Flow 2010 Conference Report

My Temple colleague Kelly Ryan and I contributed a conference report about our experiences at the 2010 Flow Conference for the online journal Scope.

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Spider-Monster the Musical

I love Sesame Street‘s pop-cult parodies (“30 Rocks” is another favorite), and this one is especially great because it skewers the whole Spider-Man musical debacle. As one of my Twitter pals noted, the Muppet Bono is “signified by a smug face and sunglasses.” I just like that the poor diner who always has a fly in his soup is stuck watching his incompetent waiter unsuccessfully attempt to fly.

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What Is the Worst Boston Sports Video of All Time?

I’ve been a bad Forced Marcher, but I’m trying to get back on track. But I digress…

Earlier this week, cable channel NESN unveiled “This Is Boston,” a new anthem for Red Sox Nation:

My pal Maura at Popdust referred to it as “a crummy anthem,” which is absolutely true. (It’s no “Tessie.” ) However, I insist it is nowhere near the worst Boston sports video. No, that honor goes to one of the following.

Is it the Patriots’ answer to the Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle,” 1986’s “New England, The Patriots and We”?

Or is it the Celtics’ “First Time Since ’69,” a horrendous 1987 earworm with bad rap about the Celtics’ attempt to win back-to-back championships for the first time since, er, 1969? (Bonus: a line about the death of Len Bias.)

I should note that both of these videos are from years where the respective teams lost. Does that mean the Red Sox are doomed this year? More importantly, which is the worst video?

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Boston as Movie Genre

It’s come to this: Funny Or Die is the latest to spoof what I refer to as The Masshole Movie, by splicing together footage from Good Will Hunting, The Town, The Departed and The Fighter. The use of “Sweet Caroline” during the Fenway sequence was a nice touch.

It’s pretty funny to see how Matt Damon has aged in the last decade or so, and this is also a great reminder that it’s wicked hahd for a non-native to do a Boston accent. Robin Williams, I’m looking at you.

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Townie

I’m about halfway through Andre Dubus III’s memoir Townie, and I love it. I have all kinds of Big Thoughts about it, but those will have to wait for now. As anyone who has talked to me in the last few weeks probably knows, I grew up in Haverhill, the city where the majority of the book takes place.

That has colored my reading extensively, since my mental pictures of several of the landmarks in the book seem more “real” to me somehow, despite this being a tale of Haverhill in the 1970s, and my recollection of the place is from the 1980s and early 1990s.  I can picture the “rambling one-story complex of cinderblock and glass” that was the high school because it was my high school too. (And, like the author, I too thought the statue of “the thinker” — Michelangelo’s, not Rodin’s — looked like a man sitting on a toilet.)

Despite my identifying and nodding in recognition of certain restaurants, bars and bowling alleys, Dubus’s experience is so utterly divorced from my own that it is like reading about a different place. His descriptions of Bradford, the “town across the river” (and, technically, the one I actually grew up in, but if we’re going to get into Merrimack Valley semantics, I lived in some Bradford/Ward Hill No Man’s Land on the literal outskirts of town) are filled with a longing and resentment that is sad and understandable given his circumstances. I felt out of place in Bradford too, but for different reasons.

Since my head space is pretty much nothing but social memory and collective identity these days, I’m finding myself drawn to local coverage of the book’s release. Haverhill’s mayor posted on Facebook that “the Haverhill [Dubus] talks about is not what I remember” and expressed concerns about the city’s image in the wake of Townie‘s publication. The comments section features people chiming in on whether this was “their” Haverhill or not.

I found the exchange to be an interesting exercise in memory and countermemory, as several people wanted to contest Dubus’s narrative so that the identity of Haverhill as a city on the rebound can remain the dominant one. This may prove to be difficult, as the current popular culture trope for eastern Massachusetts right now is the hardscrabble existence portrayed in films like The Fighter, The Town, The Departed and Gone Baby Gone. In fact, I will be shocked if this book is not optioned and made into a film.

I have other thoughts about the book, but I’m going to hold off until I finish reading it. But let’s just say that I find it incredibly telling that Townie started as an essay on baseball.

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Ritual de lo Habitual

It was a busy weekend. I spent Friday evening polishing my presentation for the Joint Journalism Historians Conference, making sure that I had concrete examples of my findings of what is remembered and what is forgotten in Red Sox media coverage. For the record, I talked about the “commemoration of misery” when local Boston papers look back on Bucky Bleepin’ Dent and the significance of October 27, 2004 as a flashbulb-memory event in the imagined community of Red Sox Nation.

I also discussed the intersection of ritual and media in regard to “Win It For…” a thread on the Sons of Sam Horn message board that became a sort of baseball “wailing wall” for Red Sox fans as the team came back in the 2004 ALCS and moved on to the World Series. A printout of the thread is actually in the permanent collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s a truly emotional read, full of birth and death and sickness and family and tragedy and triumph and I’ll admit (and everyone at my roundtable can attest to this) that I choked up reading from the first post, in which the poster implores the team to win it for his late father, who passed away in 1986. It’s the dedication that “This one’s for you, Daddy” that illustrates these expressions of emotion are not just about baseball, they’re about identity and family. Despite being about “merely” baseball, the discourses and narratives in so much of the World Series coverage is about memorial and commemoration. The coverage is steeped in the nostalgia of misery, which is not as contradictory as one might think.

I had a great time at the conference and saw some interesting papers. (A favorite was about the technology of the New York Times building’s “Zipper.” Fascinating.) The panel on the relationship between memory and history in media studies was a biased favorite, since it featured my Temple doctoral colleagues, none of whom I had met before. That’s the one difficulty with finishing my degree from a distance. There isn’t common in-person access to this fabulous group of scholars. I’m glad I got to see that the study of memory is still going strong in MM&C.

Tooting my own horn: I got a shout-out on Twitter for “best title.” I’ll take any accolades I can get at this point.

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Don’t Force Me, Bro!

Posting will be light-to-nonexistent for the next few days as I prepare my presentation for the Joint Journalism Historians Conference this Saturday. I just wanted to let the Forced Marchers and everyone else know so I don’t get “forced” in the next few days.

I’ll be discussing my research on social memory and ritual in relation to media coverage of Red Sox Nation if you have nothing else to do at 2:40 pm this fine Saturday.

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