‘I’m not a woman / I’m not a man’ Geography and Gender (GEO 360) Available this Spring at CMU

Flyer_Prince_GEO360

I once told myself that if I ever had the opportunity to teach a course on gender and geography, I would feature Prince on the flyer. So, here is me keeping that promise to myself. On second glance, I’m not sure whether that’s Minneapolis sprawling out behind him, but it should be.

Anyway, for any Central Michigan students interested in the course (Registration Open as of last week – CRN 22387709), I have a draft syllabus available which includes focuses on numerous topics including the spatiality of gender, the role of gender in urban development, a crash course in feminist geography, toxic masculinity, and representations of gender in place in film, TV, and music. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions.

A New Life in a New Town (Central Michigan University)

or, I could just call this entry ‘Fire Up, Chips!’

0826191108a_hdr I would say I’m surprised I haven’t written anything here about my new position and base of operations in Mt. Pleasant, MI, but that would involve me ignoring how little I’ve posted in general over the past month. I’m still hoping to post some pictures from the IAG meeting in Hobart, I swear.

Right before I left for Australia, I accepted a position as a Lecturer in the department of Geography and Environmental Science at Central Michigan University.  I’m teaching four classes this semester: two sections of the world regional course GEO 121 WI (that means writing-intensive), one section of ENV 101 WI (Introduction to Environmental Science…writing-intensive), and one section of GEO 350 (The United States and Canada). So far, I have no complaints. I’m working with a great new faculty who have been overwhelmingly supportive, and from what I can tell now that classes have begun, really cool students as well. I had trouble preparing to teach my class today because so many people were stopping by to ask how I was doing, offer help wherever needed, or invite me to play pickleball (which I’m sure will be a blast, once I look up what that is).

Also, I can’t say enough good things about living in the middle of the Mitten. Mt. Pleasant in particular is a wonderful place, with extreme walk-ability, wonderful cycling culture, a disproportionately high number of good radio stations, a cat-fé, and if you move here on a Thursday toward the end of the summer, Max & Emily’s may enable you to watch Brian Vander Ark and his band play a free show minutes from your house. For the life of me, I cannot remember a more fortuitous “Welcome, Tyler!” moment anywhere else I’ve moved.

0815191908_hdr

Brian also welcomed me to Michigan via Instagram (a proposition that would make less than zero sense to my thirteen-year-old self, enjoying a Verve Pipe video on MTV), telling me to say hello to Mustard Plug when I go see them at the Bell’s Brewery in October. I guess those rumors about the great Grand Rapids ska/alt-rock beef were unfounded after all.

As always, thanks for reading. Back to lesson-planning and life-organizing.


COMING SOON

  • Part Three of “Tyler Down Under” (It’s going to happen!)
  • Part One of “The Ben Irving Postcards Go to Michigan”
  • Updates on CMU Course Work and hopefully some news about Capitals of Punk

Take GEOG 101 at UTK this May-mester

48fbab0b7901770004ed7786bafbee22

Are you an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee who will be around this May? Are you in need of a quick 3-credits that would satisfy most programs’ core requirements? Would you enjoy taking a fundamentals-class (that normally hosts over 100 students) in a more intimate, laid-back environment?

Well, you’re in luck! I’m going to be teaching GEOG 101: World Regional Geography as a Mini-Semester course this May. The class will meet every morning for three weeks, from May 8th until May 29th. That is likely the most efficient way you’ll ever be able to take this class, and it will open up your summer and fall session schedules for other requirements of your major or your other responsibilities.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or for a draft of the special 3-week syllabus. I look forward to seeing you in May.


Coming Soon to Sonic Geography

  • An Exclusive Interview (Audio) with Ian MacKaye, recorded live at AAG
  • An Overview and Retrospective on AAG in DC (April 3-7), including the premiere of my DC Punk Walking Tour
  • A Look at the Ben Irving Postcard Series in Memphis & Western Tennessee
  • Announcing my new book Capitals of Punk (Palgrave Macmillan)

 

Zack (Knox Brew Tours) and Jordan (Clinch River Brewery) Visit Popular Culture Class

0402191325_hdr

Zack Roskop (L) and Jordan Skeen (R) speak to my GEOG 423: American Popular Culture class, 2 April 2019.

A quick post to say a hearty “Thank You!” to Zack Roskop and Jordan Skeen, of Knox Brew Tours and Clinch River Brewing respectively (as well as both leaders in the Knoxville Area Brewers Association) for stopping by to speak with my American Popular Culture class today.

Our conversation provided a perfect launching point for our unit on “Beer, Spirits, and Neolocalism.”  Speaking as someone who’s been around the local craft beer community for several years now, it’s always amazing how much you can learn from talking to folks who are on the ground level about your city/region as well as the relationship between the industry and geography.

0402191306_hdr


Coming soon (likely when I’m back from AAG): A New Chapter from the Ben Irving Postcard Collection (West Tennessee Edition).

