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Articles by: Marc edward Dipaolo

  • Op-Eds

    The Wrestler: Why This Film Appeals to Some Italian-Americans


    I know a cool Italian-American fellow named Lou who saw the recent film The Wrestler 13 times in the movie theater. If one assumes that he merely bought a movie ticket, he spent roughly $130 on that film in its initial run. If he bought a soda and popcorn each time, he may have spent twice that.

    Why? What’s so great about The Wrestler?



    I must admit to having mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I think that there is something viscerally appealing about the film, especially for someone of Italian descent from the land of New Jersey, where the film takes place, or Staten Island, where I came from. SI isn’t NJ, but it is close, in many ways, culturally – especially to the NJ of The Wrestler. And the hero of the film is not technically Italian, but he might well be considered an honorary paisan. He’s a lot like Italian guys I grew up with, for sure. It is also nice to see a realistic, independent movie about an alpha-male figure who is intended to be likeable despite his flaws – none of which are glossed over. Usually alpha male characters are unambiguously heroic in mainstream action movies that play like modern-day versions of Triumph of the Will, or they are completely reprehensible domestic villains of gritty indie flicks. To see a complex portrayal of such a character in a movie about “real people” in the “real world” is truly refreshing.



    And there’s the appeal of Marisa Tomei, who has been a favorite ever since My Cousin Vinny, and who is still beautiful, even if the character she plays is supposed to be washed-up. (She’s not. In any way.)

    On the other hand, there is something about the film that is ultimately a little disappointing. It feels more like 3 or 3 ½ stars than the 4 stars it keeps getting, and it makes sense to me that it was nominated for several Oscars but didn’t really get any of note.



    Something about the film is unsatisfying. Can't put my finger on it exactly. Still...

    I would argue that director Darren Aronofsky’s latest effort is a film made by Gen-Xers for Gen-Xers. It is an attempt to redeem the public’s perception of wrestling by focusing on previously under acknowledged suffering endured by the performers in a stagey and theatrical “sport.” The film also evokes sympathy for has-been 80s wrestlers who have fallen on hard times since the end of an entertainment era, much the way that Galaxy Quest was a nostalgic nod to Star Trek in the years when its popularity had waned and Ed Wood was a tribute to the Bela Lugosi of the Universal horror films after he had been supplanted in popular memory by slasher movie villains.



    The title character of The Wrestler is washed up wrestling superstar Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a lovable brute that the audience is asked to sympathize with even as the film dwells on his shortcomings. The central conflict, the Ram’s desire to remain a wrestler despite doctor’s warnings to stay out of the ring, is reminiscent of Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone’s recent attempt to revitalize both his own career and Rocky’s, but screenwriter Robert D. Siegel wants audience members to recall instead Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ. Several scenes depict the Ram as a suffering Christ figure, most notably a segment in which the Ram fights in an underground match and is grievously injured by razor wire and a staple gun – modern equivalents of the crown of thorns and the nails that pierced Christ’s flesh. The camera focuses on these wounds, and the Ram’s impressive muscles, throughout the film, just as it explores the aging-but-still beautiful body of his girlfriend, a stripper named Cassidy (Tomei).



    Another key theme is the jarring difference between the “real” world of the family and the world of “entertainment,” which celebrates and brutalizes the bodies of both central characters. The Ram sees the ring as his “real” world, while Cassidy sees her son as her only reality. Consequently, Cassidy does not know where her romance with the Ram – a strip club customer – would factor comfortably into her life, and the Ram is dreadful at being a father. Both leads were nominated for Oscars for their performances, which are genuinely excellent, but one wonders how much of the power of the film comes, not from the acting or the script, but from the direction, editing, and camera work that repeatedly foregrounds violent imagery.



    In addition to striving to redeem wrestling, The Wrestler is a love letter to 1980s kitsch, and includes a segment in which hair metal is praised and 1990s grunge music dismissed. 1980s nostalgia is not likely to register high with Baby-Boomers, who associate much of the products of the decade that younger generations fondly remember (ie: Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids, Madonna CDs, and WWF merchandise) as opportunistic attempts to sell trash to kids in the wake of President Reagan’s deregulation of advertising aimed at children. Ultimately, despite its emotional effectiveness, the film seems, at times, as shallow as the 80s kitsch it celebrates, but wrestling fans of my generation – especially those who grew up, as I did, in New Jersey and Staten Island – might be forgiven for loving it.

    After all, aren't Italian-Americans, Staten Islanders, and folks from New Jersey as teased, maligned, and generally considered as disreputable as wrestlers, and the questionable pastime of wrestling itself?

  • Life & People

    The Making of a Career Criminal


    I recently took an on-line personality test that revealed that I have the rarest personality type in the world:  Intuitive-Thinking-Feeling person.  According to the website, this is a character type I share with Eleanor Roosevelt, Ghandi (or is it Gandhi?), and Susan Sarandon.  I'm very excited about this revelation.  I also learned, in a test called, "Which Jane Austen character are you?" that I am Marianne Dashwood.  Well, she's emotional and romantic and so am I.  Makes sense.  After taking several more of these silly tests, I have determined that one of my favorites is the "Which superhero are you?" test.  According to this test, I have the same personality as Spider-Man.  This test also revealed that, should I ever turn to crime, or to evil, I would be very much like the Joker.  This is a somewhat frightening revelation given how scary the Joker was in the film The Dark Knight, but I am not overly concerned that I will turn to evil any time soon.

     

    The first thing I have going for me is the fact that I have the same persoanlity type as one of the world's most respected pacifists.  Go me! Not much of a chance of a pacifist turning evil!

     

    The second thing I have going for me is that I feel too guilty when I do something wrong to ever regularly do the wrong thing.  Call it an over-sensitive disposition.  Call it Catholic guilt.  Call it being wimpy.  Whatever you like.  I like to call it being wicked cool.  But I rarely lie, cheat, or steal.  Here's why.

     

    When I was in fifth grade, I was in an advanced curriculum in which my class, and others in PS 54, switched teachers by subject, at least one year in advance of students in other Staten Island schools, who had to wait until middle-school to get subject-oriented teachers.  So my class would have the science teacher, Mr. Lord, as a homeroom teacher, and, when it was time for other subjects, we would visit other teachers in their homerooms.  We went to Mr. Dugan's room for social studies, visited Mr. Motouchin in his room for science, and sauntered over to Mrs. Schuler's room for math. One fateful day, when Mr. Lord's charges were taken over to Mrs. Schuler's math classroom, I sat in a desk that was reserved for a student named Boris during homeroom periods.  I was borrowing his desk because Mrs. Schuler was his homeroom teacher, and I was to be a student of hers for only an hour as I studied math, along with my other, fellow "gifted" students. 

     

    I was never very good at math, and Mrs. Schuler quizzed us regularly on the multiplication tables.  Even though she repeated questions each week, just to make sure the kids who got the questions wrong at first would eventually remember the right answer, I had to take her quiz about six times before I finally remembered that 12 times 12 is 144.  To this day, thanks to those regular quizzes, this is one of the few math problems I recall the answer to.  (Well, I can be reasonably sure that both 2 plus 2 and 2 times 2 are 4, and that anything times 0 is zero.  Otherwise, don't press me on math stuff.

     

    Anyway, I was sitting at Boris' desk and noticed his bagged lunch.  I was curious to compare the contents of his bag lunch to the one that mom packed for me, so I peeked inside when nobody wa slooking.  Lo and behold, Boris had something in his bag that mom had yet to ever pack for me.  One of my favorite chocolates.  Rolos!  I was so jealous.  I saw his Rolos and I wanted them for myself. 

     

    As near as I can recall, up until that point, I had never stolen anything. 

     

    Um ... I might have wandered out of Toys R Us with a ball once because I had so much fun playing with it, I forgot to put it back.

     

    So I stole that ball, but kind of by accident.  This time would be the first time I'd have stolen anything on purpose.  And I did it partly because I loved Rolos and partly to see if I'd get caught.

     

    Ta da!

     

    Got 'em.

     

    Ate 'em after class.

     

    DE-LICIOUS!

     

    And then the guilt set in.

     

    For three months, I was sorry I ate the Rolos.  And, whenever I saw Boris in the hallway, I worried that he had suffered from the lack of his Rolos.  I wondered if he suspected me.  I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt.  I needed to confess.  But how would  he react?

     

    I thought about it.

     

    I needed to come clean.  I couldn't live with the guilt any more.  But would he hit me?  Boris was, after all, an early grower, and was nine feet taller than most fifth graders, myself included.  So I was scared of him.  But I consoled myself with the knowledge that most people probably accept heartfelt apologies because refusing a heartfelt apology is kind of mean, isn't it?

     

    So I approach Boris one day and said, "I'm sorry, Boris.  I did something bd to you and owe you an apology."

     

    Here's the funny thing.  Boris didn't know me from a hole in the wall, so he was understandably confused.  The different 5th grade classes in PS 54 had little dealings with one another and I only knew who he was because he was the school giant.

     

    "What?" he asked, looking down on me from above.

     

    "Did you have some Rolos in your lunch that went missing a few months ago?"

     

    His face reddened visibly. "YEAH?"

     

    "Well, I snuck them out of your bag and ate them.  Because I really love Rolos.  But I feel bad about it, and I'm sorry."

     

    "THAT WAS YOU?!"

     

    Oh ... he remembered the theft of the Rolos.  And was mad.  I was hoping he forgot, or remembered but had time to get over it and it wasn't a big deal three months later.  But his anger suggested a deep resentment that he had been nursing for months as I had been nursing guilt.  I imagined him playing detective, trying to uncover who ate his Rolos.  I imagined him accusing all the other members of his homeroom class, not realizing that it was an interloper who had stolen his prize Rolos.  How could he live with the uncertainty?  What kind of blow had I dealt to the trust he had for his classmates?  How violated had he felt by the theft?

     

    His awful expression hinted at a great pain.

     

    THIS WAS MY DOING.

     

    "I'm really sorry, Boris."

     

    "YOU ARE NOT FORGIVEN!" Boris declared, and walked away shaking his head, clenching his fists at his side.

     

    At least he didn't hit me, I thought.  Looked like it for a minute.

     

    And so, ever since then, I have avoided sinning against my fellow man, in memory of the pain that I had caused Boris.

     

    And Boris, if you are reading this now...

     

    I'm still sorry, Boris!

      

  • Op-Eds

    Italian-American Man Endorses Barack Obama


    Reasons why I'm voting for Barack Obama:

     

    1. Obama is thoughtful, articulate, and demonstrates critical thinking skills and and an ability to tackle problems with pragmatic rather than ideological solutions. 

     

    2. Obama has spent more time talking about issues and presenting concrete plans for addressing the economy and the United States' poor standing in the eyes of the world.  McCain has contented himself with largely ad hominem attacks on Obama's choice of friends.

     

    3. I voted for McCain the maverick in 2000 against George W. Bush.  He lost to Bush.  Since then, he has gradually lost his maverick street cred and seems to be yet another Republican true believer.  The McCain running now is not the McCain who ran in 2000.  But he would have been a much better president than Bush had he won back then.  (Of course, Gore would have been better, too, and he actually won that election.)

     

    4. Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate.  I've always liked and respected Biden.  Sarah Palin was a poor choice for a running mate, and gives voters an idea of the kinds of wacky folks McCain will likely populate his cabinet with.

     

    5. The last thing we need is more judges appointed by Republicans.

     

    6. A black president? How cool is that? Maybe we'll get an Italian one next time.

     

    7. Obama wants to revolutionize the auto industry and "Green" America.  Thank Christ.

     

    8. Tax cut for the middle class?  I'll take it.  Thanks, Barack!

     

    9. Maybe a landslide Democratic victory will shut up the folks at Fox News and end their reign of crazy right-wing propaganda.

     

    10. I want the Brits to like us again.

     

    11. Obama smiles.  He doesn't smirk like Clinton, sneer like Bush, or growl like McCain.  He smiles.

     

    12. Obama sends me cool text messages on my phone, making me feel like his buddy.

     

    13. Colin Powell's endorsement: what I was thinking, but he said it better than I could, and people actually listen to Powell.  Except when he advises against conquering Iraq. Then people don't listen to him.

     

    14. A president who can speak well.  How rare.

     

    15. Obama might actually secure some money for education and the arts, and he might wrest control of higher education from corporate conservative interests.

     

    16. I'm sure there's more, but I'm tired.

     

     

    GO OBAMA!

     

  • Life & People

    Staten Island Dojo Wars


    Master Park stood at the head of the Dojo with her hands clasped behind her back, facing a class of thirty. Her long, raven-colored hair was tied up as it always was when she exercised, and her young, beautiful face was set in a serious but sympathetic expression. Satisfied that the students were standing at respectful attention, she bowed low, never taking her eyes off her charges. Since I was the only black belt in the class, it was my responsibility to return the bow first. I did so, and all the students standing behind me matched my action.

    Then Master Park straightened and assumed a more casual pose. “Good afternoon, everyone.”

    “Good afternoon, sir!” we chorused in booming voices. Some of the new white belts murmured the word “sir” under their breath, still unconvinced that they were really expected to refer to a woman by a masculine title. I had never had much difficulty adapting to the custom; Master Park was so casual about everything that her nonchalance was contagious. Naturally, she pushed the class hard to keep in good physical condition and know all the moves, but she was excellent at relating to the students on a friendship level. This was easily accomplished since she was around our age – barely older than twenty and only six years older than me.

