last several years, I've incorporated blogging into all of my classes. This semester, I've got a really impressive group of students in two of my courses, as evidenced on their course blogs. Check out what smart students thinking hard about difficult things looks like on the Philosophy of Race course blog and the Humanism and Human Rights course blog.

•>"True Grit" should win the Oscars, but won't. Every year, I try to see all of the films nominated in the Academy Awards' "Best Picture" category. This year, there are a few worthy contenders (among which I count "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech"), but the Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit" is one of the best films I've seen in a long, long time. Unfortunately, it won't win, but it should.


•>My already high-tech classes are now SUPER high-tech. As readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of utilizing new media in the classroom. This semester, in my Advanced Topics seminar on "Humanism and Human Rights," I'm having my students make documentary films about some human rights issue to accompany their seminar papers on the same topic. I'm both excited and terrified to see how this turns out. More updates to come.

•>The Avett Brothers are amazing. Fellow blogger Scu recommended the Avett Brothers to me a little while ago in the comments section of my 2010 Year in Music round-up, so I downloaded their album I and Love and You (which sounds like an Irigaray-inspired title). After only one listen through, was absolutely IN LOVE with this band. I've since downloaded all of their albums and can't remember the last time I've been so excited about new music. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Scu!

That just about brings us up to date. Re-mark this site on your web browsers, as more regular updates are forthcoming soon.