The Pancreatic Philosophy of Oswald Bates

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Growing up watching In Living Color spoiled me. For one thing, it made it impossible for me to enjoy MAD TV  when it hit the air in 1995, one year after ILC ended. From what I recall, Saturday Night Live was at its nadir (it had yet to be resurrected by Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon, the latter having appeared in ILC). Like Saturday Night Live before it, the writers of In Living Color leveraged recurring characters to keep viewers invested in the show and to keep writers able to fill weekly half-hour time blocks with limited ideas. Some early-90’s sketch comedy, like The State, lampooned this top-down pressure to use and overuse characters. When FOX first aired MAD TV in 1995, it enjoyed the typical “Wild West” phase of wierdness while it was getting its feet under it (Kato Kaelin featured prominently on the first two episodes), then quickly reverted unapologetically into character-based humor. The problem for me was that, even Will Sasso’s hilarious (though increasingly plot-shredding) Kenny Rogers send-up, none of these recurring characters said anything. They were shameless gimmicks, and their audience devoured it.

To say that I owe most of my pre-college knowledge of African-American culture to the writers and producers of In Living Color (many of whom, I acknowledge, were white) is probably the finest critique of the education I received growing up. I don’t recall any of my teachers discussing the 1992 riots in Los Angeles with my classmates and I, most likely because (1) bringing any kind of radical politics into white suburban classrooms was taboo, (2) they were successfully convinced to sympathize with the LAPD, or (3) they didn’t think it really affected us. We were on the other side of the country and the riots were framed as a “black” issue. To any of my teachers who did mention it in a current events discussion, I apologize, but the longest-lasting allegorical lessons about the riots came via David Alan Grier, Jim Carrey, and their cast-mates.

The greatest strengths of In Living Color, other than the obvious re-elevation of African-American culture within the overwhelmingly white medium of sketch comedy, were the socio-political statements that their recurring characters made. Some, like Lil’ Magic (Kim Wayans), an overzealous little girl from the projects pining for her big break, no matter how humiliating, were sold so well they became sad. Only one or two of the show’s recurring characters (Fire Marshall Bill and Vera DeMilo, both played by Jim Carrey and, like most of the recurring characters, excruciatingly quotable) skirted sociopolitical statements in honor of flat-out absurdist humor. This was important, though, tilling each half-hour episode with eclectic writing and themes. It worked, too, since I’ve seen almost every episode of the show, and I could count on one hand the number of episodes that didn’t have at least one good sketch.

One of the show’s most impressive feats is, considering how long ago it ended and how admittedly-dated some of the humor can come across in 2018, just how prolifically In Living Color has been a gift that’s kept on giving. Throughout my time as a teaching assistant in introductory Geography courses at Long Beach State, I would routinely share particular sketches that remained relevant well into the 2010’s as companions to the lecture topics. “Using sketch comedy to teach cultural geography” could easily become the title of a future journal article, considering how long I’ve been doing it and how much I’ve thought about the idea. I managed to bookend a lecture on minstrelsy in popular culture with two different Tracy Morgan sketches, both of which fit the themes like a glove.

Yesterday, I led a discussion on mass incarceration for my Geography of Human Rights class, and my favorite of the ILC recurring character stable, Oswald Bates (Damon Wayans), came to mind. I didn’t plunge my class down that rabbit hole too far, but I couldn’t shake one particular sketch from my mind. Barbara Bush (Kelly Coffield) pays a visit to some prisoners who have learned to read thanks to her ambitious literacy program. You can watch it below:

The Bates character had already been well established by this season (as evidenced by the crowd cheering at his appearance – a FOX TV hallmark). I’m unsure as to how much freedom Wayans had to ad-lib, but he sold this character beautifully from Season One. Despite how his mouth has gotten him in understandable trouble in recent years, seeing these sketches is a reminder of what a talented performer Wayans was at the time. Only once or twice in my memory did he ever crack, despite spewing increasingly profane (yet still air-able) psychobabble that would put even the most obscurantist academic in stitches. Although I’m sure the show got criticized for taking potshots at erstwhile illiterate prisoners, Oswald always appeared fully in control of his position, and even more remarkably, he was actually understandable. Here is one of my favorite Oswald Bates moments, where he applies for parole and the incongruity of his reading comprehension forms a graceful punchline in the middle:

Oswald Bates spoke to one great contradiction within our prison system: the liberal appeal to humanitarian treatment (which is good) without addressing the factors that put him in prison. They addressed a few facets of his past, including that he has a son who is just as confused as him. He is also clearly the product of a sub-par literacy program; he reads at a post-graduate level (albeit, sex-ed pamphlets and such) but has no context for what any of it means.

