Faster than a pedagogue, more powerful than a provost ...


May 10, 2006|By LAURA VOZZELLA

In a seminar room on Hopkins' Homewood campus, where you might imagine tweedy intellectuals chatting in Sanskrit, the winner of a postdoctoral fellowship gave anthropology Ph.D.s and students a peek at his research. Once Stanford W. Carpenter wrapped up his presentation, "Identity, Law, Magical Thinking and the Making of Things," members of his learned audience all wanted to know the same thing:

What's with the action figure?

The action figure atop the long table throughout Carpenter's talk. The one custom made, right down to the goatee, to look just like the Mellon fellow, who is exploring issues of identity, law, etc., in comic books - and writing about them, not in dissertations, but in the style of comic books.

The comic books star Brother-Story, Carpenter's not-so-secret superhero identity. Brother-Story has been made into a doll. And in the elite realm of higher academe, some scholars are a little, well, freaked. Albeit in an erudite kinda way.

"What do the dolls actually add to the intellectual framework? Are they a form of distancing and masking?" one professor asked. "What does it add to the modality?"

Another liked the little plastic man with green glasses, "BS" on his chest, and a superhero backstory involving Anansi The Spider and the evils of intellectual property rights. But only because the action figure seemed so out of place.

"Having that doll there, as a physical construct, really unsettles academic precepts of ethnography," she said. (Trust me, she meant it as a compliment.)

Reaction has been split between "This is really cool" and "You're sinking your academic career," said Carpenter, 37, whose office desk has a "Doctor Comics" nameplate.

At least he has playmates. Several other academics - Sheri Parks of the University of Maryland, College Park; Patricia Williams of Columbia University School of Law; Ben Vinson, who's at Penn State but coming to Hopkins; John Jackson of the University of Pennsylvania - round out a "superhero team" named Critical Front. And yes, they all have their own action figures, made by DC Comics cartoonist Darick Robertson.

Toys aside, the project is all about intellectual concepts like "identity politics" and "identity economics." And there's a highfalutin rationale for exploring those things through superhero story lines and action figures, which were trotted out for a performance at the Art Institute of Chicago. It boils down to the old saw about walking a mile in somebody else's shoes. Or maybe in this case, flying a mile in somebody else's cape.

"You shouldn't be allowed to critique media," Carpenter said, "unless you participate in making it."

Mount Vernon salutes Dixon

Sheila Dixon says some people - prosecutors, reporters - are out to get her. But the embattled City Council president has friends in Mount Vernon, where she helped residents and developers reach a compromise over building heights.

"In the battle to save historic Mount Vernon, one elected official showed extraordinary leadership on behalf of our community," reads a flier for a fundraiser, scheduled for 6:30 to 8 tonight on the rooftop of the Peabody Court Hotel. Tickets range from $75 to $500.

Connect the dots

If they made a movie about Mayo Shattuck's largess toward Caves Valley golf caddies, a reader is ready with the title: CaddyShattuck. ... On the day last week that Louis Rukeyser died at 73, the Dow was up, 73. ... 3rd Congressional District candidate Andy Barth ran a 10K race on the Bay Bridge in 52:18 Sunday, according to a campaign news release that called his 8.42-minute-mile pace "age-respectable." ... Gov. Robert Ehrlich took a swipe at his cross-party pal William Donald Schaefer at the annual Howard County GOP's Lincoln Day dinner Friday night, The Sun's Larry Carson reports. Referring to the Board of Public Works meeting two days earlier, when Schaefer ranted about illegal immigrants and other nonagenda items, Ehrlich said, "Someone forgot to medicate the comptroller again." ... Del. Dan Morhaim, an ER doctor running for re-election in Baltimore County's 11th District, has an apt campaign giveaway: An adhesive bandage holder with his name on it. (And I agree, "Band-Aid holder" would have sounded better, but just try getting that past the copy desk if you don't really mean Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages. And I don't. The five plasters inside were made by Swift.)

But don't go in the water

Who was the unlucky sailor aboard - and then overboard - Brasil 1, as the Volvo Ocean Racers set sail Sunday for New York? WJZ-TV's Mike Schuh. "That was a $650 fall," he said - $500 in personal camera gear and $150 prescription sunglasses. But no regrets from the reporter, who counts it among his best-ever assignments. "I'd do it again tomorrow," he said. "I've been on the field in a Super Bowl. I've stood at the finish lines for the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and Belmont. I've been to All-Star games. And it was more exciting than all those."

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