Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Everything I need to know, I learned from hulu

I admit to watching an extraordinary amount of internet television, something that I figured out yesterday when I was taking a survey about TV shows and they asked me how many hours a week I watch.  Right now, I follow faithfully eleven TV shows that are on the air right now (and two more come back in June/July), but the shows that I watch have been picked very carefully, and if something doesn't pique my interest anymore, I do stop watching.  I think, though, that television nowadays is more of an art form than it ever has been, and despite many cliched, hackneyed bullshit that networks air (Rock of Love, anyone?), there is at least one show that is interesting, thoughtful, intellectually stimulating, and appropriately dramatic that makes me feel less guilty about being a fan. 

The shows that I would consider in this category, in order of my own interest:

Mad Men: This show is fantastic.  Thankfully my dear friend Abby told me to start watching it about a year ago, which I did, and I immediately became a fan.  The production team has done an amazing job recreating the 1960s, and every time I watch, I imagine Sally as my mom, who would have been approximately the same age during the 1960s (and how cool would it be to have Don Draper as your grandfather?).  More so, however, is the fact that Mad Men doesn't pretend to be over the top dramatic.  What is so interesting about it is that in some episodes lots of plot twists occur - Don gets caught up with a new love interest, Pete makes yet another stupid decision in order to advance his career, a secretary runs over a guy's foot with a lawnmower... But in many episodes not much happens at all - it's a lazy dramatic pace like that which actually makes the show more exciting, in my opinion.  It is really like life - the characters don't seem to be terribly archetypal like they are in so many other shows.  Instead, they are both good and bad, revered and hated, and our sympathy as an audience is torn from one character to another.  We used to feel badly for January Jones, but now we feel badly for Don, who may deserve what's coming, but he's always come out on top!  Or Pete, my favorite character - despite the fact that he's an absolute tool, he's so endearing, even when he's being a terrible person.  Mad Men is certainly a new kind of show, but I think that the way it experiments with more well-rounded characters and a slower pacing makes it successful, brilliant, and worthy of 40 minutes of my time each week.

Lost: Yes, many people out there are probably tsking at this being #2 on my list of amazing dramatic shows.  But Lost has proven its brilliance time and time again.  Yes, seasons 2 and 3 were pretty disappointing, and I admit that I stopped watching it for a few years until I realized that it was getting good again.  But despite its ups and downs, Lost has really paved the way for a number of new shows.  Of course, the show itself certainly would not have existed if it hadn't been for the ever infamous Twin Peaks by David Lynch, a show that, like Lost, depended on large casts, cliffhangers, and seasons long mystery plots that are sometimes left unresolved.  What I like about Lost, much like Mad Men, is that the characters are somewhat ambiguous - few are genuinely good or bad, and exist in a kind of purgatory (har har, for those of you who have been impatiently awaiting the show finale in a few weeks).  Jack, for example, started out as the hero, the protagonist, but has only proven himself just as weak and vulnerable as the rest of them.  He even makes some pretty poor decisions that get more than a couple of people killed.  Hurley, who started out as a the archetypal comic sidekick, may become the catalyst for the rest of the show with his unique ability to communicate with the dead (sorry, spoiler!).  The female characters also all started out as fairly weak, highly sexualized (from a male perspective) characters, but they have also evolved.  I wouldn't say that Kate has made much of a transition - going from the object of sexual desire to a mom-figure to Aaron - but Sun has certainly proven herself to be a strong willed character, and Juliette was a wonderful addition to the show in season 3(?).  So what I like about Lost, on the surface, are the cliffhangers and mysteries and the philosophical allusions - but underneath, the characters all have a completely different role to play, and almost all of them have subtly transformed from archetypes to very human figures.

