Pop Culture & The Meaning of Life

My Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Features

Two of the best pieces I’ve had published appeared as full page features in Sunday editions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The first article highlights how Harry Houdini became the 1st international superstar and specifically details some of his appearances in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Amazing to imagine him leaping into one of the Three Rivers or hanging from skyscrapers in a straight jacket.

The more recent feature is all about using pop culture in education to better connect with students of all levels and disciplines.

Click on the links to check them out. I hope you enjoy reading them.

March 28, 2011 Posted by | Education, History, Writing | 25 Comments

UPDATE For Past WordPress & Email Subscribers (Important!)

I hope this post reaches those of you who have subscribed to eduClaytion through WordPress and my old email subscription service. I am attempting to post to the OLD eduClaytion for a specific purpose.

The NEW eduClaytion has been up and running for a week now, but I am realizing that past subscribers no longer see updates. You can resubscribe by going to the new eduClaytion and clicking on the Subscribe link.

I apologize for the confusion, especially if this post only reaches new subscribers and misses all my past WordPress peeps! Thanks for your patience during the transition!

UPDATE: If you were subscribed to Feedburner in the past and try to subscribe on the new site it will tell you that you are already subscribed. I will fix this by tomorrow. Please stay tuned!

March 6, 2012 Posted by | Life, Writing | 1 Comment

Killer Tribes or Bust

It’s going down ya’ll, and you’re invited. “It” is the Killer Tribes Conference in Nashville on March 31, and I’ll be there.

Half of you know exactly what I’m talking about, but about one-third of you probably don’t. Killer Tribes is the love child of Bryan Allain and his brain. Bryan is a fellow Pennsylvanifornian with way more experience at blogging than me. He also interacts with the Amish on a semi-regular basis. I’ve been following for the past few weeks as he’s been setting up this conference, and it’s impressive. I can’t even coordinate meals during long workdays.

I’m really excited to meet a lot of real live humans. Great peeps like Jess Buttram and Leigh Kramer will be there. There’s a rumor that even Knox McCoy will be there bench pressing stuff, but I might be making that up. I’m driving down with my friend Kim and am bunking up with the one and only Tyler Tarver, state laws permitting. We’re totally going to build a fort out of patio furniture in our room and then eat Chik-Fil-A in it.

Tyler already took care to explain what this conference is all about. I can’t really say it any better unless I try.

“Yeah, it’s got some great speakers and talkers and peoples and stuff, but it’s also going to be like a High School Reunion for people you wish you went to high school with that you talk to on the Internet.

I’m really hoping I show up and everyone is a 43 year old computer salesman with a mustache and deep breathing problems, just like me.”

Thanks Tyler. That pretty much sums it up and means a lot to me because I have deep breathing problems too, but in case you want to know more here’s a video that also won’t help although I laughed a lot at around the fifty second mark.

Those two guys in that video with Bryan with a Y are Tripp and Tyler also with a Y. They’ll be at the conference too which means we’ll be able to put captions under photos when we’re done that say “A good time was had by all” like my grandma used to not say when I was a kid. Continue reading

February 23, 2012 Posted by | Life | 30 Comments

Religion and Zombies

While I was in Florida over this past weekend the second season of The Walking Dead returned. If you know me then you know I really dig that show. Of course, I also like to filter some of the tougher questions of meaning and morality through pop culture.

That’s why I asked Rob Shep to take a look at something I wrote a few weeks back as I attempted to make sense of some modern day bigotry through the lens of zombie drama, a.k.a., zomdram.

If you’re into the sound of what I’m singing or like to pick the more philosophical side of my brain then please head over to Rob’s site and check out my article on Christians, Racism, and Zombies.

And even though I still think it’s a completely contrived and basically meaningless holiday compared to an anniversary or other personally meaningful day, go ahead and have yourself a Happy Valentine’s Day. Or don’t. I love you either way. Send Skittles.

February 14, 2012 Posted by | Life, Religion, Zombies | 3 Comments

Somebody Smack the Man of the Year

For the past couple weeks I’ve heard from a number of ladies how much they can’t stand the arrival of Valentine’s Day. I’ve never heard this sentiment from so many women, but as a man I understand. We may have different reasons for resenting the big V-Day, but in the end a holiday like this can be more trouble than some people know.

But singles aren’t the only ones who might want to skip Hallmark’s day of love. It can be tough for people in relationships to live up to the hype, especially if you happen to know that guy as guest blogger Kevin Haggerty from The Isle of Man explains in this funny guest post. You can also find him on Twitter. Break it down Kevin.


