Closing the Happiest Places on Earth

As Hurricane Dorian slowly approaches the southeastern coast of the United States, one question that is being asked about Florida’s storm preparation is the status of Walt Disney World and the surrounding amusement parks. Orlando is located in central Florida, so it doesn’t possess the same hurricane risk as the state’s coastal cities (Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa). When Disney and Universal close, it’s big news because they never close. Some of the busiest days for these parks are Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter, which are when most other businesses are closed.

As of this writing (10am, September 3), Disney World is planning on closing at 3 pm this afternoon and the rest of the week is still undecided. Universal is staying open all day today (except Volcano Bay, which will be closed), and other parks (SeaWorld, LegoLand) are closed all day. Orlando International Airport (where most visitors enter because of Magical Express access) is already closed in anticipation of the storm. The storm’s track is uncertain and slowly changing, so the lack of consensus among the parks makes sense.

Why is this information newsworthy? Disney has only closed its American parks a few times in the past, and not all because of weather. There have been times when the company has decided that the general mood dictates park closure, or often, general sense of safety. It is important to note that when the parks close, the resort hotels do not. Many Florida residents evacuated themselves to Disney hotels during Irma because the hotels are well constructed and would provide electricity and food throughout the storm (not a bad plan, quite honestly). This list also lists only the full closures of the park for full days, not early closures due to events or rain.

The topic of Disney closures certainly is an overlap of two of my main research topics: Disney and disasters. Maybe there is more to be taken from this…

[Note: The parks have been operating continuously for a long time, and this list of closings is impressive for how short it is. Opening Days: Disneyland Park (July 17, 1955); Walt Disney World / Magic Kingdom (October 1, 1971); Epcot (October 1, 1982); MGM Studios / Hollywood Studios (May 1, 1989); Animal Kingdom (April 22, 1998); California Adventure (February 8, 2001).]

disneyland Kennedy

Disneyland after the assassination of John F. Kennedy (1963).

  1. Kennedy Assassination (November 1963, Disneyland): Following the Kennedy Assassination, the nation was in a state of mourning, and it seemed only appropriate to close the park.
  2. Anti-Vietnam demonstration (August 6, 1970, Disneyland): Until today, I had never heard this story, and I don’t know why. It’s amazing. Members of the Youth International Party (Yippies) invaded Disneyland on August 6, 1970, raising their flag over City Hall on Main Street U.S.A. and taking over Tom Sawyer Island. A former cast member who was there the day of the take-over wrote an excellent article for LA Magazine about the incident here. Enjoy.
  3. Winter Storm (December 16, 1987, Disneyland): It’s southern California…winter storms are outside the norm. Some mountain valleys got several inches of snow, and if it wasn’t snowing, it was raining, cold, and very windy. Here is an LA Times article about the storm that explains it better than a lady from Pennsylvania would.
  4. Northridge Earthquake (January 17, 1994, Disneyland): The Northridge Earthquake hit at around 4:30am on Monday, January 17, 1994, which was fortunately also the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Many Angelenos were still asleep and not on the roads when the 6.7 M quake struck. Many institutions around Los Angeles were closed to check for structural issues, including Disneyland and many movie and television studios. The park was largely unaffected, and opened as normal the next day.
  5. September 11 Attacks (September 11, 2001, all parks): The parks opened as normal on September 11 (most open around 8am or 9am depending on their Magic Hours schedules), but after the attacks progressed, there were fears that the parks could also be targets. The cast members at all 4 Florida parks evacuated guests in thirty minutes, and the California parks had not yet opened. The parks opened again on September 12 to small crowds, almost all resort guests (rather than locals or those staying off-property).
  6. Hurricane Floyd (September 15, 1999, Walt Disney World): Hurricane Dorian reminds me a lot of Floyd, as the category 4 storm hit the Bahamas, then ran parallel to the Atlantic coast of the United States, scaring the entire eastern seaboard. It was one of the largest evacuations in American history. The storm did not directly hit Florida, and this event marked the first time that WDW closed for weather. (This storm has personal significance because it was also the first time I had time off from school because of a hurricane. Half of the neighborhood lost power, and we had a big party to eat all the food that was going to go bad in people’s freezers.)
  7. Hurricane Charley (August 13, 2004, Walt Disney World): Hurricane Charley would mark only the second time the park would close unexpectedly for weather, but the 2004 season had a lot in store for the Orlando area. This category 4 storm was the first of four to hit Florida that season, and only Ivan did not force the closure of Walt Disney World. Charley approached the state from the Gulf side, but because of Orlando’s central location, it can be at risk either way.
  8. Hurricane Frances (September 4 & 5, 2004, Walt Disney World): 2004 was an active Atlantic hurricane season, and Frances emerged only weeks after the destructive Hurricane Charley also hit parts of Florida. Frances crossed the state, which caused the closure of the parks. Frances also peaked at category 4, and it caused the largest evacuation in Florida state history.
  9. Hurricane Jeanne (September 26, 2004, Walt Disney World): Jeanne was the third hurricane in a little over a month to cause WDW to close. This storm was not as strong as the others at a category 3, but it caused more deaths throughout its storm path. Determining the damage from the storm was difficult because of the storms that preceded it.
  10. Hurricane Matthew (October 6 & 7, 2016, Walt Disney World): Matthew was one of the most powerful storms to approach Florida, peaking at a category 5 with sustained winds of 165 mph. The storm ultimately did not make landfall in Florida, but caused extensive damage along the coast. The parks closed at 5pm on October 6, and they reopened on October 8.
  11. Hurricane Irma (September 10 & 11, 2017, Walt Disney World): Irma was another category 5 (sustained winds: 180 mph!) storm to hit Florida, and this one hit the state directly and crossed over the state and finally dissolved over Missouri. There are numerous videos on YouTube of guests riding out the storm at the parks (or residents of Orlando dealing with the storm), which show the direct impact on the WDW resort.

