Animals are all around us. But what do we actually mean when we say “animal”? We are, of course, also animals: human animals.
In recent years, animals have entered university life, and scholars in fields as diverse as art, philosophy, and religious studies approach animals from different angles and methodologies. Animals are to some extent invisible until they enter the realm of the human. Then they become pets, cattle, or laboratory animals.
Are you curious? Could this subject enrich your teaching curriculum? Then why don’t you join us at Leuphana University from January 23 to 25. For further information, including registration details, see the program.
Blue Valentine: A Love Story (2011). That’s what it says on the movie poster. But is this what the movie is really about? A romantic, sustained, and profound lifelong bond between two people? Well, maybe it isn’t.
The present: Dean (Ryan Gosling) is an overall likeable, easygoing slacker. His job, painting houses, allows him the ‘luxury’ of drinking beer in the morning. He’s not a radiant source of bliss but being married to Cindy (Michelle Williams) and getting goofy with their little daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka) is what he calls “his dream.” However, Cindy, a nurse, has higher aspirations. To her, Dean’s “dream” is nothing but an endlessly depressing nightmare.
The past: Charming high school dropout Dean works as a furniture mover and meets med student Cindy. To him, it’s love at first sight. To her, it’s so-so. He makes jokes, she laughs; he sings and plays the ukulele, she tap dances to the tunes. Her father hates him, but that’s not an issue because love conquers all – right?
I met author Andrew Ridker at the Heine-Haus in Lüneburg on October 21, 2019. After the inspiring evening, he kindly agreed to an email interview with the American Studies Blog. His novel, The Altruists, describes a dysfunctional family burdened by their respective pasts and their attempts to repair shattered relationships. Ultimately, as the title suggests, it is also about being good.
SV: Your debut novel, The Altruists, is reaping the highest praise from critics in the U.S. and beyond. How are you coping with all of the attention?
AR: I’m extremely grateful for the kind reviews, which have exceeded my expectations, but in my experience those highs have an expiration date of roughly twenty-four hours. After that, it’s back to work.
SV: In October, you went on a book tour in Germany (Berlin, Göttingen, and Lüneburg), Austria (Salzburg), and Switzerland (Zürich). Was it your first visit to these German-speaking countries? Did anything surprise you?
“[This] again proves my theory that Germans love David Hasselhoff,” concludes Norm Macdonald on his Saturday Night Live segment “Weekend Update” in the early 90s. The crowd roars with laughter, the punchline has become a favorite among them for quite a while. “Those silly Germans,” Macdonald’s eyes seems to say.
Over twenty years later, the joke might not be remembered but the sentiment certainly persists. Many Germans complain on their travel blogs about getting asked about “The Hoff” while traveling around the USA. Some of them barely know who he is. Indeed, today’s young adults might only faintly remember Hasselhoff for running around in red shorts, talking to cars, and having his drunken misdemeanors captured on camera. This has not always been the case.
During the 1980s, both of Hasselhoff’s shows, Knight Rider and Baywatch, were largely celebrated in Germany. That is to say, not only in Germany. Baywatch was exported into 144 countries with over a billion people worldwide sitting in front of their TVs every week. His shows featured elements that were exciting for German viewers: futuristic technology and attractive young actors in very little clothing on sunny beaches. “The Hoff” consequently made his way into German magazines for teens – like Bravo and Mädchen – but so did John Travolta and Patrick Swayze. What made Hasselhoff so different?
It was in the late afternoon on November 22, 2018. Even by New England standards, the weather was cold and blustery. Outside of a dormitory at the university where I teach, I met up with a German student who spent the 2018 fall semester as a Fulbright exchange student at my institution. My family had him over for dinner before, and, as he had no place to go for Thanksgiving, we invited him to spend the holiday dinner at our house along with a few other friends. When I picked him up, he was clearly surprised as the dormitory and the university appeared completely abandoned. I explained to him that Thanksgiving was ‘the’ big family event in the United States and that extended families are more likely to get together during this holiday than for Christmas or the Fourth of July.
The dinner table – resplendent with a large roasted turkey, mash potatoes, various breads and greens, as well as sweet potato and cranberry dishes – reminded me of my first Thanksgivings in 1993. I had just arrived in the U.S. and was looking forward to my job as a German language assistant at a small liberal arts college. Since those days, I have often wondered about the various meanings that Americans ascribe to the holiday and the sometimes ambiguous and even contested relationship that many have with Thanksgiving. As a historian, I am fascinated by how the history that surrounds the holiday is often ignored or sanitized by many in mainstream American society. In fact, Native Americans tend to have an entirely different perspective on Thanksgiving, but more about that later.
On behalf of the American Studies Blog, we would like to extend our sincerest congratulations to Lauren Solomon whose winning entry in the category “Best Books & Fabulous Films” can be read below.
Mindhunter: Harnessing the Minds of Monsters
Nothing captivates an audience like the inhuman and horrific acts of a serial killer. After Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes aired on Netflix in January 2019, followed in May by the release of the biographical crime thriller, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, also based on the Ted Bundy story, the U.S. has become mesmerized by stories of serial killing. With that rising fascination, people can’t seem to stop talking about the second season of Mindhunter.