    “How was everyone’s weekend?” she asked.

    A smattering of humble “Good, sir’s” came forth from the class. She beamed radiantly at us, and I once again found myself wondering how big an age difference six years was in the great scheme of things.

    Well, I thought, in this case, it means a car, a job, a college diploma, and a black belt two degrees higher than mine.

     “I’m going to go tinker in my office for a bit while you guys warm up.” Master Park announced offhandedly. “When I come back, we’ll prepare for the tournament and do some sparring.” Her eyes went directly to mine. “Marc will lead you all in the exercises.”

    “Thank you, sir,” I nodded. Master Park and I bowed respectfully to one another, and she stepped aside to allow me to take the front of the class. As I passed by her, I heard her congratulate me on my new rank. Then she walked confidently across the wooden floor, out of the Dojo.

    Her gesture of faith gave me the confidence I needed to dive into the lesson. It was the first session I had the opportunity to lead since I became a black belt, and before then it was something I had only done a handful of times. Following the same formula of exercises used in every lesson, I began by doing fifty jumping jacks in time with the class, all of us shouting off Korean numbers through the strain. I felt adrenaline surging through me as I shot through exercise after exercise, keeping the class going with sit-ups, push-ups, and stretching. When I noticed that the students were beginning to feel the strain, I ordered them to stop and take a break. Many of them turned around to adjust their uniforms, while the others practiced breathing and shaking their arms out. I needed a moment’s break as well, and turned, red and sweaty, to look at my reflection in the Dojo mirror.

    What I saw surprised me.

    I stood firm and rigid, in my charcoal-black martial arts clothes. My black belt, still new and stiff, was tied taut, its ends sticking out to the sides. Very few times had I ever imagined power in my own form, but this was one moment when I saw a young man where a high school student once stood. It was amazing what a uniform could do for a lanky brown-haired kid.

    “Okay,” I breathed. “Get ready for squat thrusts.” It was a minor deviation from the normal warm-up procedures, but little changes were often implemented by Master Park for some variety and I felt perfectly justified in ordering the exercise. I had no idea it would provoke the reaction it did. Only the three white belts in the back obeyed the command. From all the veterans of the class I got blank, confused stares instead of compliance.

    “Squat thrusts,” I repeated, with more of an edge.

    A voice to my left said with far more nerve than it should have, “You mean stretching, don’t you?” The voice came from the Green Belt, Tony Mancini, who had proven to be the most ambitious, irritating member of the class from the beginning. It was no accident that he did not add the word “sir” to the end of his question.

    “No,” I repeated, “I mean squat thrusts. We will stretch again in a minute.” But nobody was listening. Having assumed I misspoke myself, they were all too busy dropping to the floor and stretching to realize that I was speaking. I was about to open my mouth and command them back on their feet, but stopped myself. Rather than order the whole class up again, I sighed and began stretching with them. Mancini showed no visible signs of it on his face, but I knew he was enjoying his minor victory. His attempt to undermine the authority of a black belt who didn’t deserve to be a black belt was successful and he was intent on searching out any future signs of weakness on my part. I had never expected his grudge against me to manifest itself in this way and I knew it would become a big problem if not addressed soon.

    Six months ago, when I was still a brown belt, Mancini and I had both participated in a class sparring tournament. At the time I was not only the highest belt in the class but the guy who was winning the tournament. He had practically begged Master Park to fight me. Though she was uncertain about his attitude, she had agreed hesitantly, and sent us both to the center of the red sparring mat.

    The fight had lasted all but thirty seconds. Just as he charged at me, I whipped my leg straight up and down in an “axe kick” and accidentally brushed the side of his face. Mancini stepped back, howled in pain, and a little baby tooth popped out of his mouth. His lips were covered with blood and he had to scamper off to the bathroom to wash out his mouth.

    I had won the round by default.

    The consequences of those thirty seconds were more lasting than I could have ever expected. Not only would Mancini never be able to forget his humiliation, but after that, I would never again be able to spar with any skill or confidence. My fear of hurting my opponent became so strong that I rarely ever won another match. I also wound up appearing remarkably inept when I fought in front of an auditorium of spectators (which included my parents and uncle from New Jersey) as part of the black belt ceremony. I can’t believe Master Park thought I was worthy of the rank after that stunning performance.

    After twenty minutes of exercising, during which I had secretly been doing all this thinking, I noticed that Master Park had returned from her office. I finished counting to ten in Korean and stopped doing the stomach crunches.

    “Everyone, stand up!” I shouted.

    “Yes, sir!” they cried as they jumped to their feet.

    Bowing to Master Park, I returned control of the class to her. She gestured towards the red sparring mat which rested against the left wall. “Miss Gibson and Mr. Mancini, spread that out in the middle of the floor. Everyone else, sit on the left.”

    There was a flurry of activity as the sparring arena was prepared and the class settled in its new position on the floor. I sat with my legs crossed in the middle of the crowd and said hello to one of my friends who happened to be a red belt, Garth Kelly.

    “Sorry about before,” Garth said to me. “That was irritating. I was in the mood for squat thrusts, too.”

    I waved dismissively. “Nah. It was just an awkward moment. They happen sometimes.”

    “I suppose.” Garth looked from the unfolding red sparring mat back to me. “Let’s just hope Master Park doesn’t make you fight a girl again.”

    I grunted in disgusted agreement. My match against Nan Gibson had not been one of my better experiences. “That whole tournament was goo.”

    It had been the final match of that same tournament six months ago. Nan Gibson and I were sparring for possession of a quaint trophy with a little brass kicking karate dude mounted on it. During the competition she had proven to be a tremendous fighter, and even though she was a full year behind me, the consensus was that we were evenly matched.

    Her strength and reputation made no difference to me. I had been put up against her not more than five minutes after I knocked Mancini’s tooth into the stratosphere, and I was still shaken by the sight of his bleeding mouth. Between her lower rank, my newfound fear of hurting people, and my innate dislike of striking women, there was simply no way I could fight properly. She sensed I was holding back and a look of blind fury crossed her face. When she saw an opening for the winning move, she hammered me across the face with her foot.

    The blow was so quick and sharp that it dropped me straight to the ground. As I lay sprawled out on the floor holding my face, I decided it it’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a girl who takes chivalry as an insult.

    I found out later than Master Park had privately criticized Nan for using excessive force in the kick and forced her to do twenty-five push-ups before claiming the trophy. It was yet another karate-related piece of emotional baggage I had been carrying around the past few months. Oddly enough, Master Park’s opinion of me appeared to remain high. 

    I broke out of my reflections on the woes of a passive black belt when Mancini chose to sit down next to me. He had finished spreading out the mat while Garth and I had been talking and sat down in time to catch the tail-end of our exchange.

    “You guys talking about the tournament?”

    “Yes,” I said.
    Garth chose to ignore Mancini.

    “Interesting time,” Mancini remarked casually.

    “Yes,” I agreed, and the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times,” leaped, unbidden, to mind. It was one of many, similar mental associations I made every day, for no good reason.

    We fell silent as two combatants stepped out onto the sparring mat. Master Park dropped her hand down between them and shouted, “Light contact sparring…begin!”

    Mancini looked wistfully out into space, clearly not focusing on the battle. “That was a lousy time for my tooth to come out, wasn’t it?”

    I smiled thinly. “It sure surprised me.”

    “It’s too bad, really.” He sighed at the same time one of the fighters scored a point.

    “Sorry about that.”

    “I guess it all boils down to luck. You had it and I didn’t.”

    I pursed my lips and nodded. “I see.”

    “Oh?” Mancini turned around and searched my face with his gaze. “I don’t think you do. I should have won the tournament.”

    “Good God, man. It was just a little brass trophy.” It was getting awkward because more of the students around us were hearing what we were saying.

    “That’s not the point,” he growled. “It’s the principle of the thing.” A look of mock sympathy came into his expression and his voice quieted to a whisper. “Although, I must say I was surprised when an almost-black belt let a girl smack him around. I mean, I’ll admit some of them are built like tanks, but she didn’t even look that strong.”

    “Mancini, what’s your problem, anyway? Were you born an asshole, or did hard luck in life turn you into one?”

    Once again, the lesson proved a distraction to conversation as the second sparring match ended. Master Park glanced over in my direction and beckoned me to the center of the ring. “Your turn, Marc.”

    Still irritated by Mancini’s words, I stood up and approached the mat. When I got there, Master Park walked up to me and began talking to me with her head down and voice low. I was the only one who could hear what she was saying. “I’ve been noticing a bit of a problem between you and Mr. Mancini. What’s the story?”

    I wasn’t prepared for the question, so it took me several seconds to reply. “I guess it’s hard to look at a fellow classmate as a black belt,” I offered.

    “That’s too bad for him,” she said. “You’re a higher rank thank him and he has to respect that.”

    “I understand.”

    “But he doesn’t. I want you to explain it to him.” Master Park threw an annoyed glance at the class, which was becoming increasingly talkative during her exchange with me. Then she gesture towards Mancini. “Okay, Mancini. It’s your show.”

    Mancini demonstrated surprising restraint considering this was his dream rematch come true. He strode confidently to the edge of the mat and stood at attention, facing me.

    Before leaving my side, Master Park gave me a dark look. “And no holding back this time or you’ll have to answer to me.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    She stepped off the mat and watched the two of us face-off. “Fighting stance!” she shouted.

    At the sound of the command, I snapped into my stance and bellowed a deep “Ki-Hap!” I balled my hands into fists and stared dead into Mancini’s eyes. This was one fight I intended to win and to hell with worrying about him getting hurt. Mancini was a full second slower getting into position, sliding his right leg back and lifting his fists in a casual, careless manner. There was a profound arrogance in his refusal to remain on guard, as if I couldn’t possibly pose any threat to him whatsoever. He wouldn’t have been so confident if he had any recollection of my ability before my fight with Gibson.

    “Full contact sparring…begin!”

    The two of us circled each other like two animals assessing each other’s worth. My jaw was set hard. I was showing no weakness.

    True to form, Mancini broke out of his circling and charged at me with a stepping side kick. Moving quickly, I sidestepped the kick and whipped my arm out to block it. He sent another kick flying at me, this time with his right leg. My right arm shot upwards and blocked it. I followed up the block with a short jab to his chest. As I hit him, I roared, “Ki-Hap!”

    He stepped back, surprised by the contact, as Master Park awarded me a point.

    She said to the class, “One more point and Marc wins,” and then to us, “Continue.”

    The moment the word was given, I jumped into action, attacking Mancini with a combination of kicks and punches, keeping him reeling under the pressure. He sensed he was being forced out of the ring and ducked under my last kick, running around me towards the center of the mat. As he passed by me, he aimed a sharp shot at my ribs, but I twisted just in time and he only grazed my side with his fist. There was a brief pause as we were both uncertain if the shot counted as a point.

    “Almost, Mancini, almost,” Master Park praised.

    Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Gibson in the crowd, and I could see in her face that her anger towards me had inflamed anew. I was fighting Mancini with much more passion and energy than I had given her, and her trophy seemed emptier than ever before. I felt a pang of guilt that grew a lot stronger when Mancini’s leg smacked hard against my stomach.

    “Point!” Master Park shouted. “Tie. Next point wins the match.”

    I walked in a small circle outside the ring, cursing myself for being so easily distracted. Piecing my confidence back together as I returned to the ring took some effort. My job wasn’t made any easier when Master Park advised me to “Wake up, Marc. You should have caught that one.”

    Mancini and I bowed to each other for the third and final time, and slid back into fighting stance. Seeing Master Park drop her arm, we walked with sidewards steps around the edge of the ring, looking for weaknesses. Testing him, I threw a roundhouse kick, which he blocked easily. Then he tried to get in a left-hand jab, but I stepped out of its path. When this didn’t work, he pulled back and resumed circling me.

    I knew he was going to attack again, but I didn’t know when. He was trying to unnerve me by keeping me in suspense. I had a sense that the other students were almost as tense as me, but I couldn’t chance taking my eyes off Mancini again.

    Then, just as I suspected, he lunged at me. Screaming a Korean battle cry, Mancini closed in, raised his leg to his chest, and started to lash out with another roundhouse kick. I was faster.

    My right leg whipped straight up, slicing the air right in front of his face. He was so caught off-guard by the axe-kick that he was unable to complete his kick and stumbled backward. As he stepped back, his hands dropped to his sides to help him regain his balance, leaving his chest unprotected. Seeing my chance, I fired off a front snap kick. My foot slammed against Mancini’s chest, pushing him over backwards and toppling him to the ground. He hit the padded mat with a loud slap and lay there several moments without getting up. He was so shocked by his defeat that he couldn’t move a muscle.

    “Point two for Marc,” Master Park said.

    My classmates started applauding loudly for my victory, and I managed to smile and bow in thanks to them.

    “Now, Marc,” Master Park continued, checking to make sure that Mancini had climbed to his feet, “you and Mr. Mancini shake hands. It was a good match.”

    I was satisfied with my win, so I had no trouble stretching out my hand to Mancini. He stared dumbly at it for a moment, but then offered his hand in return. His handshake was loose and he looked away as he did it. I took no pleasure in his discomfort because I had been in his place so many times before. I only hoped that, if he didn’t like me personally, at least he would learn to give me respect in front of the class. On the other hand, I decided, if he did keep giving me trouble, I would take great pleasure in reminding him of this moment.

