Monday, March 24, 2008

Trials of ebay

Over the weekend I stayed up way past my bedtime to bid during the final minutes of several ebay auctions. What was I bidding on? Full year runs of Soap Opera Digest magazine from the late 1970s. Did I win these auctions? Hell, no, as they quickly became too rich for my blood--the last going for $102.

A single seller is offering up her lifelong collection of SODs, year by year, as she prepares to move. You may think this sort of thing would sell for a few bucks, but their rarity makes them quite valuable to those in the know. The winners of my failed auctions seem to run TV collectible businesses and so surely know the market for such things. Most old soap mags sell on ebay in single issues, and most are from the 1990s on. I'm sure these folks will be able to sell off the collection they are acquiring, probably issue by issue, making back their money and then some.

But my desire for these yellowing stacks of industry propaganda comes from a different place. Lots of TV ephemera is hard to come by, but little of it is as difficult to track down as the soap press. Very few libraries retain their holdings beyond a couple of years, and some libraries (ahem, Milwaukee Public Library System) don't have any soap publications, past or present. As a graduate student, I was blessed by the South Central Wisconsin Public Library system's collection of SODs from the '70s on (when the mag began), all handily stored in Madison's Central Public Library. I spent many delighted hours there devouring these magazines, which offered me story details, the occasional feature story of interest, and lots of letters to the editor full of great audience info. Made my dissertation, and the subsequent book, much better.

Now, as I begin to work on another book project exclusively focused on soap history, I very much want access to those old SODs again. One problem: the Madison Public Library THREW THEM OUT. I found out about this last year and so my indignation has (barely) abated, but I can easily get worked up about it again. Please note: this is one of a HANDFUL of libraries in the country that have any run of SODs beyond the past few years. According to Worldcat, only the Popular Culture collection at Bowling Green has a full run (not even the Library of Congress keeps them, though they do have Daytime TV, a now-defunct pub of the same genre that was also quite helpful to me in past research).

When I saw that this ebay user was selling off a nearly complete collection of SODs I had fantasies of owning the whole lot, of turning myself into the archive no one else cares to maintain. Alas, the financial investment seems too great and so I will likely trek to Bowling Green for a few fleeting days with these texts.

I do admit that the huge challenge of doing this sort of work is pretty appealing to me--brings out my youthful ambition to be a private detective, a la children's lit heroine Trixie Belden (Nancy Drew was too wimpy for my tastes), or an intrepid spy, a la Harriet the Spy, also a favorite read of my past. While I do believe strongly that our libraries do a disservice when they neglect to archive popular publications or, for chrissakes, THROW THEM OUT, the persistence required to actually track these things down is part of the fun of researching denigrated cultural products like soaps.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Girl TV Update

Some new shows, some old shows, here's what's up with my TV watching for and about the ladies:

-- Because of my last, glowing post about quarterlife, I want to make clear that, while the episode I praised, "Goodbyes," was super-fantastic, the rest--not so much. To be honest, we have yet to watch the final 3 or 4 segments of episode 6 (the final ep). We'll do so, but the show just did not live up to the best of the Zwick-Herskovitz-averse. Except for "Goodbyes"--a must-see for all MSCL fans.

- Two new woman-centric sitcoms on my viewing schedule these days: The Return of Jezebel James, created by Gilmore Girls' Amy Sherman-Palladino, and Miss Guided, the ABC show featuring the wonderful Judy Greer. Fox is clearly trying to burn off the Jezebel James eps, airing them on Fridays with little fanfare. From the first two eps, I can say it is definitely not great, but it has some winning elements, including some trademark ASP laughs and a great mom character played by Dianne Wiest. But Parker Posey, usually a great presence, is just . . . odd here. MZN and I keep thinking of all the great comic TV actresses who would work better in the part, taking on Sarah's annoying quirks while still making her sympathetic. Lauren Graham, of course, but also a Jennifer Aniston, a Courtney Cox, a Judy Greer!

Which brings me to Miss Guided, which had me laughing hard enough to pause the DVR. Here's one of the promos. The brief shot of her crying, in the green Homecoming dress, was what got me (it's a longer bit in the actual episode):

Maybe I'm a sucker for anything that lovingly mocks '80s high school geekdom, but I'm thinking that Greer's Becky Freeley may be up there with Tina Fey's Liz Lemon for me as a welcome kind of relatable sitcom heroine missing from TV for too long.

- Another update on a previously mentioned show. I somewhat sheepishly admit to having continued to watch Lipstick Jungle. It's not what I'd call good, but the fact that I watch it before the other series with episodes stacked a mile high on the DVR (Grey's Anatomy, I'm lookin' at you) says something about the pleasure it must be giving me. In part, I'm pretty sure this is because of the clothes, which are FABULOUS. Here's one image of the ladies in their fabulous coats:

But I've just spent way too much time searching for pictures online. NBC's "Shopisodes" will be happy to show you more. I think I just fell deep into a target marketed hole.

But in addition to the clothes, I like the fact that these beautiful women have relatively realistic bodies and faces for their age--well, except for Lindsey Price, and I think Kim Raver looks like this because she's pregnant, but still.

