Friday, March 28, 2008

Travesty and Tragedy

here are some interesting links about the difference between tragedy and travesy

this one is hilarious:

how about the definitions?
clearly they are very different. apparently travesty is related to burlesque and transvestites, "En travesti (literally "cross-dressed") was the conventional theatrical portrayal of women by male actors in drag. Up to the late 17th Century this was necessary because the law considered performance on stage by actual women to engender immorality."

1.a literary or artistic burlesque of a serious work or subject, characterized by grotesque or ludicrous incongruity of style, treatment, or subject matter.
2.a literary or artistic composition so inferior in quality as to be merely a grotesque imitation of its model.
3.any grotesque or debased likeness or imitation: a travesty of justice. –verb (used with object) make a travesty on; turn (a serious work or subject) to ridicule by burlesquing. imitate grotesquely or absurdly.

and the encyclopedia entry on travesty:

1.a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically that of a great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering force, as fate or society, to downfall or destruction.
2.the branch of the drama that is concerned with this form of composition.
3.the art and theory of writing and producing tragedies.
4.any literary composition, as a novel, dealing with a somber theme carried to a tragic conclusion.
5.the tragic element of drama, of literature generally, or of life.
6.a lamentable, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; calamity; disaster: the tragedy of war.

and the etymology of tragedy shows that its roots come from Greek "trag" - a goat song

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

South Park, Britney Spears, and Tragedy

It seems somewhat weird that anything educational can come from a cartoon traditionally known for their toilet humor, but South Park offers many powerful social messages. The episode "Britney's New Look" is a tragedy, and is suggestive that the portrayal of Britney Spears in the media is a tragedy in itself. However, the episode brings up and questions if humans have a natural tendency to find and create tragedy.

Tragedy can be seen in "Britney's New Look" in the media reporting on every misfortune that Britney Spears goes through. The episode also touches on the fact that the media initially created a positive depiction of Britney and information about her life prior to reporting on her misfortunes. Prior reporting is important because it makes the story of Britney much more personal. South Park suggests that the media does not only report on her unfortunate outcomes, they are looking for them and even creating them. But the media is not the only source of the problem, people demand to see Britney's misfortunes.

South Park takes it one step farther by suggesting that it is human nature to create and enjoy tragedy. The writers do this by referencing the fact that humans have publicly enjoyed looking upon the misfortune of animals and people since the games which occurred in The Colosseum.

"Britney's New Look" ends with the death of Britney Spears from all the constant media and public attention. The villagers of South Park explain to Stan and Kyle (two characters from South Park that felt that what everyone was doing to Britney was wrong) that Britney's death was needed to provide for a good corn harvest. Not only does this reference to nature make this blog post somewhat relevant to the class, it makes a connection culture. There seems to be a history of humans sacrificing life for some cultural good. The death of Britney may be an attempt by the writers of South Park to question the values and morals people live by when humans are willing to diminish the quality of human life to find enjoyment. (This also seemed to be the same dilemma that was brought up in discussing extreme environmentalist movements and how people should use the environment.)

I recommend watching this episode of South Park if you don't care about seeing a little violence or hearing some 'inappropriate' language. If there is not an opportunity for people to watch "Britney's New Look" on television, the episode will be available on 4/18/2008 at South Park Studios . It is the second episode of season 12.

Preservationism in our own backyard.

Here's an interesting little clip on the Redbud Woods controversy at Cornell:

And even a wikipedia article:

"The Redbud Woods controversy was a dispute between protesters and the administration of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York over the demolition of a patch of woodlands known as the "Redbud Woods." The area received this name because of the many Redbud trees that grew there and whose blossoms gave the woods a pink tint in the springtime. The website of Cornell University Planatations contained, on September 23, 2005, a description of the woods, and used the name Redbud Woods, so it had some official status at Cornell under this name."

And the protest website:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dead River Rough Cut

beaverish water . . . .

Hi everyone,
thanks to everyone for another year's fantastic showing of the classic back-to-nature film, Dead River Rough Cut. Depicting a year in the life of Bob Wagg and Walter Lane, this cult favorite is touted as "the most requested video at the Maine State Prison!"

For those of you who missed it, a copy will be on reserve at Mann Library so that you can watch it after spring break.

Anyway, have a great break everyone! see you when you get back.

That's beaverish . . . .

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Second Nature: Cattle and Bison

William Cronon talks about the distinction between first and second nature and how the two sometimes blur together. This reminds me of something I saw during my work a couple summers ago studying elk calf survival in Montana. We had to track and follow the elk all over. Sometimes this meant a foray deep into the forested mountains but sometimes it meant a visit to one of the local ranches where elk often came to graze. One particular ranch that we went to was owned by a guy who not only owned cattle, but somehow managed to keep bison around as well. As we drove in through the gates we were immediately met by herds of cattle/bison and their calves right up next to the fence and roads. They mingled together completely and it was amazing to watch the calves romp around together, bison and bovine all mixed up. They were so similar and also so funny to watch. They would stop and stare at the truck with a stubborn look and then as soon as you got close would bolt away. The way to tell them apart was that the bison calves, aside from having a slightly different color, had a little hump on their shoulders and looked like rocking horses when they ran. Otherwise it was just a mixture of wild and domesticated, first and second nature, blended together on a strange but beautiful ranch.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Molly Maguires

Today in class, Professor Tantillo said that someone should look up how the Molly Maguires (the violent group who fought for better working conditions in coal mines) got their name, so I have done just that, and here is what I found.

No one is entirely certain about the orgin of the name Molly Maguires but some interesting theories do exist. Kevin Kenny, who wrote a book about the Molly Maguires, thinks that the group probably got its name because the men of the group often disguised themselves as women. It is also possible that the Molly Maguires got their name because a lady named Molly Macguire guided the men through the night during several violent protests. Another theory is that the Molly Maguire was the owner of a tavern where the group held secret meeting. Another possible explanation of how the Molly Maguires got their name is that Molly Maguire was a women who was evicted from her house, and the group had so much sympathy for her that they named themselves after her.

Albert Bierstadt

Hey again,
I am the library assistant in Akwe:Kon (The Native American Program House), and when going through the books tonight I noticed one entitled "Albert Bierstadt Art and Enterprise." This is quite a large book with many images and a lot of information if anyone is interested. It's really pretty neat, and I thought it was cool that is was located in Akwe:Kon.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

a Romantic poem for your Thursday afternoon

"America for Me", by Henry van Dyke , 1909

'Tis fine to see the Old World and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumblyh castles and the statues and kings
But now I think I've had enough of antiquated things.

So it's home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom, beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

Oh, London is a man's town, there's power in the air;
And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair;
And it's sweet to dream in Venice, and it's great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.

I like the German fir-woods in green battalions drilled;
I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing foutains filled;
But, oh, to take your had, my dear, and ramble for a day
In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her sway!

I know that Europe's wonderful, yet something seems to lack!
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free--
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.

Oh, it's home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that's westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the blessed Land of Room Enough, beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

...And a complimentary quote from Thoreau's "On Walking"

"I turn round and round irresolute sometimes for a quarter of an hour, until I decide, for a thousandth time, that I will walk into the southwest or west. Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free. Thither no business leads me. It is hard for me to believe that I shall find fair landscapes or sufficient wildness and freedom behind the eastern horizon. I am not excited by the prospect of a walk thither; but I beleive that the forest which I see in the western horizon streches uninterruptedly toward the setting sun, and there are no towns nor cities in it of enoguh consequence to disturb me. Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever am I leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness. I should not lay so much stress on this fact, if I did not beleive that something like this is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen. I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress from east to west. . . We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward is into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. The Atlantic is a Lethean stream, in our passage over which we have had an opportunity to forget the Old World and its intitutions."

William Cronon

Hey guys,
I was just looking up William Cronon's biography to see what more I could learn about him. The thing I found most interesting in his biography was actually the fact that in 1992, at the University of Wisconsin Madison he became the Frederick Jackson Turner professor of History, Geography, and Environmental studies. I just thought this was really neat considering his rather critical view of Turner's "Frontier hypothesis." I guess this just goes to show how people can be unexpectedly connected. If anyone is more interested in his biography the link is:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


What exactly is a hinterland?
Cronon uses the term "hinterland" many times in his book Nature's Metropolis:

"That I was unconscious of living in Chicago's hinterland is one important ending to the long story I have been telling in this book." (372)

"Some rural residents recognized immediately that their own transportation rates would ultimately bear the cost of this urban improvement: yet another metropolitan tax on the hinterland." (374)

"The cost of raising the city's railroad grades should not be added to Iowa's burdens. Such feelings of exploitation were a classic reflection of city-hinterland relations at the end of the nineteenth century." (374)

"The balloon-frame house where my mother was born in Princeton, Wisconsin, was made of white pine from the northern part of the state; my parents' ranch-style house in Madison, on the other hand, is framed with Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest. My mother and I grew up in similar landscapes but different hinterlands." (376)

"As the center of wheat production moved north and west, toward Minnesota and Dakota Terriotory, Minneapolis became the gateway to a new wheat-raising hinterland." (376)

"As a result, Minneapolis quickly emerged as the largest flour-manufacturing center in the world...Chicago had lost another part of its hinterland." (377)

"And yet the story of each gateway city in American frontier history has always ended in similar ways as each encountered self-induced limits to growth. The market which the gateway provided for its hinterland reproduced itself in the hierarchy of central places that emerged beneath it." (377) gives the definition of hinterland as:
1.Often, hinterlands. the remote or less developed parts of a country; back country: The hinterlands are usually much more picturesque than the urban areas.
2.the land lying behind a coastal region. area or sphere of influence in the unoccupied interior claimed by the state possessing the coast. inland area supplying goods, esp. trade goods, to a port.

So does Cronon refer to hinterland as the more rural parts of the country? Even still, what geographical area does "Chicago's hinterland" consist of? And how does Chicago go about "losing" a part of its hinterland?

Railroads and the national parks

Tourists Waiting for Old Faithful

Here is a link to an online MA thesis done by Joshua Scott Johns at the University of Virginia: "All Aboard: The Role of the Railroads in Protecting, Promoting, and Selling Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks."

This web exhibit is quite good, illustrated, and touches on many of the themes raised in class this morning. Great topic!

The Inn at Old Faithful

CNN article

PAGE, Arizona (AP) -- Federal officials have started a flood in the Grand Canyon in hopes of restoring its ecosystem.

Water rushes out of the Glen Canyon Dam and down the Colorado River on Wednesday.

The torrent will flow for three days from the Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah state line.
It began Wednesday morning.
The canyon's ecosystem was permanently changed after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963.
The Colorado Riverdownstream used to be warm and muddy, but now it's cold and clear.
The shift helped speed the extinction of four fish species and push two others, including the endangered humpback chub, near the edge.
Officials hope the flooding will stir up sediment and redistribute it through the canyon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Spirit- Stallion of the Cimarron

For anyone who hasn't seen the movie, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, it is an animated cartoon about a wild pack of horses set in the times when railroads were being built in the West. The movie follows Spirit through being captured by the US Military, to being an Indian's pet, to being property of the US Railroad. All the while Spirit is just trying to get back home. There is one particular scene that shows the actual building of the railroad, in which hundreds of horses are forced to pull the huge iron locomotive over a mountain. Spirit the hero of the movie obviously escapes from this evil torture and frees all the other horses as well. In the panic that ensues a massive forest fire is started. The movie has a clear theme against the railroad. Common images are of the stupid railroad workers being bested by the amazingly smart horses. This movie reminds me of many others we have talked about that are against man in nature. I think one of the best scenes to show this is when Spirit is on the railroad being transported to the farthest station. Outside the car it is snowing and dark, Sprit's breath can be seen in the cold. He is looking through the railroad car panels and he starts to see his pack forming in the falling snow, and then a magnificent view of the pack running in the wild, on lush green grass, the sun shining down on them is seen through Spirit's eyes. Then as quickly as it came it vanishes and Spirit is back in the bleak cold stock car. If this isn't an anti-railroad scene, I don't know what is. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you should!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Nature as pictured in a Chinese children's book