House: I've been a little disappointed - okay, maybe very disappointed - with this show in the past few seasons.  Not only have they pretty much stuck to the routine script (person gets sick, sicker, sickest, then recovers after a miracle idea comes to House), but they have also reverted to rehashing the same plot points over and over - House was a Vicodin addict for the first few seasons and has now turned to alcohol, which this last episode implied - how original!  Nevertheless, the reason I keep watching this show is because, despite the overall problems with the story, House's character (and Hugh Laurie's acting) are absolutely perfect in every way.  I really can't think of a better main character than Gregory House - the cynicism, the attitude, the zingers, the pranks - make for really good television.  I don't think that this show is going to last much longer, although they'll try to make it go for at least one more season.  It's too bad that the supporting characters have become lame caricatures: Foreman is the disgruntled employee who rarely lets down his guard, Thirteen is the hot lesbian with an incurable illness, Taub is the sleazy cheater, and Chase is the soulful Australian.  Most of the jokes made on the show exploit these stereotypes, and that's too bad, because the show used to be so much more than that.

Bones: Similarly, I love Bones.  I got into this show a little over a year ago, when I was bored, and began watching older episodes online.  There really is something about watching a TV show all at once, rather than waiting for weekly episodes.  I really felt like I knew all the characters pretty intimately after I watched seasons 1-4 in about a month and a half.  What I love: the sexual/emotional tension between Brennan and Booth (who doesn't love that??), although that has turned into something very different in recent episodes.  I also love the same between Angela and Hodges, who are almost more worthy of my sympathy, since they are clearly more aware of their emotional issues than Brennan.  I also love Sweets - the cute psychiatrist who's 25 years old, always trying to get attention and praise from his colleagues.  The more recent problems with this show come less from poor characterization and more from the fact that the episodes just aren't as creative anymore.  So many of the 'in between' episodes (meaning the ones that aren't the beginning, climax, and ends of the season) are just so boring and pointless - it is so easy to pick out the villain, and the ways in which people's bodies are being found is just getting more and more ridiculous.  Like House, I think this will last for one more season, but I'm not sure what they're going to be able to do with it once Brennan and Booth get together - and it sure seems like they're gearing up for that in the near future, if not at the end of this season.

The Tudors/FlashForward/24 I am going to save for later.

Glee: While not exactly a drama, I need to rant a little.  I loved this show when it first aired.  The teaser episode that they had on hulu a year ago was fantastic, and I couldn't wait for more.  I loved every episode of the first half of season one (it went from September through December of 2009).  Glee has recently returned to FOX and I am completely shocked at what a terrible, boring, half-assed show it is now.  I have actually stopped watching it!! (And I rarely do that).  What I loved about the first half is that so many of the characters drew upon my sympathy, and were also hilarious.  The show knew that it was playing with stereotypes and made jokes that made sure that the audience knew that they were aware.  This kind of self-awareness permeated every character introduced.  The use of music was pertinent and modest - they didn't just throw in music for the hell of it, but rather crafted episodes around songs that would add to the plot.  Sure, it was overproduced and kind of cliched, but it was easy to look past all that because of all the amazing things going for it.  NOW, however, Glee has just turned into drivel.  The characters are no longer sympathetic (Rachel is obnoxious beyond belief, especially now that she has two hot guys chasing after her; Quinn is just a sullen faced pregnant girl; Puck has been completely MIA; Finn is turning into even more of a tool; and even Mr. Schuster is no longer the poor dude with a heart of gold - he's just another sleazebag.  The use of music is also ridiculous - the Madonna episode pretty much summed it up: here are 12 Madonna songs that are famous, let's see how we can weave a threadbare plot around them so that we can hear a bunch of lame teenagers belt them for absolutely no reason.  I'm sorry, Glee, but you've lost my interest since you decided to sell out: now you're just an overproduced, plotless, pointless, superficial waste of time.

I'll continue this later...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Done at last!

