The last few days have seen the USC campus staking its claim to be the media/entertainment capital of the city (maybe the world, given the city in question). There was some sports tv show or other being broadcast live from the central hub of the campus on Friday, which was sort of bizarre as they had large sofas and things set up in a sort of chat show configuration, surrounded by tv cameras -and of course us regular campus folk going on with our business of being educators and educatees. Very odd, but not atypical. Saturday had a wonderful event that I did not come to campus for, unfortunately. It was the first home game of the season (football) and on that Saturday every year the campus turns into a giant picnicing site, with families and all sorts of other groups showing up and having barbecues, kids and parents involved in the throwing and catching of footballs, etc. And they’re all dressed in the same USC colours! The first year I saw this I was confused as to why the entire campus was so busy with identically dressed people on a Saturday: I did not then know about the legendary -and truly admirable- power of the Trojan Family Spirit. These people come for miles and celebrate the beginning of the annual crushing underfoot by USC of all other teams. The campus culinary activities end with a rally led by the amazing USC band (according to the website: “The Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe” – so they care about cosmology too) -there’s lots of singing of the USC fight song by everyone from newborn infants to all later ages- and then a march across the road to Exposition Park and the Coliseum to help form a crowd of 80,000 or so. I should have taken some pictures for you, but some of the links from the previous link will give you an idea.
Sunday evening was the first Categorically Not! of the season, which I reminded you about in a recent post. Now I was that night’s audio/video guy, and so I had to get the equipment from my office on campus and then drive over to Santa Monica to get set up for the event. I left just enough time, of course, but then as I approached the campus, there were road blocks, and signs everywhere -delaying me! Eventually, I tried to read one:
Oh, of course, the USC campus is the host of the before-Emmy proceedings. The Emmys were on Sunday night, and they, like several other huge media events (Grammys (sometimes), Golden Globes (annualy), the Oscars (annually until the Kodak Theatre was built for them), etc) are held in the Shrine Auditorium, which is essentially on the campus. So much so that we are the site of lots of the parking for the event, and pre-event hospitality for the superstars, and red carpet walks, and blah blah. So there are lots of limos everywhere, and I’m being made late by all of this. And yes, its your stretch-Hummer type limos that are showing up a lot. A-list lot, you see. Strangely, even though the hybrid called the Toyota Prius has come to be used as a sort of cool counter-culture vehicle by some stars (showing up in them for the Oscars, for example), I’m surprised that nobody has come up with the stretch Toyota Prius yet. Only a matter of time, mark my words.
Well, I did some…interesting speeds along the 10 highway and got to the the Santa Monica Art Studios with enough time to get set up. There was a full house again, which was good, and the evening was a success.
Here’s a reminder of what took place. This is an extract from KC Cole’s poster for the event, entitled “Point of View”:
For our September 18th Categorically Not!, USC anthropologist Amy Parish will discuss how point of view has been central to her research into relationships among female bonobos, close cousins to chimpanzees who may be our closest living relatives; many aspects of their female-dominated society challenge popular assumptions about human evolution. From a journalistic perspective, Victor Navasky, author of the recently published A Matter of Opinion, will draw on his experience as an editor at Monocle, “a leisurely quarterly of political satire” (it came out twice a year), The New York Times and The Nation to speak about objectivity, subjectivity, ideology and opinion. Finally, Jon Boorstin, Oscar-nominated filmmaker and author of Making Movies Work will talk about how making movies, and enjoying them, relies upon the mysteries of point of view.
It was great. Here’s KC -the organizer (more here)- doing her MC duties:
Victor Navasky was very interesting on the subject of the different points of view (political or otherwise) that various newpapers and magazines have. He gave us a rather illuminating tour of some of his experiences while learning his way in the business….
Amy Parish gave us an unexpected (and vividly illustrated!) introduction to the lifestyles and lovelives of various colonies of bonobos. She emphasized how several of the relationships and social behaviours that they exhibit may also be useful lessons about our own society’s structures. Really excellent, overall, but I was wondering what this all had to the theme, until she came to it: When coming to intepret the power structures that are present in these very interesting societies, there seems to be a singular lack of scientific objectivity on the part of several anthropologissts in the field. Basically, the idea that the female bonobos form sisterhoods and coorperate with each other willingly (rather than “tolerating” each other in a bid for favours from the “dominant” males, etc), determine aspects of their fate within the society without permission from or being subdominant to the males, etc, seemed to be hard to accept, even when it was the simplest explanation of the data. So her point was that as an anthropologist, her own gender was helpful in finding another point of view on the subject which led to valuable insights.
Film maker Jon Boostin had yet another interesting take on the point of view issue. He deconstructed three scenes from Hitchcock’s wonderful film “Notorious“, the main scene being the last (I think) one between the characters played by Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant (both just jaw-droppingly magnetic in their screen presence -how did they do it back then?), showing us how you can manipulate the audience into adopting the point of view (physical and especially, emotional) of different characters by the framing of the the images and the editing of them into a scene. A good example (used a lot in the scenes he showed) are relative head sizes and how much of the body you see as you move between different characters in a conversation, etc. I (with the aid of my PowerBook, some sound equipment and an LCD projector) had the honor of being the projectionist of the extracted scenes from this wonderful film. In the picture that I took of Jon (below), I hastily tried my own Hitchcockian device to illustrate to you what he was talking about all in one shot.
Monday saw the visit to the department of Astrophysicist and Cosmologist Ned Wright, who has been mentioned on this blog before due to his excellent Cosmology Tutorial website. He came over from UCLA and spent most of the day with us, talking to various members of the deparment, and giving an excellent colloquium entitled “What’s New in Cosmology”. I took him for a tour of the campus when he arrived, apologizing for noise of the rock concert that had been set up in the main part (yes, where the tv talk show was on Friday, it was a band called “Keane!” about which I know nothing) and we chatted a bit and drank coffee as we walked. I spent the whole day running around trying to make sure the visit was a success (setting up meetings for him, making sure that the colloquium was well attended, especially by students, arranging lunch and dinner groups, booking lunch, booking dinner, etc.)
It was a success, an excellent colloquim and an excellent day. The department thanked him for his time devoted to us by treating him to a nice dinner (also my duty as organizer). Here, I get the small perk of being able to heavily influence where dinner is to be (Ciudad, on Figueroa Street in the Downtown area -a favourite of mine….I recommend it!), and the big perk of being able to pick the dinner company. In my opinion, the most valuable role this dinner can play (besides supplying me with a well-earned cocktail (mojito this time), or glass of wine, at the end of a long day) is to give students a chance to chat with the speaker (and also any other faculty that come along) and learn valuable things about a career in Physics, getting advice about graduate school (if they are undergraduates), etc. So I’ve started what I hope is a new tradition here, and as long as I continue to be colloquium czar, and as long as we have a speaker who is willing and up to the job, having students along to lunch, or better, dinner at the end of the day will be something I always try to arrange. In the photograph, clockwise from the left we have two undergrads Rose Untalasco, Douglas Mason, the guest of honor Ned Wright, two undergrads Jeanne Chuman and Lauren Schenkman, and USC Physics and Astronomy faculty: cvj, Dick Thompson, and Ed Rhodes.
And that’s just the beginning of the week! I’ve got to stop and write my next lecture for class in the morning now… Don’t forget (if you’re a research physicist in the area) the Southern California Strings Seminar on Friday and Saturday…