    Looking down at my uniform, I noticed that my belt had loosened during the fight and was hanging limp to the floor. I turned around to face the back of the Dojo as a sign of respect and adjusted my uniform, smoothing out its creases, and pulling the belt taught. I then left the sparring mat and took my place on the floor with the other students.

  • Life & People

    Belmar: The Boys are Back in Town



    Part 1 of a 3-part adventure.  Rated NC-17 for language, sexuality, and adult themes.
     
     
    Friday, 3:30 p.m.
     
    I’m driving Griffin out to Belmar, New Jersey, in a Ford Taurus I borrowed from my father.  We're coming from Staten Island, and have just driven past Schulmeister, a town with a name that amused us both.  I am a reporter at this point in my life.  Griffin is a tennis instructor.  It is the late 1990s.  We are in our early 20s. 
     
    Me: So, what’s Belmar like?
     
    Griffin: Beach town. Great beach, great water, lotsa bars. In the summertime it’s like spring break, only for college graduates.
     
    Me: I never did the whole spring break thing. I went to Italy instead. So I’m glad to get a taste of that scene now.
     
    Griffin: I wish I’d went to Italy instead of spring break in frickin’ Cancun. That was a waste.
     
    Me: Why’s that?
     
    Griffin: You know how they say it’s not possible to not get laid while on spring break in Cancun? It’s possible. I didn’t get laid.
     
    Me: Is it not possible to not get laid in Belmar, NJ?
     
    Griffin: My track record is a lot better in Belmar. I almost got a hat trick last weekend. Two chicks Friday night, and I almost nabbed a third on Saturday. I was soooo close.
     
    Me: I’m just going for the beach. I love swimming.
     
    Griffin: Don’t worry, man. We’ll get you laid. It’s happening. 
     
    Me: I dunno.
     
    Griffin: You’re money. You’re so money, you don’t even know it.
     
    Me: Okay, Trent.     
     
     
    Friday, 7:57 p.m.
     
    A dark, semi-crowded bar in Belmar.
     
    Me: I don’t see anybody anywhere. No Kyle, no Hank, no Smiley, no David, no Boris, no Chewbacca. Nobody. They all said they’d be here.
     
    Griffin: Maybe they’re late.
     
    Me: Are they still at the house you guys rented? Maybe you can call them.
     
    Griffin: No phone hooked up to that house.
     
    Me: Do they have cell phones?
     
    Griffin: Smiley does.
     
    Me: Call him.
     
    Griffin: I don’t have his number.
     
    Me: So what do we do? Kill time till they get here?
     
     
    Friday, 8:01 p.m.
     
    Me and Griffin co-perform "Runaround Sue" on karaoke.
     
     
    Friday, 8:07 p.m.
     
    Me and Griffin lead the entire bar in song, singing “Sweet Caroline” by the jukebox. No karaoke machine or lyrics needed.
     
     
    Friday, 8:30 p.m.
     
    Griffin makes a pass at a woman who, coincidentally, happens to be the bar owner’s wife. We are tossed onto the street by bouncers.
     
     
    Friday, 10:30 p.m.
     
    At bar number two, I am separated from Griffin in an enormous crowd of drunken, six-foot-tall guys, who are all gathered in front of a bar tv watching some sort of game in which a “hero” player has to get a “ball” into a particular place in order to “score” a point for his “team.” Hero player does, indeed, score. The drunken men cheer. I am punched in the face for not cheering. I do not find Griffin again for the rest of the evening. I have no idea where the shore house is.
     
    Friday, 11:00 p.m.
     
    Scene: A quiet place named Pat's Tavern. I’m sitting at the bar, two seats down from a young British woman who is dressed like a flapper, and is wearing sunglasses indoors at night.  
     
    Me: Can I buy you a drink?
     
    Sophie: (shrugs) 
     
    Me: What would you like?
     
    Sophie: Gin and tonic.
     
    The bartender overhears the order and looks at me for confirmation. I nod and he whips up the drink.
     
    Me: What part of England are you from?
     
    Sophie: Newcastle.
     
    Me: Newcastle? So, when you go back home, you don’t have to bring coals with you.
     
    Sophie: (lowers sunglasses) What are you talking about?
     
    Me: It’s a famous expression.
     
    Sophie: What’s a famous expression? 
     
    Me: If you do something unnecessary, it’s “like bringing coals to Newcastle.” Like, bringing your own beer to a bar is like bringing coals to Newcastle, or bringing sand to a beach.
     
    Sophie: I don’t understand.
     
    Me: Newcastle is a coal town, so nobody brings coal there, because it makes its own coal.
     
    Sophie: I’ve lived in Newcastle my whole life and never heard that expression.
     
    (A pause follows.)
     
    Me: So, what do you think of that Tony Blair? Looks like he’s made some progress bringing peace to Northern Ireland.
     
    Sophie: Tony Blair’s a fucking asshole. Thatcher II if you ask me.
     
    Me: Ah.
     
    (A very long pause follows.)
     
    Me: I actually like to watch a lot of British tv. Grew up with it.
     
    Sophie: You’re not one of those Americans who spent years watching Fawlty Towers, Black Adder, Doctor Who, and Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes on PBS, are you?
     
    Me: Yes, I am.
     
    Sophie: Fuck off and die.
     
    Me: Okay, then. (I rise from my stool.)
     
    Bartender: Who’s paying for this gin and tonic?
     
    Me: Mrs. Parker over here. She’s decided she wants nothing from me, so she gets to pay for her own drink.
     
    Sophie: Ponce.
     
     
    Saturday, 10 a.m.
     
    The beach. Everyone on the beach is handsome or gorgeous, except for the guy with the glasses named Marc. He’s had a good swim in the ocean, despite the baby jellyfish he found himself surrounded by, and now he’s relaxing on towels beside Kyle, David, and Smiley.
     
    Me: I’m not attractive enough to be on this beach.
     
    Kyle: They’re not attractive. They’re all Guidos and Guidettes.
     
    Me: The men all look like Ben Affleck, and the women all look like they stepped out of a music video, or a beer advertisement. 
     
    Kyle: Ignore them or go swimming.
     
    David: Wanna sunbathe to some beach music?
     
    Kyle: Sure.
     
    David pops in a Beastie Boys cassette and blasts it.
     
    Me: (laughing) Are you kidding me, David?
     
    David: What?
     
    Me: You call that relaxing beach music? 
     
    David: What?
     
    Me: (to Kyle) Seriously, if they let loose killer robots on this beach programmed to exterminate all the ugly people, they’d laser beam me to death, glance over everyone else on the beach, spare their lives, and leave.
     
    Smiley: We’re still getting you laid this weekend.
     
    Me: I don’t like that I’ve become your civics project or science experiment or something.
     
    Smiley: Here’s the deal. Chicks our age don’t dig you. No getting around it. But there are a lot of housewives who go out with their friends for one beer in Belmar. I’ve seen them. They don’t mean for anything to happen. Then, before they know it, they’re blowing a recent college grad in their family SUV. And that recent college grad can be you.
     
    Me: I’m not messing around with any women who aren’t single.
     
    Smiley: What, you have something against adultery? I’d fuck more married women if I didn’t have a rule against sex with the over 25. You’ve gotta try it, or you’ll never get laid. Adultery is your only hope. Older women love you. I’ve seen it.
     
    Me: Would you shut up?
     
    Smiley: Listen, here. Winston Churchill. Cheated on his wife all the time. One of the greatest men of the century. Adolph Hitler. Never cheated on his wife.
     
    Smiley spread out his hands and waited me to draw my own conclusions.
     
    Me: Are you saying that if I try to be a good person, and not commit adultery, I’ll become a mass murderer like Hitler, and my only hope of being a good person is seducing a married woman in her SUV this weekend at Belmar. Otherwise, I’ll wind up perpetrating a Holocaust for the 21st century?
     
    Smiley: That’s it. That’s what I’m saying, exactly.
     
    Me: Who writes your dialogue? Satan?
     
    Kyle: Smiley’s wrong. Churchill was an asshole. Ask any Irishman. Or Indian. So you’re off the hook. The tautology doesn’t work.
     
    Me: Was that a tautology? I don’t remember what a tautology is. And, by the way, Smiley, what’s wrong with women over 25?
     
    Smiley: You can’t do anything with them. I like high school and college girls. They’re young enough that you can train them, like dogs. Women over 25 are too smart, and you can’t do anything with them.
     
    Me: Man, you make me sick, you know that? 
     
    Smiley: What?
     
    Me: Jesus fuckin’ Christ, man.
     
    Smiley: Younger women are hot, too. Admit it. If they’re old enough to bleed, they’re old enough to breed.
     
    Me: Man. Fuckin’ unbelievable, man.
     
    Smiley: If they’re old enough to pee, they’re old enough to me.
     
    Me: Be quiet already.
     
    Smiley: Women’s asses get bigger as they get older, too. You see that chick over there with a little bit of junk in her trunk? It’s a little bit of junk now, but that ass is only gonna get bigger. Young women are the bomb. They have the best asses ever, man. So tight, you can bounce quarters off their asses, man. 
     
    Me: Younger women also don’t know how to spell.
     
    Kyle: You’re right, Marc. I’ve seen Smiley’s girlfriend, and I don’t think she knows how to spell.
     
    David: How about a girl who knows how to read? You like those, Marc?
     
    Me: Love ‘em. You see one?
     
    David: Eleven o’clock.
     
    A woman in a large "Annie Hall" hat and sun dress was resting on a lawn chair, seemingly out of place amongst the rest of the beach’s sunbathers, volleyball players, and six-pack ab displayers.
     
    Me: I can talk to her about her book. That’s a great ice-breaker. I’ve heard of every famous book there is, and I’ve read a lot of them. This is perfect!
     
    David: Go talk to her, then!
     
    Me: You don’t have to prompt me. I’m going. 
     
    I jumped to my feet and walked over to her.
     
     
     
    Saturday, 2 p.m.
     
    The shore house. 
     
    A little hovel equipped with bunk beds, an electric fan, and a tv, on which is played, in an endless cycle, a tape of old "Saturday Night Live" episodes, "South Park," and the films "Swingers" and "Dazed and Confused." When the tv isn’t on, a small CD player plays the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s latest album, Californication, on permanent repeat.   
     
    I’m with David and Smiley watching Saturday Night Live. Kyle has also disappeared now, so he and Griffin are both mysteriously absent from the scene.
     
    Me: I never even heard of that book. You’ve both heard of it?
     
    David: It’s a classic of the counterculture movement.
     
    Me: Oh, that explains it. My parent’s tried to shield me from all things 60s when I grew up. I think they let me hear Sgt. Pepper by accident. Some kind of oversight…
     
    Smiley: So you froze when you never heard of the book?
     
    Me: That was my big lead in. My ice-breaker. But I couldn’t bring myself to say, The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test, huh? I’ve never heard of it. Is it any good? I would’ve felt like a total tool.
     
    David: She might have liked you taking an interest.
     
    Me: She might have thought I was ignorant for not knowing what it is.
     
    Smiley: (waving dismissively) It would have never worked out anyway. That chick is waaaaay too cool for you. Waaaaaay too hip.
     
    Me: How do you know?
     
    David: He’s got a point. Your favorite book is The Screwtape Letters. Those books don’t go together, man. A person who loves The Screwtape Letters isn’t getting any play from someone who likes The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test.
     
    Me: Are you saying I can’t date a hippie?
     
    David: That’s what I’m saying.
     
    Me: I like hippies. I have no attachment to nukes or Vietnam or Nixon. They had a point. The hippies had a point. Even if Johnson and Carter sucked, the hippies had a point.
     
    David: Well, hippies don’t like you.
     
    Me: Why not?
     
    Smiley: Because you’re a Roman Catholic Republican who has never smoked a joint. You watch Doctor Who religiously, your favorite band is Roxette, and your idea of hard partying is having one White Russian and then switching to lemonade. That’s why hippies don’t like you.
     
    Me: But they’re having all the fun I’m not having. I’m as enchanted by that notion as I’m jealous and repelled.
     
    Smiley: Well, they’re not jealous of you and your White Russian, I’m telling you that.
     
    David: They are repelled, though.
     
    Me: Where the fuck is Griffin, anyway? I’ve been asking you every half hour since you guys found me walking the streets of Belmar last night, and none of you will tell me.
     
    Smiley: Kyle went to get him about ten minutes ago. They’ll be back soon.
     
    Me: Went to get him from where?
     
    Smiley: Griffin made us all promise not to tell you where he was.
     
    (On television, Alec Baldwin asks Kim Basinger, once and for all, how her name is pronounced, Bass-injur or Bay-singer. They are doing the opening monologue for SNL.)
     
    Me: Oh, come on, where are they?
     
    Smiley: (looks at watch) I better get showered so we have time to barbeque before Happy Hour.
     
    Me: (innocently) When’s Happy Hour?
     
    Smiley: (face reddening) DID YOU GO TO COLLEGE? DID YOU? 
     
    Me: WHERE’S GRIFFIN?!?!?!
     
    Smiley: PRISON!!!!!!!
     
    (silence rose to fill the room)
     
    Me: What?