Well, here we are on the flip side.  Seminar paper, 25 pages (not including the bibliography), pretty decent if I do say so myself.  It's probably the first paper I've written that I'm really really proud of, besides my third term paper.  It's definitely not refined, in any way - the arguments need to be more clear and more sorted out, and I think I need to streamline everything a little more.  I may have tried to accomplish too much with this one paper, but I definitely know how to pare it back a bit when I turn it into an article.  I really hope that Stein likes it and gives me constructive feedback on how to submit it.  I also think that I can use it as part of my dissertation, or perhaps as small model for what I want my dissertation to be.  And the best part: when I was writing, I was in complete control of the bibliography.  I knew exactly what I needed to look at and footnote - maybe I am becoming a "Handel scholar" after all!

This is my first real "day off" since finishing, and I'm really only going to allow myself this week before I get to some intense work on my prospectus.  Now that I have my carrel at Hatcher and I've quit facebook, I'm actually managing to get things done during the day.  It feels really good to wake up at 8, exercise, watch my many TV shows, eat breakfast and run errands, and then get up to the library by 1 and work until 5 or 6 pm.  A leisurely but productive ten hour day, if I do say so myself.  I think it'll be a good routine for me this summer, and I'm looking forward to allowing myself WEEKENDS OFF for a change.  I plan on having many adventures.  On the list: Holland, MI (although probably not during the tulip festival), Port Huron, MI, Stratford, ON for the theater festival, my trip to London, and of course, my annual sojourn to Ossipee Lake to see everyone.  I'm sure that I'll be taking more trips (hopefully to visit Jahi in Ithaca, finally), and possibly to D.C. and NYC, since I've punked out on the Alaska trip (sorry dudes, it's way too expensive for me right now).

As all my favorite television shows start ramping up for their season finales, I'm actually wondering if I should completely lay off television this summer, except for the few shows that I watch.  The ones that will be continuing through are The Tudors, Lie to Me, Hell's Kitchen (I think), and Mad Men - but most of those are short seasons, and most do not overlap.  I think if I limit myself to two hours of TV per week, I can also get a lot more accomplished, and I can do more things with people, rather than being addicted to hulu.  Don't get me wrong: I love hulu, and it has been a great source of entertainment - but I need to stop being a complete television addict.  Michael says that he is giving up internet for good when he moves this coming weekend.  Not sure I have the willpower to do that but limiting its usage will certainly be beneficial to my career, my eyes, and my brain.

I'm hoping to audition for a choir for next year.  I feel slightly guilty, since I completely punked out of the Life Sciences Orchestra about a month ago, but to be fair, that wasn't very fun for me this semester because of my terrible stand partner and because the repertory was just not very good.  I miss singing in a choir, and the UMS Choral Union performs Messiah every Christmas (shall I complain here that it's ridiculous to perform that work at Christmas time, since it's meant as an Easter oratorio??), so I'll get to perform Handel.  I think it'll be a lot of fun, if I can get in. Or if I can get an audition...

Well, off to do errands and enjoy the sunny if slightly chilly day.  Adios for now..

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Reverse Psychology

Why is it that as soon as classes end, I suddenly become more motivated and actually get things done?  I had thought that having a schedule this semester would help me get up and get things done with my day.  Instead, I watched a lot of hulu.  And surfthechannel (am I allowed to admit that on here?).  I thought about a lot of things, but very few of these things made it into writing.  This has all changed in the past three days, however.  I've got 10 pages of my seminar paper and I still have at least fifteen more to write, depending on the kinds of musical examples that I use.  A successful day, yes, but I wish that my semester had been full of them.

Perhaps this bodes well for the summer, though.  I have a game plan for my day to day, and a tentative schedule that I think I can stick to for the long haul - if I can defend my prospectus in September, I'll be incredibly happy.  That way I'll be about a year ahead of where people normally are, since it seems most people defend their prospectuses (prospectii?) at the end of their fourth year, rather than at the beginning.  It'll be good timing, too - with my fellowship, I'm hoping to get in at least one more trip to London in the fall, and then possibly go back next summer.

I'm currently coming up with a list of fellowships to apply for to do my research.  I'm unsure about applying to the Fulbright, because the chances of me getting one for England are so incredibly low - much lower than any other country, I would imagine.  The Mellon Fellowship for Research in Archives (or something like that) sounds like a good one for me, and there are a number of others.  I'm not sure how I feel about going to England for a whole year, though.  Of course it would be fun, but I don't think that it's necessary for the dissertation that I'm proposing, and I'm pretty sure that if I'm over there I won't get much actual work done writing.  It doesn't seem like many people do.  It's not that I want out of the program (well, maybe I do), but I think that I would be a lot more productive writing in Ann Arbor.  I guess the ideal situation would be to go for all of next summer (May thru August) and then finish up my fifth and first part of my sixth years, and then apply for jobs.  We'll see if I can do that!

My friend took his prelims today, so we're going out celebrating in a few.  Which means I'm off the hook in terms of work.  I suppose I could write the other 10 pages while intoxicated - that would be an interesting adventure...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last day of classes!

Ahh... Michigan.  School is over before May 1st, and I will have four months of beautiful weather to enjoy before school starts up again in the fall.  Wait, what was that?  School starting up again? Haha just kidding!!  I get to have 8 months of vacation, that's right.

I'll probably keep rubbing it in, but if I'm not productive during that time (i.e. writing and defending my prospectus and writing at least one draft of a chapter) I'm going to be pretty upset with myself.  Yesterday I went down to the grad library and got a carrel.  It's much less distracting working down there than it is up at the school of music.  The chairs are more comfortable, there's more natural light, there's a door I can close so that people won't bother me.  The only problem is that my lovely carrel mate (someone who seems to be working in history and women's studies, much like me) has decided to throw her stuff everywhere. I left a note kindly asking her to consolidate to one shelf, but I have a feeling that won't happen.  Whatever happens, at least I asked, so I won't feel badly moving her stuff around next time I go over there.

Seminar paper - 5/20 pages.  Not bad, considering the beginning is always the hardest part for me to write.  I think this will end up being a good paper, but it will need a lot of editing before I can turn it into an article.  The first five pages are probably the most theoretical I've ever attempted in a paper before, except maybe my women's studies paper on Nadia Boulanger from last semester (although, to be fair, I understand a lot more of the theory I'm working with now).  I'm excited about it, despite how slowly it's going.  And I have responded to Stein's criticism of my last seminar paper by footnoting basically every sentence.  Perhaps that's overkill, but it's better than too few.

I've also been grading the papers for musicology 240 and I wish that I could say that there's a marked improvement from last semester to the end of this semester, but there really isn't.  Some people have really refined their writing, or else maybe they came in with the ability to put words together in sentence form, I'm not sure.  It's very frustrating for me, because I feel like most of my comments and advice have fallen on deaf ears this semester.  I really liked my students, for the most part, but I have never met a group of kids more intent on point-grubbing and complaining about assignments than this bunch.  I'll never forget the two that came up to me last semester, complaining about the fact that I gave them 4/5 on their papers because they didn't write introductions:

Students: "Just so you know, we didn't write introductions because the paper prompt didn't say to.  So keep that in mind next time you're grading."

Me: "Just so you know, keep it in mind that you're sophomores in college who should know how to write papers by now.  The prompt didn't say they had to be in English, did it?"

Yeah, I actually didn't say that last line, but I wish I had.  Ridiculous.  It's like they thought of every excuse to not do things, instead of just sucking it up and doing what they're meant to as students.  It really makes me sad to see people waste educational opportunities, because, despite my problems with 240, I think there's a lot that people can get out of it if they just listen to the music.  Actually, maybe that's what makes me most upset - these are music majors and they couldn't care less about listening to music.  I understand that feeling, sometimes.  It was very difficult being motivated to study for my special fields exam, but I loved most of the music that I had to listen to, and now I can say that I'm an expert on a lot of it.  I hope that these kids realize that they're not going to get orchestra jobs "when they grow up", and that writing is going to become the only way for them to make it in the real world.  Sorry, kiddos, but dems da truth.  I'm living proof of that one.