Did I immediately recognize all of the layers as to why this was so funny when I first saw it over twenty years ago?  Of course not. I did, however, understand the message almost immediately, and even more impressive on the part of Wayans and the writers, they still make me laugh today and continuously pop into my head when discussing topics as serious and bleak as mass incarceration. Considering how often American film and television go to lengths to romanticize (and in doing so, trivialize) prison and prisoners, Oswald Bates and the In Living Color producers contributed to the conversation about their underlying humanity and ambition. Most of their recurring characters did.

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Picking an Alternate National Anthem for the United States

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Each week in my American Popular Culture class this semester, I posed an open-ended question to my students on our discussion board. These topics traversed subjects as eclectic as everyone’s favorite gags from film and TV, favorite local food spots, and even conducting digital ethnographies using Youtube comments from classic music videos. One question I had in mind was inspired by the right’s manufactured controversy over NFL players (and other athletes) kneeling through the National Anthem in acts of protest and solidarity.

Though “The Star Spangled Banner” elicits a range of responses that reside on a spectrum between detached ambivalence and fiery Nationalist passion, I very quickly found myself wondering whether perhaps the United States had outgrown her National Anthem. After all, it was inspired by a battle fought more than two centuries ago, written by an amateur poet with no intent to become anything greater than prose. From a musical standpoint, it’s challenging to sing (even for talented vocalists), which complicates the communal dynamic of crowds being tacitly expected to sing along.

I did not have a spare week in which to pose this question on our discussion board, but I had the opportunity to do so on the final exam. My question and preface are pasted below, followed by a list of our class’ responses. The impressive range of choices, both stylistically and historically, was pretty inspiring, coming from an engaged and creative group of students. It has me thinking about a possible future paper about an assignment like this, discussing how human geographers can use music and pop culture to approach discussions on national identity.

For 87 years now, “The Star Spangled Banner” has been the National Anthem of the United States of America. Prior to 1931, it had been played at official events like the World Series (1918).
Over the past decade, and particularly since 2001, the anthem has come to represent and elicit a wide array of passions in equal elements Nationalist and Globalist. Over the past few years, this has come to a head in light of the Take a Knee movement in professional sports and in other areas of popular culture. What began as a protest to bring visibility to police and State violence quickly escalated to a question of Patriotism. It also led to a greater introspection on the history, context, and meaning of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Let us say, hypothetically, that the US government decided to pick a backup/unofficial National Anthem. I ask you all as members (or consumers of) American Popular Culture, to PICK THAT SONG. It has to represent (to you) what America is all about, what makes America great, or what America needs to greater understand about herself. This response only needs to be about 50-100 words and should include a link to the song if possible. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

  • Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth”
  • Toby Keith – “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” (2X)
  • Various – “America the Beautiful” (2x)
  • Beyoncé – “Formation”
  • U2 – “In God’s Country”
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – “Summertime”
  • Car Seat Headrest – “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”
  • Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin'”
  • James & John Johnson – “Lift Every Voice and Sing”
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Freebird”
  • Colt Ford – “Workin’ On”
  • Crush 40 – “Live and Learn”
  • Lana Del Rey – “National Anthem”
  • Miley Cyrus – “Party in the USA” (2x)
  • Dick Dale – “Misirlou”
  • Lee Greenwood – “God Bless the USA”
  • Journey – “Lights”
  • Woody Guthrie – “This Land is Your Land” (2X)
  • Johnny Cash – “Ragged Old Flag”
  • Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • Ray Charles – “America the Beautiful”
  • Smashing Pumpkins – “Tonight, Tonight”
  • The Temptations – “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
  • Kendrick Lamar feat. U2 – “XXX”
  • The Eagles – “Hotel California”
  • “Welcome to McDonald’s” (“Welcome to the Jungle” Parody)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – “C.R.E.A.M.”
  • The Arcade Fire – “Wake Up”
  • Robert Johnson – “Cross Road Blues”
  • Bruce Springsteen – “The Promised Land”
  • Don MacLean – “American Pie”
  • Billy Joel – “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
  • John Williams – “Imperial March” from Star Wars

