The End of Dissertation Summer, Or: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Just to recap: I took this summer off from teaching to make a significant dent to my dissertation. My goal was to complete 3 chapters by the end of summer vacation. I figure that after the 2 chapters of the proposal, 3 out of 7 chapters is a significant dent to the overall project. With one week to spare on my summer vacation, I have successfully completed 5 of 7 chapters. Or, seen this way, my dissertation is 5/7 completed. Or, even better, there are only 2 chapters left to write.

So did I happen to learn anything over the course of this summer write-a-thon? One of the biggest reveals to me is that I am, at my heart of hearts, a culture theorist with a particular affinity for popular culture (notably, film). By “culture theorist” I mean someone who looks at the symbiosis of all culture elements to understand the entire package, not just with a concentration on one particular element. Rather an ironic statement, given that I’m writing about Disneyland; however, in the course of writing about Disneyland, I make it a point to root everything into a cultural context. As a “culture theorist,” I recognize that the influences of culture shape the direction that the development of myths take. Myths don’t emerge in a vaccuum, believe it or not.

Which leads to another great revelation: I’m a post-modernist. I think I entered the project believing that I was a romantic rogue scholar, but I see now that I am firmly a post-modernist, albeit a “happy” post-modernist rather than a deconstructionist. This is, I think, a side-effect of culture studies branching off from anthropology and sociology to look less at “social theory” and more at “what actually is going on.” Very few successful post-modern culture theorists are romantic about whatever they write about. Reverential, perhaps, but not romantic in the true sense of the term. Maybe “phenomenologist" is a word to drop somewhere in here.

And, while I’m happy to be a book-thumping mythologist and an arm-chair psychologist, it’s time to get some new scholarship published that isn’t just reciting or repackaging the same old theories that have been tossed around for 100 years now. In other words, stop theorizing and start doing. I’m still working on my plan of action for this step.

The chapters I worked on were 3 chapters right in the middle of the beast, dealing with issues of the cultural shadow, waste land, and fairy tale, all three of which lead me in the same direction: the Cold War as a major turning point in America’s relationship to myth and culture. We are in a very unique point of time and everyone would like us to believe that it’s all going to Hell in a hand basket, but there are plenty of myths out there that can help us cope with the paradigm shift. Disneyland, I offer, is just one among many. it’s definitely among my favorites, but it is not the only one and we could argue whether or not it’s the best one. At a place like Disneyland, we can experience the full complete spectrum of modern post-Cold War American myth, which is probably why Disney parks rank among some of the world’s most popular theme parks. They speak to those, like me, who are visual, kinetic, visual-kinetic, and they speak on the metaphoric level.

Which also leads me to a couple of isms that have made a home in my dissertation: consumerism and globalism. Both are typically read as bad things, but both I support. Consumerism is at the very heart of what it means to be American, so the consumptive behaviors aren’t something worth criticizing. The problem of consumption is the point when it becomes a neurosis, which is where we are today. We’re addicted to consuming because we believe that our stuff defines who we are. But I don’t hold Disney at fault for that, because they are simply offering product. It’s still up to me and you to choose to consume it. Then there’s globalism, which is usually criticized as one culture exerting dominance onto another. A new type of globalism is emerging, and this is the one worthy of the term in my opinion, and this is a globalism where myths of different cultures are fused together. Equally. No dominance. And this is the direction I see the new myth taking.

So what is the next step? Dissertation Autumn begins in a week after I’ve taken a small relax and experienced the D23 Expo. By the end of Dissertation Autumn, I should be at the end of my dissertation, which also means that by the end of Dissertation Autumn, I should have a new theme for this website in the works.


Goodbye Concept Paper, Hello Thesis Statement

There is a class in Pacifica’s myth curriculum titled “Dissertation Formulation.” It’s a quarter-long mini-workshop to help students figure out just what their dissertation will be about. Each group is formed of a fraction of their cohort and one faculty, and each student is given an opportunity to present their idea and receive feedback from the rest of the group about their topic. It’s designed to take us from vague concept to ready-to-go topic before we form our committee and write the beast. At the end of the class, students submit a Concept Paper, which is essentially a proto-Introduction. Passing the Concept Paper is the golden ticket to enter into the dissertation-writing phase of the program.

One of the problems I’ve had this entire process is articulating just what I want my dissertation to be about. My chapter organization has never been in question, but my methodology has been. As Dissertation Summer comes to a close, I think I have finally grasped what it is I’m trying to do and started another redux of my introduction chapter, one that tightens my thesis statement and better represents the chapter structure. Of course, then I’m faced with the problem of justifying two of the chapters, but that will come by final draft I’m sure. In order to do this, I’ve had to divorce myself from the Concept Paper and write fresh. From talking with other buddies, it seems that this is a necessary step to a successful dissertation.

Key themes of this new thesis include: Cold War, hyperreality and new myth.

Dissertation Summer: A Song Don Henley Never Wrote

It’s here! It’s here! Dissertation Summer! *Happy Snoopy Dances*

But what does this mean?

As of today, I have only a few administrative things to take care of for the teaching side of things, namely posting my grades into the official school system. Everything is graded, logged into my grade book, and safely locked away in my office filing cabinet. I intentionally didn’t bring any school stuff home to clutter up my office.

This is the first summer in several that I have not had any school commitments: I’m neither teaching, working in any capacity, or doing any student-related stuff (i.e., no trips to Pacifica and no papers due). This is intentional on my part. As much as I enjoy the act of teaching, there’s something about grading papers that creates a blockage for my own writing, slowing the dissertation process down.

Palate cleansed, time to get to work!

…starting next Monday. There’s something about the idea of starting a project at the start of the work week. Plus, it’s Friday, which means it’s time for me to have a bit of a relax. The real challenge is going to be to not fill today with ONLY Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, but that’s a conversation for another post seeing as to how next week is Pirates Week after all…