It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow.

If you’re a girl, this is probably exciting news to you; especially if you are dating or married. It’s like a second birthday. For one day, night or maybe even a full weekend, you will be the center of attention.

Why? Because you’re a female. That’s it. No other reason. It might as well be called “Girlfriend and Wife Day,” cuz that’s what it is.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard a dude say something like: “Yeah, my wife is in the doghouse. She totally forgot to get me something for Valentine’s Day. She’s sleeping on the couch tonight!”

Answer: Never. Continue reading

February 13, 2012 Posted by | Humor, Life | 60 Comments

The Hierarchy of Grocery Stores

Hi everyone! *dusts cobwebs off website* I haven’t been around much lately but thanks to those of you who have sent me happy wishes to return soon. Jessica Buttram and I were talking about my necessary blogging hiatus when I hinted about how nice it would be to have a guest post from her brilliant little mind while I’m otherwise detained. She asked what she should write about. I told her that I love reading her stuff so much that she could write about her grocery list and I would be entertained. So that’s what she did! Sort of.

Jess is here today to break down the world of food shopping along tribal lines. She’s also from the South which is where I’m heading this afternoon as I fly to Florida in just a few hours to meet my newest nephew! Enjoy this guest offering from J Butt, America’s sweetheart and my hero. We may disagree on the legend of Walmart, but I would follow her to the murky depths of a clearance bin. Take it away Jess.


I spend a lot of time in grocery stores. I cater to two hungry man-childs, plus a very picky Bean who sprouts more each day. And thanks to my extensive Cheese Puff binge academic research, I have noticed a subtle but present hierarchy to these stores. And imma ’bout to fill you in.
At the very bottom of this hierarchy is the Untouchables. This is OBVIOUSLY Walmart. Common knowledge, right? I mean, show me a person who ENJOYS going to Walmart, and I’ll show you a person two steps and a Yorkie away from being on Animal Hoarders [Ed. note: I go to Walmart AND own a Yorkie AND can take a hint 😀].

Walmart is the festering sore in American capitalism. It’s Mad Cow Disease, which is a fitting metaphor, because every time I step foot in that place, my eyes roll back into my head, my lip curls into a sneer on its own volition, and I tend to push my cart up and down aisles rather violently. Also? I am perfectly okay with leaving said cart of destruction in the middle of the parking lot. I don’t return it to the corral, you guys, and I’M OKAY WITH THAT. It’s like I don’t even recognize myself. Continue reading

February 10, 2012 Posted by | Humor | 29 Comments

The 5 Year Engagement

English: Emily Blunt at the Toronto Internatio...

Image via Wikipedia

Not only did Kevin Haggerty have some fun interviewing me recently; he also opened my eyes to an upcoming film with a unique marketing plan. The 5 Year Engagement is using transmedia, a new form of storytelling that is changing the way we absorb stories and consume culture.

Okay, full disclosure: The movie stars a certain actress named Emily Blunt who I may or may not have mentioned a couple times*. But I’m not here to blather and blush and blubber and gush. There’s plenty of time to do that later**.

The fictional couple in The 5 Year Engagement (co-starring Jason Segel) even has a wedding blog that is building towards the big event. Some of this stuff is really clever.

I’ve been wondering how this approach impacts marketing and how writers can use this kind of creativity in the 21st century. It just happens that my friend Ellie–whose superskills include cooking and being awesome–has been delving into the world of transmedia like no one I know. I asked her for some thoughts on this emerging area.


Ellie’s thoughts:
I had lots of misconceptions about transmedia when I first learned heard about it (it’s much more than putting a wig, makeup, and heels on your book). Transmedia is not to be confused with multimedia or cross media, it’s not simply combining media. It’s creating an experience. Henry Jenkins, MIT media studies professor says, “coordinated use of storytelling across platforms can make the characters more compelling,” and Stephen Dinehart says, ” “true” transmedia is designed in preproduction with the intent of immersion.”

Transmedia evokes all your senses, immerses you in the story. Examples: Continue reading

January 26, 2012 Posted by | Movies, Pop Culture, Writing | 23 Comments

At Least 3 Things You’ve Never Heard Me Talk About

January, January, what have you wrought?

I’ve been a busy boy these past few weeks, but all that hard work is soon going to pay off. The fun part’s coming when I get to tell yous what’s been in the works.

Kevin looks like a guy you can trust. Until he asks about Nick Cannon.

One of the revelations will be a complete overhaul of my web presence which brings me to the way it all got started–blogging.