My biggest surprise was that it took as long as it did for someone to mention a Bruce Springsteen song (and that it wasn’t “Born to Run,” which I thought would be a shoe-in here). I would blame it on a generation gap, but there were two students, both born in the mid-90’s, who picked songs by Journey. Feel free to mullet mull it over.

Three of the artists – U2, The Arcade Fire, and Queen – are not American per se, but I accepted all three enthusiastically. On U2’s first appearance on American television in 1981, Bono proudly declared that unlike certain other Irish bands, “we want to be here!” By the time that their Live Aid performance (speaking of mullets…) propelled them into rock-god territory a few years later, a healthy majority of their songs expounded love for the United States and her tumultuous history (see: basically the entire track list of The Unforgettable Fire). By the time they created The Joshua Tree (1987), U2’s fame was powerful enough to influence many commonly held ideas of “Americanness” in pop music. On Rattle & Hum (1988), they had about as many songs about Ireland (“Van Diemen’s Land”) as they did about Nicaragua (“Bullet the Blue Sky”). So many of my favorite songs from that era of the band were love letters to America, which meant a lot, considering how few love songs U2 wrote in their first two decades.

As for the Arcade Fire, Win and Will Butler came up in Texas; I don’t know if there’s ever been a more American band from Montreal. As for Queen… try to go to an American sporting event without hearing “We Will Rock You.” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for anyone born after 1980, will always be inextricably linked to the most middle-American of SNL adaptations, Wayne’s World.

I meant it when I said “get creative.” On the last day of class, I shared my pick for alternative national anthem, which I chose for my own reasons, and not because Rudy Martinez has been known to say as much from time to time:

Five Latino dudes from Michigan, one of whom had the audacity to change his name to a piece of punctuation, building a bizarre mythology, distilling proto-punk through an in-your-face Farfisa organ, and continuing to perform for more than 50 years: what could be more American than that?

Remembering Tom Frazier

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Tom Frazier (standing) with our GEO 100 Class before their first exam, Fall 2012. Apologies for the poor focus (I blame my phone’s camera), but I always felt like this captured Tom in his element, surrounded my enthusiastic students.

Hi ProfTy,

I just wanted to wish you luck tomorrow and the next day, I know you will do great, as you are developing quite a winning teaching style, and the students love you too. Let me know how it goes.

Cheers, Tom

(November 13, 2012)

I was on the road this past Tuesday when I received word that Tom Frazier, an outstanding Geography professor and one of my major teaching influences, passed away. Tom was my mentor through my four semesters as a Master’s student at Long Beach State; I worked as his TA twice in GEO 100 (Intro to World Geography) and twice in GEO 120 (Intro to Human Geography). The Daily 49er published an article about his passing, and I’ve been receiving updates from old friends in the department, but as of now I don’t know any details.

Tom was one of the most engaging and enthusiastic people I’ve met since re-entering academia. He was naturally talented at presenting information in an entertaining way, something I been striving to do since my time in his classroom. Many of his techniques, including drawing local/regional connections with world regional geography and taking the class on local field trips where possible, have made their way into my teaching playbook.

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Tom Frazier brings our GEO 100 class on a campus walking tour to the Puvungna site, sometime in Fall 2012.

I had occasional opportunities to get to know him a bit outside of class, as much as he was fairly mum about his personal life. Even his part-time and seasonal ABD status in Germany was never perfectly clear to me, as forthcoming he was in passionately discussing the Berlin Wall and everything he had been digging up on its legacy. I thought about him recently when press emerged on how the Wall had been gone for as long as it stood (28+ years). I wish I had sent him an email to catch up. Our only communication in the past few years was via an email or two. In 2015, I wrote him from Paris to see if he was in Germany to potentially meet up after my fieldwork was done. He wasn’t around, but he did unleash a list of recommendations.

