Sherlock and Spock: Cold Men, Warm Hearts?
Jan 18th, 2017 by Dr Karma

The Spock of my childhood embraced his human side in small ways over the course of many years. Some episodes would end with Dr. McCoy commenting on how Spock’s green blood might have a little red in it, only for Spock to raise an eyebrow, unconvinced–and insulted.

We were told, of course, that Vulcans had deep emotions in their past and that contemporary Vulcans learned to keep the vestiges in check (except when time traveling and when in heat, of course).

Our modern Spock in the movie reboots can certainly raise an eyebrow. And we’re told his emotions are buried deeply, but what we see is a Spock barely able to control his emotions, getting in fistfights the second someone mentions his mom or is mean to his friend. In fact, this Spock’s brand of emotional control seems only to apply to difficulties in communicating with this girlfriend (women are from Earth, men are from Vulcan).

These recent years have also given us a new Sherlock, one that contemporary understandings of science might allow us to see as not only “a high functioning sociopath” but a high functioning person on the autism spectrum.

I’ll be intentionally vague to avoid spoilers, but the last episode seemed to indicate that this diagnosis might be wrong or incomplete–that PTSD from childhood might have made Sherlock what he is.

In any case, he shares with our new Spock barely hidden emotional currents, including a deep and abiding bromance, especially since he too has violent emotional outbursts.

Spock and Sherlock (Khan) fighting

Even though I find these men often behaving out of character (in my childhood definitions of them), what interests me more now is why so many women–myself included–are interested in them (and in men like them–like our Doctor Whos).

So many geeky girls have wet Wonder Woman panties for guys who are largely incapable of human emotion.

I think our secret fantasy is that these men can only be un(sher)locked by us–that their deep passions could only be spurred by us–the passions both intellectual and romantic–we would be their John/Kirk and Irene/Uhura combined. They would find us “fascinating” and throw their powerful punches when we’re in danger.

That’s not usually how it works.

Many years ago, I was in a relationship with someone I loved very much–it was our third time trying to make it work. My hopes were bolstered one evening–we went to see Star Trek–the reboot. When Spock’s father tells Spock that he married for love, I felt my partner shift in his seat. And I knew that he would finally tell me–after a decade and a half being mostly off and occasionally on–that he loved me.

Later that night he did.

Spock’s dad had given him permission.

Not surprisingly, it was empathy, that thing Spock and Sherlock lack, that finally drove us apart.

He said he had too much–that it upset him for me to be upset. Thus, I was not allowed to be upset–not even about losing my job in the 2009 recession. I suggested that perhaps he should control his being upset rather than telling me I wasn’t allowed to be–but that was dismissed as illogical.

(Other men I’ve been with think it’s hilarious that this man thought I was overly emotional, especially the few on the far other end of the emotional spectrum who’ve found me cold.)

The irony is that what I needed most was empathy–the trait he believed so strongly he had.

I needed him to understand that my life had been very different from his–that there’s a reason I’m a worrier, for example–it’s a logical consequence of growing up with alcoholics–children who feel unsafe often try to control things–to organize, to worry, to plan for the worst.

One of our very worst moments came when he (a fiscal conservative) told me he didn’t understand how I hadn’t caught up with him financially, especially since I worked so hard. (This was 2010–four years out from my degree.)

He grew up in a stable upper middle class home. His parents put him through college, and his dad paid off his student loans for his Masters in business. He had never been married, never had children, and worked in the private sector. He’s healthy.

I grew up very differently, was a single mother starting at 17, and put myself all the way through a PhD, taking out student loans along the way. My stupid body had its first back surgery when I was 25; out of pocket co-pays and therapies were a third of the 18,000 I made that year–and I’ve been working hard to get ahead ever since. I have a job that I love, but it’s in academia, and because of my job title, I can’t even get the raises I deserve. I am proud to have pulled myself up from where I started. I am proud that I can pay my bills, but I’ll never be in the financial place where he is.

But I work really hard.

I agree with him on that, but I needed him to be able to understand, both in terms of economic realities and in terms of empathy, why I hadn’t “caught up.”

I’m probably just too emotional, too human.

And that’s why we’ll always try and fail with those ever so attractive men.


2016 Wrap Up
Dec 31st, 2016 by Dr Karma

We all know the ways in which 2016 has sucked.

I’ve cried a lot more this year, over the deaths of heroes, over the death of reasonable elections, over the fear of how much worse it might get.

But there were good things in 2016.

Melissa Bender and I had a book come out.

