Normally I avoid chain letters like the plague. Don’t send them to me if you don’t want me to break the chain and bring down the curse upon all of mankind or cost that little cancer-ridden girl her miracle cure or win a million dollars from Microsoft or whatever else good, bad, or indifferent you imagine will happen if you don’t imediately pester your friends with some stupid task.
But this past week, I got “tagged” by David Edery (Game Tycoon) in a vast game which is making its way across the blogosphere. Bloggers are being dared to tell their readers five things about themselves that they probably don’t already know and then to pass the tag along to someone else.
I figured it was probably worth one blog post to share with you guys some behind the scenes information about yours truly, though given my tendency for openness about things like being a slash writer or an Eagle Scout, I found this more challenging than it might have seemed at first. Besides, if I have to tell you stuff that David Edery doesn’t know about me, that narrows the field even more since David and I have spent many hours in each other’s company as we traveled together trying to raise money for the Comparative Media Studies Program. So here goes my best stab.
The first book I ever wrote was a guidebook to the Atlanta Zoo. My CV lists me as the editor and/or author of 12 books. I lie. There’s a book I wrote which doesn’t appear on any of my resumes. I wrote it shortly after I graduated from Georgia State University. At the time, I was working as the public relations director for the Atlanta Zoological Society. Most of the job consisted of drafting press releases, editing a newsletter, and going out and giving talks to school groups. But the task which most captured my imagination was rewriting the guidebook, which I did with probably a bit too much personality, since the project got abandoned after I left the organization to go off to graduate school. What I wrote was never actually published.
My favorite portrait of my mother depicts her as a clown. It is a portrait painted by a longtime family friend, Glen LaRue. My mother used to love to make people laugh. It went all the way back to her high school days in the Gilbert and Sullivan club. She would periodically dress up as a clown and go to entertain people at local orphanages or old folks homes. When I was a boy, I would sometimes dress up in clown clothes and go with her. I suspect it is my mother’s love of laughter that was her greatest gift to me – and as someone who grew up as a mother’s boy, that’s saying a lot. I am sure this love of comedy led to my dissertation topic – on the influence of vaudeville on American film comedy during the early sound period. Years later, when I got ambushed on Donahue, my mother’s only comment was that I forget to make them laugh. It is a mistake I’ve tried hard not to make again. My students know that my mind runs on bad jokes. I seem to compulsively take words and concepts, twist them around looking for puns or comic structures. Sometimes, the results can be painful. Sometimes, they can break up a bad meeting. Often, they can result in a creative insight which pushes me to the next level in my thinking
My nickname is Mountain Man. The phrase came from an early newspaper article which described me as “looking like a mountain man who happens to be a genius.” My wife immediately picked up on the first part of the statement, seeing it as an indictment of how shabby my beard and hair get when I try to push too long between trips to the barbers. I always have to remind her about the second, much more significant part of the statement. The name stuck when I ended up spending my sabbatical a few years ago living by myself in a cabin in the North Georgia mountains. In fact, the cabin was located not far from where they found Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympic bomber, during that same time period. News reports suggested that he had stayed alive by eating acorns and lizards. So I started to make jokes in my e-mail correspondence back to the office suggesting that I was staying alive on acorns and lizards. I also joked that it was like living on Walden pond if Thoreau had a crappy dialup connection. Ironically, the year I spent at the cabin, using a really slow land line, was the year that I wrote Convergence Culture. This probably isn’t up there with the revelation that William Gibson wrote Neuromancer on a manual typewriter.
I played Elwood P. Dowd in my high school’s production of Harvey. My mother’s clowning probably gave me the acting bug. I loved to perform in church plays and scout skits. I performed a comedy routine in our seventh grade talent show as an eccentric professor who was obsessed with the problem of violence in children’s literature (a reversal of the role I ended up playing before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee some decades later). When I was in high school, I acted in two plays and in both cases, I got cast as the leads – as Dorian Gray in a heavily sanitized version of the Portrait of Dorian Gray and as the eccentric but lovable Elwood (he who sees the invisible 7 foot tall rabbit) in Harvey. I also won an acting award for my appearance in a super 8 movie spoofing James Bond which had me roller skating in a trenchcoat down Peachtree Street but that was another story altogether. Some years later, I did some amateur standup comedy and used to do comic guest slots on a local Atlanta radio program, King of Schlock. All of this seems like an appropriate preparation for my current public speaking responsibilities.
When I was in late elementary school, I found a dolphin’s skull washed up ashore on a beach. When I was a boy, I had a small museum in my basement of oddities of natural history. It started I think when a country cousin gave me the stuff carcus of a Red Fox and when my grandmother bought me a stuffed baby caiman at a roadside stand during a trip to Florida. Along the way, we purchased cobra skins which were advertised in the back pages of Boy’s Life magazine and I had a black bat preserved in a jar of formaldahide. But the prize possession was the skull of a dolphin which I found while walking on Tybee Beach when I was in 6th or 7th grade. It was encrusted with barnacles and had been lodged underneath the peer. I recognized it because we had seen one in a museum earlier in the day. We bleached it and left it out in the sun to dry.
I am not sure how much any of this taught you about media change or participatory culture or education or any of the other main themes of the blogs. At best this is a digression from my usual content but I hope I at least managed to be entertaining.
Now, it is my turn. I will tag five other bloggers who are regular readers here – Jason Mittell, Derek Kompare, Mark Deuze, Ilya Vedrashko, and Nancy Baym. Tell us something we don’t know about you. (Sorry, friends.)