One observation I made about this list of closings is that all of the Hurricane closures have occurred in the last 20 years. While there were certainly tropical storms between 1971 and 1999, hurricanes have become more consistently intense in the last thirty years, and there is something of a cycle that forms every 20-30 years. This latter concept is still a theory, but certain time periods in the Atlantic basin are far busier than others and a pattern can be observed. Hopefully Dorian spares the United States, and we are certainly thinking of our Bahamian neighbors, who are still being affected by this slow moving monster.

– The Lady Americanist.


Off On the Right Foot

I’ll be honest: for the first time in all of my years as a student or teacher, I did not have the normal excitement for the first day. Perhaps it was because I was fully prepared (no new preps this semester) or because it did not coincide with my son’s first day of school, which was last week. That said, I was trying something new for the first day of my composition class, and I was eager to see if it was successful.

It definitely was.

Previously, I had spent the first day introducing myself, going over the syllabus, and butchering people’s names. I had tried ice breakers and other “introduce yourself to the class” activities with little success. I’m making empathy a central part of my teaching philosophy in a more mindful way this year, and I was trying to find a way to convey that through a first day activity without making these young adults feel like small children. Through a change in perspective and some adjustments to my activities, I feel that I had true engagement with my students on day one. [Yes, I know it was the first day, so who knows what the long-term ramifications are, but students left my room with lots of “thank yous” and eye contact. It was a wild scene.]

Here is what I did:

  1. Once I had my technology set up (PowerPoint with the title screen showing my name, the course name, and the course number), I stood outside the door greeting students.
  2. I started with a brief PowerPoint to help keep me on track:
    1. Title Slide with my name, the course name, and the course section (our building is quite confusing, and I had at least two students realize quickly they were in the wrong room, and I was able to help them get to their correct destinations).
    2. Slide about me: my degrees, basic facts, research interests. I wanted them to feel (through my eclectic research agenda) that their interests are valid in the academic community.
    3. Slide with Mary Poppins (in short, “I am kind but very firm.”) MP_Kind_and_firm
    4. Slide about the class and its projected outcomes
    5. Slide providing instructions for our first day activity
  3. On a 4″x6″ index card, I had students write:
    1. Their first and last names, preferred name, and pronouns. I wanted a concrete way to address students in their preferred fashion while also lining up those identities with the ones provided through Canvas. Some students also helpfully provided a pronunciation guide.
    2. Their major / major goals. In the first two years at our school, students are not officially entered into a major, but they are in pre-major status to ensure they are ready to fully pursue their field come junior year. I kind of like this because it allows for some exploration on the part of the student.
    3. Career goals. I told them to be as general as necessary, and many students simply said “to get a stable job” or “to graduate college” or (my favorite) “get through today.”
    4. Something they are passionate about. English comp sounds really daunting, and my class is set up to allow students to write about something that interests them within the parameters of a given assignment. Many students tell me they don’t have interests when I help them brainstorm, and I know this is nonsense. Now I have proof. This also allowed me to ask them follow up questions about their interests and get them to engage on their terms.
    5. The first appropriate word that comes to their mind when they think of writing. This part was awesome, and it allowed me to address their fears about the class. I had everything from “tedious” to “freedom” to “uhh…” I have all of these same feelings when I write, and I write for a living!
  4. Finally, I went over expectations for the next class, as well as the two major policies of my class that might be confusing (attendance and late work). I let the students deal with the syllabus reading on their own.

