26 June 2006

Didn't Mind Body Worlds...

Yesterday afternoon i went to Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. It was exhilarating, disturbing, and sometimes sad. Some of the most interesting questions were ones of motivation. Why do all these people come to this show? What are von Hagens' goals in the display? And whether the exhibit is really about the science or more an art installation.

The installation is absolutely worth seeing, although the experience itself is less than ideal. Far too many people being ushered through simultaneously. Most of the time slots sell out at the show in St. Paul, despite the fact they are selling as many tickets as people could physically fit in the space.

While part of what makes the show disturbing is the fact that every piece you're seeing is a dead body that has gone through a process known as 'plastination' (invented by von Hagens, plastination takes real human bodies & body parts, fills them with plastic, allows them to be molded into various poses, and then hardens them, allowing the bodies to be preserved for up to 10,000 years, according to von Hagens), the question of why all of these people pay so much to see the exhibit is, for me at least, equally disturbing. Surely von Hagens' works would not receive nearly so much attention if he used exact plastic replicas of every body part. What makes people flock to it is the fact that death is truly present in the halls.

Questions have also been raised about whether the fact that von Hagens is German complicates the morality of experimenting and displaying bodies in such a manner. While i do think this is a valuable and interesting question, i'm more interested in the question of just what von Hagens is up to. His figures are displayed in a variety of life-like poses, with accompanying text explaining that the poses allow for a better understanding and illustration of the body, which is to some extent true, but does not necessarily extend to the chess board, basketball, or top hat that the bodies have with them. The exhibits are lit artfully and position mirrors and other reflective surfaces strategically to maximize aesthetic effect. Though von Hagens constantly calls his work science, with its aim to facilitate a better understanding of the human body for all people, i think his work is as much an art exhibit as it is a science lesson.

In the end, i guess, i don't necessarily have a judgement about this last thought. I have no problem with art, with using corpses as art, or with mixing art and science into one impressive performance, but the installation poses a lot more questions than just 'what's it look like if you take somebody's skin off?' I highly recommend the exhibit to anyone who has a chance to see it, but if you miss it this time around, don't worry, they'll be around for a while.

22 June 2006


It's halftime of the U.S./Ghana game. A must win. Italy is winning their game (which is what we need), but we're down 2-1, not holding up our end. In our own defense, the penalty kick awarded Ghana in stoppage time looked pretty questionable, but we do look like we're controlling most of the pace of the game. Still. I'm feeling pretty queasy. When the U.S. equalized late in the first half off a beautiful pass from the all-but-invisible DeMarcus Beasley to Clint Dempsey i was running around Jackie's apartment like a madman, only to be crushed by a go-ahead goal by Ghana.

Thanks, Jackie for letting me come to your place to get my soccer fix.

16 June 2006

Shy Town

Brooke & i took the train into Chicago yesterday to pick up her car and take another load of stuff home from my room. I was only in town for a matter of hours, but soon realized it really didn't feel like home any longer (if it ever did). On the bus ride back to Hyde Park, i was personally affronted by someone talking louldly on a cell phone; walking around downtown was too crowded, busy and noisy for my small-town ears. My pacing is changed. In just a single week i've adapted back to life in southern Wisconsin, meandering walks through town, driving everywhere (for a minumum of 20 minutes), lazing around watching World Cup matches.

I hope i've not yet completely lost my sense of the big city as home, but it's surely waning. I love a good city, but i am a small-town sort of guy. I'm ok with that.

15 June 2006

Seeger Session

Tonight i went with my parents & brother Andy to what turned out to be, i think, one of the best five concerts i've ever seen in my life. It was Bruce Springsteen at the Bradley Center, playing mostly from his new Seeger Sessions CD, which is covers of Pete Seeger songs. The show was high-spririted, featuring 17 musicians onstage and one of the least cynical events i've ever seen.