Kevin Haggerty invited me to talk about my life as a writer, professor, and pop culturista. Although he may have outed me in at least one area. No, I’m not gay* in case you were wondering

There are even a couple new wrinkles for those of you who know me all too well. At the very least you can discover which Muppet I would spend the day with and how I really feel about Flo from the Progressive commercials.

So click on over to Kevin’s site The Isle of Man to read the interview sure to sweep the nation like a Hoover.

*Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

January 24, 2012 Posted by | Life, Writing | 10 Comments

eduClaytion’s Angels

Some of you know about a couple of very important women in my life–Kate Beckinsale and Emily Blunt. By “in my life” I mean they have no idea who I am.

Well, it’s Underworld weekend, and I am going to see the film ASAP. My friend should be here any minute. I’ve been waiting for, oh, two and half years. I feel that now is a good time to give some other ladies a bit of attention before I see Kate as the lovely death dealer she is and promptly forget about everyone else for a long time.

While I never intended to hurt anybody with so much Beckinsale adoration it’s come to my attention* that I may have been hurtful to my other three favorite actresses who round out the eduClaytion top 5, a prestigious list often whispered about during Hollywood soirees and such.

I don’t have some ranking system from 1-5 or anything because I don’t think it’s appropriate to objectify chicks and stuff. But I will say that Kate and Emily are on top. Here are my three other favorite actresses. Continue reading

January 20, 2012 Posted by | Humor, Movies, Pop Culture | 29 Comments

Who I’m Voting for in 2012

As a professor of government and politics, people expect me to have my finger on the pulse of things like the current election cycle. After feeling around with said finger I’ve determined that all of these mainstream candidates are lifeless. But now I’ve found a pair I can support.

Piper Bayard and Kristen Lamb are not only candidates for office, they’re also friends and, if everything works out, will be letting me shoot guns in Texas later this year. So when I discovered that they were running for office I did what any friend of a political candidate would do–asked for a job.

So you’re reading the words of the future United States Secretary of EduClaytion. The fabulous femmes are here today to talk about our plans to take over the country and fix stuff. Let’s get to the interview.


1.  Let’s start with the important stuff. As Secretary of Education, how many interns do I get?

Considering the precedent set in the Clintonian Era for the meaning of the word intern, we believe we should throw out that euphemism and simply call it what it is. Your harem. That way they can’t sue for sexual harassment because the job description is accurate. Our people are contacting Kate Beckinsale’s and Emily Blunt’s people even as we type. We’re sure they will volunteer for the job since they are both reputed to have crushes on you, and they’re used to the attention that will come with the job. Continue reading

January 16, 2012 Posted by | Education, Humor, Politics | 19 Comments

What Inspires You?

I’ve been underground lately, and for good reasons. More on that in the near future. In the meantime, I have a special weekend planned and want to take you with me.

Well, I can’t take ALL of you, just a piece. Specifically, an inspirational piece.

See, I’m going to Gettysburg this weekend for a unique time of reflection and writing. I’ve wanted to go stay in a house in the middle of nowhere for a long time but never did it. I finally buckled down a couple months back and researched possible towns to stay in. I’ve been to Gettysburg before, but as soon as I thought of it I knew I had my winner.

Then I set about checking out bed and breakfast type establishments. I’ve never stayed in one of those. I found one that actually doesn’t serve breakfast. This was actually a key attraction for me. Instead, they have a stocked kitchen and you just do your own thing. EXCELLENT if you know anything about my life and sleep patterns.

It’s also major off season. This means A) The rates are cheap and B) There’s no one staying there.

I literally get the entire house to myself because the proprietors (who are very nice) stay offsite nearby.

All this to talk about inspiration. I recently asked the Twitter world what music they use to get in the creative mood. A lot of the responses were movie soundtracks. I get that. Ellie Soderstrom and her husband Mike are all about the Tron soundtrack, so I’ve been playing that one recently.

I listen to a lot of rock, and that won’t change, but I’m open to new ideas! So I’d like to know, What Music Inspires You?

January 13, 2012 Posted by | Life, Music, Writing | 42 Comments

I Will Judge You

I interrupt my recent disappearance to bring you a VERY special announcement:

It’s a party on the prairie and you’re invited.

My Canadian bestie, Leanne a.k.a. Ironic Mom, is celebrating her 300th post with a great story, a fun event, and a chance for you to be judged by me.

Leanne is a brilliant and hilarious writer, but most of all she’s a great person. For example, she’s too modest to even tell you that her freelance stuff gets like hundreds of thousands of views and she also writes for Nickelodeon. If you haven’t met her yet I encourage you to do so.