Looking back through older emails, there was rarely any exchange where his trademark wit and supportive candor weren’t on display throughout. He encouraged the students to call me “Prof Ty” and routinely invited me to contribute material to lectures. I even conducted my first-ever college lectures under his guidance. I can’t imagine where I would be today without his mentoring over the course of those two years, and I’m truly sad I won’t get a chance to tell him that. As with everyone in the CSULB Geography community, I’ll miss him.

Condolence cards can be directed to the CSULB Department of Geography, who will be holding a memorial reception for Tom next Thursday (3/22 at 5pm). There is also a tribute thread on the Cal State Sub-Reddit. I’ll update this post if I find any new relevant information.

My Classes for Summer Session I (May 31 – July 6)

I’m pleased to announce that I will be teaching a pair of classes for Session I (May 31 through July 6th) at UTK this Summer. They will be GEOG 344 (Population Geography), which I taught this past Fall, and GEOG 361 (Regional Dynamics of the US and Canada), which I’ve never taught.

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I’ll copy and paste the description I originally posted late last summer in anticipation of Population Geography:

Earth’s population is at a point now where it’s (1) impossible to ignore the effects of the Anthropocene and (2) at a general tipping point in terms of humanity, resources, and our role as active agents in the Earth’s reproduction. Also, to phrase it less academically, 7 BILLION PEOPLE DEAR GOD HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!? This class effectively answers that question and discusses this crucial crossroads at which the human race has found itself. We will be discussing population science and why humans do the crazy things they do just to survive depending on their place in the world.


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How does one advertise a class about something so broad as “regional dynamics?” Well, one uses food, of course. No barometer of regional culture, particularly noctural, is more universally appealing. I made sure to include options here that were vegetarian and vegan in addition to the sheer excesses of a couple. Can you identify all of the foods pictured here? From the top, we have a plate of street tacos, found all over North America (anywhere lucky to have a reasonable taco truck, at least). Next down is doubles, a wonderful Trinidadian street food found in Caribbean-heavy regions like South Florida and (hopefully) Gulf Coast cities like New Orleans…this April. (Full disclosure: I haven’t had doubles since being in San Fernando two years ago this week and I’m seriously overdue for some). Next down, you see a pile of poutine, served uncharacteristically on a plate and not in a box or some kind of hutch out of a trailer in downtown Montreal, but I will let that slide. Next, a Los Angeles street dog, piled high with roasted peppers and onions as only several dozen of LA’s best sidewalk sausage roasters can roast them. They taste especially fantastic wandering out of a show in Echo Park or a game at Dodger Stadium. Last but not least, there’s a full cheese pizza from Pepe’s in New Haven, captured in the brief moment when it lands on a table before being pulled apart mercilessly by the consumers. Each of them will inhale piece after piece, wondering why time seems to be standing still. Before they even notice how much pizza they’ve eaten, it’s gone, just a pile of grease and charred dough flakes lining the wax paper, remnants that suggest there was once a large pizza in that spot. So ends a typical scene in North America’s greatest pizzeria, a mere twenty-minute walk from Modern Apizza, North America’s second-greatest pizzeria (but where you’ll probably get a table faster).

Anyway, take GEOG 361 if you’re around for the summer session, and we’ll talk about regional street foods as well as many other exhaustively researched cultural geographies.

Exploring Europe: Fall 2017 Mixtape

1208426974_fNow that we’re finally wrapping that big fancy bow around the Fall 2017 semester and placing it under the tree, I’m glad to sit down and put this list together. I would like to do this for every semester I teach The Geography of Europe, Exploring Europe, or however my current department may name a course over-viewing European geography.

I could easily re-use many of these songs and videos to show off their respective countries and nations, but I’ll try to challenge myself and repeat as few of them as possible (Track 1 notwithstanding, for reasons you may understand).