    (Want to know what happened to Griffin? Read the next post, entitled "Smiley's Revenge." Coming sooner than you think...)

  • Life & People

    Dana Scully and the Agonies of Being Catholic


    The X-Files: I Want to Believe is about two former FBI Agents, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who see their respective religious beliefs challenged, if not dashed, while being drawn back into action as consultants in the investigation of a series of kindappings.  During the movie, Mulder is repeatedly entreated to give up his quest to prove the existence of aliens and find a long-lost sister who is most certainly dead by now.  Scully, however, finds her faith in God, and her affiliation with the Catholic Church, challenged repeatedly. 

     

    Now, this needs to be said: it isn't a perfect movie.  On an enjoyment scale, I'd give it about 2 and 1/2 stars.  However, I understand why Roger Ebert rated it 3 and 1/2 stars.  He argues that it is smart, it is "about something" and it is deeply concerned with issues of ethics and religion.  He is also glad that there's no flashy explosions or high-octane gunfights in it.  He's right on all counts. 

     

    As lovely as Gillian Anderson is (and I have long had a crush on the actress), Scully tends to be an annoying character, because she is a skeptic in a world in which EVERYTHING has a supernatural explanation.  Also, the role is not as feminist and progressive as it should be because Scully is often left largely out of the action in the final few minutes of each X-Files adventure because she can only see so many incredible sights before ceasing to be a skeptic.   Therefore, Mulder, as inept as he is, usually gets to do all the jumping onto moving trains and fistfights with the main villain.  However, in this new film, Scully gets the most interesting storyline.

     

    At the start of the film, viewers learn that Scully has left the FBI and is a doctor in a Catholic hospital.  She is treating a boy with a disease that likely has no cure.  However, groundbreaking and radical treatment involving stem cells might save the boy's life.  The priests and nuns oppose the procedure, making the excuse that it will probably fail and cause the boy pain.  The priest in charge of the hospital, Father Ybarra, wants the boy transferred to hospice care so he can die "in peace" and not undergo unnecessary, painful, and probably unsuccessful treatments.  What is not stated overtly, however, is the fact that the priests and the nuns have qualms with the use of stem cells to treat the boy.  After all, the pro-life position of the Catholic Church backs many priests and nuns into opposing stem cell research and invitro fertilization.  While the film does not make any of the clergy characters speak this objection, it is a strong subtext of the film.

     

    For her part, Scully has many sleepless nights, crying over the boy's pain and angrily cursing God for bringing an innocent boy into the world just to allow him to contract a horrendous, fatal disease.  She is only able to overcome this anger by defying the priests and convincing the boy's parents to approve the risky procedure.  While we do not know whether the surgery works in the end, the film asks us, and Scully, to have faith that the boy will be saved, and that she has made the right decision defying the head priest.

     

    Another, more prominent, Catholic priest features in the film.  Father Joe (Billy Connolly), is a pedophile who hates himself for molesting 37 altar boys.  He tries to fight the urges, castrates himself, and lives in a self-policed community of sex-offenders.  He approaches the FBI at the start of the film because he has visions of women being kinapped that correspond to real missing persons cases.  His visions are reliable, and provide numerous breakthroughs, but many of the agents are too empirical and hard-headed to accept Father Joe's visions as being bona fide. Scully, for her part, cannot believe that God would give visions to a pedophile priest when he gives no such visions to a good person ... like her.  She feels lost and is hungry for God's voice, and will not accept that God is capable of forgiving someone who doesn't deserve forgiveness.  Interstingly, the film argues that God can, and does, forgive Father Joe, and the visions are, indeed, presented as bona fide.  Ironically, the perpetrator of the kidnappings winds up being one of Father Joe's former victims, making his visions as much justice and punishment as they are a gift.  By the end of the film, Scully appears to have made some peace with Father Joe, and given him a measure  of forgiveness and acceptance herself.      

     

    As it happens, the villians of the film are also engaged in radical medical treatment.  They are kidnapping healthy young women and harvesting their organs and body parts to keep a rich patient alive while an incurable disease ravages his body.  The Frankenstein-like procedure (which results in a patient who gets to keep his own head, but lives in a fresh body created by parts sewn together from a variety of kidnap victims) turns out to be a Russian experimental procedure that was the precursor to contemporary stem cell surgery.  In effect, the villains are ruthless doctors with no moral center. 

     

    The film does not state the message directly, but it hints at the following: Dana Scully's use of stem cell research is not immoral.  It is not the harvesting of innocent body parts to keep a young boy alive.  It is caricatured by overzealous religious folks as evil, but the process the clergy opposes is not evil.  The Russian doctors who serve as the villains of the film are performing surgeries that cross the line and are, indeed, the kind of evil harvesting the priest's oppose.  But common sense sees a distinction between Scully and the Russians.  That is the moral of the film, even if it dances around that message as much as it spells it out with its frequent graphic shots of severed arms. 

     

    Interestingly, while the film is not great, I felt a strong kinship to the character of Scully and the religious suffering she endures.  She believes in God, and she is a "good" Catholic (from a non-doctrinaire point of view), but she is horrified by pedophile priests and cannot, in good conscience, support the Church's opposition to stem cell research.  Quite frankly, it was those very issues, and the possible zealous motivations of the September 11 terrorists that drove me away from religion by the end of 2002.  There is a part of me that admires Scully for still being religious in light of all that happened to push me away from religion in general and Catholicism in particular.  There is another part of me that wishes that Scully would just work in a public hospital, where she can perform whatever surgery she sees fit without being hamstrung by religious concerns.  

     

    On the other hand, perhaps it is just as well Scully is at this Catholic hospital.  If she wasn't there, where she was needed, the boy wouldn't have gotten the treatment he needed to survive.

     

    Therefore, while being Catholic seems to make Scully miserable, it is probably good for all of us that she is Catholic.  And it is good for the patients at the hospital she works at and stays just where she is - a troublemaker at the heart of a Roman Catholic institution.          

  • Life & People

    What Constitutes Great Popular Music?


    So I wrote this e-mail to my friends back in June of 2002. I got some interesting responses…


    Hi Folks,


    I am exploring musicians that I don't normally listen to in an attempt to improve my lackluster musical taste. If I were to buy one album by each of the following musicians, which one should it be? (Please don't berate me if you hate the person, just leave it blank.)


    And is there anyone I'm missing from my list who I might like? (Remember my preference for women singers.)


    Pearl Jam

    Sex Pistols

    Ani DiFranco

    Puff Daddy

    Flogging Molly

    Red Hot Chili Peppers

    Beastie Boys

    Prince

    Eminem

    Tupac Shakur (spelling?)

    Led Zepplin

    Rob Zombie

    The Who (I have Tommy)

    Dave Matthews (I have Before These Crowded Streets)

    Luscious Jackson (I have Electric Honey)

    Mazzy Star (I have Among My Swan)

    Sonic Youth (I have NYC Ghosts and Flowers)

    Grateful Dead (I have the Greatest Hits. I hear American Beauty rules.)


    Remember, it is in a good cause ... saving me from Celine Dion.

    And sorry about this impersonal, mass e-mail crap. I'm just interested in a wide array of answers.

    Thanks in advance for any help you can give me.

    You folks rock!


    All the best,

    Marc


    * * *


    This e-mail is from Hank Stewart, who reminds me of Matthew Perry


    From : Hank

    Sent : Monday, June 3, 2002 1:41 PM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Re: best music


    Pearl Jam-Ten

    Sex Pistols- Never Mind the Bollocks

    PuffDaddy-No Way Out

    Red Hot Chili Peppers- Mothers Milk

    Beastie Boys- Paul's Boutique

    Prince- Purple Rain

    Eminem-The Eminem Show

    Tupac Shakur- All eyes on Me

    Led Zeppelin- IV

    The Who-Who's Next

    Dave Mathews- Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds "Live at

    Luther College"

    Luscious Jackson- Natural Ingredients

    Mazzy Star- So tonight that I may see

    Sonic Youth- Dirty

    Grateful Dead-Workingman's Dead


    Hank's Recommendations catered to Marc:


    Dashboard Confessional- The places you have come to fear the most


    Enjoy Marc.

    Talk to you soon.


    Hank



    * * *



    Here's Fergie's response. She looks a lot like Jennifer Garner...


    From : Fergie

    Sent : Monday, June 3, 2002 1:46 PM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Re: best music


    Marc,


    Of course, I'll have to say that it really depends on when you are listening. In my car, I like to listen to rap, hip hop and r&b. At home, I like jazz, and female rockers. I hope you don't settle on just one cd - buy the top three.


    I actually like all your choices. My favorite is Ani DiFranco. And of all her albums, "Out of Range" is the best. ("Dilate" is really great, too - but so very angry.)


    I also love love love Mazzy Star.


    Finally, despite it all - I would say, at this point, right now, if I had to buy one album, I'd buy Eminem's new one. It is critically acclaimed by EVERYONE. (even people who hate rap)....(see if you can get last week's Time magazine article - they had a nice review of the album).


    I love music questions. Please tell me what you decide on, and then how you feel about it.


    love,


    Fergie



    * * *

    This is Becca's response. I'd cast Kristin Scott Thomas as her in a movie...


    From : Becca

    Sent : Monday, June 3, 2002 5:47 PM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Re: best music


    Hi Marc-

    Those look like some good suggestions given you by Hank. I'm trying to think of more female singers -- a random (and perhaps outdated) list coming to mind includes: Indigo Girls, Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes rules!), Nina Simone (everything), Ery'kah Badu (this is really good--title is something about a gun), Sade (her new one, Lovers Rock, is awesome), Portishead, Bjork, Ani DiFranco (I think her older ones are better, more acoustic-- can't remember the names though, sorry)...


    Again, totally random, but maybe helpful!


    Talk soon and take care,

    Rebecca



    * * *


    And now for Christina's e-mail. She looks like Nicola Bryant from Doctor Who.


    From : Christina Wolverton

    Sent : Tuesday, June 4, 2002 12:30 AM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Re: best music


    Pearl Jam---Ten, although if you can pick up a bootleg, it's great to hear them live.

    Red Hot Chili Peppers----Blood Sugar Sex Magic, of course!

    Beastie Boys----The best Beastie's album ever is Paul's Boutique

    The Who (I have Tommy)---Check out anything with Baba O'Reilly on it, even if it's a "Best Of..." album

    Dave Matthews (I have Before These Crowded Streets)----Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Luther College. Tim Reynolds is an amazing guitarist. He's not in the Dave Matthews Band, but sometimes Dave Matthews plays with him. This is all acoustic and none of the other guys from the band are in it, it's fantastic.


    >Remember, it is in a good cause ... saving me from Celine Dion.

    -----Good Christ, man! I can't believe you'd even mention Celine Dion!

    >You folks rock!

    -----Marc rocks!


    Love,

    Christina



    * * *

    (Here's an e-mail from David Litvinov. He reminds me a bit of Edward Norton)


    From : David

    Sent : Tuesday, June 4, 2002 2:49 AM

    Subject : Re: best music


    Marc -


    Since I hate predetermined lists, I'll just make my own for you:


    Flogging Molly - you already have "Swagger," I believe so you should get their latest, "Drunken Lullabies." Just great, kick ass energetic, fun as ell music.


    You won't like the Sex Pistols, no matter how hard you try to. The old chool punk band for you is the Clash. Try either "London Calling" or "The Clash." They're 10 times smarter than the pistols, and they actually expand their musical range.


    Joe Strummer & the Mescaleroes - the former lead singer of the Clash and his new band. His musical horizons are incredibly broad. He's got everything from rockabilly, to reggae on his latest album "Global A Go-Go."


    Beastie Boys - I say try "Check Your Head." It's the first album the Beasties used instruments.


    You'd probably like Dashboard Confessional, as Hank says. But also along those lines are Saves the Day, who are a bit faster and poppier. I think you'd like them a lot. Their latest album is "Stay What You Are."


    The Bouncing Souls - one of my most favorite bands, ever. They're punk, but melodic. They sing about cute girls that work at delis, hogging the juke box, and about insecurity. For you, I'd recommend "Hopeless Romantic."


    Rocket from the Crypt - C'mon. How can I not recommend RFTC? I have a RFTC tattoo, for Chrissakes!  Look, man. They're the most innovative band around for the past 10 years. They're the best live band around. They love their fans. They fucking rock. Try "Group Sounds."


    Jurassic 5 - fuck Puff Daddy. You want rap, you gotta check out people whose roots are grounded in old school hip hop. Jurassic 5 harken back to a time when rap was more about being able to outdo the rival MC as opposed to talking about how rich you are and how many ho's you've smacked. Check out "Quality Control."


    Dropkick Murphys - Irish folk mixed with punk. You once heard their cover of "Finnegan's Wake" and started dancing around the room. Check out "Do or Die."


    The Slackers - old school ska. The lead singer has a great voice. Try "Wasted Days."


    That's all I can think of for now. My advice? Don't try those bands that you've been hearing all your life are so great. Try people who're doing interesting shit now, who you can actually go see. What's the point in listening to music you can't go see performed? However great Flogging Molly's albums are, it's nothing in comparison to their live show.


    That's all I can think of for now. Lemme know what you think.


