Category Archives: Murka

The Neighborhood and The Department

A lot of academics in my discipline speak of their respective departments as a community. The one we have in Communication Studies at the University of Texas is considered pretty strong.

But I don’t think of our department as a community.

For me it feels more like a neighborhood.

I grew up in a pretty tight-knit neighborhood that had a lot of families that partied pretty hard together. We had two kinds of parties: 4th of July, and whenever we felt like it. The first involved shutting down our street, being loud and obnoxious, and having the cops show up–to the free BBQ we gave them. The second kind usually started with the phrase “well, Ray and Tina are out in their driveway with the stereo up. What can we bring over?” Plan or no plan, both ended up with the adults in the neighborhood going long into the night.

I feel like I have somehow stumbled upon that same thing here in my graduate department.

This past weekend a bunch of my fellow graduate students, and some professors, celebrated a birthday in the form of a house party, complete with DJ and dance floor. The party was deemed “sold out” by the host, as both the smoke machine and guests repeatedly came billowing out onto the back porch, where the designated champagne sabering area was. It wasn’t anyone’s first time being at a house party where the cops made an appearance. But I’d be willing to bet it was that officer’s first time responding to a noise complaint at a party full of people with Masters’ Degrees.

Then the Superbowl, a day where no plans were needed, we all just “knew” to show up at our own designated “driveway.” Combining our “refined” tastes as graduate students (kegs and champagne) the night involved a lot of yelling, obnoxiously critiquing the power dynamics at play in various Superbowl ads, and a Rockband marathon going long into the (school)night. An actual neighbor, upon seeing the keg the birthday boy and I were unloading from my trunk, asked if we had any for her. Of course she was invited, this is how it works.

Most of the original families from the street I grew up on no longer live there. Some do, but for the most part they’ve moved on to different places. Yet from time to time they still meet up and throw the same parties. The Neighborhood is more a dynamic than a place. I feel the same thing about The Department.

For my family back home who want to know what graduate school has largely been like here in Austin, you already know.

For my new friends here, a bit of a glimpse into how we all ended up in this place.

Except here we are ALSO getting our PhDs.


On Humor, Patriotism and U.S. Soccer

A loft of my friends hate America. “I don’t support Empires. I root for the underdogs and hope they take the U.S. out.”

I’m talking of course about the World Cup.

Seems to be a popular refrain among the critical scholars in my intellectual circle. “Let’s root for Ghana over the U.S.!” Because doing so sends an important message in stark defiance of U.S. foreign and economic policy. That’ll show em!

Not that everyone here HAS to root for the US. They don’t. There are plenty of reasons to root for other countries. Maybe it’s part of your ancestry, or you think the Spanish team all look like supermodels (they do), or you are just a fan of Brazillian soccer. I mean who isn’t. They are practically doing it on the field.

At the same time openly booing the US Soccer team and cheering for other teams because it somehow symbolically shows your disgust for bad things the U.S. does is annoying. Even as someone who traffics in the study of symbolism and a huge proponent of the idea that words matter, I think it’s an empty gesture, more about the person making the statement than anything else.

Am I an apologist for the U.S.? Not exactly. I mean duh, we have done and continue to do all kinds of shitty things around the world, especially against many of the countries currently playing in the World Cup. It’s true that much of the world views our entrance into the world soccer stage as laughable and probably like to hold it over our heads that we have sucked at it for so long.

But seriously, no one gives a shit about your protesting the U.S. by rooting for another team.

If anything we need the U.S. to be better at international soccer. Americans love sports, particularly ones we are good at. What better way to get us to engage the world on a more international stage? And this time it does NOT involve tanks and bombs and hating brown people.

This all coinciding with the 4th of July strikes me as an intersting coincidence. There is so much pressure to be pro-Murka during this time. People want to celebrate while also being ever mindful of the scarier things in America’s closet. It’s complex and we should always remember that.

I’m just gonna say it: humor is patriotic. Lenny Bruce said “when you take away the right to say fuck, eventually take away the right to say fuck the government.” The Onion’s dos and dont’s on what to say on the 4th embrace all the complexities of how we celebrate. And the New York Times gives a pretty good quiz as well. Some view it as trivial or just as cynical. But those people are not funny. I will always err on the side of cracking jokes in these situations. Which is why I have no problem making fun of my friends for rooting against the U.S., as if anyone cares.

Either way, the U.S. lost to Ghana. I’m going to go drink German Bier and blow up Chinese Fireworks.

Happy 4th.