  1. Der Tourist (feat. Friedrich Leichtenstein) – “Supergeil” VIDEO
    I already wrote extensively about this song’s viral, every-man-has-his-price adaptation for Edeka Supermarkets, but here is the original work. Since I don’t speak German or know much about Der Tourist, I can’t tell if it’s tongue-in-cheek level is quite as high as it’s advert counterpart, but it’s still quite catchy and Friedrich is a charisma machine.
  2. Can – “Vitamin C” VIDEO
    Jaki Leibezeit and Holger Czukay both passed away this year, which made this snippet of Can playing what may be my favorite song of theirs especially timely. I believe I read a blurb on Pitchfork once that called this “the funkiest thing to ever come out of Europe.” I don’t know about that, but you’d be hard pressed to find a catchier bass line than certain ones that Czukay spent decades churning out. True genius. Wait until I make the students sit through “Cool in the Pool” this Spring!
  3. Blind Cinema – “Objetos Ennegrecidos” VIDEO
    The worst thunderstorm that hit campus this fall (during daylight, at least) passed by around 10:30 – 11:30 am on a Tuesday or Thursday in early September. During that span, I had to run over 100 yards between buildings with no raincoat or umbrella to get from my prior class to this one in time. As I took off my shoes and dried off my socks, I put this song on for the half-soaked class to absorb, and lo and behold this may be my new favorite rainy-day music. Catalán jazz for the people.
  4. Cornershop – “Brimful of Asha” VIDEO
    Twenty years ago, SPIN magazine named When I was Born for the 7th Time their #1 album of the year, which played well with impressionable teenage me. The longtime collaboration between Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres had finally broken through in the states, which in retrospect was kind of surprising, even on the heels of Britpop madness (more on that in five tracks). To me, Cornershop were (and still are) one of the most quintessentially British bands of their era: multicultural, dance-worthy, and reeeaaaaally into drugs. As great as “Good Shit” and their cover of “Norwegian Wood” were (bonus points to the latter for being in Punjabi and infuriating future ‘Leave’ voters), “Brimful of Asha” was always my favorite track on this album. The video edit takes out Singh’s punjabi spiel that opens the album version, but otherwise it’s a classic video. Also,  I said it in class and I’ll write it here: the Norman Cook remix that ravaged the charts? Like 99% of remixes, garbage.
  5. Refused – “New Noise” VIDEO
    I’m losing track on which number cycle of love/backlash Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come is on currently, but I loved the record when I was 15, and I still love it today. This is hardly the best song from that record, but it was the closest thing they had to a “hit,” and through use on shows like Friday Night Lights, it probably still pays some of their bills. One of  my students remembered them fondly as ‘that band playing in the octagon.’   I mentioned that Refused originated in Umeå, which opened up a brief discussion about the prodigious output of metal from Northern Sweden and created a good talking point to revisit later (five tracks down).
  6. LiLiPUT – “Hitchhiking” VIDEO
    Like the crossroads that Switzerland occupies atop its Alpine perch between Italy, Germany, France, and Austria, it also sits in a weird position in pop music history. During the post-punk era, Kleenex/LiLiPUT (their recorded output, repackaged retrospectively, permanently straddles the two names) seemed to be everyone’s favorite Swiss band, kind of how their fellow countrymen Coroner would become within the metal universe a decade later. At any rate, this is my favorite song from the Kleenex/LiLiPUT catalog, and the video here is culled from a 1960’s Italian ‘shockumentary’ La Donna Nel Mondo.
  7. Bérurier Noir – “Vivre Libre ou Mourir” VIDEO
    The day after the French election this year, I posted a video on social media of Bérurier Noir playing “La Jeunesse Emmerde le Front National” in honor of the time-honored tradition the French have of pushing back against far-right intolerance. A friend from Paris commented with cautious optimism, saying that they’re happy that Le Pen lost, but that Macron is still an asshole. Then, he signed off with “PORCHERIE!” – a reference to the BN song that critically calls France a pigsty.  Anyway, BN is the punkest band ever to emerge from France and maybe the punkest band of all time, vying for that arbitrary title with The Bananas (Sacramento) and Chumbawamba (UK). Few bands of their stature have garnered such universal respect from French punks (at least, the ones I connected with for my fieldwork in 2015), and “Live Free or Die” may be one of the catchiest political punk songs ever written – and with a click track, at that!
  8. Yr Anhrefn – “Rhedeg i Paris” VIDEO
    I wanted to a music video that showed off Welsh language and culture, so I searched my memory banks for a Super Furry Animals track from their all-Welsh record, but instead came up with this. I had never heard of Yr Anhrefn, but the song is incredibly catchy and even features footage of the band playing in the Basque Country, thanking the crowd (in Basque) after wrapping their set. According to the translation offered by a Google User on the video, the title translates to “Running to Paris,” and the lyrics are about the desire to get out of Wales and see the world, but being unable to resist being drawn back to your homeland. It’s pretty powerful and somewhat universal stuff.
  9. Blur – “Coffee & TV” VIDEO
    Of all of these artists, Blur probably have the deepest catalog through which I could dig to find a video to start off my Britpop lecture. I just couldn’t resist using this one, because it may be the best music video ever made. It didn’t break in America quite as profoundly as “Song 2” had in 1997, but it was good enough for a follow-up semi-hit in the states, in spite of Graham Coxon’s dour vocals and melancholy subject matter. If you have a chance, check out the No Distance Left to Run documentary for an intimate look at a brutal time in the band’s history. Then, go out and buy everything the band ever released.