Teaching Cultural Geography with the Kids in the Hall

girl_drink_drunkLast week, my Cultural Geography: Core Concepts class tackled the relationship between gender and space. Many of my students volunteered personal experiences when their movement through space reminded them (some harshly) of their gender performance. One student mentioned a male friend of hers who specially requested cocktail drinks in a brandy glass in order to mitigate any ridicule he may receive for having a “girl drink.” So, being me, I decided this would be a good excuse to show this classic 1991 sketch from Kids in the Hall.

For a quick overview, the Kids in the Hall were a Canadian sketch troupe with a hit TV series that ran between 1989 and 1995. They released their motion picture Brain Candy in 1996 and have reunited on multiple occasions. All five members – Scott Thompson, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough, Dave Foley, and Kevin McDonald (the latter two co-star in this sketch) – are still working regularly on television today.

I had the opportunity to interview Kevin McDonald at a live show last summer, and I asked him about the changes he’d observed in sketch comedy over his decades in the industry. Though the satire and humor holds up, this sketch is reflective of a major shift he had noticed in how comedy was written, produced, and presented since the KITH show was on the air.

“One thing we were lucky about was that there was no YouTube. We couldn’t film stuff, so we had to do it the old Vaudeville way. We had to get our stage legs, and we performed all the time… It forced us to strengthen muscles that aren’t strengthened [as much today]. People on YouTube – they strengthen different muscles. They know how to be filmic. They know how to write for film; they understand “cut-to:” right away.”

Watching this sketch on YouTube in 2019, it’s easy to notice how much space they gave this short film to breathe. The dialogue is just as important as the visual gags, and the story builds slowly over a handful of scenes. Though memes (in the internet sense) did not exist at the time, the characters and cinematography lend themselves surprisingly well to that medium today. When I asked McDonald about what he thinks has contributed to the characters’ cult longevity (even early-era spots like The Eradicator, a Bruce McCullough character with a recent punk band themed after him), his answer was pretty simple: “I think that we found a rhythm in the troupe that was halfway between absurdism and real…”

The concept of what is and isn’t a “girl drink” brings a focus to that interaction of gender and place via multiple dynamics: namely, bodily comportment and subconscious “gendering” of flavor and decoration as ‘feminine.’ As they did in their strongest moments, the Kids in the Hall blended the real/tragic (a guy falling off the wagon and losing his job) with the absurd (needing some fruit and a tiny parasol in his booze). The sketch could easily be distilled (heh) down to one joke at its core, but playing to their strengths, McDonald and Foley inject masterful character work and subtle jabs. Though Foley and McDonald are hardly the punching-down type of comedians, having Scott Thompson in the writing process certainly provided a valuable voice in modulating their humor about sexuality and masculinity to avoid reinforcing gay tropes (unlike some other sketch comedy of that era … Buddy Cole, martini at his side, always dominated that conversation, anyway).

In general, alcohol plays a crucial role in geography, and vice versa. Obviously, site characteristics inform how and why brewers decide to open up shop, and local tastes often determine how certain brands of alcohol are marketed and distributed. A number of geographers, including my mentor Tom Bell, have published studies about regional dynamics in alcohol marketing, and the latest issue of the Journal of Cultural Geography contains an overview of brewing in New England. My friends Dave and Steph spoke to me and Bret Hartt about the relationship between beer and place on Episode 6 of The Casual Geographer back in 2011. I also include a case study/focus on alcohol and localism in my American Popular Culture course, especially the imagined geographies of Eastern TN and the legalized moonshine trade.

This is just one of many classic comedy sketches I use to teach cultural geography. I’ve previously written about how I introduce my Popular Culture lecture on Minstrelsy with my favorite SNL sketch of all time. I’d love to hear any examples of sketches and scenes you’ve found useful in your classes.

Nick Huinker (Central Cinema) Pays a Visit to the Geography of Popular Culture

My friend Nick Huinker, a co-founder of Central Cinema, came by my American Popular Culture class (AMST/GEOG 423) yesterday. We had a great discussion about how independent theaters have been reintroducing a distinct local flavor and sense of ownership to the moviegoing experience. As you can tell from how companies like Regal have been adopting practices held for generations by locally owned theaters (alcohol, personalization, fundraising events, screenings by homegrown directors and producers, etc.), it’s a pretty great idea.

As I’ve often discussed in the class, art-house theaters have been purposefully resetting film to its classic context, in many respects: produced for a communal, interactive experience. For the first half-century of film, it was considered a low-brow art, something that true thespians would never touch. In other words, it was a wonderful cauldron of innovative, thought-provoking, and genre-transcending/defining art. Unfortunately, a lot of this has been lost to history. Central Cinema and theaters of their ilk are doing great work in bringing it all back to the nickelodeon era (as well as the Nickelodeon era, screening Good Burger soon).

Thanks again to Nick for taking the time to come through! Stay tuned to this blog for more updates on new projects in the Geography of American Popular Culture, and if you haven’t yet, take a dive into the wonderful rabbit hole that is Cinema Treasures. You’ll be glad you did.

The Pancreatic Philosophy of Oswald Bates

c133b42577b9f675833f826bf38630cb

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.