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In 2011 I was looking for new ways to play with ideas. I had just finished my first semester in graduate school and while class assignments kept me busy and the conversations I had with my fellow graduate students were deeply rewarding I wanted something else. Something a little more public and a lot more focused on writing. I was surprised that, at least in my program, there was very little attention paid to the craft of writing. How to convey a complicated idea in an elegant way, or how to identify your audience, were absent from even the most pragmatic training. (This is not true in all programs and less true for that particular department now, than it was five years ago.) In college I frequently read and shared Sociological Images articles and one day, while procrastinating on my very first round of graduate school finals I noticed that The Society Pages had multiple blogs. Instead of writing my finals I wrote a short thing about drones and video editing suites and before I knew it I was regularly contributing to this blog. In a few short years I was submitting things to bigger publications, and now I’m an editor here with Jenny and wow what a wild ride.

Last month I read Kelly Conaboy’s Blog, You Idiots and it got me thinking about the process, style, and frequency of my own writing. I’ve been editing more and writing less, and I’d like to change that. Jenny and I have been editing guest posts but the editing that has taken up most of my time is editing my own stuff. There’s probably half a dozen would-be essays in my Cyborgology folder that end right about here, in the second paragraph, where the hook or thesis should go. I think this means I need to get back to writing what Conaboy called for: “just a little thing that you read and enjoy.”

I will be writing more, soon, but before I rearrange the pace of my work schedule to accommodate that promise I thought I would put down into words a workshop I have run twice now on helping academics write for more public audiences. The intention here is to identify some of the common problems academics have in writing engaging, thoughtful, and relatively short essays. Much of it comes down to pacing and working with others. more...

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The cognitive linguist George Lakoff wants liberals to stop thinking like enlightenment scholars and start thinking about appeals to the “cognitive unconscious.” He asks that progressives “embrace a deep rationality that can take account of, and advantage of, a mind that is largely unconscious, embodied, emotional, empathetic, metaphorical, and only partially universal. A New Enlightenment would not abandon reason, but rather understand that we are using real reason– embodied reason, reason shaped by our bodies and brains and interactions in the real world, reason incorporation emotion, structured by frames and metaphors anad images and symbols, with conscious though shaped by the vast and invisible realm of neural circuitry not accessible to the conscious.” That quote comes from his 2008 book The Political Mind and –regardless of your political affiliation– it is certainly worth a read. Others appeal to your “embodied reason” all the time and, when they do it right, their conclusions just feel right. This is how, according to Lakoff, Republicans are so good at getting Americans to vote against their interests. Appeal to one’s sense of self-preservation, individuality, and fear of change and you have a voter that is willing to cut their own Medicare funding. I generally agree with Lakoff’s conclusions, but I do not think Republicans are the masters of this art. Internet pirates, the likes of Kim Dotcom, Gottfrid “Anakata” Svartholm, and even Julian Assange, state their cases and appeal directly to our cognitive unconsciouses better than any neocon ever could. more...

I want to start out by saying that “liberatory” is not in the standard OS X spell check dictionary. There aren’t even spelling suggestions. It is totally foreign. I think that’s telling. Also, our blog’s CSS prevents us from giving our entries long titles. The Title is part of the story, so let me put it in a more readable format:

Black Box Tactics: The Liberatory Potential of Obscuring The Inner Workings of Technology

 

There we go. Now where was I? Oh right, I haven’t started yet. Let me do that: more...

Below is Part 2 of a three part essay (Part 1 is available here) I will be presenting at the 2012 Southwest Texas Popular Culture Association meetings in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 9th. I will be presenting alongside several other scholars for a series of panels titled “The Apocalypse in Popular Culture.” A (much) earlier version of this paper can be found on the Sociological Images sister blog. Part 2 discusses the role of George Romero’s “flesh eaters” and the use of zombie films for social and political criticism between the late 60s and the mid 90s.

Johnny, the zombified brother of Barbra, is back from the grave and "coming to get you" in Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, revolutionized the zombie metaphor. His “flesh eaters” have since become a staple of the genre and the social criticism laced within his early films have become a tradition in subsequent zombie films. Prior to Romero’s take on the zombie genre, zombies  largely reflected the spirit of the times in which these films were made. Hence, the fears of racial miscegenation found in White Zombie (1932) and the fears of mind control found in Invisible Invaders (1952). However, Romero changed these trends when he made the zombie into something more than simply an automaton of mind control or voodoo mysticism; Romero introduced the “flesh-eater” into the zombie lexicon, pushing the genre further into the macabre and raising the possibility of a politicized zombie figure.
In fact Night of the Living Dead was created as a critique of the violence and devastation of Vietnam, with the dead returning to life as a result of radiation emitted from a government “Venus probe” sent to space. In addition, Romero made his zombies into a form of contagion: A single bite from a zombie will similarly kill and turn one into a zombie, thereby playing into fears of loved ones and strangers turning on one another. Since Romero’s film, the zombie has usually been associated with cannibal corpses that have risen from the grave to devour the living. more...