I did this set of activities in three classes and all three went well. I got to speak to every student, and I got a sense of each class dynamic.

For day two, they are taking a personality quiz (Rubin’s Four Tendencies) that assesses how each person is motivated, and we are using those results to discuss how we learn and how each person’s path to success is a little different. I sense good things are coming!

Yesterday, I also had one of my former students reach out to me and say that four semesters later, I’m still his favorite professor. It was just the boost I need to remind me that I do make an impact and my work is valid.

I hope this all helps you with future first days. Happy Back-to-School!

– The Lady Americanist

Do It for the ‘Gram

I’ve been going to Walt Disney World for over 30 years, taking my first trip as a two and a half year old in 1988. At that time, there were two parks, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, along with a shopping village, some golf courses, and some water parks. When we took our most recent trip in 2018, so much had changed, most notably the technology around the resort. Instead of using paper tickets or cards, we had MagicBands, which held everything we needed in the parks and in our hotel. We made all of our plans using the resort website, and we could change reservations and FastPasses using an app on our phones. Social media and digital technology have revolutionized the Disney experience.

One phenomenon that I’ve observed in this new era of Disney is the Instagram wall, which is any wall in the resort deemed photo worthy by the legions of influencers and social media-savvy vacationers. #wallsofdisney seems to be the most popular general hashtag (47.4 K posts as of August 10, 2019), but #disneywalls is in wide use as well (30.1K posts as of August 10, 2019). Hashtags seem to defy standardization. Disney could encourage a specific tag, but between individual influencers and the simple spelling error, numerous tags exist. There are also tags for each wall (#purplewall; #toothpastewall; #bubblegumwall). Some participants use these tags just to get views, even when their posts have nothing to do with the walls themselves.

Until about two years ago, these walls were simply used as backgrounds for family photos and selfies, but now the Disney machine is well aware of these locations and seeks to make them must-do parts of any vacation. The company keeps the most popular walls freshly painted, and some walls have even been immortalized through Disney merchandise, including the iconic Mickey Ears, which are social media sensations in themselves.

But as the experience becomes more popular, it is bound to change. Lines sometimes form at the most popular walls, creating crowds where park designers did not intend to control crowds (the park layouts are designed with crowd control in mind). Disney will have to start controlling how the walls are used, taking away from the folk aspect of the walls and their popularity. This action has already been taken at another famous photo location: the “Partners” statue. In Walt Disney World, the statue is found in front of Cinderella’s Castle. For the uninitiated, “Partners” depicts Walt holding Mickey’s hand and greeting visitors to his park. There are similar statues at the other parks as well. This site is my family’s favorite place to take a family picture (we even had shirts made with the statue on it). But we found that it has become so popular that it is almost impossible for even the official Disney PhotoPass photographers to get a good picture. This future is inevitable for the walls.

[Side note: for the real Disney nerd, get a picture with “Sharing the Magic,” which depicts Roy O. Disney sitting on a bench holding Minnie Mouse’s hand. It can be found near the front of the park near City Hall.]

sharing the magic

“Sharing the Magic,” which has moved a few feet to City Hall. Photo Credit: Aaron Czajka / Flicker

This area of research is new for me, but I have a lot of thoughts already on the walls and their significance to Disney culture, popular culture, and folk culture. Stay tuned for more on this topic soon.

Also: Exciting blog news! One of my best friends from graduate school, Dr. Becky Johnson, will be joining us here at The Lady Americanist! She will be providing unique content and recommendations. Her research areas are completely divergent from my own (outside of the concept of American studies), so her contributions will add so much to this space. Yay!

I hope to bring you more new voices in the coming months. The focus of this blog is going to shift to that of numerous research voices (mine still included) and empowering scholars as we navigate the changing world of academia and the alt-ac experience. It’s going to be awesome.

