By Oliver Bendorf.
By Oliver Bendorf.
By Joshua Johnson
Given the news of another movie franchise set in the world of Harry Potter, it seems right to prepare for another wave of wizard-world mania. In addition to reading J.K. Rowling’s lesser-known Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or re-watching the Potter movies, you might also try some wrock: wizard rock.
Wrock bands write songs about the Potter world, and they often frequently cosplay the books’ characters. I’ve been listening to wrock for years now, from Harry and the Potters to The Whomping Willows. And I’m struck by the ways in which this kind of fan labor distinguishes itself from others.
Fan scholars often note that fan works like fan fiction or fan vids are transformational: they complicate, alter, and/or critique source texts. I’d add that many are also necessarily transgressive. Whether circumventing DRM technologies or appropriating cultural materials subversively, fans find ways to work transgressively within a mediascape that sees them as somewhere between enthusiastic consumers and threatening oddballs.
Perhaps wary of such views, wrock carefully mediates and mitigates its own fannish transgression, so much so that wrock often actually becomes part of the Potter canon.
Wrock styles vary, but many bands feature songs performed primarily from a Potter character perspective. Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls’ “Bridge to the Other Side,” pitches a melancholy message from Harry to Sirius, his—spoilers!—fallen godfather. Strengthening relationships already found in Rowling’s work, the song roots itself in the Potter canon, but it also generates new source material that fans transform and remix. Indeed, “Bridge to the Other Side” has itself been treated to fan reworkings that deepen Sirius’ relationships with Remus Lupin and Regulus Black.
Wrock’s alliance with source texts also provides a vector for nostalgia. Allowing fans to remember and pay fond tribute, OBatR’s “End of an Era” serves as a companion to the Potter texts. In this way, wrock provides a fannish analogue to the playlists authors release after their books have come out.
Wrock is not inattentive to the commercial side of things. Many wrock stars are involved in other musical endeavors. Just the other day I checked out No Spare Parts, a bluegrass band featuring the members of Draco and the Malfoys. Wrock not only lends itself to the long tradition of the side project, but it also prepares its participants for the professional world. Christian Caldeira may no longer serve as OBatR frontman, but he continues to make a living at music, even if that music lacks wizardry and other magical hijinks.
Undoubtedly, the new films will spawn new wrock bands, and it will be interesting to see how these fannish activities continue to reshape ideas of participatory culture. For now, however, take a break, dress up, and wrock out.
Joshua Johnson teaches English at the University of Minnesota-Morris, but he’s still waiting for his letter from Hogwarts. His work focuses primarily on fan cultures, fan works, and emerging models of online citizenship.
By Dennis Allen
Perhaps it’s a side effect of the recent hoopla about the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who, with BBC America running an endless stream of special episodes of the show about the famous Time Lord, but I’ve begun to wonder if Thanksgiving Break isn’t some sort of temporal anomaly. It’s not just that the normal routine of classes and office hours and committee meetings is suspended for a week (or for half a week if you’re less lucky), but that time itself seems to distort during break. Let me see if I can explain.
At the start of break, time seems to move slowly and be almost infinite. Looking ahead, you should be able to get that stack of papers, pictured below, graded right at the start of the week, which will give you plenty of time to get a bit of writing done on that article that’s been languishing on your hard drive for longer than you care to think about.
Not to mention that, as compensation for having to listen to the political opinions of your crazy uncle over Thanksgiving dinner, there will be plenty of time for you to take an actual, real day off to binge-watch The Walking Dead or Orange is the New Black. And who knows? You might even finally get around to painting that bedroom or giving the kitchen that overdue deep cleaning.
And yet, somehow, not long after the day of the big meal and the football games, that infinite week has suddenly compressed down into about a day and a half, and time itself seems to be moving at a far more rapid pace than usual. Against all odds, and in clear contravention of the laws of probability, that stack of papers is still there, untouched. We’re not even going to talk about that article.
It’s at this point, when time has clearly gone awry, that part of the appeal of Dr. Who becomes clear. Not only could the Tardis take you back to the start of break to begin it again, but there’s enough room inside that you can bring the grading with you.
What To Read During Thanksgiving Break: A Flowchart
What To Read After Walden: A Flowchart
By Katherine D. Harris
At this time of year when faculty longingly look towards the conclusion of the semester and are furiously meeting with students, writing final exams, directing graduate students, shepherding final projects, and filling every available moment with end-of-semester scrambling, I’m reminded why I got into this business of literary studies. Today of all days, a day in which I witnessed SJSU’s Academic Senate pass a resolution to ask the California State University Chancellor to step in to evaluate our campus administration, it’s the anniversary of the publication of Mark Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County" (1865). The mellifluous title, a precursor to the tall tales that Mark Twain became so famous for weaving, well, it’s real.
