California Excursion Part II: Three Comedy Videos to Supplement #EmoGeo

On the third day of the the Emotional Geographies Conference (or EmoGeo), I was in the fortunate position of chairing the 11 AM paper session for Jared Van Ramshorst and Natalia Equihua, who presented research on the overarching concepts of humor and love, respectively. The two other papers slated for the session needed to cancel, which gave Jared, Natalia, and the conference attendees more time to present and discuss their work. In between the two, I remarked how fortunate I was to be chairing such a positively-tinged session, giving the dark overarching timbre of much literature that mixes emotion and place.

That being said, Jared and Natalia’s papers both presented an array of hardships for their informants. Jared discussed his work with Central American migrants who were captured and detained in Southern Mexico, but used humor to foment ‘collective solidarity through shared vulnerability.’ Natalia presented her qualitative research on women who left Mexico and moved to Canada motivated by love. Many of these women faced the expected cultural and administrative obstacles, which led to a great commentary and discussion on the intrusion of the State on the nebulous concept of love.

1. Anton Jackson vs. the USCIS

During our discussion about the strange level of bureaucratization of love, I could not stop thinking of two things. The first, which I mentioned while chairing the discussion, was the affidavit I needed to write and submit last year on behalf of two of my best friends in California. She is American; he is Canadian and sought a Green Card to work legally in the States. They had been married for almost four years at the time, yet they were not interested in having kids or buying a house, which happen to be the two State-sanctioned expressions of “true love.” Never mind the crude heteronormativity and market-gouging there; it just seemed demoralizing that a Federal government refused to believe that they could really be married and love each other without those often-prohibitive investments.

The second thing I remembered was a classic In Living Color sketch where a woman of Caribbean origin (T’Keyah Keymáh) has the drunken vagabond Anton Jackson (Damon Wayans) pose as her husband as a ploy to get her green card. Like most of the racial, political, and observational humor on that show, it made fun of a common political tension that existed in the early 1990s and in many corners still does. Despite the sometimes dated humor and cultural references, I find myself using In Living Color a lot during lessons on race, class, and geography.

2. Little Mosque on Signage and Language Hierarchy

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Craig Stone talks about the ‘linguistic landscaping’ of the CSULB campus.

After lunch, Alexandra Jaffe and Craig Stone led the group in what may have been the single coolest presentation all week: ‘I Appreciate and Respect You’: Linguistic Landscaping of a College Campus. Jaffe, an Anthropologist, had already presented her research on the consumable tourist landscapes on Corsica, which anybody who has been to this site before (or read my dissertation, for that matter) knows is a subject of particular interest for me. On Friday, she joined forces with Craig Stone, the head of CSULB’s highly acclaimed American Indian Studies department, to talk about the hierarchy of languages and the political/emotional manifestations of signage (ditto re: subjects of interest to me). Both Jaffe and Stone wore their Cal State Puvungna t-shirts for the occasion, which made me wish I had packed mine for the trip.

Anyway, the conversation about the value of humor in understanding emotion and place was still fresh at this point, so my mind jumped to an episode I had seen recently of the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. In Season 2, by the time the characters had been established and allowed to develop a bit, one of the show’s protagonists gets a dream gig as interim Mayor for her hometown of Mercy, Saskachewan. Unfortunately, a couple of hosers accidentally crash a tractor into the town’s welcome sign, setting the show’s A-story into motion. The whole series, which is definitely a bit cheesy (but what lovable sitcoms aren’t?), is available on Hulu, and you can watch “Welcome to Mercy” here with a subscription or free trial.

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3. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog vs. French Canada

While on the subject of signage and the emotional geographies inherent in conflicts over language and place-naming further in East in Canada, I flashed back to my college years, when Conan O’Brien did a week of shows in Toronto. He sent Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to Quebec to talk to French Canadians about their culture and the idea of secession, and the results were predictably awkward and hilarious. I’ve actually used this clip as an introduction to our unit on Canada in World Regional Geography classes. If crude late-night TV humor won’t land you in hot water with your administration, I’d recommend it as a great way to introduce themes on Canada and ‘Canadianness’ in a funny and entertaining way.

California Excursion Part I: #EmoGeo 2017 in Long Beach

Last week, I returned to my alma mater Cal State Long Beach for the biennial Emotional Geographies Conference. This was the first time the heavily-international conference had been held in the United States, having been as far afield as New Zealand in the previous decade. As conference co-chair Deb Thien remarked, Long Beach had been selected as the host prior to the once-unimaginable political occurrences of the past year. A lot of members opted not to travel to the US for such reasons, which was disappointing at first, but it gave the conference a great silver lining. It enabled near-100% attendance for every paper presenter and a genuine intimate setting where it was possible to meet and actually have a meaningful interaction with everyone else there. At conferences like AAG or even smaller regional conferences, it may be impossible to have meaningful interactions with anyone, much less dozens of people devoted to your same sub-field. Such are the advantages of small conferences.