  10. Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t” VIDEO
    Like Blur’s catalog, Sweden’s selection of indie pop videos is ostensibly a bottomless pit. I had a great time presenting a unit on Sweden’s pop music industry, drawing heavily from my friend Ola Johannsen’s work on ‘The Swedish Music Miracle.’ Other than Sondre Lerche (who is Norwegian), I can’t think of a more charming chanson singer that isn’t French or Belgian.
  11. Chisu – “Kohtalon Oma” VIDEO
    I discovered Chisu thanks to a special series that One Week // One Band ran a couple years ago called ‘Stop Making Sense,’ where contributors submitted an essay about a song in a language they didn’t understand. One writer included this painfully catchy jam from Finland, which hooked me in with not only a language I’d never heard in a pop song before, but also a captivating video. From what I can tell, Chisu is like Finland’s answer to Katy Perry or Carly Rae Jepsen: harmless pop songstresses carrying more of their respective country’s national identity than they seem to acknowledge.
  12. Pinkshinyultrablast – “Umi” VIDEO
    Shoegaze and dream pop are genres that are very easy to create but very challenging to do well. Pinkshinyultrablast, the lone Russian group featured here, have managed to become the forerunners of Eastern European noise pop. I remember when their first EP appeared seemingly out of nowhere in 2009; I think I found it on a Brazilian shoegazing blog that kept on getting shut down. Anyway, from what I’ve read, the band has had a rotating cast of members, led by singer Lyubov, who like so many artistically inclined Russians, lives in L.A. now.
  13. Frustration – “Assassination” VIDEO
    For a city I do love, I spend a lot of time discussing the dark underbelly of Paris in my coursework. This video is a fantastic, noirish slice of life where everyone’s a killer. Because I’m not French, I have difficulty explaining just what position Frustration occupies within Parisian culture (see Track 7). What I can tell you is that they are a hard ticket to get whenever they play a mid-size hometown show. Their drummer, Mark Adolf, runs the successful punk record shop and label Born Bad, a concern responsible for some of the most irresistible compilations of French underground music ever pressed.
  14. Los Nikis – “El Imperio Contraataca” VIDEO
    Until I saw their video for this song, which I think first broadcast in 1986, Los Nikis seemed like one of the many Spanish Ramones-worshippers on whom I had missed the boat. I saw that they opened for Airbag’s 15th anniversary gig in Madrid (more on that, two tracks down), but I haven’t really sat down and watched their set, which was very courteously included as a bonus feature on a DVD I had to go to Madrid to get. Now, I’m paying more attention and beginning the slow burn of obtaining all of Los Nikis’ releases, because this song simply kicks ass. Reflective of my focus lecture on Spain’s identity crisis, they even laugh at their country’s colonial mythology in the video. How perfect.
  15. Radio Futura – “Enamorado de la Moda Juvenil” VIDEO
    I saw a poorly transferred version of a video this group shot for this song sometime at the beginning of the 1980’s, then promptly forgot the band’s name. One day a few months ago, I spent nearly an hour trying to find the song, even messaging a friend in Spain who loves power-pop. Eventually, this ultra-catchy single found its way back to my brain via YouTube auto-play suggestions. So, I guess it’s not a completely bad thing. Anyway, as far as I can tell, there were a few Radio Futura bands (or, one core group with a couple of dramatic lineup and sound alterations over the course of the 1980s). This era, in which they appeared to be Spain’s answer to Blondie, The Knack, The Jags, and other skinny tie/skinnier microphone groups of the time. I can’t stop thinking of Alex Winter in character as Bill Preston, Esq. whenever I see that blonde vocalist here.
  16. Airbag – “Trailer” VIDEO
    From what I remember, I discovered Airbag off an Italian pop-punk blog called Ramone to the Bone sometime during my DC days and was hooked immediately. They’re an Andalucian trio who record catchy songs about science fiction, comic books, record collecting, and heartbreak. They’ve been a band for two decades and, despite a growing international fan base, they’ve only recorded a small handful of songs in English. From what I’m told, they’re the only group in Southern Spain playing music in this style. That’s surprising,that they haven’t spawned legions of imitators after being around and keeping their music quintessentially Spanish for so long. It’s not their fault it isn’t 1994 anymore.
  17. Stereolab – “Lo Boob Oscillator” VIDEO
    What could be more European than a British band with a French singer (singing in French) while trying to sound German? I’ll leave it at that.
  18. Manic Street Preachers – “A Design for Life”
    I understand that “Hen Wlad Fy Naudau” probably isn’t going anywhere, but I can’t imagine a better unofficial national anthem (for any country) than this song would be for Wales^. Not only did the Manics elevate Wales in the international pop music discourse at the end of the 1980’s, but they did it by essentially weaponizing art.  One of the most challenging books I read this past year was Simon Price’s tome Everything about the band, written at the end of their 90s supremacy. It may be the longest book I’ve read in some time, because not enough can be written about all that this band meant to their fans and to British pop music. Around that time, the group recorded their triumphant show at the Manchester NYNEX arena, and the video of them closing their set with this signature song made a perfect coda for the class on our last day. It makes you want to go and conquer the world, really, and isn’t that the message every professor wants to leave his students with? No? That’s fair.