The jumping frog jubilee takes place in Angels Camp, California — a mere three-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. I know because for the last two years in May, I have driven due east to race a sprint triathlon, Angel’s Camp Triathlon, that has celebrated these jumping frogs since 1893. We swim at Glory Hole Recreation Area in the New Melones Lake, ride the surrounding hills, and run through the rattle-snake-infested single track trails. Afterwards, we stroll down the main street for some ice cream and relief from the heat to gawk at the unbelievable distances of these jumping frogs’ feats. The sidewalk on main street celebrates the furthest jumping frog with emblazoned two-foot medallions embedded all along the sidewalk. Each year, before I leave for Angels Camp, I dig up Mark Twain’s short story in awe that after studying Twain as an undergraduate literature major, I’m in that very town and standing next to Twain’s statue. Twain’s short story reminds me of literature’s whimsey and the joy of experiencing silliness at the hands of an author’s imagination. I don’t teach Twain (because he’s American literature and I do primarily British); I’m not required to read his works for scholarship or research; I’m not obligated to know each turn of phrase or literary element either. “The Celebrated Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County” is pure, unadulterated reminder that literature offers adventure. And that’s what we all need just before we race into our own end-of-semester adventures.
Cash Cow by Oliver Bendorf.
By Misun Dokko
My ethnic literature courses fulfill certain objectives and expectations that relate to “diversity.” The demographics of the majority of my students—white, first generation college students who have not traveled far from their homes in rural South Central Pennsylvania—drives the meaning of “diversity,” so that my campus identifies it with people of color. In my undergraduate ethnic literature courses, I approach this assumption by having students read the material as a means of understanding unfamiliar transnational historical conditions of immigration, failures of assimilation, and violence and confusion that permeate certain narratives of people of color. However, I don’t want to teach ethnic literature as a mere proxy for underrepresented experiences. Ethnic literature is at the heart of thinking critically and theoretical praxis, as I aspire to teach it.
Manuel Muñoz’s short story collection Zigzagger (2003) reminds me that making the case for ethnic literature’s critical and theoretical import isn’t easy. His stories illuminate experiences of Chicano adolescent queer “boys,” as he names many of his main characters, in contemporary rural Northern California. In representing their intuitive perceptions, desire, intimacy, and shame, he favors restraint over explication. For example, signs of couplings boil down to silver belt buckles, bare chests, fogged up car windows, hotel rooms, and unspoken recognitions. In this way, Muñoz has tempted me to register Zigzagger as a window into the experiences of characters who have not been at the forefront of American literature, ethnic literature, and even queer literature.
Muñoz’s work suggests more, however. By presenting Chicano adolescent queerness as a main subject inquiry but by writing around the details and by avoiding its explicit acknowledgement, he indicates that there is something significant in what eludes full narrative description. Even more, those things that characters and author recognize but don’t fully name are, in fact, the central matter of the story even as they escape full narrative detail.
Imparting significance to what escapes narrative domestication is critically and theoretically productive because representations of fleeting deviations from social norms without assimilating them to full narrative legibility creates a blip in the smooth operation of narrative and heteronormativity. Even though narrative and heteronormative culture allow for these deviations and continue to reign in spite of them, the presences of such glitches nevertheless signal that something flutters out of sync with them and related ideologies (capitalism, techno-scientific complex, etc.). By enabling us to observe their glitches, queer of color literature such as Muñoz’s work is poised to shape critical reading practices that move through conventions of domesticating difference and adventuring into “diversity.” Rather, an ambition could consist of teaching ethnic literature and queer of color literature as oeuvres that not only question repressive ideologies but that also prepare readers for the impossible project of glimpsing at something beyond touchstones of existence.
"Praise For This Book" by Oliver Bendorf.
Boccaccio wrote the Decameron between 1348 and 1352, when the values of the Middle Ages (valor, faith, transcendence) were yielding to those of the Renaissance (enjoyment, business, the real). It is probably the dirtiest great book in the Western canon. A number of critics have described it as amoral. Think of the little towered cities in the far distance, behind the Virgin Mary, in Renaissance paintings. Love of the world: these painters had it, and so did Boccaccio.
Wondering what works would round out the list of dirtiest books in the Western canon…