This is from a post on I came across today. It's a picture from a Chinese children's book that illustrates the Chinese word for "nature". Some commenters remark that it's actually mistranslation, and the phrase pictured here means something more like "the great outdoors". Either way, the (western) blogger titled this entry "Strange nature scene". I'm not sure if the wilderness dichotomy is truly less prevalent in China, but this simple example suggests that it is.

Inness's Lackawanna Valley

The Lackawanna Valley, ca. 1855
George Inness

We mentioned the painting by George Inness of The Lackawanna Valley in class last week. The painting has been much-discussed by art critics who study landscape art. A particularly thorough study is Nicolai Cikovsky's 1970 article, "George Inness and the Hudson River School: The Lackawanna Valley," which appeared in American Art Journal.

In the article Cikovsky repeats Inness's story of finding the original in a Mexican pawn shop in 1891 (p. 48), and much of the latter third of the article is devoted to interpreting the painting itself. This is a nice example of how a single painting could provide the occasion for a solid term paper in this course.

Anyway, the Cikovsky article is well-worth reading if you have the time or interest. The full citation is:

Cikovsky, Nicolai Jr. "George Inness and the Hudson River School: "The Lackawanna Valley"." American Art Journal 2, no. 2, Autumn (1970): 36-57.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Nice Quote

I saw a great quote today that I really agree with and that also mentions the 'sublime':

"Counterintuitive as it may seem, we need to preserve those few remaining beasts, places, and forces of nature capable of murdering us with sublime indifference."
-David Quammen

I think that statement is so true and so well put. There is something about those unpredictable 'forces of nature' that seem to keep things in balance and keep us humble.

Nature's Metropolis Printing Error

I noticed a strange problem with my copy of Nature's Metropolis, which I bought used from the Cornell Store. What should be pages 279-328 has been replaced by a second copy of pages 215-278. As a result, I'm missing most of chapters 6 and 7. Does anybody else have this problem?

Westward the Star of Empire

Westward the Star of Empire Takes Its Way, 1867

Melrose's painting is among the most interesting we've seen so far. Here is an excerpt discussing the painting from a web exhibit titled "Nature and the American Identity" at the University of Virginia:
Melrose is deliberately evoking Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, which hangs in the U.S. Capitol. While Leutze depicts a mythological scene of Conestoga Wagons, pioneers on horseback, Daniel Boone figures, and truimphant families descending from what must be the Sierra Nevada mountains to find a pastoral landscape of plenty by the Pacific Ocean, Melrose paints a more realistic and ironic scene. Although this scene also shows a tension between wilderness and civilization through the newly constructed log cabin on the left and the standing trees and deer on the right, the jarring presence of the railroad questions the distinction between the two. The cabin is surrounded by the stumps of cleared trees, and the deer run from the intrusion of the train, but have no refuge from it in the human side of the painting. This painting questions the positivism of progress and appeals to a sense of nostalgia for the aboriginal state of American wilderness, which the Romantics would absorb and explore in their art and literature.
Lots of commentary on this painting out there.

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits, 1849

This would be a fabulous paper topic: the controversy over the sale of Asher B. Durand's most famous painting, Kindred Spirits, to the Walton Family Foundation a few years ago. Lots of stuff on the web about it.

The painting depicts Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant at Kaaterskill Clove in the Catskills.