Monday, October 22, 2007

why a blog is not the same

I've been accused of being addicted to the internet or computers or whathaveyou before, and so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I get sort of defensive when academics use the internet as a convenient target for whatever their particular hobbyhorse might be. "Technological patriarchy"? Oh sure. "Ethical and moral cesspit of piracy and obscenity"? You love it, admit it.
My media culture professor likes to shock people by raining on their parades. For example, today he told us that the concept of the Soup Nazi (yes, from Seinfeld) shouldn't be funny and isn't funny, because Nazis shouldn't be funny, because the Holocaust isn't funny. No, the Holocaust isn't funny, but in our media Nazis are funny. Look at the Blues Brothers ("I hate Illinois Nazis!"), or Formula 51, which I watched with Sean recently and which uses bumbling skinheads as comic relief. They're funny because we make them so. We portray them as lunatics, bent on misguided and evil quests, whom everyone, even the other characters portrayed as losers, make fun of. Is this a bad thing? I don't think so. When you tear something down and laugh at it, you take power away from it. Blues Brothers Nazis aren't scary, they're laughable. Who would watch that and say, gosh, Nazis are impressive. It doesn't belittle the Holocaust, it sneers at people who are intolerant and bent on their own self-righteousness. Like the Soup Nazi.
In the same lecture, he said, "You people, you young people, think that blogging is this new thing that will change communication. Well, I have news for you. People said the same things about radio, and about television. Nothing changes."
I take deep exception. For one thing, things do change, and not in a you-can-never-step-in-the-same-river-twice way, but in a meaningful way. Radio changed the way that people communicated; it pioneered up to the minute reporting, and embedded advertising, and changed the way people thought about music and songs and songwriters and singers. There were records before, and sheet music for sale, but things changed drastically with radio, and it's foolish to say otherwise. Television changed politics; now you couldn't just get by on having ideas and public speaking skills, you had to play to the camera. Visuals ended the Vietnam War.
Blogging isn't, in and of itself, as important, but the internet definitely is. Blogging is a symptom of the nature of the internet. It's a huge landscape created by people for people. I've read about the "one to many" and "many to one" and the new "many to many" paradigms of communication (television, democracy, and internet, respectively), which is useful when you talk about more traditional internet forms - chat rooms, message boards. My professor argued that blogging is like the traditional speaker's corner in London, where anyone can stand up and yell about whatever they want to the passing crowds. You, my dear readers, are not the passing crowd. You come here because you know me. Possibly you come here without actually knowing me, but you know my writing. You don't randomly stumble upon me spouting opinions that you have no choice in hearing. For one thing, flipping randomly through blogs is a pretty boring activity, because a lot of blogs are abandoned, or written by people who string together texting slang into barely legible three-line blurbs.
I would say that in a way, we've stumbled onto a new form of the antiquated "one to one" communication. I'm not writing to the impersonal public - the very thought would terrify me. It's not even as impersonal as a message board that thousands of people will skim. Sure, anyone can read this - but it's like people randomly eavesdropping on a conversation. There are so many to listen to, it's unlikely many people will randomly pop in and pay attention. And if one does eavesdrop, they might find it interesting enough to join in and comment.
I haven't really thought about the implications of blogging before. I don't usually blog to air one of my many and varied opinions, or to harvest posts I like from other blogs (though that does happen occasionally) - just to write about what I'm up to, to keep family and friends up to date. How can nothing have changed, if I have a surface knowledge of where everyone I have known is, and what they're doing? How can I communicate with my whole extended family on MSN and this blog, sending pictures and comments and emails and quick notes at any time of day or night, and not change something fundamental about our relationships? I've just joined a Facebook group that is intended to show the support for Stephen Colbert's bid for office, won't that change things? I've finally gotten into Ravelry, a huge social networking site for knitters - it's already changed the way I go about doing projects. If all these little things change, how can the big picture not be changed?
I'm too angry and reactive to even put together a reasonably organized rant about it. All I can do is splutter, which is the point of him saying such outrageous things - he wants us to be angry and questioning and to think. Unfortunately, I don't respond well to stupid assertions.
While it may be comforting to him to know that he doesn't need to worry about his paradigms shifting, ever, it's just not true. Things change. Sometimes they even change in a beneficial way.

4 Comments:

Blogger dp said...

Good rant... and I agree with all that you say... and maybe you should send him a link! Wait, no, give me his phone number... wait, did he mention that phones didn't change the way we communicate! Nah, that would be tooo stupid!
I love blogging, and I love reading blogs. I love randomly finding an interesting blog and keeping up with it for a few weeks... very fun. Oh, and her is a blog of a friend of Chantals, and Chantal says you will love her...
http://www.knittenmitten.blogspot.com/

9:36 PM  
Blogger Jill MacDonald said...

Excellent rant...I love reading your blog...don't stop writing! Your prof needs an attitude adjustment!

6:37 PM  
Blogger cpm said...

AMAZING! This should be in the New York Times Editorial section or something...your writing is amazing! Keep bloggin...we all love it!

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you fell for it, hook.. line.. and sinker. I think the prof knows how to push buttons. Maybe that's why he gets the big bucks. When you are a Prof, you'll probably enjoying a similar excercise with your students. You might let him know "You're onto his game"
..... Gail

2:38 PM  

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