Upcoming Four Stone Hearth

For those of you looking for the place where the August 13th Four Stone Hearth carnival will be hosted, you’re in the right place. Please e-mail me your links to me at stephanie.zvan on Gmail.

For those of you who haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, stop back by on the 13th for a collection of interesting posts on archaeology and anthropology.

How’s the Weather…in India?

I was chatting with a coworker in Gurgaon today. We were waiting for my computer to behave, and he asked, “How’s the weather in Minneapolis?” I told him, feeling a bit silly for not being able to estimate the temperature in Celsius (it was early–for me).

Then I asked what his weather was like this time of year. “We’re having the monsoons. Gentle rains every day. It’s a very nice break from the heat.”

I felt even sillier, not knowing it was monsoon season. That’s kind of a big deal, although the fact that I hadn’t heard about any flooding was good. Then he said, “Where is Minneapolis? It isn’t on one of the coasts, is it?”

Woohoo for shared cultural ignorance! I at least know where Gurgaon is (outside New Delhi). He even thought I must have been to visit because I know the city is growing ridiculously fast. Nah. It’s just in a big urban area in India. One follows from the other right now.

So I told him how to locate us quickly on a map. Then we went back to talking about the weather. Snow impressed him mightily, as did the entire concept of ice fishing. We were just getting into the local economy when my computer got its act together and we had to go back to work.

I love working for a global company.

Why Vaccinate? For the Youngest

Measles is back in Minnesota.

The Minnesota child, who lives in Hennepin County but who has not been identified, is 10 months old — too young to have received a measles vaccine that is typically given at 12 months.

The child became ill on July 29 and was in two clinics, an emergency room and around the community before being diagnosed.

From today’s local paper.

All it takes is one baby being exposed. How many play dates did the child have before being diagnosed (contagious four days before the rash appears)? How much time in child care? How many other babies were in those clinics? How many unvaccinated older children and adults who later came in contact with babies?

Between January and July, 127 measles cases in 15 states were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest number in the past seven years. So far, no child has died. Most cases have occurred in children whose parents decided against having them vaccinated for religious reasons or because of concerns about the safety of vaccines.

So far….

If you want to know what this baby could be in for, here’s a good place to start.

Too Much Editing?

We went to see The Dark Knight this weekend, and it was okay. A few years ago, I might have told you it was wonderful. Even now, it beats any other comic book movie I’ve seen, and I see most of them.

Heath Ledger really was as amazing as everyone says. For the first time, the Joker almost makes sense as a character. As something of an agent of chaos myself, I almost sympathized with him. Not with his methods, of course, but with his impulses.

Neither Gary Oldman nor Maggie Gyllenhall got enough to do, but what they did, they did well, as usual. There were moments when the ease with which the Joker executed his plots stretched credulity (the funeral), but I’ll give any superhero plot one or two of those. Bruce Wayne dithered over things that should have been straightforward, but his other secret identity has always been Angst Boy, so it wasn’t out of character.

None of those things were really what bugged me though. What bugged me is what usually bugs me about a movie these days. It was a combination of feeling that the movie didn’t trust me as the audience and knowing the answers to things that were supposed to be mysteries.

As for trusting the audience, how often does one really have to be shown that the Joker is a tricksy badass before the main conflicts can come into play? How much needs to be made of Dent to show that he’s wearing a white hat before it can be knocked off? How many times must we hear about crooked cops? I get it all already.

But it’s the knowing the answers to the mysteries that really gets to me, because I don’t think it’s all the moviemakers’ fault. At least according to my husband, most people don’t say, “Well, it had to be them. They’re the only ones we’ve seen on camera in speaking roles who aren’t dead yet,” and, “But why else did you think his big ole stomach hurt?” and, “The stereotype wasn’t a huge flag to you?” In this case, it really is just me. I’ve been editing too much.

I ran into a similar problem with fiction about the time that writing really started to work for me. I couldn’t look at a book without seeing down to the bones. Every book was reduced to its structure. The problem isn’t completely fixed yet, but it’s getting better. I can read fiction for pleasure again…as long as it’s well written.

But in the meantime, I’ve been doing more editing. So now I look at a story and I see the function (preferably functions) of all the pieces. Everything has its purpose, and every story has pieces it that are needed to make it work. Fitting the two together is all too easy. Worse, it makes almost everything look predestined.

I can only hope that I’ll get over it in time. Because The Dark Knight really should have been a better movie than it was–to me. For you, if you haven’t seen it and I haven’t spoiled anything for you, it will probably be much better than okay.