Well, I suppose my goals for today are rather minimal because of errands that I have to run, but here they are: finish grading the papers, look over my seminar paper and see if I can fix/change/add, and go grocery shopping so that I can make a delicious dinner (pasta primavera and lemon chicken). Should be a good day!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Last early morning!

Yes, I'm up at 7 am - it's our last lecture for Musicology 240 today, and I couldn't be more excited to go!  Because it means that I don't have to GSI again for at least a year and four months.  Not that I don't like teaching.  For some reason, though, this semester really burnt me out.  I need some time to recover from students complaining, grading, etc.  Maybe by the time I come back students will be grateful and will want to be educated, rather than doing everything in their power to get me to teach only to the exam.  I don't remember being like this at Vassar - it seemed that people were really excited about learning there, even if that didn't extend to everyone.  Perhaps I'm glossing over moments because the grass is always greener, but I'm pretty sure that school of music kids, in general, are less inclined to care about the academic side of music, despite the fact that they need to know how to write so that when they realize they won't be playing in the NYPhil, they can figure out another career path that won't lead to a cardboard box in Central Park.

I'm falling into predictable cynicism again.  I loved most of my students this year.  I think the ones with attitudes just really got to me, for some reason, because I don't understand why they think it's helpful to come into musicology thinking that they know everything already.  Perhaps the class isn't taught as in depth as I think (or they think) it should be taught, but that's the nature of a survey course.  Pay your dues, move on, and take upper level musicology.  Believe me, I wish it wasn't like that either, and if/when I get a job teaching western music history survey courses I'm certainly going to try to make it much more than just chronological lectures and three page assignments.  But for now, I can't change anything.

Oh, right, I should be positive on this last day.  Nine month summer, here I come!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Return to Procrastination

After a brief hiatus (well, more like a couple of years, actually), I'm prepared to blog again.  As I was first contemplating reopening this blog, I figured it would be an easy form of procrastination, since that's what I do best.  But I think that there might be a use for constant writing.  I'm a bit out of practice, something that I have realized more in the past few weeks - and certainly since my prelims in January.  I think after the stress of those I took a mental vacation for two months, and now that I need to write a 25 page seminar paper by next week, not to mention a lengthy dissertation proposal by September, I think that it's high time that I get back into the habit of putting words together in coherent fashion.

This blog, in its earlier form, was a sort of critical look at ways in which we - university students - learn about music.  I started it at the end of my senior year of college.  I think I wrote four posts (unfortunately, I deleted them).  I think that I need to expand the purpose of this blog for myself.  It's not going to be an emo display of my anxieties and concerns.  I could make a myspace profile if I wanted to do that.  I want to use this blog to document my dissertating.  I think it will be good for me to write about my progress on a daily, or somewhat daily, basis - that way, I can see how much I'm doing, whether or not I'm accomplishing what I want to accomplish, and maybe even hold myself accountable once in awhile.

My proposed dissertation, which exists in my head, will address the careers of women opera singers in early eighteenth-century London, and how these women navigated their professional identities as musicians as free agents in a time when women were largely withdrawing into the captivity of domesticity.  I will probably focus on the music of George Frideric Handel, and his working relationships with his singers, but I'm leaving that part open-ended for now.  I also want to do work on benefit performances; perhaps, how these spaces allowed women to create unique identities for themselves as virtuoso musicians, rather than as characters in an opera.  But we'll see.  I need to find the music!

Oh, I'm probably also starting this blog because I quit facebook today, and I'm subconsciously trying to distract myself from the fact that I can't stalk people 24/7 anymore.  Or at least for a few weeks, while I get this paper written and my proposal research done.   I guess weaning myself from facebook will ultimately be a good thing, since I waste way too much time on there being completely and mind-numbingly unproductive.  Let's hope that this is a better use of my time!

Goals for tonight/tomorrow: Finish writing the introduction and literature review to my seminar paper, and grade my student's papers!