^ Though I realize we can’t do much about “The Star Spangled Banner,” I do believe that “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians would be a much better, and more fitting, national anthem for the United States. Without giving too much away, I’m looking forward to premiering my ‘National Anthem’ project in GEOG/AMST 423: American Popular Culture this Spring…

I’ll see about putting a Spotify playlist together. First, I have to get on Spotify.

Courses I’ll Be Teaching: Spring 2018

It’s November, meaning that for the undergrads, it’s registration time! Nothing quite like making students plot out their next round of classes right at the moment when they are at wits’ end with their current round. Fortunately, I’ve been enjoying my four classes this semester, and from my mid-semester evaluations and individual conversations, so have most of my students. This is fortunate, because I happen to be teaching four more courses in the Spring.

Whether or not I’ve had the pleasure of having you in one of my classes this semester, last Fall, or in my 101 sections in 2014-2015, take a look at these options for the Spring.

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(classicwines.com)

GEOG 101 – World Regional Geography

This will be my fifth time teaching this introductory course (fourth time at the University of Tennessee). It takes a humanities-oriented look at the globe and how we are all increasingly connected, taking time out to focus on all of the major World Regions. The list of case studies I use here is too long to write out here and consistently increasing, but today I discussed the geographic birth of the American Indian Movement and my colleague Emma did a guest-lecture about the Westward expansion of the US within our National Park system.


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That’s not me, but my friend Eric Dawson from the East TN History Center speaking to my GEOG 320 class last fall.

GEOG 320 – Cultural Geography: Core Concepts

This course overviews the building blocks for approaching and understanding the very broad concept of Cultural Geography. It includes lessons about the perpetually-growing subject of ‘sense of place,’ gender, the battle of space v. place, as well as case studies in film geography, music, sports, and possibly anything else that ‘makes’ culture. This will be my third time teaching this course, and I always look forward to building on it.


