Surviving the First Week(s) of Your Ph.D

Originally posted on Brycen Dwayne Janzen:

So, you’ve gotten into that swanky Ph.D program of your dreams, and you have an opportunity to work with that supervisor whose work you know and admire. You arrive in your new city a couple weeks in advance to try and get acclimatised: you learn your way around your new campus; you learn which cafes serve that fair-trade, shade grown Arabica you adore; and you learn where to buy your groceries and get your hair cut, etc.

But before you know it, the semester has officially begun.

Writing a blog post like this is difficult. On the face of it, it suggests a level of vanity I’m not comfortable with. I’m a scant three weeks into my own Ph.D program, so it is patently absurd for me to dole out advice. In the past, when I have written advice posts—see, for instance, my post on thesis defences—they have been on…

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The Only Time of Year I Miss My Hometown

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Peninsular Halifax, NS. Photo credit: Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum

There was a time when I wouldn’t have admitted to missing my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia at all. When I left I was more than happy to leave it behind for good. Louis CK’s bit about civic pride and civic rivalry articulates, in a way that I never quite could, why I don’t give a shit about where I’m from. It’s unavoidable, I suppose, to miss certain things about the place you grew up. I’ve realized that it’s this time of year in Halifax that I miss. It’s the start of a new school year (which is today, 4 September 2014). It’s the time of year when a place like Halifax — home to two good-sized universities in its downtown core alone and a total of seven post-secondary institutions city-wide — really comes into its own. During the summer the place transforms into a tourist destination, complete with groups of out-of-towners roaming the streets in sou’westers, the traditional headwear of my people.* In winter, long after the lucrative tourists have all gone, the place is a slushy hellhole I wouldn’t wish on The Tragically Hip. The sweet spot is between the last week of August and the middle of September. That’s when the bright-eyed students descend upon the city, move into old houses with couches on the porch, and take the place off its summer life support.

As an undergraduate, I loved being in the thick of it. Everything seemed so fresh and revivified. I’m certain my experience was largely different from the many thousands of students coming from out of town. For starters, I had lived there my whole life so there was no sense of discovering a new place. I was also older than most college seniors when I started university, so I was only ever a part of that culture in an anthropological sense. Nevertheless, the mixture of youthful vigor, fall colours and smells, and the promise of admission to the rarefied world of academia all concentrated on one tiny peninsula coalesced into a feeling I’ve never experienced with other post-secondary locations. After the golden period ended, however, it was always business as usual.

*”my people” = tour operators willing to exploit the idea that everyone in Atlantic Canada are villagey red-headed fishermen, directly descended from villagey fishermen from the old country.

Is Mike Myers’ *The Love Guru* Salvageable?: Part 2

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In my last post, I endeavoured to determine whether the film The Love Guru is really worthy of the near universal panning it received and continues to do. I rewatched the film for the first time since its initial release and I made some pretty detailed notes about it. Rather than pall my readers with everything, I’m going to break this down into digestible sections, beginning with a general statement about the film, then sections on characterizations and humour, before ending with my ultimate conclusions about it.

General Observations/Statement About The Love Guru
The first thing that hit me when I popped in the DVD of The Love Guru is that it is clear Mike Myers had a particular vision for this film. I know that sounds a bit gauche, but even from the DVD menu it’s obvious that the aesthetic was carefully planned; however — and this is a rather big however — the aesthetic in question is basically a giant conglomerate of Indian-ish stereotypes. I say -ish because, aside from the explicit references to the country of India and dance scenes that are unmistakably Bollywood-inspired, the film takes as its foundational gag the fact that India, its people, and cultures are so hilariously backward that they are able to produce charlatans at breakneck speed, Myers’ Guru Pitka being the prime example next to Deepak Chopra in this film. And that’s where I think this film falls apart overall; Guru Pitka’s goal in the film is to move out of second place and overtake Chopra as the #1 love/relationship guru in the world so that he can appear on Oprah. Pitka and Chopra are portrayed as lifelong competitors for guru supremacy, having been trained in the same ashram in India by the cross-eyed-from-masturbating Guru Tugginmapudha1 (played by Ben Kingsley, aka the guy who won the best actor Oscar for playing Ghandi) with Pitka pitted as the eternal underdog. This plotline would have been funny if it had been used as more of a way to satirize the New Age bullshit economy propagated and backed by people like Chopra, Oprah, and whoever did The Secret. Instead, it is mostly played as an earnest rivalry except when Pitka’s manager, *sigh* Dick Pants (played by John Oliver) brings it back down to Earth — as it were — and realigns focus on the business of getting the Oprah bump for Pitka. Pants is the only honestly satirical character in the whole film and the fact that his role is so summarily dismissed by all the other noise in the film is really a shame. Instead of playing off his straightman, Myers basically ignores all of Oliver’s setups in favour of delivering irrelevant dick or poop jokes.