    - David



    * * *

    And now a response from Joe (who kinda looks like Charley Barkley):


    From : Joe

    Sent : Tuesday, June 4, 2002 3:36 AM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Re: best music



    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

    Okay, here we go ... to add to your list:

    Enigma

    P.O.D.

    Kirk Franklin

    System of the Down

    Bush

    Nickleback

    India Arie

    Alicia Keyes

    Dido


    and a army of others I'm still trying to think of. I wouldn't listen to Mazzy Starr though. I call it "music to kill yourself by." If I think of more I'll hit you with them.


    Joe


    * * *



    Here's Boris. He looks like Sean William Scott.


    From : Boris

    Sent : Wednesday, June 5, 2002 7:04 PM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : RE: best music


    Marc,

    I was thinking about your changing music tastes and I thought of something the guys may not be too interested in but that I like very much:


    Big band music and Dixieland music -- these genres are very similar. In fact, big band music's origins are in Dixieland music, they just spiced up the melodies a little bit. My two suggestions for artists would be Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie for big band music and The Dukes of Dixieland for Dixeland music. Most songs are instrumental and all of these musicians can be found in the Jazz sections of your local music store :) I think that this is an older form of music that never loses its taste. In fact, if you want to, since you're busy this week, maybe next Friday we can go to see my friend Pete play in the city, like I've been suggesting. We'll go with Hank and Griffin (I don't think Smiley would be interested).


    Just thought I'd pass along that info. Hope you are enjoying your new music!!!


    Boris



    * * *



    From: Italian-American Man

    To: David


    Great list, David.

    I'm glad you broke from mine. Gave me a lot of innovative selections.

    Kind of like how I prefer Roger Ebert's list of Great Movies. They are so less predictable than the ones on the crappy AFI Top 100 films list. ("Tootsie?" "Close Encounters of the Third Kind?" "Bridge on the River Kwai?" Come on, now!)

    But you have me curious.

    Why won't I like the Sex Pistols, no matter how hard I try?


    - Marc


    P.S. - Tried the Clash. Good stuff. I love their cover of "I Fought the Law and the Law Won" ... and "London Calling, of course."




    * * *




    From : David

    Sent : Thursday, June 6, 2002 3:23 AM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Fw: best music



    Marc -


    Sorry I didn't write you back yesterday. I was out late at dinner.


    Anyway, the reason I don't think you'd like the Sex Pistols is because they're so shocking and vulgar and just try to piss people off which is very un-Marc.


    I'm glad you dug the Clash. The singles collection is an excellent smattering of their stuff. I still highly recommend you get "London Calling."


    The Irish stuff is an easy bet with you I think. The Dropkicks are a nice mix of punk and Irish music, which you may or may not like. You already know Flogging Molly, so that's a safe bet as well.


    Try out the Bouncing Souls. I have a feeling you'll like them.


    Dashboard Confessional is a band basically spearheaded by this one guy. All his songs are about girls and how he can't get any to go out with him, and how he's insecure and lonely. Really whiny. Chicks love the guy. I think he's eh. I say Saves the Day would be more to your liking. A bit faster. A bit happier.


    * * *

    Here's Margie's e-mail. (By the way, I'd pick Winona Ryder to play Margie in a flick.)


    From : Margie

    To: Italian-American Man


    Hi There Marc,


    Celine Dion huh? Hmmmm. I don't know about you. I think I remember your first great love was Reba McEntire???


    I like David's choices. My sister and brother-in-law have an extensive collection of punk and ska albums. So if you want any thing obscure let me know. I have them make tapes and CD's for me all the time. I do have a Slackers CD around here somewhere, and a handful of Dead Albums.


    I wish I could help you, but I'm about three years behind on the music scene. I haven't bought much these last 3 years, as the only thing I've been listening to is Sesame Street and occasionally some classical music. I've only just begun to listen to adult tunes again. My son can now be heard around the house humming a Marley or Beatles song. We use to play Wylcef's CD because he really liked that, but when he started singing "Just because she dance the go-go, don't mean that she's a ho no..." at my parents house, we banned it for another year or two. He does seem to prefer rap and hip-hop.


    Let me know how it goes. I definitely need to catch up to the rest of the world.


    Margie



    * * *


    From: Italian-American Man

    To: Fergie


    Hi Ferg -


    Sorry all my friends have been writing back to you as well as to me. Hope that isn't annoying.


    I just wanted to drop you a line to tell you that I've listened to the two Ani DiFranco CDs and they are great. Her music is very powerful and emotional. Sometimes it is so effective, I wonder if it is autobiographical. (Like that Letter to a John, in which she talks about what it is like to be a stripper. Very powerful and very true-sounding.) I'm impressed.


    And I got a Mazzy Star CD. Loved the first song ... Fade into You ... and wasn't as into the rest of the CD, sadly. But I'll keep going through your list.


    - Marc


    * * *



    From: Fergie

    To: Italian-American Man

    Subject: Re: music update

    Date: Thu, 06 Jun 2002 14:42:24 +0000


    Marc,


    I didn't mind hearing from your other friends and their music opinions- it was fun to read - I thought your friend's child singing Wyclef to her parents was pretty funny.


    I also don't mind you asking questions about artists. I don't know a whole lot of pop culture facts - even on my favorite artists - I listen. I like. I listen more. So, when I know stuff, I'll share.


    In terms of whether something is autobiographical or not - I think that people ask that of all artists (visual, writers, poets, etc.) often - but I was surprised that YOU were asking that. (Being a creative writer yourself). I guess I've just always thought that of course your work is autobiographical - but it's also fiction - it's art. It doesn't mean that Ani is or was a stripper - (that song is about a lapdancer) - but that her experiences in life allowed her to relate to the life of the stripper so that she could write a convincing tale (song) that a stripper could probably relate to... or any woman or man who has sold his body (including models) because that was all they thought was worthwhile.


    So, I think any artist who's worth anything writes autobiographically, because you have to write what you know - but that doesn't mean it's an Autobiography. You base your fiction (or poem, or song...) on your life experiences, but it's a creative work - the biographical aspects of it may get buried with your creative ideas but your experience is still at the base. (Edgar Allen Poe writes convincingly about a maniac - but that doesn't necessarily mean he was a maniac, right?)


    Talk to you soon,


    Fergie



    * * *


    From : Marc

    Sent : Thursday, June 6, 2002 10:48 PM

    To : [email protected]

    Subject : Re: music update



    Hi Fergie,


    What you said about writing creatively is true, of course. That is exactly what I do when I write for a fictional character who has lived a very different life from me - I try to mentally construct what it would be like to be them from the emotional experiences of my life that are, in some way, vaguely similar.


    I asked you those questions about the lapdancer song because I know several singers who model most of their most emotionally painful songs exclusively from their own lives. And they have lives that are much more ... interesting ... than mine. (After all, I'm a middle-class suburban dude. Pretty boring all around.) That's why I was wondering if she was from that "school," or if she was taking more of an approach where she is speaking for one of her characters instead of talking about the character in the third person.


    I like that approach a lot, actually. It is always more intimate and visceral when a person, like Whitman, says in Leaves of Grass, "I am a slave, this is how I feel," or "I am a hunter" then, "Meet Sam the Slave" or "Here's Samantha the hunter," but it can also cause momentary confusion and it blurs the line between art and reality even further than usual. Which is not a bad thing, of course. Actually, the blur between fiction and reality is the thing I love to ponder the most. I find it fascinating, but few others that I know like to get that abstract with their conversations.


    I think the fact that I entertained the idea that the song was a "true story" - a "real" experience of DiFranco's - is a testament to her skill as a writer. She did such a good job that I bought it. But that's because it was a superb song.


    (I have a feeling I'm not articulating this well. It is at times like this when I hate e-mail the most. Too shorthanded and fast-paced a medium for this kind of thing, I think.)


    Be well,


    Marc


    * * *



    This is Ivan, who looks like Tom Hardy, from Star Trek: Nemesis


    From : Ivan

    Sent : Friday, June 7, 2002 5:07 PM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Re: best music


    Marc,


    Yes, I'm a Heavy Metal guy. BUT-

    No, Rob Zombie, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and

    any other band you might see on MTV or hear on the

    radio are not my style at all. Unfortunately my stuff

    never gets any air time because you have to look for

    it and people never want to do anything but skim the

    surface. People consider Rob Zombie and that other

    stuff metal but what it really is should be called

    "rock fusion" because those people take the rock sound

    and "fuse" other sounds into it (especially rap, which

    I personally would like to wipe off the face of the

    earth forever).


    Anyway, there are lots of bands in the metal genre

    that you might love, Marc, because contrary to popular

    belief metal is extremely varied. Manowar, for

    example, is definitely metal but does not sound

    anything like death metal. Anyway, knowing that you

    own a Manowar album I would suggest that you check out

    bands like Iron Savior (every album tells a pretty

    neat science-fiction story, with the lyrics of the

    songs serving as different points of view and the

    liner notes adding helpful narration), Hammerfall

    (pretty catchy power metal from Sweden), Iron Maiden

    (they base lots of songs on movies and World War II),

    and Iced Earth (their latest album "Horror Show"

    offers a theme of old horror movies, so every song is

    about the monster or main character from a different

    classic screamer like Dracula or the Creature from the

    Black Lagoon). With the exception of Iced Earth I'd

    say you'll probably have to go to Vintage Vinyl in NJ

    to get most of that, but that's okay because VV has

    very low prices and a club plan that allows to save

    $10 every time you spend $200 (it helps, believe me).

    Anyway, good luck with your new music search and write

    again soon, we still should hang out sometime.


    Ivan



    * * *


    From: Italian-American Man

    To: Ivan


    I just hear Horror Show. The Phantom of the Opera song was my favorite. And the tribute to The Omen. The Jack the Ripper song freaked me out because it idolized a real life serial killer and not a fantasy monster.


    And I love Manowar, even though each album only has one or two GREAT songs on it and the rest are ... blah. But the great songs kick ass.


    - Marc



    * * *


    From: Ivan

    To: Italian-American Man


    Ha.

    Figures.

    The Jack the Ripper song is my favorite.


    - Ivan



    * * *


    From : Joe

    Sent : Sunday, June 9, 2002 8:52 AM

    To : [email protected]

    Subject : Re: a start


    As far as women go further recommendations are, Nelly Fertato, Natalie Imbrulia, Selina, Jewell, Missy Elliot, Eve and Shakira. As far as Mazzy Star … my sister bought her CD and when I heard it, it was flat black and the music was blacker.


    Joe



    * * *


    From: Marc Di Paolo

    To: Joe

    Subject: a start

    Sent: Wednesday, June 5, 2002 9:44 PM


    Hi Joe,


    You have inspired me to order Alicia Keys and Enigma from Amazon. I am excited about Keys since I don't know much about her. I will check on the others in the near future.


    Thanks again, and sorry my friends bombarded you with their choices for me (I didn't expect them to do that to you. The “Reply All” option is a powerful one).


    Have fun,

    Marc


    * * *


    And now for our friend from the "Men With Guns" and "My Trip to Italy" posts, Colin Donovan. I forgot to tell you last time, he has a "Baldwin"ish look to him. Like this Baldwin ... Billy ... I think...


    From : Colin Donovan

    Sent : Friday, June 14, 2002 3:48 PM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject :



    WHY ARE YOU KNOCKING CELINE? She is wonderful Marc, you know that. I'm disappointed....but for what it's worth, here's my list for you....


    Pearl Jam: Obviously the first three albums (VS., TEN, and PEARL JAM), but Vitaology is good too!


    Sex Pistols: Forget about it please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Ani DiFranco: I can take or leave her personally

    Puff Daddy: Marc, I WILL slap you if you're serious. I mean it.

    Flogging Molly: "What the fuck?"

    Red Hot Chili Peppers: They aren't bad, I really like the song "The Otherside"

    Beastie Boys:Greatest hits is good if you MUST try them

    Prince: I like the Batman album because it's Batman, but still, Prince is a waste.

    Eminem:You're up to two slaps now....

    Tupac Shakur (spelling?):Jump to 10 slaps, DO NOT PASS GO, etc.

    Led Zepplin:FINALLY, a good band...actually, I'm not that big a fan, but all of their work is solid. Especially the first album.

    Rob Zombie: Dammit...there you go again. Marc, do you ACTUALLY think you'd like this? I know I pick on your limited tastes, but this is unacceptable. :)

    The Who (I have Tommy): Quadrophenia....great album....Greatest Hits is good too.


    Dave Matthews (I have Before These Crowded Streets): They are all good. :)

    Luscious Jackson (I have Electric Honey): Don't know them...sorry

    Mazzy Star (I have Among My Swan):Not bad, but not my fav either.

    Sonic Youth (I have NYC Ghosts and Flowers):Oh God....

    Grateful Dead (I have the Greatest Hits. I hear American Beauty rules.): Pick up the Greatest hits, and don't turn into a hippie please. :)


    OK....now for my MARC LIST:


    Jewel: Buy anything...she writes good stuff.

    Fiona Apple: Another one that I really like. She only has two albums...both worth having.

    Lara Fabian: Sings like Celine, but is WAY hotter. Good stuff here brother.

    Heather Nova: A little DiFranco like, but hotter, and sweeter. Check out her first album.

    Tori Amos: Get past the man-hating, and the music is actually quite good.

    Sheryl Crow: She just keeps putting out solid stuff dude. They are all good.

