Academics and Fandoms: You Can be a Scholar and a Fan

Academics are nerds.  I say that as an academic.  Generally speaking, we love media.  We love to analyze media because we love it.  I hear people question the idea that academics are fans of the media they analyze, as if loving something can’t co-exist with being an academic.  My favorite fandom is the Whedonverse.  I love to dig in and look at various characters and themes and pull them apart to examine every facet.  But I can also turn off my academic brain and enjoy the shows as entertainment.

I’m a casual observer of Star Wars and I see attacks hurled at academics who dare to examine their sacred texts.  I’ve known professors who love movies and see them as a reflection of the Arthurian myths; Luke is Arthur, Han is Lancelot, Leia is Gwen.  Of course, it only works for the first film, before the audience knows that Luke and Leia are siblings.  I can see people—fans—dogpiling this professor if he dismantled these characters on Twitter or YouTube.

I never watched Game of Thrones, but I enjoy listening to arguments as to why the show took a nose-dive in the latter seasons.  I recognize how passionate these scholars are about this show, only to be let down by the showrunners.  Even if I don’t know the content, I understand the excitement of dissecting a piece of media.

The only media I would consider examining lately would be DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.  I don’t know what I would say about it, but it would be fun.  I’d say go watch this awesome crazy show.  I could talk about various characters’ masculinity, and how the show presents a spectrum.  I could talk about queer representation.  Or character development or superpowers or magic or my love for Gary as a great wacky character.  I could gush about this show, but I don’t feel like doing the work, honestly.  I’d rather, in this time of Rona, re-watch the latest season, turn off my brain, and laugh.

Why do academics love looking at and talking about media?  It is a common language.  Few people have read novels like Mary Barton or Passing (humble brag).  But people have seen Wonder Woman or Star Wars.  Citing media to speak about queer theory, colonialism, feminism, and more helps people not only understand the theories, but also the very media they consume.  I, for one, expanded my understanding of feminism and language by reading books by scholars looking at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  One of my favorite papers, which I hope to revise and expand, is about Firefly, River Tam, and the weaponized female body.  I need to do more reading to expand it, but the topic makes me excited to do so.  That’s the best feeling a scholar can have, that carries us through long nights and tough times.  We study media because we care.  Instead of mindlessly consuming media, we also want you to think critically about it, to expand your knowledge base and learn new ideas.  The goal of academics is to educate.  If we can bridge our ivory towers by talking about Game of Thrones or Star Wars, then so be it.

What Makes One an Athlete?

My favorite comedian, Mitch Hedberg, once joked that if he discovered he had athlete’s foot, he’d say, “That’s not my f***ing foot!”  I never considered myself an athlete as a kid.  I didn’t fit with that group of kids in school, despite playing some softball in middle school.  I am a bad team player and I much preferred doing Tae Kwon Do to playing a team sport.  As an only child, I learned early to rely on myself and I am too stuck in my own ways to work well with others.  I hated group projects in school.  I’m off-track, but, to my point, I was not an athlete before in my life.

Last month, I bought a Whoop fitness tracker.  The initial set up asked what kind of athlete I am for my profile.  I was annoyed that there was no option below casual athlete.  I marked this box, but it made me wonder.  Am I an athlete now?

I’ve been actively working out for over a year now, since February 2019.  I have lost over 60 pounds and gained muscles I didn’t know existed.  I can deadlift 200 pounds and run and do things I’d never dreamed were possible a few years ago.  I recently bought two knee sleeves for hyper extension issues and these are a game-changer.  I find myself pushing harder and longer.  After months of stagnation, my workouts have increased in intensity and frequency.  I find solace in my local gym, something that continues to baffle me.  I’ve made workouts routine.  But does all of this make me an athlete?

I’ve dwelled on this question and I’ve found an answer.  Although it may sound cliché, one is only an athlete if one has an athlete’s mindset.  I am still learning the limits of my body, but I have drive and commitment to be better every time I set in the gym.  I often think back to an embarrassing moment during my first day when my trainer was assessing my skills, or lack thereof.  I became stuck in an awkward position while attempting a bodyweight squat and had to fall over to get myself out of it.  I was deeply annoyed with my body and frustrated, but now I am not ashamed of that moment.  It was the start of my journey and now I can not only squat easily, I can deep squat with weight.  I’m learning so much about what my body can do.  I’m only limited by my mindset.  But with an athlete’s mindset, there are no limits.

Wanderlust in the Time of Quarantine

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before,” Dalai Lama.

I’ve never wanted to travel so much in my life now that I can’t go anywhere.  I keep thinking of the amazing places I could visit, but I can’t even begin to make plans.  No one knows what the future holds—I’m staying put for the foreseen future.

If someone has never felt wanderlust, I would struggle to explain it.  Germans use the word “fernweh” meaning “farsickness” to describe the sensation of being nostalgic for a place you’ve never been before. And now that travel isn’t possible, this urge is incredibly frustrating.

I want the joy of creating a fresh packing list (yes, I’m a nerd about such things).  The fun of exploring a place, a town or city, with no map and the hope that I can navigate back to my hotel with only my phone or even just a paper map.  The excitement of discovering new—to me—foods, cultures, music, etc.  I love my state but there is so much more beyond this place and even this continent.  I’m always amazed by the age of culture in a different country.  In England or Germany, there are just castles and old ruins everywhere, to the point that it becomes boring to the locals.  Imagine thinking an ancient stone castle is dull!  Here in the Midwest, we only have the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.  It does not compare.

The world is so big and diverse and why would I not want to explore such a spectacular array of experiences.  My favorite memories are usually from traveling with someone.  Travel is best experienced with someone else.  You can travel alone, but I never have done it because I couldn’t share those memories with another person.

I will not travel until the world is safe again.  I’m not an idiot willing to risk my life or the lives of others.  When the time is right, I will joyfully book my tickets or jump into my car and go on an adventure.  In the meantime, stay safe and dream of distant lands.