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Somewhere outside Segovia, Spain

GEOG 371 – Exploring Europe

One of my favorite quotes by Eddie Izzard was a throwaway line in Dress to Kill (1998): “I grew up in Europe – where the history comes from!” This class unpacks that phrase by taking a critical look at the geographic processes that have made Europe into Earth’s ostensible mission control center for the past 500 years despite being a rattling agglomeration of devolving nation-states all grappling for some semblance of identity. We look at the heavy-hitters as well as the bench players of the continent, complete with a hand-picked soundtrack from all over the map.


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GEOG 423 – American Popular Culture

This course will examine the relationship between the cultural geography of the United States and the amazing breadth of art, icons, and legends that have sprung from her soil. I’m not prepared to deliver a full syllabus just yet, but some of the topics we may have on tap include literature, popular music, television, Music Television, sports, food/drink, death, Vaudeville, and architecture. This course will be cross-listed with AMST 423 (American Studies), so I’m looking forward to meeting some folks from that department who may not have taken a Geography class yet.

…Supergeil

In August 2015, I left Paris after a month of fieldwork to do some travelling in the low countries. One of my best college friends and her husband, who was in the German Air Force, were living in Bedburg-Hau, a pastoral Rhineland community outside Kleve. I had a couple of days to spend out in the country with them before returning to Amsterdam to fly back to the States. This turned out, by the way, to be a wonderful coda for a month of work abroad, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

In order to get to Kleve (where my friend’s husband, whom I had never met, was planning to pick me up), I needed to take one train from Amsterdam to Nijmegen, then quickly transfer to a bus that crossed the border, rode through some suburbs and into Kleve’s small bus depot. Because I had no cell phone service outside of France, and there were no evident sources of WiFi in the plaza where this stranger had apparently (hopefully) been dispatched to pick me and my bags up, I stood around on the curb next to Kleve’s quiet railroad depot. I debated going into a bar full of elderly locals to try to get a WiFi signal or use their phone to call my friend, but I didn’t speak any German and I was worried my ride would roll by, not see me, and return home to the countryside. So, I waited there, occasionally pacing around the traffic entry, naively hoping that every car that approached was the one sent to get me. I don’t remember how much time passed, but it felt like an eternity. ‘This is how our parents used to travel,’ I figured, wondering how many hours people whittled away waiting for rides in foreign countries in the twentieth century.

I eventually got restless and wandered over to the opposite side of the street, trying to get a read on whether this bar was worth trying to drag myself and my massively heavy suitcase into, hoping someone wouldn’t start yelling at me in German. As I would find out later, this pocket of the Rhineland had little use for English. They didn’t entertain many tourists from the UK or USA. Right as I was about to step inside, I saw a car roll up with a young man in a Red Sox cap on. “Are you Tyler?”

We got acquainted on the drive over to pick my friend up from her new job (the reason she had to send her husband to come pick me up). My friend and I shared a big hug and the predictable platitudes about how many years it had been since we had last hung out in Boston or Syracuse or wherever our paths had last crossed (probably Syracuse). We excitedly caught up as we got back to their gorgeous duplex house in Bedburg-Hau, both of them telling me about the sleepy life in the Rhineland. I asked my friend how she had adjusted to German life, and what was so different from that of the US.

What happened next is up for debate, as I don’t remember exactly how it happened. The important element was that it happened.

My friend’s husband interjected, “you should show him the video!”

My friend lit up; “Oh god, the video! Ty, have you ever seen ‘Supergeil?'” I hadn’t. Apparently, ‘supergeil’ is German slang for cool/hip/fun/etc. We sat down in their living room, they turned on their TV, and this was what happened next:

After the commercial ended (and I had taken a moment to compose myself), I told my friends “If I ever get to teach a class on the Geography of Europe, that’s what I’m going to start with on Day One.” Last week, I got to make good on this promise to a class of 40+ at the University of Tennessee, and now I have shared this with you. YOU’RE WELCOME.

If you’re interested in the story/demystifying what you just saw, you can read up on Friedrich Leichtenstein here.