Imagine a show where the closer is "When the Saints Go Marching In" and a group of 4 middle-schoolers in front of me (who entered normal, pissy, stupid middle-schoolers, not some home-schooled variety) unsarcastically singing along with a song whose 1st verse is:
We are climbing, Jacob's Ladder/yeah we are climbing higher and higher./We are climbing, Jacob's Ladder/We are brothers and sisters all.
A 12-year-old, with moppy hair, who when he first came in was only concerned with looking cool & looking bored, was up and down for every other folk song & loudly sang along with "We Shall Overcome". I knew a few of the songs (mostly i know Pete Seeger's Songs for Children), and could sing along with the rest, because like most good folk songs, you can catch on pretty quick. I loved how diverse a crowd could get excited about gospel music, civil right songs, and a lot of damn good instrumentation. The whole crowd continued to sing a chorus over and over when Bruce & Company left the stage before their encore... I half expected everyone to hold hands & sway when "We Shall Overcome" came on. I think if the Boss had suggested it, that's just what would have happened. It was such a great show. One of those brief moments of hopeful elation where you think maybe a mass of people as large as a stadium crowd can 'get it' all at once, can feel together, if only for a short moment.

Then, in the men's room on the way out a guy farts as he's peeing & 4 or 5 other guys, seemingly complete strangers make fart jokes at his expense for the next minute and a half. *sigh* . but at least for a moment...

13 June 2006

Bad Hair Day

In the last couple days, i've remembered the joy of being between books. I clambered through the last of my graduate reading (Jane Jacobs' The Nature of Economies) just to be able to put it up on the 'last five' and then on Sunday i started looking for a new book to read. I love the feeling of being moments away from starting a new book. I scan my shelves, book shops and libraries, trolling through every bit of reading material i can find, knowing that i could choose from anything. Generally, i even take some pauses, reading a magazine article or two, picking up a book and looking at the font. I really like the feeling of 'about to start'. The book i finally selected was Umberto Eco's illustrated novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which thus far is a blast, a sort of allegorical argument of book-knowledge versus personal/emotional knowledge.

On a completely different subject... We saw The Da Vinci Code today, which was pretty good... very Ron-Howard-y & felt a lot like i'd seen it before a couple years ago when i read the book. More than anything, though, it just felt like a cheap knock-off of National Treasure. No, all in all, it was pretty much what i expected, and i wasn't disappointed thereby. No overkill on the zooming/spinning shots that Ron Howard is so fond of, sometimes interesting cinematography, and the same 'damn good story' that Dan Brown told poorly... My only 'complaint', which isn't even a complaint, is the Tom Hanks Apology tacked on to the end, a sort of "can't we all just get along" for zealots and atheists alike... All in all, a pretty ok movie.

And finally, as most of you know, the U.S. was embarrassed in their first World Cup Match on Monday. We looked terrible. Two more games against Italy & Ghana. A difficult task, and we likely need two straight wins to advance... But we shall see. Keep the faith, America.

10 June 2006

Graduated Colandar

After taking a seven-day vow of silence, Roman Numeral J is back. On Friday at approximately 3:45pm the University of Chicago awarded me with a Master's Degree in the Humanities and the promise of great things to come...

I am completely finished. And hoping to keep going... endlessly. I never want to give up schooling. I will just plan to continue collecting degrees of various ... degrees until the world comes to an end (zombie-related or otherwise).

The same day as i was released from university life the World Cup started... so instead of being glued to my books & laptop, i'm hooked on ESPN & ABC... The World Cup is the only world-stage type event in which i find myself cheering for the U.S. With most sports we're so self-assured and self-absorbed that i hate US, but with soccer, we're actually underdogs... and it's such a wordly sport that we could never become dominant & generally suck, so it's fun to actually root for us...

Go US. Go Us, go us.

06 June 2006

review of "The Walking Dead"

The Walking Dead (Vol. #1-4)
Image Comics
Reviewed by : Seeger
Reviewer’s Grade : C-

When my set of all four volumes (thus far) of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead first arrived from amazon.com I was positively giddy… I’d heard nothing but good things (from reviews that evidently were written by his mother) and was thinking I was coming into a world of Romero-level zombie thought in this exciting new series.