And in other review news, Banana Creme Oreos taste very much like circus peanuts shoved into an Oreo, with that coolness on the tongue that artificial banana flavor gives. They’re kinda weird. Duh.

Stereotypes in Comedy

A couple weeks ago, as part of a review event for Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy, the question of stereotypes in movies was raised. A number of reviewers felt that black and gay characters in the movie were stereotypes. Much discussion ensued, including input from people who hadn’t seen the movie.

Okay, I took part too, despite not having seen the film, which isn’t in general release yet. But my take on the discussion was a little more general:

The thing about stereotypes in a comedy is that almost every character starts as one. It gives the filmmaker a set of viewer expectations to violate. The question is where do these characters end up? Are they still stereotypes by the end of the movie?

I didn’t get an answer, in part because that comment thread was, at heart, only tangentially about the movie. Today, though, the local paper has an interesting article on the uses of ethnic stereotypes in film. There’s the discussion of the current state of the art:

In an ever-more-diverse United States, movies that trade in ethnic humor increasingly aim to give us laughs we don’t need to feel guilty about. They often have, or at least claim, a de-stigmatizing effect. They lampoon bigotry, or the prejudices of people who imagine themselves open-minded when they are anything but, turning chauvinism into a punch line.

But the piece that really caught my attention was this:

Nearly all comedies traffic in stereotypes — it’s a quick-and-dirty way of connecting with audiences, giving them something they recognize, exaggerated for humorous effect. In fact, humor often depends upon that context of familiarity.

Vindication! Not that I thought I was wrong, but it’s always nice to be agreed with, especially when I’m talking off the cuff. There’s nothing quite like generalizing from a small sample and broad impressions and turning out to be onto something.

The article itself goes into much more depth and is worth reading in full, particularly for anyone who wants to write comedy.

Americans Abroad

A few years ago, on a trip to Scotland, our group found an unusual way to cut costs and improve our experience at the same time. We were greeted in a very friendly way in a non-customer service culture. A buffet restaurant tripped over itself to make custom celiac-friendly dishes for one of us. We received a substantial discount on a week’s stay at one of Edinburgh’s loveliest B&Bs.

Why? The kilts didn’t hurt, but these all happened while someone was wearing the American Traveler International Apology Shirt, available here from CafePress. Here’s the back:


That was all it took to be treated the way…well, the way most Americans expect to be treated abroad. So remember this simple strategy if you’re traveling this summer. Of course, if you can’t afford to travel, it’s not a bad thing to remember in November either.

You Want to Sell Me What?

When the doorbell rings late on a Saturday morning, it means one of two things. Unfortunately, it’s almost never one of the neighborhood kids who wants to make some money cutting my grass. No, instead it’s someone who wants me to buy their god.

Today’s was special. I was getting ready to run out and do some errands when I heard the familiar chime. Usually they send the well-dressed and stately (for the black churches) or the ultra-sincere but casual kiddies (for the white churches). Not this time. It was just some white guy my age with glasses and a stack of glossy half-page flyers.

He handed me one. I took it because I don’t really trust these people to recycle the leftovers. Then I looked at it. “Miracle for Muslims,” it said at the top, with the picture of an older black man at the bottom in a very western dress shirt.

“I’m from the X______ Church, and we’re hosting a lecture on–“

I set the flyer back on his stack. “Thank you. No.” Then I closed the door.

He didn’t seem too disappointed, just surprised by the flyer. Maybe I’m not the only one who hasn’t trusted him with them.

He wasn’t targeting me anyway. The people he really wanted to have buy his god are my neighbors from Somalia. They’re the folks who have kept our neighborhood from turning into a ghost town as the housing market collapsed, the ones who have opened new stores and restaurants and coffee shops in empty buildings, the ones who are bringing community back to our streets by gathering outside in groups just to talk to each other.

These are the boys who politely make room on the sidewalk, even when they’re walking in big groups. These are the girls who have figured out how to tuck their cell phones into their headscarves so they don’t have to hold them and how to make ankle-length skirts some of the sexiest clothing I’ve ever seen on a teenager. These are the kids who run and giggle like kids should.

This is who the door-to-door salesman wanted to lecture–lecture! They’ve gotten their hands on one guy who adopted the ways of his new home by converting, and you just know they’re trying to use him to “civilize” the rest of these strange new people. They want to make them less strange, less scary, less Muslim.

Miracle for Muslims? Yeah, right. The real miracle is how infrequently my doorbell rings now that I have new neighbors. Now that’s civilized.