Characters
I’m going to go through each significant character in the film in their order of importance as I see it, leaving Guru Pitka until last (he gets his own section in the next installment).

Jane Bullard (Jessica Alba)

Jessica Alba is not really known for her comedic stylings and her role as Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner and heiress is no different. She hasn’t got one funny line in the whole film. The film would not have been drastically different without her. Alba’s role is ostensibly one of catalyst (she hires Pitka to help get her star player back together with his wife) but it is quickly revealed that she is a devoted follower of Pitka’s and has an unhealthy obsession with him, a “schoolgirl crush” as she calls it. She’s the love interest in the film but the chemistry between her and Pitka is never anything approaching appealing. It’s basically awkward dick jokes (Pitka’s erection pinging off his metal chastity belt, anyone?) and unnecessary musical interludes. 49 minutes into the film the audience is treated to the second musical number, a sitar and guitar cover of Extreme’s “More Than Words”, although in this scene Myers’ forced accent renders it into “More Than Verds”. Jane Bullard walks in on Pitka and his assistant Rajneesh in the midst of their jam session and you could make the argument that Pitka had planned it this way as a method of seduction. The obvious question, then, is: who let Jane Bullard into Pitka’s mansion? Did she have a key? Was there a butler/doorman that we never see on screen? Why didn’t the unseen servant escort Jane to the bro-duetting room? Why is Jane Bullard in this movie at all? Apart from phoning it in as a love interest, Jane serves as a non-threatening foreign other during Bollywood dance numbers. Most significantly, toward the end of the film Jane dances in full Bollywood dress with a phalanx of costumed Indian dancers as props. I’m no critical race theorist, but I would argue that Alba’s complementary skin tone was a significant justification used by Myers to appropriate and misrepresent (what amount to his vision of) Indian culture. I’m well aware that comedies routinely poke fun by generalizing lots of things: culture, traditions, attitudes, etc. I just think that The Love Guru takes this to an uncomfortable and unnecessary level.

Darren Roanoake (Romany Malco)

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ star player and the sole reason they can’t win the Stanley Cup in this fantasy-based scenario. For the vast majority of this film’s potential audience who knows or cares nothing for the North American-centric game of ice hockey or its history, the major through line of the Maple Leafs’ predicament would be entirely lost. Let me fill you in quickly: as the movie states, the Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup – the highest achievement in North American hockey – since 1967. The undertones of this are not alluded to at all in the film. The Leafs are a national joke as well as treasure in Canada. They are consistently the most popular and underperforming hockey team in the National Hockey League and have the most expensive tickets in the entire league, sold to the most loyal fans. Their archenemies are the Montreal Canadiens and there is an ongoing war between fans of these two most Canadian teams (I took the fact that Justin Timberlake’s character is French-Canadian is a little nod to this rivalry). As a casual hockey fan myself, I find it pretty insulting that this movie’s underlying hockey premise is “winning or losing depends on one really good player”. As I’m certain Mike Myers is aware, hockey is a team sport. At any rate, on with the discussion of Roanoke.

Roanoke exists solely to be the problem Guru Pitka has to solve to get what he wants. The fact that he’s a hockey player is completely secondary and unnecessary to the plot, to the point that it seems a self-indulgence of Myers’. Being a Toronto-area native, though, why wouldn’t Myers relish the opportunity to make a movie incorporating his favourite hockey team? Roanoke is portrayed as a self-important sports superstar complete with an entourage of yes men, but he’s actually a fragile little boy frightened of his mother’s disapproval whose wife has left him for a French-Canadian goaltender with an enormous penis. Roanoke is essentially a eunuch when Pitka first meets him, shooting hockey pucks and failing until Pitka momentarily boosts his confidence by telling him his wife wants him back, prompting Roanoke’s return to form only to be dashed again by Pitka’s confession that he was lying. During their one-on-one treatment sessions to rebuild Roanoke’s confidence to get his wife back, stop being scared of his mother, and win the Stanley Cup, Pitka uses his DRAMA method of treatment (discussed in more detail in the Guru Pitka section of this post). The relationship seems meant to resemble a buddy movie but it is forced and punctuated – like the rest of the film – by Myers making dick and poop jokes, laughing at them, and then mugging for the camera. Roanoke doesn’t really have anything to add except his emasculating problems. Kind of like Vern Troyer, Romany Malco is used more like a prop than an actual character. There’s no give-and-take that resembles any of Myers’ other onscreen buddies. Myers has proved he is capable of this comedic interplay in previous films. Think of how well Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar work together in Wayne’s World. Or Charlie and his cop buddy Tony in So I Married an Axe Murderer. Yet another missed opportunity for The Love Guru.

Jacques ‘Le Coq’ Grandé (Justin Timberlake)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, yes, Jacques ‘Le Coq’ Grandé, the living dick joke. Chances are that the name was not an homage to the twentieth century French actor and mime, Jacques Lecoq. But rather that it rhymed and reminded the audience of the entire raison d’etre of this character: he has a large penis. Oh, and he likes roosters; he has one guarding his house.

I think Jacques is meant to be the villain in this film. He is, after all, the guy who stole Roanoke’s wife with nothing more than his ginormous package. He’s a goaltender for the Maple Leafs’ rival team in the Stanley Cup finals, the Los Angeles Kings. This only adds to Roanoke’s inability to play up to his potential. I’m actually okay with Jacques role as the rival, but the character himself has an extremely limited appeal as a comedic device and I think he is at the heart of one of this film’s central problems, its regional humour.

As mentioned above, the running gag in Canada about the Toronto Maple Leafs is that they’re terrible. The problem with having that as a backdrop for a film meant for international release is the limited scope of most audience’s understanding. This same thing is true – maybe even more so – with the Jacques character. He is intensely regional. He’s from Québec and, for his part, Justin Timberlake actually does a pretty decent Québecois accent. Of course I would know that. I’ve been to La Belle Province and have had actual interactions and conversations with French-Canadians (some who were even related to me). To the rest of the audience? Would they be able to differentiate between Timberlake’s accent and any generic French accent? I’m guessing not. Accent aside, Jacques says “tabarnack” throughout the film. I suppose you could say it’s his catchphrase. There’s that regional problem again. “Tabarnack” is actually a French-Canadian curse word. It’s kind of one of the worst ones you can say. It’d be like having an American say “cunt” as his go-to cuss. Unlike many Anglophone swear words that refer to the body and its functions – shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits – many French-Canadian ones are religious in nature. “Tabarnack” is short for “tabernacle”. I don’t know enough about the topic to tell you why “tabarnack” is the worst word, but it is.

But because Mike Myers recognized the limited appeal of a French-Canadian character beyond, of course, all the dick jokes, he devised a clever way to have Jacques connect with members of the audience who were not in the secret ‘I know stuff about Canada’ club: stereotypes. Enter Céline Dion. Well, she’s not actually in the film (see also the section on Oprah under ‘Cameos’ below). But Jacques the proud Québecer makes his solid determination to Prudence Roanoke that Dion is “the greatest singer ever from Québec” before singing along to the chanteuse’s hit “Because You Love Me” while delivering a foot massage to his rival’s wife. Dion is a smart choice because she comes from Québec and is so well known that most everyone will at least get the reference. Jacques’ obsession with Dion is used later by Pitka as he brings her out as a distraction at a club. While we see a thin woman with long hair we’re told is Dion take the stage at the night club, and we hear Dion singing, we never actually see her face. So, in one of the only things I will ever respect Céline Dion for, she was likely asked to be in the film and said no. I’m sure she had a great time with the money she got from licensing her songs for this film. Allons-y, Céline!

One final note about Jacques. I can see how this character might be funny as a concept and I think that J.T. does his best with the material. He’s at least a believable ‘70s porno version of a French-Canadian, if that’s what they were going for. Considering the limitations of Jacques’ cultural in-jokes, it’s clear that the character could have benefited from some reimagining.

Coach Punch Cherkov (Vern Troyer)

Maple Leafs’ head coach, Coach Cherkov, another example of the penile nomenclature is this film, is played by Vern Troyer – y’know, ‘Mini-Me’ from the Austin Powers films. The main purpose for his appearance in this film is to remind audiences who may have forgotten that people who look different need to be objects of mean-spirited jokes too. It’s a really good thing that Mike Myers reminded us in just about every scene with Troyer that the latter is short, or else I might have mistaken him for a person. Whether it’s a meeting in his comically small office, juxtaposed with the other characters whom Cherkov must think are GIANTS, or Guru Pitka – in a brilliant antithesis of art imitating life – holding him aloft like an Academy Award, or explicitly being called a midget, the audience never has to worry about forgetting that Verne Troyer is so small he can fit inside a Gatorade bucket.