BUT, instead, what I found was a cliché-ridden work of zombie survivor fiction that’s been told too many times, and always in the same way. Kirkman does not help his cause in the introduction to Volume 1 when he writes:

“To me, the best zombie movies aren’t the splatter fests of gore and violence with goofy character and tongue in cheek antics. Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society… and our society’s station in the world. They show us gore and violence and all that cool stuff too… but there’s always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness.”[1]

Even casual fans of zombie films and literature see such societal critiques at work, but for Kirkman to explicitly make such a blatant statement in the introduction to his first volume bodes ill for the whole run and is a sign of what’s to come. Kirkman suffers from over-writing and an often painful lack of subtlety, a trait shared by artists Tony Moore (Vol 1.) and Charlie Adlard (Vols. 2-4).

The story traces police officer Rick Grimes who awakens from a coma in an empty hospital some days (28 perhaps?) after the zombie necropalypse has hit earth. We follow Grimes as he heads home, discovering his old neighborhood mostly abandoned and slowly discovering the new world order. Through contrived conversations with another survivor and a horse we learn about his wife and child (which we also found out about several panels earlier in the artwork), who he leaves town to try and find.

Kirkman shows disrespect to his readers by having to spell out every notion in words. He seems to not trust his artists, who in turn seem not to trust him (using the most extreme ‘surprised’, ‘angry’, ‘sad’ looks in any frame they want to express emotion). Some of his frames are so full of words there’s almost no room for characters to walk around in them. When his characters fight, their dialogue feels like an 8-year-old at play: “I’m going to blow your head off” says one survivor to another at one point, presumably before she is about to blow someone’s head off.

With all its negatives, though, the most frustrating thing about The Walking Dead is its amazing potential. The artwork, when it’s not painfully obvious, is quality black and white, which adds to the bleakness of the world the characters inhabit. The covers, all done by Tony Moore are beautiful, if a bit repetitive and the splash pages, few and far between are used very effectively. Walking Dead is at its best when Grimes is wandering alone and there are two or three wordless pages in a row, capturing the voiceless zombie threat more perfectly than any conversation can, but Kirkman again finds a way to spoil many of these with a speech bubble filled only with “…”.

Kirkman is asking very interesting questions about humans living in extreme circumstances, I just wish he could sometimes avoid asking them right out loud.

[1] Kirkman, Robert. The Walking Dead: Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye. Introduction. Berkeley: Image Comics, 2005.

02 June 2006

il finito

And i'm done. That was it, then. Tonight i handed in my last two M.A. assignments ever. (Unless some other stupid school forces me to get an M.A. before they agree to give me a PhD)... But i emailed in a zombie syllabus & some notes from class. And that's it. They say i'm done and can have a degree now.

America, fuck yeah.

It's strange to have been working on anything much of work for this degree still, though, because, the last few days, i feel like i've been completely living in the future... On Wednesday, i watched part of the Battlestar Gallactica mini-series, where they show that everyone in the future will dress really cool. Then i wrote an abstract about a non-existant paper about BodyWorlds (an exhibit that i have yet to see)that i hope to give at a conference in Omaha in the fall... and later worked on a syllabus for a zombie class that i would like to imagine teaching in the future... Between all that, i went to purchase my 'cap & gown' and sign up to go to the Checkerboard Lounge for free with the MAPH crew next Tuesday. All in all, it was a very futuristic day.

Today, in addition to finishing my syllabus, i went to a 'student loan exit counseling session' where they told me that i would likely have to pay back my student loans. Fuck. But, not to worry, i plan to be horribly rich and fabulous by mid-March, so payback should be a piece of cake.

So, i'm a week away from graduating from the University of Chicago with a Master's degree in the Humanities... And all i can think, is that i want to think about an art exhibit i'm going to in June, the Mayan ruins i'll see in July, and the hipsters and eHarmony lovers i'll see in August... I guess i was right on this afternoon, when i bought my new t-shirt... "University of Chicago: The Place Where Fun Comes To Die." I fear i may be no more fun a'tall