    The Corrs: Irish, sexy, great voices....what else needs to be said?

    Natalie Merchant: Solid songwriter...she's good.

    Diana Krall: Singer/pianist...sexy goddess of jazz...PLEASE buy everything. She's great Marc.

    Sarah MCGlachlan: Solid effort every time...worth buying.

    Linda Eder: Hot hot hot! Buy her new album "GOLD", and anything else she's done.

    Norah Jones: New chick on the block....give her a chance.


    U2: I don't know if you like them or not, but if you wanna try, get "The Joshua Tree", "Achtung Baby" and "All You Can't Leave Behind"

    John Mellencamp: He's just fun like Jimmy Buffet.

    The Farm Dogs: Bernie Taupin's band. If you can track down this CD, buy it immediately. It's fantastic.

    Collective Soul: I really like this band. "Dosage" and "Blender" are pretty good along with the "Hits" disc.

    Savatage: Hard rock/metal but they are pretty good. Try "Dead Witner Dead".

    Queensryche: Awesome heavy metal...Go and buy "Operation Mindcrime". It has some pretty grim shit in it, but certainly no worse than what you're trying in that list you sent out. Musically, it's very good album. Also try "Empire" has the song "Silent Lucidity".

    James: Go buy the album "Laid" you'll remember the songs from college.


    Well, that's it off the top of my head for "new Marc stuff". I would much rather tell you this over the phone, so CALL ME SOON.


    Later buddy.


    Colin



    * * *


    From : Ivan

    Sent : Tuesday, July 2, 2002 3:34 AM

    To : Italian-American Man

    Subject : Re: Iced Earth



    Marc,


    Seriously, I'm very happy that you liked Horror Show, and it is

    important to note that if you like that album you will

    like lots of other bands I like. Iced Earth, by the

    way, has an entire album about Spawn called "The Dark

    Side," in case you're interested (I'm not a Spawn fan

    myself but I thought it was worth mentioning).


    Next, pick up Iron Savior's "Unification," it's got

    great songs and a great story. Talk to you next time,

    and I hope all is well on your end.


    Ivan



    * * *


    From: Griffin

    To: Italian-American Man


    I love the Defecaters, man. They are pure art. In the middle of their sets during live concerts, they crap all over the stage. And then they eat it.


    They're not sellouts like other bands, man.


    They don't have merchandise. They don't have a web page. They don't get radio play. In fact, the only way you can get to see them live is if you crap in the alley outside their venue and smear the poo all over your face and show it to the bouncer. Then they let you in.


    I'll take you to see them sometime. If you are willing to play with your own fecal matter to see them.


    - Griffin


    * * *



    From: Italian-American Man

    To: Griffin


    So I guess you haven't been enjoying these e-mails, then?


    - Marc

    P.S. - Why did it take me a minute to figure out you were joking and made that band up?



    * * *



    From: Griffin

    To: Italian-American Man



    Tube socks.



    - Griffin


    P.S. - Tell your friends from grad school to just hit "Reply" and not "Reply all" when they e-mail. They're doctoral students, right? Shouldn't be beyond them, right?

    P.P.S. - Put some crab meat in your buttpussy.


    * * *



    And, after buying most all of these CDs and listening to them all, these were the singers I decided I liked the best:


    Jethro Tull

    Leonard Cohen

    Dido

    Sarah McLachlan (spelling?)

    Willie Nelson

    Johnny Cash

    John Denver

    Dolly Parton

    Indigo Girls

    Tori Amos

    India Arie

    Alicia Keys

    Natalie Merchant

    Ani DiFranco

    Iced Earth

    The Clash

    Dave Matthews

    You’ll notice that most of these were not mentioned at all. I decided to look into them because a) I remembered seeing them on the Muppet Show back when I was very, very small, b) I heard about them on NPR, c) I bumped into them on Internet radio, d) somebody else suggested them.


    I’m pleased with my newly expanded musical taste, but Stacey and my brother are upset I decided to like Leonard Cohen. Guess they don’t think “Everybody Knows” is as cool as I do. Oh, well.

  • Life & People

    Do College Professors Corrupt the Minds of American Youth?


     

    “Marc, I know you’re a college professor now, and everything, but you’re not actually going to vote for Obama are you?” 

    “Yes.  And with great excitement and enthusiasm.”

    “Have you lost your mind!?!”

     

    Even though I live in
    Pennsylvania
    , which is relatively close to
    New York
    , I don’t get to visit my home town of
    Staten Island
    often these days.   Fortunately, I was able to return for a visit with the old gang, Griffin Masina, Hank Stewart, and Kyle Ahern, which included devouring three vodka pies at Goodfellas pizzeria, two games of Texas Hold ‘Em poker, and an annoying political conversation.  The annoying political conversation occurred at the end of the evening, after folks had a few drinks and decided they were mad at me for demonstrating beginner’s luck at cards.  That was when I was asked pointedly whether I was voting reluctantly for McCain, or boycotting the election, as the others faced this choice themselves.  I said I had voted enthusiastically for McCain during the Republican primaries in 2000, but couldn’t vote for a Republican after the disastrous and ego-maniacal Bush presidency.  The conversation rapidly degenerated into an argument after I made this statement. 
    Griffin
    remained polite and thoughtful, and made excellent points from a conservative standpoint, but the other fellows were not particularly polite, and were very dogmatic and judgmental in much of what they said.  By the end of the evening, I discovered that, according to a handful of my friends, I was an out-of-touch academic who is “part of the problem,” and who sees his job as primarily the recruiting of a new generation of Democrats, and the perpetuation of the notion that climate change is a reality when everyone knows it is not.  After all, I may have been a reporter for two years and have read “tons of sociology books,” I may currently devour The Economist each week, listen to NPR daily, sporadically watch The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and hold a doctorate in literature, but I am, on balance, uninformed and ignorant.  Why?  Because I didn’t watch O’Reilly every day, read the New York Post, or follow the minutiae and gossip surrounding the day-to-day muck and mire of politics. 

    (“Oh, you only know what Reverend Wright said last week?  You don’t know what he said this week?  You really need to get cable and stop living in a cave!  Wright said, ‘God damn
    America
    !’  How could he say that?  And Obama won’t wear an American flag on his lapel!”)   

    Good thing this is what my friends think of me.  One wonders what my enemies would think of my classroom lessons.

                Obviously, I don’t believe that their impression is accurate, although I can see where those who have a strict moral code and utilitarian view of what college “should be all about” would cite me for crimes against education.  Knowing this, I thought for the next several days about what my mission was as a college professor and what I hoped to teach my students.  I reread my “Philosophy of Teaching,” a document that I wrote for my Third-Year Review for Tenure, to see if it was lacking.

    After reviewing the document, I could see where a conservative would hate what I had to say, but I decided that I stand by it. 

    For those who are interested, I have decided to reprint below my Philosophy of Teaching, which outlines my goals as a college professor.  While I do not think that many news “commentators” would like it, and while they might, if they got a hold of it, cartoon my motivations, I believe it is a thoughtful document that can be respectfully disagreed with.  I do not, however, believe my philosophy is simplistic or evil.

                Here goes:

     

    In both my teaching and writing I simultaneously hold two entirely contradictory ideological beliefs.  Contradictory as they are, I believe them both wholeheartedly.  I am equally a moral relativist and a moral absolutist.  As a moral relativist, I believe that the only way to truly understand anything is to not stand in judgment of it, but to judge it on its own merits.  This is how I try to understand other people, other cultures, and works of art and popular culture.  It is the kind of approach Walt Whitman used in Leaves of Grass, when he expressed love for the grass, saw himself in everything, and saw everything in himself.  He eschewed qualitative judgments, denied the existence of evil, and privileged similarity over difference.  This mindset is what enables me to get along well with students who often feel themselves marginalized or oppressed (either off or on campus), and which informs my writing about critically disparaged works of popular art like superhero comic books.  This approach also enables me to teach very nuanced lessons on the use of the Confederate Flag on the television show The Dukes of Hazzard in my Mass Media class when one might think that it is impossible to say anything of value about such a topic since … well … The Dukes of Hazzard was a terrible show.  

    On the other hand, I am also a moral absolutist.  I believe that there is a clear pecking order in the universe, there is indeed evil (the military junta in
    Burma
    , for example), and qualitative judgments are both inescapable and made countless times a day.  Therefore, while I love comic books, I understand that they do occupy a literary stratum beneath that of Lord of the Flies and 1984, and that those books, in turn, are not quite on the same literary level as Hamlet, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost.  On the other hand, comic books are clearly better for one’s health than advertising, The O’Reilly Factor, and most movies featuring David Spade.  In a similar fashion, the Beatles are better than Jethro Tull and Mozart is better than the Beatles. 

    Finally, even though I try to present both sides of every political issue fairly to my students, I think it is safe to say that, at my core, I have very specific political beliefs and, at times, it is difficult to disguise these biases. 

     Being simultaneously a moral relativist and a moral absolutist used to be challenging and confusing for me.  However, I am more comfortable in my own skin and do not feel myself vulnerable to charges of inconsistency or hypocrisy.  In fact, I am able to reconcile my incompatible beliefs by acknowledging the fact that, at different points in my life, I have believed many things, and I have loved many kinds of intellectual and artistic works.  For the bulk of my formative years, I was a very superstitious person, saw the world in staunch black-and-white terms, and adored adventure narratives presented in comic books, fairy tales, and pulp novels.  During my college years, I was religiously and politically adrift, but I decided to hold off on joining any ideological association until I’d finished reading most of the Harold-Bloom-approved “Great Works of the Western Canon.”  As a graduate student, I read sociology books and multicultural American literature, watched foreign films, and became a much more tolerant, open-minded person. 

    While my archconservative friends from
    Staten Island would challenge this notion, let us assume for the moment that the evolution I describe above was, on balance, a positive thing.  Now, this is the critical point: I still remember what I was like during all of these various phases in my life and I do not judge myself.  It was all part of the same emotional, intellectual, and spiritual journey. 

    I was very much the same person I am now, only my focus and my way of processing information was different.  I feel a little superior to my old self, but I still like my younger self – who is at once undoubtedly me and undoubtedly an entirely different person.  Therefore, I retain my youthful affection for comic books and Puritanical righteousness even as I believe that my current preference for Jane Austen and the striving to be as reasonable as possible, whenever possible, is the way to go. 

     


    Reading
    and Morality:

    When I first decided to enter the doctoral program at
    Drew University, I was fully aware of the fact that I loved to read while most of my friends and extended family members had not read a book in their lives.  I therefore became interested in why I first developed a love of reading and decided to make a study of children’s fiction: fairy tales, comic books, and horror novels.  After all, these were the tales that got me excited to read (as opposed to, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Experience,” which I loved when I re-read it as a graduate student, but would have hated has I stumbled upon it in the fifth grade, and which I did, indeed, hate when I first encountered it as a college freshman.)  I was also interested in what effect these rather lurid, highly supernatural tales had on my ethical and cognitive development as a young reader. 

    I was also convinced that movie adaptations of classic works had encouraged me to read because I had loved the movies that I had seen on PBS as a child and was eager to read the books when I was old enough to understand them.  Graduate school helped me discover that I was interested in the academic fields of narratology and adaptation theory.  These were two critical lenses through which I could examine story cycles, serial narratives, and adaptations that I had enjoyed as a child and, significantly, continue to enjoy as an adult now that recent film adaptations of childhood favorite tales seem to be in vogue.  In fact, during my investigation into narratology and adaptation theory, I discovered – quite by accident – that these approaches help scholars gauge how various media-representations of race, class, and gender changed over time.  For example, if one considers how a “staple” narrative (like the Beauty and the Beast story cycle) or a multimedia character (like Robin Hood) changes from oral tale, to written tale, to song, to film, to video game, these changes reveals a lot about narrative technique and genre.  On the other hand, if one also considers how the character changes thematically from generation to generation, or shifts from one culture to the next (like the American sitcom “The Office” as a remake of the contemporary British sitcom “The Office”), then that approach may reveal much about history and culture.  Therefore, a comparison of several incarnations of Wonder Woman – from the 1940s comic books to the 1970s television show to the 2000s cartoon – reveals a lot about how gender is “constructed” during these various historical eras. 

    This brings me to one of my principle academic interests.  As interested as I am in literacy, children’s literature, and adaptation theory, I am also very interested in the ideological components of various works of art, from the populist to the elitist.  I am interested in their overt political messages, their subtexts, and how they represent the “other” – people of a different gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, or creed.  What messages are imbedded in works of art?  Were they intentionally placed there?  Unconsciously?  Are these messages received as intended?  Are they distorted?      

    This interest in the “effects” of reading on the reader was similar to the concerns I had about the mass media, both before I was a journalist and during my own tenure as a news reporter.  How could a reporter ethically report the news?  What effect did the news have on the news reader when the story was actually somewhat “balanced” ideologically?  When it was clearly biased in its perspective?  When the news story’s only concern seemed to be with sensationalism and the profit margins of the news venue?

    As an Italian-American who hates the media-bolstered stereotype of the Italian gangster, and all of its attendant baggage (macho posturing, stupidity, wife-beating, etc.), I am very concerned about how the media, be it film, television, the news, or even politico-speak, represents members of different races, social classes, nationalities, religions, and ethnic groups.  I am sympathetic to every Asian who chafes at the portrayals of the Japanese as a culture of samurais, every woman who is weary of the blonde-pop-star-Lolita standard of beauty, and every black person who has the same reservations about the gangsta stereotype that I have about the gangster stereotype.              

    These were the issues which concerned me when I first entered graduate school.  These remain the questions that concern me, in both my scholarship and the courses I teach.  To some degree or another, everything I write and every lesson I teach touches upon this core group of issues.  I believe that the media caricatures people, simplifies complex topics, and makes sensationalistic that which should be considered in a sober, thoughtful mindset.  The best way to defeat the media’s desire to dumb down the quality of public debate and discourse is to encourage thoughtfulness, healthy skepticism, and tolerance at every possible turn.  

     

    Practical Concerns and Application:

    Even though I currently have a very calm way of looking back upon my intellectual, spiritual, and emotional development through a protracted, rigorous diet of reading, I must admit that, at the time I went through the multiple ideological conversions I touched upon above, I found the process to be emotionally violent, spiritually unsettling, and outright traumatic.  However, having gone through these turbulent periods of my “inner” life, I feel that I understand myself, and the world, better because of these experiences.  I am a better person for the effort and the agony, even if I still am a work-in-progress with a long way to go. 

    Which raises the question: What do I do with my students?  There is an extent to which I want (and need) to respect my students’ beliefs and worldview – especially given the fact that I teach at a Roman Catholic college that promotes Franciscan values.  However, there is also an extent to which I want to shake students out of the same kind of intellectual rut I was in when I was an undergraduate.  After all, as C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, the Judeo-Christian God is not impressed with a “house of cards” faith built upon ignorance and complacency, but wants his flock intellectually and spiritually challenged.  Certainly, reading, done properly, does not validate the worldview of the reader, but challenges the reader to consider alternative perspectives, moderate their understandable instinct to demonize their political enemies, and know themselves more objectively.  (For more on this, see Harold Brodkey’s superb essay, “
    Reading
    : The Most Dangerous Game.”)

    Of course, recent articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education have argued that students do not go to college to challenge their own beliefs, or learn about other cultures, or to improve their reading and writing skills.  They go to party, date, and get job training and certification.  In my experience, that mindset is common, in society and in the classroom, and it is my chief obstacle in being an effective teacher.  The student is in the classroom for one reason, I am there for another, and neither of us wants to change the goals of the class. 

    The other challenge I face is the cultural reluctance of students to read for pleasure, and the seeming inadequacy of K-12 public education to prepare students for a meaningful college experience.  Here I am not talking about the several schools that I have taught at over the past decade, as both a tenure-track professor and as an adjunct, but about a widely reported crisis in literacy.    

    These, of course, are widespread cultural problems that I cannot hope to “solve.” However, I can do the best I can on a small scale at Alvernia in my interactions with individual classes and individual students.   I will say that I am always thinking about different ways I can reach the students, challenge them, maintain a disciplined classroom, a fair set of grading standards, and make sure they are doing the homework. 

    If I have one goal, it is this: get the students to read.  I care not if they begin, as I did, by reading comic books, or escapist fare such as J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown.  I just want them to have the patience to read, the ability to understand what they read, and the fortitude to tune out televisions and iPods and cell phones long enough to be immersed in another world and another perspective.  Those who know how to read also know how to write and how to think.  And this goal, while seemingly small and insulting to the students, is not intended to malign them, or to make any college that I have taught at, past or present, “look bad.”  In my experience, most freshmen come to college not knowing how to read, or not having exposed themselves to serious literature.  Jeffrey Hart has noted that even
    Dartmouth
    freshman soon come to realize, through his tutelage, that “their first twelve years of schooling had mostly been wasted.” (See the oft-anthologized essay “How to Get a College Education.”)

    After all, when I first went to college, I was functionally illiterate, raised on Star Trek and Wizard of Oz novels, and I was capable of writing nothing but Doctor Who fan fiction.  After four years of college, I was reading Thucydides, Plato,
    Dante, Virginia Woolf, Sherman Alexie, Voltaire, Toni Morrison, Bernardus Silvestris, and Molly Haskell, and my writing quality increased a thousand fold.  If I can remember where I started, and have patience with my freshman for having read To Kill a Mockingbird and nothing else, then I can teach them to truly read and truly think critically.  Then, they will begin the same painful-but-wonderful process that I began, discovering themselves, their politics, their spirituality, and their core values system as they read.  Each of them will have a different journey.  Some of them will change a lot and some very little.  Some of them will be new recruits for the Democratic Party.  Some of them won’t.  But I will have the satisfaction of knowing that I nudged at least a percentage of my students in what I believe to be the right direction – intellectual autonomy in the face of a mass media that is only interested in turning people into mindless consumers who have exactly the same taste and who all think and feel the same way about every topic.       

    And that’s my goal as a moral relativist/absolutist college professor.

  • Op-Eds

    James Bond Hates Italians


     

    “There’s nothing extraordinary about American gangsters,” protested [James] Bond. “They’re not Americans. Mostly a lot of Italian bums with monogrammed shirts who spend the day eating spaghetti and meat-balls and squirting scent over themselves…. greaseballs who filled themselves up with pizza pie and beer all week and on Saturdays knocked off a garage or drug store so as to pay their way at the races.”

     

    - Ian Fleming, Diamonds are Forever (1956)

     

     

     

    Inspired by my love of the recent James Bond film Casino Royale, I decided to return to Ian Fleming's original novels. Several years back I had read the final three books in the series, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, and The Man with the Golden Gun, because I knew he got married in the first of these three, and I was eager to see the character "humanized." The first of these was a great book. The others were mediocre, so I stopped reading them.


    Since the recent Bond film (featuring Daniel Craig) was based on the first novel, I thought I'd act like a normal person and read the series from the beginning. So I read Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, and a few short stories - Risico, Quantum of Solace, For Your Eyes Only, and 007 in New York.


    I have a series of impressions I'd like to share with you.

    Casino Royale is a great book. I don't know what I think of Live and Let Die. It is on balance good but I have big problems with it. (More on that later.) I like Risico, For Your Eyes Only, and The Living Daylights.  All the these stories represent chunks of the movies For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights.  The stories were not meant to go together, which is why For Your Eyes Only in particular is such a disjointed film.


    However on the whole the books and short stories are great and awful at the same time. They are astonishingly racist, sexist, and anti-American, even if you expect such things from James Bond ... as any one who has seen the movies would expect. However, the books reveal an interesting perspective on the Cold War era and have some very suspenseful and entertaining bits. They can be great fun, like the best comic books and westerns. Male escapism at its height.

    Action aside, the best best parts of the books are the odd character bits and gratuitous editorializing that blurs the line between Fleming and his character, making readers wonder where Bond stops and Fleming begins. These little passages are, in effect, the only escape from the plot, which (given the fact that the books are all moderately short) usually pushes the action forward to the point that the narrative is soon revealed to be fairly ... thin?


    These fairly regular editorial passages seeded throughout the books - often about what makes Japan interesting, how to serve a martini properly, what's wrong with American foreign policy - can be some of the worst parts of the books as well as some of the best ... especially when Fleming's prejudices rear their ugly heads in a way that is fascinating only as a study in the character flaws of the author. For example, sometimes Fleming describes ethnic types and social classes in insightful and revealing manners. During other times, however, his descriptions border on minstrel-show prejudice and can be at least annoying, if not offensive.


    Here are a few examples of what Fleming has to say about Italians, Americans, and African-Americans:

    a) Fleming has fun describing the exaggerated speech and mannerisms of Italians and Italian-Americans. It is often appealing and affectionate, despite being stereotypical. In For Your Eyes Only, Bond befriends and Italian gangster named Columbo (who is played in the movie version by Topol). Here's a descriptive bit from the book in which Columbo demonstrates some of the same personality traits that I often display, including boisterousness, public displays of affection, and chest-pounding:


    '[Bond] turned to find Columbo approaching him. The fat man was grinning delightedly. He came up to Bond and, to Bond's horror, threw open his arms, clutched Bond to him, and kissed him on both cheeks.

    Bond said: "For God's sake, Columbo."

    Columbo roared with laughter. "Ah, the quiet Englishman! He fears nothing save the emotions. But me," he hit himself in the chest, "me, Enrico Columbo, loves this man and he is not ashamed to say so.'"


    Those who know me would agree that I've acted like this on many occasions. As my friend Griffin would say on such occasions, "Marc, I'm Irish. Don't hug me. Shake my hand." I found this passage endearing.  If only it had been the only thing he wrote about Italians, or Italian-Americans.  I find some of the dialogue in Diamonds are Forever less amusing. (See the top of the post for an example.)

    b) Fleming talks smack about Americans a lot. He criticizes them for having lousy food, overly luxurious cars, and a minimal vocabulary, among other flaws. As Bond observes in For Your Eyes Only, "You can get far in North America with laconic grunts. 'Huh?' 'Hmmm...' and 'Hi!' in their various modulations, together with 'sure,' 'guess so,' 'that so?' and 'crap!' will meet almost any contingency."


    Funny. True to a large degree. But tiresome after several consecutive books. As a recent article (either in The Atlantic or the New Yorker ... I forget) "James Bond: Anti-American" reported, the American Agent Felix Leiter is a nice character who exists primarily to show how incompetent Americans are and how much they need British help.


    c) The movie Live and Let Die is far less racist than the book, but still makes me a bit uncomfortable. (The book is replete with racist moments, but the one that bothered me the most was Solitaire, descendant of a French slave owner, noting that she was rarely upset whenever she coaxed the black gangster Mr. Big into killing people because "very few of them were white." Shudder.)


    - The sexism of the books is legendary.  Of course, if one assumes that the books represent escapism for men, this is to be understood to an extent. The books cross the line. But they are admittedly titillating when they are not frustrating for running down women too much. The sex scenes in the books, short as they are, are far better than the lousy sex scenes in the movies, which generate no heat whatsoever. Also, Fleming is very good at describing every inch of a woman's body in a way that is enticing. Still, the passages do objectify and fetishize the women in a way that most women would find offensive (and that I do too ... when I'm not being enticed by them... sorry...)

    - In the books, Vesper mentions that James Bond reminds her of Hoagy Carmichael. Bond disagrees. I popped in my DVD of The Best Years of Our Lives and took another look at Hoagy. He's a good look for Bond, which means that Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan look the most like the character was originally designed to look. I also remember hearing that James Stewart was Fleming's first choice for Bond, followed by Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. However, he reportedly loved Sean Connery in the part. (The drawing represents how Fleming imagined Bond.)


    In the novel, Bond has black hair, a Superman-like spit curl in front of his forehead, a scar on his cheek, and beautiful blue eyes that undercut the overall look of his face, which is revealed to be little more than a "mask of cruelty" when he sleeps.


    - This is the funny bit: James Bond spends an amazing amount of time talking about food. Bond even informs the readers two of his favorite recipes:


    1) Bond's Dry Martini: The Vesper (from Casino Royale)


    Three measures of Gordon's

    one of vodka

    half a measure of Kina Lillet

    Shake it very well until it's ice cold, then add a large slice of lemon peel.


    And here's my favorite:

    2) James Bond's Scrambled Eggs (From 007 in New York, page 128, Penguin Books 2002)


    (serves four 'individualists')


    "12 fresh eggs

    salt and pepper

    5-6 oz. fresh butter.


    Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat thoroughly with a fork and season well. In a small copper (or heavy-bottomed saucepan) melt four oz. of the butter. When melted, pour in the eggs and cook over a very low heat, whisking continuously with a small egg whisk. While the eggs are slightly more moist than you would wish for eating, remove pan from heat, add rest of butter, and continue whisking for half a minute, adding the while finely chopped chives or fine herbs. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittainger) and low music."


    WHAT?!?!? And my friends think I'm effete? They should check out how finicky James Bond is about his scrambled eggs and leave me alone.


    - The best things the movies have over the books is the inclusion of beautiful location shooting in India, Russia, Venice, and a variety of lovely countries. The books seem to confine themselves to Britain, Jamaica, and a handful of other places, and the action is largely confined to Bond's hotel rooms, where he has lots of sex and eats lots of scrambled eggs. So the movies best the books in terms of visual pleasure. Beautiful locales as well as beautiful women ... that make you want to see the world.


    - There are something like 23 James Bond movies. Here are the good ones, from great to very good:

    1) From Russia With Love (Sean Connery)

    2) Casino Royale (Daniel Craig)

    3) The World is Not Enough (Pierce Brosnan)

    4) Goldfinger (Sean Connery)

    5) Goldeneye (Pierce Brosnan)

    6) Dr. No (Sean Connery)

    7) The Spy Who Loved Me (Roger Moore)

    8) The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton)

    9) Live and Let Die (Roger Moore)

    10) Octopussy (Roger Moore)


    Just my opinion. There are some good and mediocre ones I didn't mention. Diamonds are Forever has some good moments, despite some obnoxious gay-bashing. If For Your Eyes Only were a half hour shorter it would be wonderful. As it is - 2 stars..


    These are the Bond films I really frickin' hate:
    You Only Live Twice

    Tomorrow Never Dies

    Die Another Day

    Never Say Never Again

    A View to a Kill

    Moonraker
    (sadly, this has one of the prettiest and most interesting Bond women, Dr. Goodhead - I kid you not.)

  • Life & People

    Marc as College Professor: Year Two


    Self-Evaluation:

    Marc DiPaolo

    Assistant Professor of Communications

    January 2007


    I. Introduction

    During my second year at this college, my teaching and faculty governance responsibilities increased as I took on additional courses and became the chair of the Faculty Development and Research Committee. I helped form a community outreach program geared towards providing extracurricular activities and learning opportunities to the young people of the south side of the city. I also contributed to the local Literary Festival.

    II. Teaching Effectiveness

    Courses Taught Spring 2006:

    Com 101 – Composition and Research (two sections)

    Com 122 – Mass Media

    Com 132 – Journalism Workshop

    Com 332 – Multimedia Design and Editing

    Com 432 – Newspaper Production

    Eng 321 – Ethics and Tragedy
    Courses Taught Fall 2006:

    Coll 110 – First Year Seminar

    Com 131 – Writing for the Media

    Com 132 – Journalism Workshop

    Com 332 – Multimedia Design and Editing

    Com 362 – New Media

    Com 432 – Newspaper Production

    Coll 390 – Foreign Films
    Winterim 2007:

    Com 290: Special Topics: Comic Books and Super Heroes


    I’ve really enjoyed teaching most of my courses this past year. In particular, the honors course on Foreign Films was a joy to teach. Although my comprehensive exams and my dissertation dealt with film, this was only the second time I had the opportunity to teach a film course. My first outing, Italian Films at Wagner College, was successful to the extent that I feel that I taught the class well and led excellent discussions, but I felt frustrated that the students, as a whole, loathed the material. This time out, the classroom discussions were quite good and the students were highly responsive to even the most challenging films. For example, they actually liked The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which is one of the oddest films ever made, and had interesting comments to make about it. I was genuinely sad when the course ended and several students expressed the same sentiments to me.


    Having taught the journalism classes once last year, my sections of Writing for the Media and Newspaper Production were far better this time out. I’m not a veteran yet, but I felt that my lectures had improved, the syllabi had evolved in a positive direction, and my confidence has grown. While I felt that I had made my classes a little too easy last year, I may well have made them too difficult this time out, as several of the students chafed at the amount of reading I assigned. For example, I put six books on the reading list of Writing for the Media this time, in comparison to last year’s one textbook. Consequently, I anticipate some resistance to the workload on my student Feedback Forms and on ratemyprofessor.com. Still, I feel that the class is improving and that the third time out teaching Writing for the Media will be the charm.


    Meanwhile, the Ethics and Tragedy course that I helmed was easy for me to teach because we did a lot of in-class “close reading of text” exercises that ensured the students understood the esoteric language of the plays and the more obscure historical references. I am particularly good at teaching by doing in-class text-crawls, but I am not sure how often such an approach is justified in a Communication course.


    While the Fall 2006 semester was largely successful, I should acknowledge that the Spring semester of 2006 saw my least successful course at this college thus far. Inspired by Toby Fulwiler’s pedagogical philosophy (discussed in my last self-evaluation), I designed my Composition and Research classes as primarily in-class writing workshops and provided computers for students who did not like to write in longhand. The students were supposed to read the selections from The Conscious Reader at home and come to class ready to write their reactions in three thoughtful paragraphs on the classroom computers. The theory was that the best way to learn to write was to read a lot (at home) and to write a lot (in class). It didn’t work. Unfortunately, the most of the students refused to buy the book (claiming financial difficulties) and used the computers to surf the web rather than write the papers. Discipline was a major problem – a lot of talking in class and iPod listening and Facebook/MySpace tinkering. After several weeks passed and the situation did not improve, I issued a new syllabus and taught the class in a more traditional mode. The new direction worked and the class was salvaged. I am not sure whether Fulwiler’s methods are fundamentally flawed or if I tried them with the wrong group of students. Either way, I don’t imagine I will attempt to use them again any time soon.


    With that particular class past me, I do feel that the teaching of writing remains a real challenge. It is especially difficult when the students do not appear to have had a tradition of writing instruction in their K-12 years, and in a culture that encourages them to look up “the right answer” on Wikipedia, thereby avoiding thinking about a given issue or crafting a response to an essay question from whole cloth. Plagiarism in general has become a large problem, to the point where it is actually a frightening prospect assigning an essay or a paper to students. I have tried asking students to redo their papers on the first plagiarism offense of the semester (they often seem genuinely ignorant of what plagiarism is, just as they do not understand that downloading music/movies constitutes theft and copyright infringement) and then failing outright anyone who repeats the offense. These measures appear to be too lenient, so I am considering using the Turn It In internet services.


    Perhaps the best solution to a given problem is to grade students with a rubric that demands a certain number of quoted passages and a given amount of commentary on the quotes. I have used this measure to teach journalism and have, as a result, secured much better researched articles for the school paper. While articles handed in last year tended to be editorials thinly disguised as articles without any quotes from staff, faculty, or administrators whatsoever, students are now compelled to conduct interviews before writing their articles, largely because of this rubric I have created.


    So, I’m still working all this out. I’ll get back to you next year with how it all goes…

    III. Advising and Service to Students


    I think it is safe to say that the fruits of my labor as a professor, and student organization advisor, are at their most visible whenever the school newspaper is posted online or delivered in hard copy throughout the campus. This year’s staff is the first one that I picked. I was not able to choose highly seasoned reporters because I taught exclusively freshmen and seniors last year, so I have a staff of mainly sophomores. I had chosen them on the basis of their writing skills and their knowledge of campus events. Since they are good students, they are overextended – they are almost all work-study types on CAB, SGA, and members of Sigma Tau Delta or the Philosophy Club. Consequently, the articles have been better written, but it has taken longer for the paper to come out since they have to squeeze their work on it in between various work shifts. My goal for next semester will be to maintain quality while speeding up the publishing cycle.


    During my tenure, the paper has taken a strong stand against racism on campus and rampant vandalism. Vandalism in particular seems omnipresent. The dormitories are regularly vandalized, the letters of the school logo were recently stolen from the Upland Center, and over a dozen cars parked on campus had genitals and homophobic slurs scrawled over them shortly before Thanksgiving. My staff and I have worked to cover these events. We have also featured a new column, Alvernia: A Black Perspective, by an adult student (she’s 30), and the SGA president has supervised the creation of a broader Multicultural section. Certain articles and columns have inspired debate and controversy on campus – especially the first Black Perspective column – but the general perception is that the paper has adopted a certain edge, and a willingness to cover “bad news” that it has not had previously. The reaction from the faculty has been strongly positive on this score. I am pleased to hear it, even though I am not out to be edgy for the sake of being edgy. Since I have sensed increased interest from the students, who say they are more likely to read the paper these days, and support from the faculty, I would like to maintain this general sense of “readership” good will by holding the students to higher standards of journalistic integrity and accuracy. In a recent letter to the editor, an alumnus scolded The Alvernian for sensationalism and said, “Yes, report the news – but report it responsibly.” That has been my goal and it will continue to be my goal.

    IV. Scholarly Research and Creative Work


    A) Scholarship and Teaching

    Interestingly, while some might worry that scholarship and service to the profession distract faculty from their students at a teaching-centered college, I have found this year that my scholarly work has helped improve my lessons and my grasp of the field. In fact, the work I have done as a book reviewer for CHOICE Magazine has helped my New Media course in particular. I have been kept up-to-date with all of the most recent Cyber Culture scholarship, and have reviewed books by luminaries in the field such as Ellen Seiter. I have been able to incorporate much of what I have learned into my lectures. Even my failed attempt at getting a “Super Hero” anthology book published last year has led to my writing an academic book on comic books as commentaries on “the war on terror” AND I have used my research for this book as the basis for a Winterim course on super heroes and comic books. So intellectual work, no matter how seemingly elitist, does indeed find its way back to the students after all!


    B) Conferences

    I gave a presentation on “Batman as Terrorist, Technocrat, and Feudal Lord in the Comic Books and Film Adaptations” at March’s North Eastern MLA conference in Philadelphia. With luck, the speech will be published by McFarland and Company in a book called Heroes and Home Fronts, edited by Lisa DeTora. I also attended a conference on grant-writing sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities held at Muhlenberg College and discovered that I was eligible to apply for exactly 0 grants. Oh, well…


    C) Editing The Conscious Reader

    A brief edition of The Conscious Reader is slated for publication January 5, 2007. I was working on it throughout the Fall 2006 semester.


    D) Other Publishing Endeavors

    My goal for this semester was simple. Publish. Publish. Publish. So I submitted an array of proposals in response to a variety of Calls for Papers (or CFPs) out of the Penn State Listserv. The proposals were all for chapters in themed anthologies edited by professors at other colleges and universities. A number of my proposals were accepted, putting me in the position of having to write my essays in a great hurry during the course of the semester. Fortunately, I completed all of the essays in question and submitted them all on time. As a result, there is a good chance that my name will appear in the table of contents of no less than four books next semester in addition to on the cover of The Conscious Reader:


    “‘ITALIANS’ KNOW NOTHING OF LOVE: THE MARX BROTHERS AS GUARDIAN ANGELS OF YOUNG LOVERS IN JEOPARDY.” 100 Years of the Marx Brothers. Edited by Joe Mills. Cambridge Scholars Press.


    “VAMPIRES” and “SERGIO LEONE” entries in The Encyclopedia of Religion and Film. Edited by Eric Mazur. London: Greenwood Press.


    “BATMAN AS TERRORIST, TECHNOCRAT, AND FEUDAL LORD IN THE COMIC BOOKS AND FILM ADAPTATIONS.” Heroes and Home Fronts. Edited by Lisa DeTora. McFarland and Company.


    “WONDER WOMAN AS WORLD WAR II VETERAN, CAMP FEMINIST ICON, AND SEX SYMBOL.” The Amazing Transforming Superhero. Edited by Terrence Wandtke. McFarland and Company.


    I am also working on getting my dissertation published as a book. Peter Lang has expressed an interest and has sent the manuscript off to a reviewer. Fingers crossed.


    E) Areas of Academic Interest


    As a generalist with interdisciplinary interests and a foot in both the English and Communications fields, my scholarly interests are highly diverse and often evoke a certain amount of surprise. (For example, my dissertation is about Jane Austen and I am now writing about Batman. Many people find this juxtaposition odd, if not outright funny.) Because my writing interests are diverse, I predict that there will be a certain amount of pressure placed upon me to find an easily graspable “summation” – or “high-concept phrase” – to attach to my body of work, demonstrating continuity from one essay/book to another. I dislike defining myself, and I do not want such pressure to stifle my generalist leanings or force me to prematurely pigeonhole myself. However, I understand that it is critical that I find a certain theme that unites my work. Although I may change my scholarly leanings in the future, I have determined that the following two themes have recurred in my work thus far:


    1) I have an interest in the process of enculturation, both from the perspective of new immigrants and those who are descendants of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island. This interest informs my scholarship on the portrayal of Roman Catholics (particularly Italian and Hispanic) in film, and my writings on super hero comic books, which were created by Jewish immigrants. In the future, I will likely write about Italian role models (how I prefer Columbo and Rocky to the gangsters in The Sopranos) in film and on television. I have already written about the view that director Sergio Leone presents of Catholicism and the Mexican-American experience in his films, and I hope to see that article published in The Encyclopedia of Religion in Film.


    2) Adaptation theory, which concerns storytelling technique and how changes in content and narrative form influence both the central themes of a given story and potential reader response. My dissertation covers novel-to-film adaptation, and focuses on Jane Austen. My Batman paper covers comics-to-film adaptation. In the future, I hope to write about fairy tale adaptations, plays-to-operas (such as Verdi’s Il Trovatore as an adaptation), and the King Arthur legend as an inspiration for the television series Babylon 5. While these specific essays may never be written or published, my interest in adaptation will likely remain constant.


    V. Service to the College


    A) Faculty Development & Research: I was elected as a member-at-large to the D&R Committee at the end of the Spring 2006 semester. Two-thirds of the way into the Fall semester, the chair of the committee was compelled to resign for family reasons. Since I was the only remaining member who could be the chair (two other members were chairs of other committees and the third member had exceeded his term limits as chair of D&R), I became the chair. I’m still learning the ropes. I’ll have more to say on this score next January. Also, I am now on the Executive Committee.


    B) The Literary Festival: I offered a lecture called “The Politics of Horror Films.” At once academic and fun, it played to a full house, including community members who read a preview piece on the talk in the local newspaper.


    C) Organized a classical music concert in conjunction with the music department. The concert featured clarinetist Stacey Miller, an Eastman alumnus, a doctoral candidate at Stony Brook, and my fiancé.


    D) 2008 Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities Conference: I have volunteered to help organize it.


    F) Donated several books to the school library. Most were useful, scholarly, and

    welcome. However, my collection of James Bond books was returned to me.


    G) The Writers’ Series. I am writing my autobiography (in installments) and reading it (in installments) during Dr. Bierowski’s monthly forum at the library on Friday afternoons at 1. This material has all, eventually, found its way into my blog, The Adventures of Italian-American Man. If not for the Writers’ Series, there would be no blog.


    VI. Service to the Profession


    A) Reviewer for CHOICE magazine.


    B) Manuscript reviewer for SOKOLIK AND KRASNY. SOUND IDEAS. McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Proposed 1st edition of Freshman Writing anthology.

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