I spoke at conferences in Spain, Sweden, London, San Diego, Portland, and Chicago (twice).

I saw Love and Information, The Deep Blue Sea, The Suicide, Aubergine, Keith Lowell Jensen, Emo Philips, Blackberry Winter, Macbeth, Igudesman & Joo, Mr. Burns, Women of Will, the Cashore Marionettes, Disgraced, To Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, Frankenstein, Latin History for Morons with John Leguizamo, The Totalitarians, the opening of the Shrem Museum, and The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.

I did guest lectures and interviews and stage talk backs. I taught courses that I love, films that I love, plays that I love, creative nonfiction that I love.

I taught 15 courses, got my first grad student through her PhD, mentored and performed with my stand-up students, got another Atwood journal out, started prepping for next year’s Oxford course, ran a program, and got chosen to run another.

I made old family favorites and tried new recipes, including my first shepherd’s pie, my first souffle, and my first carnitas. I made tons of soups and stews and proved the worth of my crock pot time and again.

I read books, saw movies, and binge-watched tv.
I recommend The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Fool by Christopher Moore, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Crown, Stranger Things, Westworld, Deadpool, Shaun the Sheep, Arrival, Rogue One, Lady Dynamite, American Housewife by Helen Ellis, Galavant, Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, W1A, anything by John Scalzi, People of Earth, new comedy by Margaret Cho, Jim Gaffigan, Ali Wong, Dana Carvey, Louis CK, David Cross, Patton Oswalt (all on Netflix), World of Tomorrow (Netflix), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Transparent, One Mississippi, and Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood–my favorite book in years.
I have survived another year.
I’m repeating to myself the lessons in World of Tomorrow: “Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail. For all of these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time. Live well and live broadly. You are alive and living now. Now is the envy of all of the dead.”
And, like its protagonist, I am proud of myself for no longer falling in love with rocks.
Happy New Year!
2016, fucking fuck you:
The Force is With Her, Always
Dec 31st, 2016 by Dr Karma

When I heard that Carrie Fisher had a heart attack on a flight, I thought, “Oh, no–not her, too. Please, no.”

I felt really hopeless about it, though. Of course 2017 would take her away from us.

Now, a few days later, I remind myself that she’ll never be really gone–never be forgotten.

Like every geeky girl, I desperately wanted to be Princess Leia. I had Star Wars memorized. My favorite shirt was an iron-on with the Princess.

Once, I was wearing it when I was sick.

I threw up and then sobbed so uncontrollably that my mother thought I must have cracked a rib. Eventually, I was able to settle down enough to tell her that the crying was because my Princess Leia shirt was ruined. My mother was able to reassure me that the vomit would wash out.

When I outgrew the shirt, I didn’t want to let it go. One day, I decided to turn it into a pillow. Now, I don’t really know how to sew, but I knew I could stumble my way through sewing up the ends. I didn’t know what went into pillows, so I filled it with cotton balls.

As soon as I did so, I realized that must not be what’s in pillows, but the project was almost done!

That pillow has survived a lot of trauma and a lot of moves, including one across the country. It currently lives with the R2D2 in my room.

As I grew up, I began to see Carrie Fisher in new ways–as a writer, a powerful actress, a survivor, and an advocate for mental health.

(Those of us who’d read so much about her relationship with her mother were less surprised by her mother following her into death–it was completely in character.)

I think the most powerful way in which I connected with Fisher, though, was in the use of comedy as a coping mechanism. I’ve often joked that my family crest should have a Byron quote: And if I laugh at any mortal thing, tis that I may not weep.

But I could just as easily use my favorite thing she ever said: If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true.

Twirling Towards Freedom
Nov 2nd, 2016 by Dr Karma

I usually don’t like it when people say The Simpsons has “predicted” something. I’ve even written a blog about it.

However, I was just remembering a long ago Simpsons episode in which Bill Clinton and Bob Dole put aside their partisan differences to defeat a threat to America–a threat taking the undeserved form of presidential candidates.

And now, both of those men (and ALL living former Presidents, Republican and Democrat) are rejecting exactly the kind of man who would like to make us all build a ray gun to smite his enemies.

Don’t vote for Kang/Kodos.

Vote with Clinton & Dole!

Trump, I mean Kang & Kodos, posing as qualified politicians (and exchanging long protein strings).

Trump, I mean Kang & Kodos, posing as qualified politicians (and exchanging long protein strings).

It’s My Fault They’re Canceling “The Nightly Show”
Aug 16th, 2016 by Dr Karma

When I read that The Nightly Show is being canceled (last show: Thursday), I felt a deep twinge of guilt.