Dick Pants (John Oliver) 

The only character in the film who doesn’t wholeheartedly buy into Guru Pitka’s or Deepak Chopra’s particular brand of bullshit. As we all know by now, John Oliver is a satirist extraordinaire. This character was the one glimmer of hope I had for this film to do some right good skewering of the subject matter. Pants has his eyes firmly on the Oprah prize and he seems to know the score: get Pitka on Oprah and cash in. I can totally get behind Oliver’s straight-up businessman caricature. It would’ve been fantastic if he’d had worthy foils.

Jay Kell (Stephen Colbert) & Trent Lueders (Jim Gaffigan)
Colbert and Gaffigan play the hosts/commentators of Hockey Night in Canada and are responsible for quite a few of the films more earnest laughs. They don’t really add a whole lot to the film except for the few bits and Kell’s (Colbert) running gag about his descent back into addiction. The host bit suffers, however, from the regionalism discussed earlier. Every Canadian, regardless of their hockey fandom, will know that Hockey Night in Canada is an iconic CBC live hockey broadcast that has aired on Saturday nights for as long as anyone can remember; scientists can’t agree on its exact origins, but some CBC literalists place its genesis as recently as the 1930s. Unfortunately, any cachet HNIC might have in Canada will be largely restricted to the Canadian population. Another layer of the film that excludes its larger audience. The only thing that could have excluded the rest of the world further would have been the inclusion of HNIC’s and, seriously not bragging here, one of Canada’s most recognizable celebrities, Don Cherry (below). Please don’t make me explain Don Cherry. Just know that he’s an awful human being. He’s the blurry pink object sitting next to Rob Ford. That should just about sum it up for anyone out there.

Guru Tugginmypudha (Sir Ben Kingsley)

The guy who won the Oscar for his portrayal of Ghandi plays an Indian guru stricken with crossed-eyes from masturbating. Just read that sentence again. I assure you this is not another dimension. Oh, and he’s a knight of the realm too.

Prudence Roanoake (Meagan Good)

It’s fitting that the majority of the images that come up on a Google search for Prudence have her either in her bikini or accompanied by Jacques or Darren. Her purpose in the film is as a prize to be fought over, won, and lost. The Love Guru fails the Bechdel Test in a big way.

Cameos
There were numerous cameo appearances in this film. In order, they were: Jessica Simpson, Val Kilmer, Mariska Hargatay, Oprah Winfrey (kind of), Daniel Tosh, Mike Myers (yes, really), Kanye West, and Deepak Chopra. Incorporating superfluous cameos is a gag Mike Myers has done before (I’m thinking of Britney Spears as a fembot in one of the Austin Powers films, which worked) so it’s not entirely out of place. As far as Jessica Simpson and Val Kilmer are concerned, they really are superfluous unless you read their presence is Guru Pitka’s ashram in Los Angeles as a comment on religious bandwagon celebrity culture; which you can, I suppose, but really I think those two just weren’t doing anything else that day. I forget whether they were washed up in 2008 but they had definitely passed their peak of fame.

Mariska Hargatay seems like a swell person and I’m so sorry her name was used in vain throughout this film as a gag worn out almost before it began. You see, “Mariska Hargatay” is a foreign-sounding name therefore making it justifiable poke fun at it. Pitka uses it as an all-purpose greeting, blessing/mantra that puts me in mind of obnoxious yoga practitioners’ use of “Namaste” to mean whatever the hell they like. “Mariskahargatay” stands in as a ‘Hindi enough’ (even though it’s Hungarian) mysticalish-sounding mantra that is A) confusing the first time you hear it uttered in the film B) a complete failure as a gag once Pitka says it to the actual Mariska Hargatay C) Ire-inducing throughout the rest of the film. In the DVD extras, Hargatay states that she liked the invocation of her name in the film as a didactic tool to teach the public how to properly pronounce it. And who am I to doubt her? Nobody, that’s who. I can, however, pan it as a trite gag.