- I could say more about General Hospital, especially my growing discomfort with Sarah Brown's cartoonish proportions, as well as my appreciation of her compelling acting, but some Idol results await.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An academic conference is like graduate school--but without the bad parts

I've been slowly readjusting to "normal" life after the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia last weekend. Being childless in a swank hotel in a nice city is pretty great in and of itself, but this year's conference really emphasized for me the true value of academic conferences once one is post-grad school and moving along career-wise. It seems to me that these events offer brief interludes of return to all that was good about grad school. Think about it: the intellectual stimulation of hearing people's ideas, of engaging in group discussions and debates, even of critiquing that which really does not work. While I have moments of this sort of thing in my daily professing life--during an especially good on-campus talk, or in a rousing graduate seminar--on a regular basis it really does not approach the rapid-fire grappling with ideas that makes graduate school such an exciting, exhausting, and absorbing place. To me, this general sensibility and climate outweighs my reactions to specific papers and panels. For more on those, check out my travel companion's take, and his links to others'.

Conference life also brings a social dimension that I'm now convinced gets better and better over time. After all, over time you know more and more people and have more and more life to catch up on with friends old and new. But it's a particular kind of socializing, one that carries with it that grad school kind of fun--everyone is passionate about the same kinds of things, everyone is smart, with great ideas and often great wit. Also, in terms of those friends from grad school with whom one is reunited in conference life, there is a shared bond of trial by fire, and of intellectual exploration, and of you-had-to-be-there remember-whens. Socializing with new people is also a great part of conference life, of course, just of a different variety than the old grad school pals kind.

I've had old friends on the brain lately, too, because of this being the year of a certain anniversary of my high school graduation. Either due to this or just to the expanding reach of Facebook to the rapidly aging, I've been hearing from more and more high school friends, which has been great fun. I feel tied to these people, too, though in a very different way than to the grad school folks. While it's difficult to connect the me of today with my high school cohort, the life-changing experience that is grad school (at least that it was for me) makes my connection to those I associate with that time much clearer and much more directly linked to the me of the present. I can only assume that my high school classmates feel a similar sense of both connection to and remove from me and each other. Who knew that conference life would take me back not only to grad school but to, gulp, high school as well?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Video Games Live!

So last weekend included my first, and Wisconsin's first, video games concert--Video Games Live. When I found out about this months ago, I was amused by the idea--it's a traveling show that features local symphony orchestras playing video game scores with video from games playing on the big screen backdrop--and thought it would be fun to check it out. It was fun, but fun in a sort of "I'm a tourist in an foreign land and don't really understand everything that's going on" way.

Part of my cultural difference was gender-based. There were SO MANY boys there. Yes, there were girls and women, too, but a LOT of 18-25 year old guys. Not all that surprising, of course, but quite noticeable when one is in the midst of it, albeit pleasantly so in the non-existent line to the women's bathroom. (When's the last time you attended an event where that was the case?) Sitting behind my friends and I were a particularly, um, vocal, contingent of these aforementioned attendees. Now, this was not a docile crowd. Part of the reason the show was so much fun were the impassioned responses of the crowd--yelling, hollering, riotous applause--these people were fans of the most unabashed kind, a sentiment I can well appreciate. Even if the fan expressions more familiar to me are those of the screeching and crying variety rather than of the guttural yell mode. So these guys behind us made me feel like I was getting the real, the authentic experience of the show, but also made me kind of cranky and irritated. To wit: host Tommy Tallarico yells, "Let's hear it for girl gamers!" when two teenage girls take the stage to compete in the live Frogger contest. One of the charming gentlemen behind me hollers back, "Especially the hot ones!" You get the picture.

Even as one pretty uninitiated in the gaming world, it was clear to me that this was but one segment of that world, as exemplified by the kinds of games featured, if not by the crowd. Those with Hollywood film-like scores dominated, which seemed to me to be most standard to the action and fantasy games. So no sports games, no games geared mainly to kids, no indie games. To be fair, the show was put on by the industry and so it understandably focused on the most popular games--Halo, Final Fantasy, Mario, etc.--and the audience was not complaining. Indeed, the orgasmic shouts of . . . pleasure, I guess, whenever a new game was introduced or another Japanese composer appeared on-screen were intense.

Some more specific reactions: I thought the Metal Gear Solid visuals, from cut scenes produced for the game, were amazing, really visually compelling, very much drawing upon the iconography of the Hollywood blockbuster, but in a good way--with all the emotion and drama and epic scale such imagery can carry. Two moments of intellectual property defensiveness stood out: Square-Enix's refusal to allow the show to use game footage from Final Fantasy and from Kingdom Hearts. The FF music went video-less, KH featured a montage of Disney characters. Seemed way too cutesy for the crowd, but what do I know? Native informants-OK, my one native informant--tell me that Square-Enix was holding out for the $ VGL wasn't coughing up. And the serious serious History Channel produced montage of suffering WWII-era Europeans during the Medal of Honor music seemed to me quite a stretch. This is a first person shooter war game, a bang-bang-you're dead game, dressed up to look historically significant and honoring of the civilian casualties of war? No, I haven't played it, but the VGL version seemed way too ain't-war-honorable for my tastes.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the evening was when host Tommy Tallarico (what a show biz name) busted out an electric guitar and jammed along with the orchestra. While the crowd went rock concert-wild with this, I was kind of embarrassed for the guy. He had just told us of his youthful fantasies, how he played air guitar to game soundtracks for his neighborhood pals. But then he was playing a real guitar, on a real stage, in front of thousands of screaming fans! I wondered if he'd created this whole show in order to live out this adolescent male fantasy. Yet the adoring throngs seemed to be living it through him. The same guys gathering around the Guitar Hero competition screens in the lobby before the show and during intermission seemed to want nothing more than to rock away amongst the crowd of admirers--the everyday experience of Guitar Hero in the living room made a little more public, a little more thrilling, yet, sadly, paling beside the on-stage triumph Tommy achieved. It's a good thing Tommy so happily shared his moment of glory.