I haven’t been watching lately.

It should be my kind of thing. I was a devoted viewer of Politically Incorrect a long time ago; I still watch Real Time. I’ve seen every episode of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

I like Larry Wilmore a lot. I wanted to like his show.

I kept trying and trying.

And I do still like Larry Wilmore–he does a great opening segment, I admire the way he brings up hard topics, and I liked his Correspondents’ Dinner speech.

But I hated the overall format of the show.

Soon into the series, it became apparent that I would be hearing the same voices on the roundtable again and again–the voices of Larry’s correspondents/writers. Now, people like Ariana Huffington were on Politically Incorrect frequently, but I was guaranteed a different panel from one night to the next. On Larry’s show, there would be a new guest each night, and then his same people over and over. I like some of them, though I wanted more variety on the panel. I didn’t like others, particularly Ricky Velez. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t get any insight from his slacker-persona input on socio-political issues.

I kept watching. Sometimes, I would only watch the opening, saving the nights I would watch the whole show for when someone awesome was the guest.

And then the panel dissed Bill Nye. Yes, they dissed Bill Nye the Science Guy.

I expected more. Larry Wilmore is a self-professed space nerd. He invited Bill Nye on. And then he and two panelists, including Ricky Velez, treated Bill like shit–they interrupted basically every sentence and told him that science, and his work, didn’t matter to their lives.

And that was it.

I’m not the only one who objected to this particular episode, so I know I’m not alone in jumping ship, but I feel badly that Wilmore is leaving Comedy Central.

I’m still rooting for him, but I want him in a better format.

And I’m rooting for Bill Nye too.


The Simpsons and Rio
Jul 19th, 2016 by Dr Karma

rio simpsons

Many years ago, I wrote a column for Mental Floss, Four Simpsons Controversies that Didn’t End in Lawsuits. Number 1 on the list was show’s relationship with Rio. In short, after the family visited Rio in “Blame it On Lisa,” the minister of tourism threatened to sue the show, arguing that the show would hurt the tourism industry, with its depiction of slums, roaming monkeys, and crime (while not the sum of Rio, all true). The Simpsons didn’t apologize and in fact continued to make references to Rio, including a line about Mr. Teeny’s uncle being the minister of tourism.


Now, as the Rio Olympics are almost upon us, all of the news about Rio is dire. As this CNN article details, Rio is broke, crime is rampant, the zika virus and super bacteria threaten health, and the infrastructure for the games just isn’t in place.

In “The Wife Aquatic,” Lisa exclaims that a certain place is “the most disgusting place we’ve ever gone.”

Bart: What about Brazil?

Lisa: After Brazil.

Sadly, the police in Rio seem to agree, as they have been welcoming visitors at the airport with this sign: rio

South Park’s Awesome 19th Season
Dec 10th, 2015 by Dr Karma

As an expert on The Simpsons, I’m always asked about other cartoons for adults. For a long time, I watched them all. Several years ago, though, the boy asked why we were watching American Dad when it was so sexist.

“Because I feel like I have to–people always ask me about this stuff.”

And then I turned it off. American Dad and Family Guy both had their moments. As a member of their creators’ generation, I sometimes wonder why my students like the stuff, considering how you really had to grow up in the 80s to get many of the references. However, I don’t like either show enough to watch it. Specifically, I hate Peter Griffin with a passion. A passion. And I find the way he treats his daughter beyond repulsive.

I love Robot Chicken, however (except for Bitch Puddin), and Archer.

And I still watch South Park.

I remember the first few episodes, viewed with friends in college. In fact, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe” is still one of my favorites. And I highly recommend “Eat, Pray, Queef,” about the double standards in the way we treat women’s bodies and women in comedy.

Not all South Park episodes are great (it’s impossible to be on for almost 20 years and hit one out of the park each time). One of their great strengths is often one of their weaknesses, in fact. They can put together an episode in a week, which means they can be topical, but that very topicality can also date the episodes fairly quickly.

The show has also fallen victim to its own success in the same way The Simpsons has. Both shows were groundbreaking; both shows were criticized heavily for being the downfall of modern civilization. And then both shows became relatively quaint compared to their successors. This is simply the way of things. The shows are different than they were at the beginning, of course, but they transformed audiences’ expectations and paved the way for new shows to signal the end of time–leading some to dissmiss them because they are still themselves instead of Archer.

That said, this season of South Park has been amazing. For the first time, the show has done a solid season arc (it’s still tied in some topical references).