So, Oprah’s in this film…sort of. The ostensible central motivation of the film is for Guru Pitka to help Toronto Maple Leafs’ star Darren Roanoke get back together with his wife so that he can lead his team to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1967 (which in itself displays a frightening misunderstanding of hockey as a sport dependent on a single player rather than an entire team) thus making Pitka the number one relationship/love guru in the world. The Oprah Effect has a proven track record of making things famous in a way #Kony2012 could only wet dream of. Since Oprah is also known as a major harbinger of New Age and self-help bullshit like The Secret and Dr. Phil, it makes further sense that Pitka should aspire to appear on the airwaves with her. This is all a solid setup, except that none of that comes through in the film. Instead, Pitka seems enamoured with the talkshow host to the point of an unhealthy obsession. His manager, Dick Pants, has his eyes on the money it will bring from the huge bump in book and merchandise sales. Fine. Another lost opportunity to satirize false prophets and charlatans. However, this is not the most messed up thing about Oprah’s appearance in the film. Remember how I said she was ‘sort of’ in the film? Let me explain: Oprah as a concept is mentioned early on in the capacity I’ve already mentioned. Her likeness appears in the film during a fantasy sequence in which she screamingly welcomes Guru Pitka onto her show. We see her face as she says “Welcome for the first time ever on the show…” and then the camera cuts to Pitka entering the stage as she yells “Guru Pitkaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” before quickly cutting back to Oprah with her mouth agape on the final audible vowel extension. The sequence is over quickly and, I admit, I didn’t notice anything amiss until I watched the credits. During the credits I see that Oprah is not listed as appearing but instead there is a ‘voice double’ named Michelle Marshall listed. This is strange – did they use old Oprah footage and then get Michelle Marshall to voiceover? Yes, it appears they did. The footage of Oprah saying “welcome…&c” is unmistakably Oprah and then the voice noticeably changes when she says “Guru Pitka”. I have to admit that, when I saw it, I kind of assumed that was Oprah speaking. I looked up Michelle Marshall, who advertises herself as an Oprah impersonator, and saw this completely unconvincing Oprah impression. Long story short, this was a weird—albeit relatively effective and not that noticeable on the first go round—thing to do. What makes me sad, however, is that the voice double’s resume uses this two-word voiceover gig as a career highlight.

Daniel Tosh appears as a guy in a bar who incites a barfight (so not technically a cameo, I guess). The scene isn’t funny. Daniel Tosh isn’t funny. Let’s move on.

Kanye West appears in the crowd at a Maple Leafs game with Mike Myers. The scene is short and, remembering that classic awkward moment shared by Myers and West from the Hurricane Katrina fundraising telethon in 2005, one would expect this to be used to great effect. After all, Mike Myers is a comedian willing to humiliate his ‘friends’2 for a laugh. No such luck in the final cut of the film. A deleted scene, however, has Myers and West being interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada and Myers cuts West off before he has a chance to say anything provocative to which West replies, “You don’t have to do that every time”. This was a great comedic moment and I have no idea why it was cut from the film. It had elements most of the movie is lacking: a joke in reference to something that was actually funny (not so much West’s original comment as Myers’ stunned reaction to it), a celebrity cameo that actually increases the entertainment value of the film thanks to the uncharacteristically self-deprecating West. Another missed opportunity. It didn’t have to be that way, sadly.

Deepak Chopra, in this film, is Guru Pitka’s lifelong rival and the platonic ideal of self-help gurus. I don’t know what I had expected when he finally appeared on screen but, as a rival, it would’ve been fun if they’d portrayed him as having some sort of skin in the game to beat Pitka. For their entire lives, Chopra made quick work of Pitka in the guru game, being favourited by their mutual mentor and not having to wear a chastity belt because he “loved himself” and could therefore love many, many naked women. The Chopra character seems oblivious to all of this and that was kind of disappointing. Myers could’ve made it so that Chopra was a bit of a dick but I suspect there were plenty of caveats against that for his being featured in the film.

I’ll have a whole bunch more to say on The Love Guru in my next installment, in which the focus will be Guru Pitka himself. Thanks for reading.

1Tugginmadpudha, get it? His name’s a joke about how much he masturbates. Get used to crap like this if you ever decide to watch The Love Guru.

2Vern Troyer, in the DVD extras, says in no uncertain terms that he considers Myers a friend. Whether the sentiment is one-sided remains unclear. Troyer’s consistent use as a prop and non-human throughout this film and Austin Powers might indicate that Myers has a different opinion of their supposed ‘friendship’.

 

 

 

Is Mike Myers’ *The Love Guru* Salvageable?: Part 1

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Lately, dear readers, I have been on a bit of a bad movie kick. It started a little over a year ago when I watched the so-called best worst movie in the world, Troll 2. In terms of a movie being so bad it’s good, Troll 2 definitely takes it. Since then I’ve taken time out of my days to watch Master of Disguise, Battlefield: Earth, Contracted, Teeth, and a bunch of other examples of bad cinema. For me, there are two categories of bad films: the first is the low budget films one expects to be bad, intentionally or not. Sometimes — as in the case of Troll 2 — the film’s lack of self-awareness of just how bad it is can give it a sort of beauty, like the horrible idea that drives the market for outsider art. Other films like Sharknado are fully aware of their place in the oeuvre: bad films intended as bad films. The second category of bad films are the films that are not just bad for the sake of being bad. These films are made with significant cinematic pedigree so they’re actually worse than bad, they’re disappointing and you can’t help but feel duped when this happens. To wit, Master of Disguise, Battlefield: Earth, and, the subject of this particular post, The Love Guru.