Bike Valet at the Art Theater

Via cobalb.com. A friend and I caught a screening of ‘Citizen Jane’ (a documentary about one of the 20th century’s great prophets Jane Jacobs) on Wednesday night. It wasn’t bad, but I mostly appreciated the two hours of down time in an air-conditioned theater.

Also, I can’t remember how much I’ve gone into it here, but Long Beach, California is a pretty sweet little city. Granted, nowhere in North America but LA’s shadow is a city of over 500,000 people “little,” but it can’t help if Los Angeles (45 minutes or 7 hours north, depending on what time you get on the 405) makes everything about it seem relatively laid-back and put-together. Also, seaside paradise San Pedro is a short drive across the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

I was able to present some of the emotional geography facets from my dissertation research on Wednesday morning. The diversity of papers and subjects was impressive; in just one session, the conference attendees learned about trans visibility in Roller Derby, queer spaces in Palestinian hip hop culture, DC punk’s impact on Paris, and the contested history of Long Beach’s rancho system (link for video).

It was also a real treat to be able to hear Liz Bondi speak about the relationship between psychotherapy and geography in her keynote. Another presenter, Mancunian Natalie Moss (who I mistook for Welsh based on her accent, for some reason) discussed the heavy psychological toll that human research can take on both the informants and the researchers, arguing for the value of therapy in praxis.

I’ll write more soon with some thoughts on the abbreviated paper session I was fortunate to chair on Friday morning and the bizarre places it steered my brain. For now, here are some pictures I took over the three days. More photos taken by Long Beach student Ken Fichtelman are available via Dropbox here.

The Casual Geographer Presents: “Intersection Songs”

For those of you who were not connected to me during my time at CSU-Long Beach, my friends Bret Hartt, Abel Santana, and I co-founded a podcast and weekly radio show called “The Casual Geographer.” We produced over thirty episodes, most of which were posted at our original blogspot site here (the audio links no longer work, but the descriptions and graphics are still there, and if I may say so, delightful). Each episode tackled a different subject and explained how geography enveloped said subject. It lasted most of the two years I spent in Long Beach, and we had a lot of fun.

This week, in a seminar on tourism geography, my colleagues and I discussed a wonderful article by Duncan Light on the commodification and consumption of place names. I found it interesting, as a musically-inclined geographer, how he used examples such as AC/DC (seriously, why is there no lightning bolt key?) Street in Melbourne as ways in which cities and regions place and focus what John Urry legendarily called “the tourist gaze.” In particular, Light (2014, 145*) wrote:

…It is the marker – the signage – that is important in affirming and validating the visit. As such the place-name signage (the most commonplace and banal of objects) becomes the principal focus of tourist interest and the setting for a range of activities and performances.

Unsurprisingly, my mind immediately leaped to the corner of Fountain and Fairfax, where I drove by upon moving to the Los Angeles area, motivated by The Afghan Whigs’ dramatic 1993 song of that title**.  My mind then immediately jumped to Episode 3 of The Casual Geographer, where we discussed whatever background information we could find on a handful of songs named after street intersections. These included “53rd and 3rd” (NYC) by the Ramones, “Fountain and Fairfax” (Los Angeles) by the Afghan Whigs, “Queen and John” (Toronto) by Good Riddance, “9th and Hennepin” (Minneapolis) by Tom Waits, and “13th and Euclid” (DC) by the Dismemberment Plan. Thanks to Russ Rankin for his gracious email reply telling us the story of “Queen and John” (which I read during the episode), as well as Travis Morrison for his brief explanation of what happened at a gas station near 13th and Euclid (as well as giving me the go-ahead to use “The Face of the Earth” as a theme song for the show).

I’ll gradually work on wrenching more of these recordings from my archives. For now, have a listen to this episode and I hope you enjoy it. This was an early episode, and the production quality improved from here, I promise.

LINER NOTES

* Light, D. (2014). Tourism and toponymy: commodifying and consuming place names. Tourism Geographies, 16(1), 141-156.

** If you’re at all familiar with the Afghan Whigs or the greater spate of work by Greg Dulli, using the word “dramatic” to describe any of their songs could seem pretty redundant, I realize.