The arc is not a simple one, but explores several themes: gentrification, advertising/corporate power, and being politically correct. As we have a full season to play, the issues get to be more complex than usual. In earlier episodes, for example, being PC was simply made fun of; here, you can see that some characters need to be more sensitive to differences, but that there is a way to go too far.

The show’s treatment of Caitlyn Jenner has gotten a lot of attention. Bringing her in, of course, was a catalyst to start talking about being PC. In the first episode, Kyle is given detention for saying she isn’t a hero. I sympathized.

My students kept wanting to talk bout Caitlyn, and I didn’t. I am in full support of trans rights, and I know some trans individuals. This was all true before Caitlyn. For most of my students, though, Caitlyn was their introduction to these issues, but I didn’t want to talk about her. Why? Because I’ve never watched the Kardashians (though I’ve watched The Soup talk about them). In fact, when I first heard the name of their show, I hoped there was a tongue in cheek Star Trek spin off, since Kardashian sounds like a race you’d find there. When I found out why the family was on tv–because Kim had sex and people got to see it–I was definitely turned off. I don’t watch reality tv. And I’ve been irritated for years about having to know what some vapid people do because they’re famous for being famous now.

So I didn’t want to talk about Caitlyn because I didn’t want to talk about Bruce.

However, I did want to write about how awesome South Park has been this season. I was going to do so a few days ago, but grading and some medical procedures got in the way. In the meantime, Sonia Saraiya wrote a great piece about it.


Other recommendations from the past few months: The Grinder, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Simpsons, Jessica Jones, Fresh Off the Boat, Master of None, The Good Wife . . .

Goodbye to the Best Damn Anchor EVER!
Aug 7th, 2015 by Dr Karma

I think I would have been more upset about Jon’s last show, but I lost my Jareth kitten, so I’m numb to other tragedy today. That said . . .

THE SIMPSONS: Springfield voters reject the leading candidates and embraced a write-in: Ralph Wiggum.  Although no one knows for sure which political party Ralph is representing, he insists that everyone is invited to his party in the "E Pluribus Wiggum" episode of THE SIMPSONS Sunday, Jan. 6 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Pictured: guest voice Jon Stewart.  THE SIMPSONS ª and ©2008TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

THE SIMPSONS: Springfield voters reject the leading candidates and embraced a write-in: Ralph Wiggum. Although no one knows for sure which political party Ralph is representing, he insists that everyone is invited to his party in the “E Pluribus Wiggum” episode of THE SIMPSONS Sunday, Jan. 6 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Pictured: guest voice Jon Stewart. THE SIMPSONS ª and ©2008TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

I have seen almost every Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I started watching when Craig hosted, though due to cable issues I wasn’t as faithful to him. Over these past many years, I think there are maybe 8 episodes of TDS with Jon I haven’t seen, mostly due to overseas travel.

Jon brought something that Craig didn’t–a decidedly political focus. When I think of Craig’s show, I remember laughing, I remember his 5 questions bit, I remember Olivia Newton John not getting the 5 questions right although they just wanted her to say “grease,” and I remember Bill Murray singing some lyrics for the theme song. There’s more to remember about Jon because his show was more meaningful.

You all know what I’m going to say: More people got their news from Jon than from anywhere else. Their coverage won 7 Peabody Awards and an Orwell. The show launched the careers of some of our best comedians.

The last episode featured many, many correspondents (and his crew)–as it should. It was their show, too, and Jon made sure their voices were heard. Many have talked about how Jon made them better writers–that they learned to write for a purpose, for an audience, and with concision in mind–in addition to being funny.

Jon allowed them to play and to ridicule him. His brand of comedy was unique, in fact, because while the show was often satirical, the true satire was always in the hands of his correspondents. That is, satire plays on a level of meaning–it’s possible to misunderstand it. It depends on a naive narrator. Stephen Colbert’s show was all satire because Stephen was in character (and many did somehow miss that he was). While Jon sometimes used sarcasm for comic effect, he was sincere. He was angry at the VA, at those who fought to screw over first responders, etc. It wasn’t an act.

Those of us of a certain age will always remember Jon’s first show after 9/11 and the strength of his words.

When I teach satire, the segments of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart I use come from the correspondents, since they can’t come from the straight man that is Stewart (like this one).

Here’s what I’ll most miss. Jon’s honesty. His laugh. His using opponents’ words against them (by simply showing them saying the thing they said they didn’t say, etc.) The way he made the other side go crazy. If he were just a clown, they never would have had to mention him. But they did–they tried to take him down as if he were a serious newsman, as if he were a powerful political player.