I readily admit that I had gone into watching Master of Disguise and Battlefield: Earth with preconceived notions that these were, in fact, bad films. I had given them both a pass during their initial cinema runs and largely ignored them until my recent fascination with the world of bad film. The Love Guru, on the other hand, I saw in its first week of cinematic release without any preconceived notion of what it might be and without having read any reviews. I was (and am) a Mike Myers fan so I simply trusted that I’d go sit in a darkened theatre for a couple of hours and see what his new character, Guru Pitka, had to offer in terms of laughs. I have always been aware that Myers’ comedy isn’t highbrow but that he somehow manages to connect with audiences. I’ve often thought about Myers’ comedic style and his obvious talent for negotiating what will please audiences at any given moment. What I really mean by this is that Myers’ comedy is of its time and doesn’t necessarily age well. As much as I love(d) Wayne’s World and Austin Powers, the humour hasn’t aged all that gracefully. I laugh because I suppose there is a kind of nostalgia in my brain about how funny “we’re not worthy” or “oh, behave” used to be. I’m as guilty as anyone else who came of age in the 1990s of spouting Myers’ catchphrases in earnest to actual laughs from my peers. If anyone were to do that now, they’d be the creepy guy in the trilby hat and neckbeard stewing about why he’s always being ‘friend-zoned’.

What I expected from The Love Guru was more of the somewhat ephemeral brand of easy humour I’d been accustomed to from Saturday Night Live onwards in Myers’ career. I want to paint the picture of why The Love Guru was so disappointing to me at the time of its release. For reasons already mentioned, I’ve never neglected to see a Mike Myers [comedy] film. I’m a fan. When The Love Guru was released in 2008 and I was living in Australia with my wife while she attended medical school at University of Wollongong. Wollongong is a city about an hour south of Sydney cradled by a beautiful escarpment on one side and wonderful beaches on the other (pay no attention to the industrial nightmare scene if you turn your head southward). When I lived there, there was only one small cinema in town with limited selections of films screened. If you wanted to see other films, you’d have to travel out of town to the multiplexes. I had decided that it was well worth it to travel somewhat inconveniently by bus to Warrawong on a Saturday afternoon to see the newest Mike Myers film. I convinced my wife that it’d be worth it, even though we really didn’t know where we were going and our journey would involve a couple of transfers and probably take us over an hour each way. Off we went, however, to the multiplex housed in a large but outdated shopping mall. Though I can’t find any decent photos of Warrawong, just know that it is not designed for pedestrian traffic. It is essentially the Australian version of the business park where North Americans would expect to find Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and the like. It has one major thoroughfare choked with traffic that is horrendously difficult to cross if on foot. No matter, we were there to see The Love Guru, not take a walking tour.

I’ve already mentioned that I’d avoided reading any reviews of the film before deciding to go see it because the currency of Mike Myers was reason enough for me wanting to see it; however, the fact that the theatre was almost entirely empty only a couple of days after the film’s initial release should have been a warning sign for me. I remember, sitting in my seat as cinema trivia flashed across the screen, thinking about how Australians probably just didn’t get a lot of the humour in a Myers film and that was the reason for their paltry turnout on this otherwise unremarkable day that was perfect for seeing a film. As the film began rolling, I sat back and prepared to be entertained for the foreseeable future. Instead, what I remember is a constant vigil in my head, holding out hope that this film has got to get better. As short-lived as some of Mike Myers’ previous jokes had been, they were at least funny at the time and this just…wasn’t. I was completely deflated by the time the final song and dance (what was with all the singing and dancing?!) played and knew that, even though I hadn’t made this film, I would be rightfully assigned the blame for wasting an entire Saturday by suggesting we see this film. I tried to rationalize some of the film’s failures: “It was cool to see hockey in a film, though, right?”, “There was a lot of regional humour there that of course I got, but others might not”, “Maybe I missed something on the first viewing. I’ll watch it again when the DVD comes out maybe”. That maybe never came, though. Until now.

After listening to Marc Maron’s recent interview with Mike Myers and the conspicuous absence of any conversation at all about the latter’s most recent starring role, I got to thinking about it. Mike Myers has been strangely absent from the world of entertainment since then (as has his comedic partner, Dana Carvey, since his last starring role in Master of Disguise) and I got to thinking about what a lost opportunity — approaching irresponsible — it is to have an hour of Mr. Myers’ time and not ask him about The Love Guru. Maybe Maron did ask and edited it out. I don’t know. To be fair, the interview didn’t touch on the unmade Dieter movie that had some controversy around it either. I did find a GQ interview where Myers said:

I just make stuff, and sometimes it does well. But there’s a lot in that movie [The Love Guru] comedically that I’m really, really proud of. I completely recognize it didn’t meet an audience.

The interview quickly went onto other topics, but not before Myers added that he had “tried [his] hardest” on that and all of his films. I, for one, am inclined to believe him. I simply cannot get on board with accusing any artist of creating something they don’t believe in. Similar accusations have been thrown toward Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Kanye West, and eternally unlucky director Terry Gilliam as making art that ‘dared’ audiences to like it, but I just don’t see it. Of course, you can try your hardest at something and still have it suck. We’ve all done it. And this is why I have decided to give The Love Guru another shot. I’m going to watch it again and see if hindsight, maturity, or context can rescue it de profundis.

Luckily, my local video store's copy was available.

Luckily, my local video store’s copy was available.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post when I will discuss my second viewing of The Love Guru and see whether Kevin Steincross and I can find any common ground. I wonder if he meant the psychiatric definition of ‘hysterical’ — “shallow, volatile emotions, and attention-seeking behavior” — when reviewing this film Because, from memory, at least two of those apply to this film. Let’s wait and see.

*Read Part 2 right now here!*

“Recommended but not Funded” *UPDATE*

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Earlier this year I learned that the result of my SSHRC doctoral award application was “recommended but not funded,” which essentially meant that my project was good enough to be funded but there was just no money left in the pot. You can read the original post here (I have also copied it below).

I woke this morning to an unexpected email with the subject heading “2014 – 2015 SSHRC Doctoral Award Offer” detailing my successful application being funded. It was and is great news.

I continue to hold my conviction that this does not mean my project or anyone else’s that receives funding is somehow better or more deserving because of it. To further illustrate this idea I’ve provided a handy visual non-sequitur.

Original Post 30 April 2014
This was the result of my most recent kick at the federal funding can. For those unfamiliar with the Canadian system of federal scholarships for doctoral work, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is the major funding body for this type of academic research in Canada at the graduate and professorial levels. If you’d like a bit more about this process see my post on grant proposals. What exactly ‘recommended but not funded’ means is that my proposal was accepted and good enough to receive an award, but there was nothing left in the pot to actually consummate that marriage. I am lucky because I am in a position — thanks to my department and family — where my continued pursuit of a PhD does not hinge on SSHRC funding. It would be nice to hold a SSHRC scholarship because that opens more opportunities for funding things like overseas research. I would be remiss to mention that ‘recommended but not funded’ does not mean the same as ‘no.’ On the contrary, it means that there is still a chance of an award if another is declined for any reason.*

At any rate, this post is not a whinge or a sour grapes kind of thing. I have plenty of friends and colleagues who have received this funding and that’s an incredible thing. I know how hard it is to make it in the academic funding game and anyone who makes it should be applauded. I hear plenty of griping around funding season about projects that didn’t ‘deserve’ to be funded but were. That kind of crap doesn’t help anyone and is petty beyond belief. Does every funded project ‘deserve’ its funding? I don’t know. Someone thinks so. There’s a subjective element to funding decisions that is going to make it a necessarily flawed process but, hey, that’s the Humanities, folks (I’m sure this is the same for other disciplines too).

Congratulations to all those who were awarded grants this time around. To those who weren’t, it’s cool. If you’re doing a PhD, your success is not tied to your ability to receive SSHRC funding. You’re already doing a PhD and an entire department at a university somewhere has your back. That looks like success to me.

For those interested, I’m posting my successful SSHRC proposal below with the note that this was my fourth time applying. So, yeah, it’s harder than it looks.

*Since I don’t know how far down the list I am, I might be in a Prince Charles situation or I might be one of Liz’s numerous titled yet ultimately unimportant grandchildren.

O’Hearn SSHRC 2013

Oscar Wilde’s Questionnaire

Originally posted on Mature Age Renaissance:

My canadian twitter friend @justinohearn (who incidentally researches the rather interesting subject of Victorian porn & lit) last month posted the following questionnaire originally posted by Oscar Wilde in An American Confession in 1877. And as everybody’s favourite subject for discussion is themselves I thought I’d give it a go too….for my own benefit really but perhaps you’re interested in my answers too! I’m a bit strange in that I rather like these sort of things and I love reading other’s responses, which I suppose could be interpreted as just being nosy or, as I rather see it, being genuinely interested in what my friends & acquaintances would answer. So if you feel inclined to do it please add your answers in the comments below!

Your Favourite:  you’ll notice that sometimes I can’t chose just one answer, sorry!

  1. Colour?  red, periwinkle blue, teal
  2. Flower?  pastel coloured roses & peonies…

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Oscar Wilde and I Share a Favourite Subject: Ourselves

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This post on Oscar Wilde’s favourite subject came up on my Twitter feed the other day from twitterer Sarah Ross whose tumblr, Paxvictoriana, can be found here. The post consists of some questions filled out by Wilde in 1877 from something called An American Confession. It’s basically a list of favourite things. I know a guy who likes to talk about himself almost as much as Wilde did, so I went ahead and answered the questions as well. I’d love to see some others’ answers.

Your Favourite

  1. Colour?  blue 
  2. Flower?  fragrant ones 
  3. Tree?  weeping cedar 
  4. Object in nature?  deserts 
  5. Hour in the day?  midday (if I’ve slept till then)
  6. Season of the year?  summer 
  7. Perfume?  varies, but Geo. F. Trumper’s Sandalwood at the moment 
  8. Gem?  the one with the richest colour 
  9. Style of beauty?  art deco 
  10. Names, male and female?  Jack, Priya 
  11. Painters?  Dali, Bosch  
  12. Musicians?  too many to list  
  13. Piece of sculpture?  pass  
  14. Poets?  pass 
  15. Poetesses?  what a strange word 
  16. Prose authors?   Philip K. Dick, Wilde 
  17. Character in Romance?  the knight 
  18. Character in History?  Jack Saul 
  19. Book to take up for an hour?   magazines? 
  20. What book (not religious) would you part with last?  all my books are religious 
  21. What epoch would you choose to have lived in?  none of the past ones. I’d only be comfortable visiting for a short time 
  22. Where would you like to live?  London 
  23. What is your favourite amusement?  unfriending on Facebook 
  24. What is your favourite occupation?  haven’t found one yet 
  25. What trait of character do you most admire in man?  awareness of personal hygiene 
  26. What trait of character do you most admire in woman?  as above 
  27. What trait of character do you most detest in each?  sanctimony 
  28. If not yourself, who would you rather be?  the man who could say things in song 
  29. What is your idea of happiness?  the free pursuit of intellectual stimulation 
  30. What is your idea of misery?  geographical remoteness 
  31. What is your bete noir?  how much time have you got? 
  32.    ”     ”    ”  dream?  pursuing whatever I want without worrying about money  
  33. What is your favourite game?  never given it much thought  
  34. What do you believe to be your distinguishing characteristic?  pessimism girded with confidence  
  35. If married, what do you believe to be the distinguishing characteristic of your better-half?  forgiveness, empathy
  36. What is the sublimest passions of which human nature is capable?  I’ma go ahead and ignore the grammar of that question and say music  
  37. What are the sweetest words in the world?  well done  
  38. What are the saddest words?  Big Bang Theory is such a good show  
  39. What is your aim in life?  to accomplish something I never thought I’d be able to  
  40. What is your motto?  let’s go with something in Latin  

The PhD Process: Passing Qualifying Papers

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It’s been about a month since my last post. That post was about the culture and procedures of academic funding in Canada — and I guess they could be extrapolated to academic funding in general. The thing that I forgot about was why I had started this blog lo those many almost two years ago: namely, that I wanted to try and make the PhDing process somewhat less murky for others who found themselves in the same position as I was (and still am) in terms of the unavailability of examples of things like qualifying exam reading lists, qualifying papers, and the like.

Well, good news: now that I’ve finally reminded myself of my initial mission* I’m posting my successful qualifying papers for your perusal. I say they are the ‘successful’ ones because the first go round I had to do some revisions on one of them. At UBC English you get two chances to submit your qualifying papers before your oral defense. This means that, at the discretion of the graduate committee, I was instructed to take that second chance and was offered plenty of feedback as to what the paper was lacking.

I haven’t reformatted the papers for consumption here and you will notice the dates differ on both papers. The later date on paper 1 represents the date of the final revisions’ completion. After both papers were accepted, the oral defense was scheduled at which my committee plus a representative from the graduate committee asked questions about my papers and the direction(s) of my future project. That took about an hour and my committee automatically dissolved (as per the rules of UBC English). I am not quite a PhD candidate yet, as there is still the next stage — the prospectus — to deal with before I’m set free to work on my dissertation. To bring us up to the present, however, I am currently sorting out my dissertation committee and working on my prospectus. Expect another post like this nearer the end of the summer when that bit is all said and done.

Feel free to have a look at the PhD work I have posted thus far here. It might give you a better idea about the process in the Humanities, even though every program is going to be different.

*’Initial Mission’ would be an awesome band name. You can have it if you put me on the guest list at your shows in perpetuity.

Qualifying Paper 1 Erotic Memoir

Qualifying Paper 2 Pornographic Print Culture

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