– The Lady Americanist

My First Journal Article!

In June, my first peer-reviewed article was published in Response: The Journal of American and Popular Culture, which is free and open-source (yay for accessibility!). This article came from a chapter of my dissertation, which was also a paper I won an award for when I was in graduate school. It looks at the history, cultural relevance, and cultural impact of the New York Times crossword puzzle. Please enjoy:

– The Lady Americanist

PS: Can anyone get this to Will Shortz?

What’s Up, Lady Americanist – Aug. 2019

About three years ago, I wrote a post in which I talked about the podcasts, books, television, and films I had enjoyed or planned on enjoying, and I think I’ll kick this month off with another post like that. Who doesn’t like recommendations?


Past: I just finished listening to the first season of Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend (Earwolf), which was so funny. I didn’t love the long ads in the middle (who does?), but I also know that podcasts have to make money somehow. I listen to a lot of NPR podcasts, which have fewer ads, so I get a little spoiled. I also enjoyed The Big One (KPCC / Southern California Public Radio), which looked at earthquake preparedness, and Mobituaries (CBS), which were short stories about interesting topics from Mo Rocca.

Present: I am currently enjoying the following: Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness (Earwolf); My Favorite Murder (Exactly Right); The Fall Line (Exactly Right); Science Rules with Bill Nye (Stitcher); The West Wing Weekly (Radiotopia); TheTimTracker Podcast (Independently Produced); Throughline (NPR).

my favorite murder

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark of My Favorite Murder (Credit: The Hollywood Reporter)

Future: I’m hoping to return to Pop Culture Happy Hour (NPR) soon. I loved it, then I found myself not listening to it. I am also planning to start This Podcast Will Kill You (Exactly Right) when I have caught up on my current podcasts. When I’m not doing my school year commute (without little ears in the car), it’s difficult for me to keep up with my podcasts.


Past: On vacation, I read Adriana Trigiani’s Rococo and Lisa McCubbin’s biography of Betty Ford. Trigiani is perfect relaxation reading, and I have read a few of her books on vacations over the last year. I learned so much from McCubbin’s biography, and I’m now ready to learn about more first ladies.

Present: I’m still trying to finish up Don Delillo’s White Noise, which I started on vacation but did not finish. I’m almost to the end, and it has even inspired me to propose a course on the 1980s that would use the book as a text. I’m also reading Lisa McCubbin and Clint Hill’s book Five Presidents, which is a memoir of Hill’s life in the Secret Service, during which he served under…five presidents (Eisenhower through Ford).

Future: I received Michelle Obama’s Becoming for my birthday (almost 8 months ago), and I’m still waiting to read it. It’s next on the list, I swear.


Past: Of course I already binged the new seasons of my favorite Netflix shows that dropped this summer: Queer Eye and Derry Girls. Very different shows, but both incredibly enjoyable. Queer Eye probably does not require an explanation, but it’s a remake of the early 2000s show in which a quintet of gay men make over a deserving hero, as they are called on the show. It deviates from the original series by choosing people who are putting good into their communities but perhaps need a little help in the self-care department. I don’t think I’ve ever watched an episode during which I didn’t cry (oh wait, yes…season 2…). Derry Girls is a sitcom about a group of girls (and one of their male cousin’s) living in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It is incredibly well-written, providing both situational comedy and frequently reminding the viewer of the precarious world these teens live in. Warning: There are only 12 total episodes available, and they are not long. Binge at your own peril.


The main cast of Derry Girls

Present: I haven’t watched a lot of new television this summer, partly because if I am working on crochet projects, I can’t watch something that requires my attention. I watch / listen to a lot of YouTube channels right now, especially The Tim Tracker (a Disney / theme park / general life vlog) and Be Kind Rewind (film / Oscars history). I have never been interested in watching YouTube vloggers, especially those that film their everyday lives, but Tim and Jenn Tracker are informational, honest, and they are simply fun to spend some time with. When the world gets to be a lot, they are a nice escape. Be Kind Rewind is perhaps the best researched YouTube channel I’ve ever watched (save for Last Week with John Oliver, which has HBO money and probably shouldn’t count). There are even citations, and the source material is unmatched. The videos are fun without minimizing the subject matter. Subscribe to both ASAP!

tim and jenn

The Trackers. Note: Tim no longer sports this amazing ‘stache. 

Future: I apparently need to watch Stranger Things, so that’s on my list.


Past: I just watched The Iron Lady for the first time, and I enjoyed more than I expected to. I thought it would be a basic bio-pic, but it had a unique narrative structure that I appreciated. We also saw Toy Story 4 in the theater. It was wonderful, and I cried.


Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Seriously, she is good in everything.

Present: There isn’t a lot out that I want to see in the theater, but the AMC theater chain is running programs this summer that show old shows and movies. I wouldn’t mind seeing one of those. I also have a Netflix queue filled to the brim with Best Pictures that I should be watching.

Future: Downtown Abbey comes out next month, and we are ramping up into awards season soon, so I’m sure I’ll have lots to see come November and December.

What else is missing from my radar? I hope this list also provides some suggestions for future viewing / listening / watching.

– The Lady Americanist.

PS: More new writing coming soon. I just had to get back to it with something sort of light and fun.


The Purge

I know I’m not a minimalist, and I will most likely never be one, but a few times a year, I am struck with the urge to organize, purge, and clean. It’s a very grown-up feeling. I sometimes engage in a program called “40 Days, 40 Bags,” which coincides with the Lenten season. However, those weeks now tend to be the busiest of my entire year (midterms, Easter, musical), so I go in with high hopes, and the 40 days gets moved to May / June.

The one area of my life in which I am a borderline hoarder is with academic stuff. I’m a fan of printing things out, but then I feel like I need to save it. Tonight, I finally threw out 8 years worth of old syllabi, assignment guides, exams (test only, not student submissions), and reading / viewing guides. An entire 3″ binder is now totally clear.

I also went through my old text books, and I’m getting rid of the ones that were either samples from publishers (stop sending unsolicited desk copies, for the love of Pete) or old ones from undergrad that had no resale value. Also, a 5th edition MLA handbook. My department gave me a fresh new 8th edition one almost two years ago, so I’m good to go.

I saved a few things: written lecture notes to transcribe this summer (primarily for my film class, of which I was especially proud); a crash course set of notes in uses and gratifications from when I had to teach a 400-level seminar on audience studies; clean, loose-leaf lined paper.

What I really need to purge now is my notes from undergrad and graduate school. I parted with about half of my notes years ago, because they were from courses I would never look at again. But the rest are all from my American studies programs. I could transcribe them, but I could also find a lot of more productive things to do with my time. I’m really torn.

I plan on purging most paperwork in my house except for the absolute essentials over the summer. I want to make things look neater. Clean space, clear mind.

Disaster Reporting in the Time of Trump

Presidents are lionized or destroyed in times of national tragedy. Their reactions to fires, floods, and fiascos are dissected in the media and on social media sites, and they can easily lose their grips on approval numbers with a misstep on the national stage. Most U.S. presidents are not consistently tripping over a major tragedy, but have a mixed record. Pres. George W. Bush’s strong and compassionate response after 9/11 that helped make Americans feel safe again, if only for a few weeks. Four years later, he lost all credibility in this area with the issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina. As Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover helped save millions suffering in the Russian famine of 1921 – 1922, a fact that is overlooked by most because of his presidential response to the Great Depression. Some are strong and consistent in times of turmoil, such as Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

In our modern media landscape, fragmented between the professionals and the peanut gallery on social media, the presidential response is part of disaster reporting. Hurricane Harvey has been no different. Each and every move of President Trump has been broadcast throughout the event, including his wife’s choice of footwear on their initial trip to the disaster zone.


How the media covers disaster is very telling of our society at that moment. During the days of “yellow journalism,” putting tragedy on the front page sold papers. Natural disasters, especially earthquakes, were ill-understood, and the media was less equipped to report on them, as information traveled slowly. Today, we have information immediately and the void needs to be filled with anything that moves. The thing that moves most often is President Trump.

The outlet that most impressed me during Harvey is the Weather Channel. For obvious reason, they have been on the ground since well before the storm, and are in the process of leaving now. The bulk of the reporting stayed with certain themes throughout the event: Before the storm, it was the science of hurricanes and the growing threat; during the storm, they seemed incredulous at what was happening around them and the sheer length of the hurricane; and after, they focused primarily on helping get the word out about recovery. They stick with the truly essential information, with no need to sensationalize further.

[Side note: The Weather Channel people have to be exhausted. The solar eclipse, Harvey, and now Irma have them ping-ponging across the country. Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams need a nap.]


Jim Cantore experiences “thunder snow” in my hometown. He is a joy.

I’ve observed some major changes on The Weather Channel in the last few years, although I have been an avid viewer for many years. Many of their programs have re-focused on the science of weather and how to stay safe in a major weather event. These changes are intentional, according to a Variety interview with the Weather Channel’s chief executive, Dave Shull. Upon his take over in 2015, he brought the channel back to its long time viewers, who were most interested in the science of meteorology. In the final quarter of 2016, ratings were up 46% in key demos during the day and up 42% during primetime.

That said, another subtle shift is also clear with continued viewing. As the current administration rails against the existence of climate change, picks apart the EPA, and attempts to destroy scientific thought, the Weather Channel is fighting back. Just after the election and throughout the spring, their evening programming focused on climate change research, the increase of severe weather due to climate change, and other shows devoted to understanding the science of weather. The nature of the Weather Channel keeps it away from politics, but each report seems to hold a subtle protest against the erosion of science in American culture. Some protests, especially after the Paris Climate Accords, are more overt.

My research into media and disaster was not going to include much about the Weather Channel, aside from its role as a neutral control subject. 2017 has truly been a year of surprises.

What’s Up, Lady Americanist?

Well, goodness. August ended up being far more productive than expected, and despite that, I have felt behind the eight-ball all month. I’m getting there. New classes, conferences, more than 100 students…welcome to academia, Dr. Lady Americanist.

I’ve been finding ways (other than crochet, my old standby) to de-stress at the end of a long day, and I have found solace in podcasts, reading, movies, and television. Let’s talk about what I’m watching / reading / listening to / anticipating right now in popular culture.


– Past – Thunderstruck (Erik Larson): Another historical thriller by Larson made for excellent reading over the last few months. This one examined the invention of the wireless radio system juxtaposed with a murder in the United Kingdom. It’s not as tightly woven together as The Devil in the White City, but it is still a good read.

– Present – Destiny of the Republic (Candice Millard): I’m only a few pages in, but I’m already deeply invested in the “character” of President James Garfield. Garfield’s assassination is perhaps the least analyzed of the four presidential assassinations, but it is an incredibly important event. More later.

– Future – Where Am I Now? (Mara Wilson): I’m a sucker for a good memoir, and Mara Wilson’s work was a big part of my childhood. I’ve been following her writing on Cracked and Twitter (is that a thing? It is now) for a few years, and the excerpts I’ve already read were incredible.


– Past – Hill Street Blues: I watched this a while ago, but I started a re-watch over the summer. I only have access to the first three seasons, and I’m sure the rest is just as good. It is a groundbreaking drama that paved the way for other shows that I love. I’m trying to get through as many 1980s prestige dramas as possible, but it is proving difficult. St. Elsewhere only has one season on Hulu, and L.A. Law, thirtysomething, and Murphy Brown are almost impossible to find. If anyone can help me out, please do.

– Present – Call the Midwife: My parents have excellent taste in television. They have turned me on to so many great popular culture texts, and this is just another in a string of recommendations. I’m almost through the first 4 seasons, and I’ve been watching since Thursday.

– Future – FALL PILOT SEASON: It’s finally here! My shows are back! What do I watch every week? Bob’s Burgers (Fox); The Goldbergs (ABC); Blackish (ABC); Modern Family (ABC); Fresh Off the Boat (ABC); Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox); New Girl (Fox); Saturday Night Live (NBC). What my television schedule is lacking is drama. I’m hoping that ABC’s Designated Survivor will help fill that void. I remember my dad telling me about a Tom Clancy novel that he was reading that highlighted the concept of the designated survivor (the Cabinet member that stays behind during the State of the Union). I’m hoping for good things.


I can’t really do a past / present / future thing, but I just watched The Big Short and Spotlight, both big Oscar contenders last year. Both were excellent. I need to compose something separate about my future film choices, but I am reigniting my quest to see every single Best Picture winner. Spotlight helped me with that.


– Past – Pop Culture Happy Hour (NPR): Technically, this is past / present / future, but I’ve been listening to it for about three years now, and I look forward to it every week. It’s funny, insightful, and a great place to learn about new pop culture.