And that made sure he was both.

(Maybe that’s why they decided to do their first debate after he was gone.) jon

Did The Simpsons Predict All These Predictions?
Jun 20th, 2015 by Dr Karma

It seems like every time I turn on the computer, someone is arguing that The Simpsons “predicted” something or other. Most recently, people are pointing to an episode (“Brother’s Little Helper”), in which the Cardinals spy on people. This is being sold as evidence that The Simpsons has some kind of predictive power.

The MLB satellite

The MLB satellite

Of course, in that episode, Major League Baseball is spying on all of us–a Cardinal player (Mark McGwire) is just the representative shown. In that case, The Simpsons predicted McGwire’s cheating and every other baseball related scandal too.


One of the more annoying articles about this came last year, when people “discovered” that The Simpsons made an Ebola joke in 1997. This was evidence, apparently, that The Simpsons knew there would be an Ebola outbreak in 2014, rather than being evidence that The Simpsons made a joke about an earlier outbreak (which is why we all go the joke in 1997). curious george

I’m tired of it. The Simpsons writers are brilliant; they’re great at tapping into the zeitgeist. And, with 26 seasons of episodes, there’s bound to be a lot of overlap between the fictional and the real.
However, we need to stop jumping to conclusions that any of this is intentional, especially without doing some research first.

For example, some of my students watching “Duffless” thought an ad for Duff Beer was a parody of Red Bull ads. The Duff Beer ad was created way before the Red Bull ones, so it would be more logical to assume that Red Bull owes The Simpsons some money. However, both ads are playing off of old-fashioned ads for cigarettes.

Duffless Ad

Duffless Ad

It’s tempting to see things and to try to create a pattern. I did it years ago when I noticed that three Simpsons episodes about spiritual quests feature the song “Short Shorts” (“The Mysterious Voyage of Homer,” “She of Little Faith,” and “Homer the Heretic”).

Homer the Heretic

Homer the Heretic

She of Little Faith

She of Little Faith


The Mysterious Voyage of Homer

Thus, I did what any Simpsons’ scholar would–I asked someone on the show. Chris Ledesma, music editor extraordinaire, took my question to the writer/producers. They were floored by the coincidence. They were also floored that nerds like me are paying that much attention.

I would still like to believe that the show has a subtle message: To achieve enlightenment, wear skimpier clothes.

All that said, I’m surprised I haven’t been bombarded by articles about something The Simpsons may actually have anticipated.

Remember back to a few years ago, when bacon with chocolate was new? When it seemed odd, but you decided to try it?

In 2003, Homer Simpson commands God (through prayer) to come up with a new taste sensation–a new snack. Homer’s prayer then inadvertently (or advertently–God works in mysterious ways) causes an accident between a bacon truck and a fudge truck.

Homer thinks it’s awesome.

So do I.


That's bacon covered fudge flying to him!

That’s bacon covered fudge flying to him!

I Don’t Give a Damn About That Star Wars Trailer
Apr 21st, 2015 by Dr Karma

Don’t assume I’m not into sci-fi or that I’m one of those people who seems proud to announce that they’ve never seen one of the most groundbreaking series in movie history.
I can recite the three original films. I can recite the pieces of commercials that ended up on my VHS recordings of those films too.
There’s a two foot tall R2D2 living in my room–he’s rocking my David Bowie Goblin King wig.
My favorite childhood T-shirt, with an iron-on of Princess Leia, has been lovingly sewed into a pillow.
The reason I don’t give a damn about the new movie trailer is because WE’RE ALL GOING TO SEE THAT MOVIE ANYWAY.
Some parts of the trailer are cool; some suck–it doesn’t matter at all.
Oh, a woman takes a light saber? Well, the woman with the light saber in the last film was the only Jedi to go down without a fight.
Oh, there’s a black storm trooper and that’s impossible? He could be dressing up like that to rescue a princess–it’s happened before.
Oh, an ancient Harrison Ford wanders in and you wonder if Shia Labeouf is right behind him?
It doesn’t matter–we’re all going to see this movie.
Most of us are suffering PTSD from the prequels, but we’re still going to see this movie.
Let’s be honest. That trailer could have been filled with nothing but Ewoks and Jar Jar.
It could have announced that this new film was going to be called The Star Wars Christmas Special Returns: Now with more Itchy and Bea Arthur!

Star Wars 7 The Force Awakens

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa