Not just a content delivery mechanism: why I support the UCU strike

Because of how my part-time working days fall, I am now on strike for the better part of a month. Financially, I have mixed feelings about this the length of the strike as it puts me in a very difficult position, but I will not be crossing a picket line and I will for the most part be on strike proper. I am not striking about money. When I do get my full salary, I can manage, there are people worse off than me in the world, and I am lucky enough to do a job I love. But the working conditions we currently face are increasingly bad. I love my job but I have been really suffering from stress this semester especially. There have even been days I’ve been depressed, in tears and not wanted to go to work, simply because I have too much to do and not enough time to spend with my students. I have been running from one class to the next, from one subject to another with literally no thinking time between them, never mind toilet breaks or chance to grab a coffee. The mental strain of always being ‘on’, at the front of the class teaching complex issues without time to properly prepare or even get your mind in the right zone is extremely draining. My students are not getting the best experience that they could, I am very conscious every day that I could be doing a better job if I was run less ragged. I am increasingly feeling like a ‘content delivery mechanism’ rather than a knowledgeable critical thinker, like a lecturer should be. But when do we get time to build that knowledge, keep up to date with new books and articles?! The couple of working hours a week I do get outside of class time lately are spent in intense meetings with my dissertation students trying to help them formulate a focus, or standing over a printer/photocopier preparing materials to rush to the next class. Oh yeah, they recently took away the printers in our offices so we have to walk to the other end of the building now to print anything out, where queues now build as we are all using the same machines. So printing might take half an hour now where it took a minute or two a few weeks ago. Lunch breaks have not existed for me or many of my colleagues for a number of years now. Recently some of my colleagues and I have been arranging work meetings on our “days off” – unpaid time – as there is simply no time we can manage on our working days. I will be using the strike time as a precious space to work on my own PhD research, time I do not usuallly get, as academics dream of having a few clear days of decent thinking space to write and, believe it or not, we tend to ENJOY doing research. I am paid to work 3 days a week, and doing my PhD is supposed to be part of my job. I always do it on my 2 days off, you cannot fit in doing a PhD for an hour here or there between teaching, marking, piles of admin, staff meetings etc. I can only imagine what it is like for my full-time colleagues. This is NOT SUSTAINABLE. This is why I am personally supporting the strike.

Making a Marvellous (Mrs Maisel) Dress

I am a bit obsessed with The Marvellous Mrs Maisel TV series, it combines a number of things I like – 1950s/1960s culture, feminism, stand up comedy and some very splendid outfits indeed. It’s not THAT often I drool over costumes in film and TV, but here is a character who is smart, funny, and wears all the same clothes I that I would – at least I would if I were rich, lived in early 1960s Manhattan and could be bothered to do anything tidy with my hair!

I haven’t made any complicated clothes for a while so, when I found a huge piece of Sari silk in a charity shop for £4, I decided it was time to rifle through my vintage patterns and make the most Maisel-eque dress I could.

I’d made the simplest pencil dress from this pattern before, without any of the frills, so at least I knew it would fit and then started to work on the biggest version with all the frills! Unusually for me, I even bothered to make it properly, you know, with actually ironing the fabric at the stages you’re supposed to, and putting in interfacing in the right places – something I don’t always strictly adhere to.

Luckily I had enough fabric for the full skirt and had a 50s-style petticoat to put underneath to fluff the shape out properly. I even made bows for the shoulders and a matching belt, using a vintage belt buckle I found online. Including the material, buckle, zip and bits and pieces I bought, this entire dress still cost me less than £10. I made a makeshift clutch bag also, a bit rough and ready but at least it matches! I’d just like an opportunity to have someplace to wear it now!


Prank Encounters & Ostension

For anyone interested in folkloric ostension (like me), there is plenty of pseudo-ostension going on in Gaten Matarazzo’s new 2019 Netflix show Prank Encounters, revealing the effects of mass-mediated ostension behind it, necessary for the show to work.
The show is kinda daft fun but pretty dark for a candid camera show – it’s interesting that the ‘Prank Encounters’ draw on societal (mass-mediated) assumptions and beliefs about the supernatural and the tropes used in horror film and TV. Contemporary legends like Bigfoot and hauntings/possession are the subjects of the first two episodes. The prankees currently held or absorbed beliefs in such things are what seem to me the vital ingredient to how successful the pranks are. In one episode a woman, presented with a blurry video of a car crash, apparently caused by a shadowy figure *instantly* jumps to the conclusion the woods must be haunted; this is the MOST obvious explanation of goings-on to her. Later on, prankees quickly buy into potential supernatural and/or buying into a truth about contemporary legends, for example, that Bigfoot certainly exists.
Although problematic and ethically-dubious in some respects (prank victims are led to believe a child has been murdered, and that they have just witnessed two further killings – albeit carried out by a possessed giant teddy bear), the workings of this programme are certainly of interest to me with my folklorist hat on. The subjects of the pranks are clearly aware of supernatural TV shows, as one instantly recognises host Gaten when the prank is revealed: “Is that the kid from Stranger Things?!” Therefore, it is safe to assume prankees’ understanding and knowledge of folkloric legends has been, and continues to be affected by the media in at least some small way. The potential for belief; the pseudo-ostension carried out by the programme makers, and the sometime misinterpretation of hoaxes by subjects (quasi-ostension) – for example when one woman interprets what is supposed to convey ‘Bigfoot’ for a ‘ghost’ – is multi-layered. UFOs, maniacal slasher-killers and more joyful subjects await, I’m looking forward to watching the rest.
As one online article remarks, there is a “great super-meta moment in the second episode when one subject asks, “Is this real?” only to be reassured by the equally unknowing other, “Yes, this is real.” Although the pranks are known to be fake to us, the television audience throughout, we are able to witness it through the eyes of those who believe it to be real. And, of course, the pranks are revealed as fake to the subjects at the end but, for a few moments at least to them, and to us through their eyes, it is real.