– Present – You Must Remember This: My college roommate turned me on to this, assuming I had already listened to it. Karina Longworth investigates the first century of Hollywood, and each season focuses on a specific storyline. I started in the middle with the season about the blacklist, but I plan on going back to the beginning soon.

– Future – The West Wing Weekly: Actor Joshua Malina and musician Hrishikesh Hirway are going through The West Wing episode by episode with help from other West Wing actors, crew, and those who worked in the real White House. Season one just wrapped up, and I’m eagerly anticipating season two.

Hopefully you got some suggestions for your own pop culture enjoyment!

  • The Lady Americanist

August: Productivity City.


No matter what I do, summer is never my most productive season. Last summer was exceptional, but I was deeply motivated by my goal to graduate in four years and to stop paying tuition. I also was assigned classes sort of late in the summer, so I didn’t have the opportunity to prepare until mid-July.

This summer was a little different. We moved, so that has consumed the entire month of July. I did work on my syllabi and some crochet projects during May and June, but now the heat is on. School starts in three weeks. I’m simply more productive when I have an externally imposed schedule (classes, dance, etc.). I know other scholars are more self-disciplined, but I’ve learned that when I try to do that, I just become disappointed in myself.

In an effort to be more productive, or at least take control of how my time is used, I’ve started keeping “bullet journals,” which is something you may only have heard of if you are a frequenter of Pinterest or Instagram (which I am). These sorts of planners are more free form and customizable. It’s also a trend I can get behind because I can’t pass up a great notebook, and bullet journals simply require a notebook and pen (although the examples online go all out). Apparently, I was already bullet journaling in my traditional weekly planner, but now I’m using them to plan more intentionally. When the new year starts (2017), I’ll condense all of my journals into one, as is prescribed, but I can’t fully abandon my planners in progress. I’m not insane.

Bullet journaling has also allowed me to create a lesson planner especially for higher education. Every lesson plan notebook I found justifiably catered to the K-12 set. I have no need for Common Core trackers, attendance lists, or IEP guides. So, I’m creating my own higher ed planner. It has places to plan courses, track service, and organize my writing assignments. Many writing assignments are paid through W-9 tax forms, which means I have to set money aside to pay those taxes in 2017, so I have a space for those. A friend also suggested slipping a $20 in every planner, and while that’s a great idea, I don’t have that sort of capital.

My first draft is hand drawn, but I’m creating printable pages so kind friends can do their own test drives. What would you want to see in a higher ed planner? I’m not tenure track or full time, so those needs are unknown to me.

The Lady Americanist.

Right Out of the Gate: TV Pilots

Starting around the same time as the Rio Olympics, the American television pilot season will begin. NBC will probably crowd a lot of its favorites around the end of Olympic coverage, and the other networks and channels will quickly follow suit. But what makes a good pilot? It’s difficult to say, especially since most pilots are shaky at best. The writers, cast, and technical staff are all trying to get used to one another.

Some of our best loved shows have weird pilots. Parks and Recreation comes to mind. It’s entire first 6-episode season is nothing like the seasons that follow. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is almost a female Michael Scott. Ron Swanson wears a suit! It’s madness. When I recommend the show to new viewers, I suggest watching “Pawnee Zoo” (episode 2.1) first, then viewing the first season after falling in love with the show. It functions best as a prequel: a deeper cut for the real fan.

I considered these pilots in terms of their series as a whole. Are the characters largely true to their later arcs? Does the pilot make me want to watch the rest of the series? Is it in any way awkward? Additionally, all but one of the shows on my list has come to the end of its run. I also haven’t seen a few shows that are probably missing from the list (Breaking Bad, Twin Peaks), but it didn’t seem fair to judge them against shows I know well.

In no particular order:

Wednesdays on NBC  (9-10 p.m. ET)

THE WEST WING — NBC Series — Pictured: (l-r) Richard Schiff as Communications Director Toby Ziegler; Allison Janney as Press Secretary CJ Gregg, Dule Hill as aide Charlie Young, John Spencer as Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet, Rob Lowe as Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, Janel Moloney as Assistant Donna Moss, Brad Whitford as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman — NBC Photo: James Sorensen

  • The West Wing (1999 – 2006): OK, this one might be first for a reason. Before the opening credits, we meet almost all of the major players. We come away with a very definite sense of what this program is all about. If you are already a West Wing fan, you may have been listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast, which I highly recommend. Almost every guest talks about the pilot episode. It’s just that good.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 – 1977): Considering the social change that occurred in those seven years, this show is strong the entire way through, and the pilot is just the tip of the iceberg. It also holds up well, both as a popular culture artifact, but also as a piece of entertaining television. Many shows of this era do not function both ways, but MTM does. This show also created a production environment that gave birth to other amazing shows , including Cheers, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere.