All the details for the new event are over at her site, complete with a demonstration by yours truly, so check em out and tell Leanne congrats on denting the internet’s bumper!


Go to The Ironic Mom Avatar Contest!

January 12, 2012 Posted by | Humor | Leave a comment

How Would You Have Answered These 2 Questions?

I recently helped one of my students out when she had to do an interview with a professor.

I told her I had to think about a couple of the questions and would reply via email later.

Here are the 2 questions:

1. If you could require a college student to read one thing before they graduate, what would it be and why?

2. What advice can you offer an undergraduate?

Those are pretty big questions. I could’ve answered a lot of different ways too. There are potential funny answers, lots of them. There are also plenty of serious answers.

I came up with answers I felt good about and sent them off.

I’m curious, how would you answer those two questions for a young student?

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Education, Life | 25 Comments

How to Lose Touch With Reality

There’s a lady on the internet named Marianne. She’s really funny. This humor might be the necessary outlook of someone who actually lives in Montana on purpose. Since we always make each other laugh I asked her if she would write a guest post, and she’s come up with a winner. After you read this post by Marianne, check out her site Comedy of Errers & find her on Twitter.


I live in Montana where we are very serious about winter. It lasts most of the year, and it can get to a temperature where you get to know your nose hairs individually. During this time, I turn to the only true solace one can have when you don’t want to leave the house for days on end: television series on DVD and Netflix.

I watch a lot of television in the winter. Some may say too much, but they would be wrong. I’m sure the temporary side effects I incur from three days of continual media exposure are perfectly normal.

Last winter I watched seasons 1-4 of Grey’s Anatomy in about a week. It made the -15 degree weather seem not so bad, until I had to go to the doctor. I found myself wondering who was sleeping with whom in the medical supply closet. I may have looked in one just to be sure. (You’re not supposed to look in those closets, by the way.) Continue reading

January 2, 2012 Posted by | Humor, Pop Culture | 27 Comments

The 2012 Pop Culture Baby Naming Guide

My sister who lives in Florida is about to have a baby any day now. I say any day because she’s been ready like that for the past 9 months. She’s definitely not catching Angelina Jolie anytime soon. Or ever.

Since I’m about to become UncleClaytion again, I thought I would take time to comment on a topic that women go crazy over every year: What to name people who don’t exist yet.

My dog's pouting because he wants a cool and relevant name like Tolkien.

The  new list of most popular baby names came out recently and it appears as though people are taking their cues from pop culture. For example, the Kardashians and Twilight are influencing many young parents searching for just the right name to identify their flesh and blood for all time.

Maaaaaakes sense*.

As a result, we have a lot of Isabellas and Jacobs running around. The rest of us will just have to hold our collective breath in crushing anticipation of what the next pregnant Kardashian names her child. Sigh. Even writing that sentence satirically makes me want to punch myself in the face to numb the pain of reality. Continue reading

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Humor, Life | 55 Comments

Will Norton & The Light

I’m not really into reposting my old stuff but my top post of this year and all-time comes from this past June when I told the story of Will Norton whose amazing life was cut short by the Joplin tornado. I’ve been thinking about Will’s family this week and the pain of empty spaces around the holidays.

There’s a singer I like named TobyMac who’s been singing a song for a long time called In The Light. Will’s story changes lives because he lived in the Light. I hope you’ll take a minute to read this story, especially if you’ve never seen it. Then go look at the beautiful monument that the Norton’s had placed last month in tribute to their Willdabeast.


On May 22, a devastating tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. Millions of people now know the story of Will Norton, the 18 year old who could not survive the storm that struck as he drove home from his high school graduation service.

The storm ripped him from his vehicle even as his father in the passenger seat struggled to hold him. A cell phone and graduation cap were the only thing found until Will’s body was discovered a few days later. He was reportedly reciting Scripture in those final moments. But the story goes deeper.

I first heard about Will through Amy, one of my original blogging acquaintances. Her family survived the deadly tornado despite harrowing conditions that she recounted in a powerful way. Her description of the town in the days following the tragedy will shake you.

I learned about the discovery of Will’s body when I came across a link Amy put on Facebook. She only added “What an amazing life. Thinking today about Will’s family and friends.” The search for the high school grad had come to an unhappy end, but Amy linked to a video called “50” by Will Norton. I got choked up when I watched it, kind of like the way I feel now as I write this. Continue reading

December 27, 2011 Posted by | Life, Religion | 19 Comments