Ms. Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

  • Lost (2004 – 2010): I remember watching this the night it premiered, and I was totally turned off by how intense it was (and the repeated plane crash). There was so much going on. Fast forward three years. I was dating my now-husband, and he and my best friend teamed up and insisted that I watch Lost. I’m glad he did. The pilot was just an essential part of understanding the lives of the characters and the effect the plane crash would have.
  • Modern Family (2009 – Present): Despite what some critics might say, I think this show is a remarkably strong comedy for its age. It is also part of ABC’s comedy block that has come to be one of my favorite nights of television (The Goldbergs, Fresh Off the Boat, and Black-ish). The pilot includes Lily being lifted up like Simba in The Lion King as a presentation to her family.
  • The Wonder Years (1988 – 1993): I love the ability that this show has to capture a historical moment, and the pilot is an excellent example. It’s 1968, one of the most volatile years in American history. Our main cast is attending a school renamed for RFK; Vietnam plays a major part. It also sets up the adorable romance between Kevin and Winnie.
  • Hill Street Blues (1981 – 1987): Thanks to the power of Hulu, I was recently able to watch the first three seasons of this game-changer. I was instantly transported to Hill Street Station. I fell in love with some of the characters instantly, while others did take more time. Because this show would follow multiple characters through multiple story arcs, which was revolutionary, there was no other pilot that had to accomplish what HSB had to in its first episode. A lot of other pilots on this list owe quite a bit to Hill Street Blues. Remember: let’s be careful out there.
  • 30 Rock (2006 – 2013): I eagerly anticipated 30 Rock after Tina Fey left Saturday Night Live. I needed more T.Fey in my life. I was not disappointed. Fey and Co. do a wonderful job of setting up who the characters are, particularly Liz Lemon and her complex personality. Aside from the dynamic arc some characters take, we don’t get weird character “re-dos” like we do on Parks and Rec or The Office.
30 Rock

30 ROCK — Pictured: (l-r) Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy — NBC Photo: Mary Ellen Mathews


  • Cheers (1982 – 1993)  / Frasier (1993 / 2004): The Cheers pilot is a textbook example of an effective sitcom pilot. We meet everyone organically through Diane’s entrance into the world of the bar. Actually, Diane facilitates most of our major introductions (Frasier, Rebecca) in one way or another over the next 11 years. It’s a group viewers want to return to, although it took longer than we remember for American audiences to give Cheers the ratings it became famous for. Frasier, on the other hand, is a somewhat known commodity. We know Dr. Crane well (Kelsey Grammer joined Cheers in 1984), but we truly don’t know much about his background, aside from Lilith. Still, Frasier is an entirely new world, completely unlike Cheers. It’s quite a feat.
  • Arrested Development (2003 – 2006; 2014 – Present): I will admit that I watched this show entirely after its cancellation. It came on during a time in my life when I didn’t have time to watch much TV, aside from what my parents might be watching or that I was already following. I came to this show when I started dating my now-husband, but he didn’t have to convince me to watch more. The show is able to overtly introduce us to the Bluths, thanks to Ron Howard’s narration, but it’s not cheap or cheesy. When a show is already non-traditional, it can get away with less traditional formats.
  • Downton Abbey (2011 – 2016): Nothing will draw me into a period drama like a horrible tragedy like the Titanic. That is exactly what brought me to Downton, and I remained a loyal viewer to the end. Unlike the other shows on this list, Downton was NOT created with an American audience in mind. It moves more slowly and deliberately through the sagas of Mary, Edith, Anna, and Bates.

A strong pilot also does not guarantee ratings success. Arrested Development is the poster child for shows cancelled too soon. Cheers took a few years to become the iconic sitcom of the 1980s (running over 200 episodes and 11 seasons). 30 Rock was always a critical hit, but never had amazing ratings. I feel that more networks need to give some shows more time to incubate. Sometimes a show’s greatest achievement is moving past a bad pilot.

More television posts coming your way. I’m working on some other writing that revolves around TV, so it is where my brain is at.

The Lady Americanist.