Mary Beard on the Literary and Philosophical History of Women Being Told to Shut Up

February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Mary Beard opens her recent London Review of Books essay on the public voice of women –or lack thereof– by beginning at the beginning, or very close to the beginning, specifically the Odyssey. She describes an incident in which Telemachus, Odysseus and Penelope’s son, tells his mother to shut up and go upstairs to make crafts or sing or something because “speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.” As Beard explains:

There is something faintly ridiculous about this wet-behind-the-ears lad shutting up the savvy, middle-aged Penelope. But it’s a nice demonstration that right where written evidence for Western culture starts, women’s voices are not being heard in the public sphere; more than that, as Homer has it, an integral part of growing up, as a man, is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species. The actual words Telemachus uses are significant too. When he says ‘speech’ is ‘men’s business’, the word is muthos – not in the sense that it has come down to us of ‘myth’. In Homeric Greek it signals authoritative public speech (not the kind of chatting, prattling or gossip that anyone – women included, or especially women – could do).

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You Better Work

November 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

As it turns out, having a real job takes some getting used to. I really like it –the work is consistent, I like the schedule, and what I’m working on is interesting– but there are certain things that feel a bit strange, like “remembering to clock in” and “not bringing the work home with me.” Apparently there are laws in place that protect me from overworking, and require that I am in fact compensated for my labor. Which is weird because I’m an academic; I’m not supposed to get paid for the things I do! I’m supposed to volunteer my time and energy because doing things for others, for free, will be “good for my career,” someday. Over time, I suppose I will get used to drawing a regular paycheck, and not being exploited. But that doesn’t mean I won’t feel weird and somewhat guilty (!) for doing so. (what has the academic world DONE to me??)

I am, in other news, pushing forward on my Here Comes Honey Boo Boo chapter, which I’m submitting to an edited volume on antifans and haters. This weekend I provided a fuller AN HISTORICAL account of TLC’s exploitainment lineup, and sniffed around for representative .gifs illustrating the ambiguous wait-are-you-laughing-at-or-laughing-with anti/fan engagement that surrounds the show. Here’s the image I ended up going with, from Tumblr user conversationalconversations:

Riddle me this.

Anyway It’s been a while since I’ve worked on this chapter, and I’m enjoying myself, especially the part about how I’m pushing against the traditional framing of “antifan,” which is far too rigid for my taste.

ps TEDx talk went great! I will upload as soon as the video is available.

Preparing for TEDx Talk

November 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

So, here I am, getting ready for TED. Here is the TEDxCCS Speaker Poster, and here is the program overview. Rehearsal today; talk tomorrow around 11:30. SHOULD BE INTERESTING YOU GUYS.

An Open Letter to the Book I’m Writing

September 26, 2013 § 3 Comments

i'll explain

Dear book I am still in the process of revising:

I hate you. I have hated you for years. At this point I can’t even remember what I first saw in you. You are abrasive, boring, and you keep me up at night. No matter how much time and energy I give you, you are never satisfied — it’s always one more revision, one more round of restructuring, complete with empty promises about how you’ve changed, and how you really mean it this time. I’ve heard it all before! And yet I keep coming back, hoping against hope that things will be different, and that finally, after all this turmoil, we can just move on with our lives.

I know I’ve said this before, but this really is the last straw. I’ll give you ONE more chance, but only because we have so much history. The tiniest whiff of bullshit and I’m gone, I mean it. I’m just so tired of this.

But I will admit, it’s nice to see you again. I’ve been thinking about you, actually. Pure force of habit I suppose. Different things I should say, little jokes I forgot to tell you the last time we tried to work things out. It’s too bad we keep ending things on such a sour note. I’m not even sure why. I appreciate your politics, you make me laugh, and I like your stories. We’ve had some good times, it’s just that at some point, I don’t know, things maybe got a bit intense. But that won’t happen again. I certainly learned my lesson, and anyway that was all so long ago.

It really is great to see you. I don’t even know what to say. I just — I love you.

With all my heart,

Whitney P.

HA HA AWESOME THIS IS TERRIBLE: My Essay on the Kuso Aesthetic, Plus Exciting Bonus Material

September 16, 2013 § 2 Comments

A few months ago, I wrote an article about fan engagement with so-bad-it’s-good media content. I focused specifically on Troll 2, which is the greatest terrible movie ever made (and is the inspiration for countless tribute videos). Open-access media studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures just published the piece, the full text of which is available here. Here’s a portion of my conclusion:

[4.2] Although proponents of the “so bad it’s good” aesthetic may appear to subvert the hegemonic meaning of a particular text by imposing some new or wholly unintended meaning (Hall [1973] 1980)—for example, by laughing at a statement or scene not intended to be comical—they adhere to larger and more pervasive cultural conventions that must remain intact for the subversion to function. In the case of Troll 2, these conventions have to do with the “correct” way to write, produce, cast, edit, and perform in a film. Troll 2‘s scathing critical reviews echo this point, particularly James Kendrick’s (2010) insistence that the film commits “infinite and varied sins against the traits of good cinema.” A person who does not accept these conventions—which ultimately are arbitrary; they could be otherwise, but they are taken to be natural and necessary—would have no reason to laugh at the glorious failure that is Troll 2. There would be nothing to laugh at.

[4.3] Of course, only those who have fully internalized the rules (about filmmaking, about television production, about video game design, about anything else to which these sorts of conventions may be affixed) will be invested in the degree to which they are followed. Not everyone has the access to the requisite materials, education, or time to pursue these types of leisure interests, nor the inclination to care one way or another. In this way, giddy engagement with “so bad it’s good” content is as much an indication of privilege, my own privilege as a white middle-class American academic very much included, as it is an expression of a particular comedic aesthetic. In fact, I would argue that in this case, privilege and kuso are one and the same. You can’t have the latter without a certain degree of the former—a point that brings into sudden political focus the overwhelming whiteness of the fan audiences profiled in Best Worst Movie.

In a later iteration of the project, I ended up connecting kuso stuff to discussions of the New Aesthetic. That exclusive bonus section is after the jump!

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Twitter Under Fire

July 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

Over the last few days I’ve received several press requests regarding the recent attacks against Caroline Craido-Perez, a journalist and activist who successfully campaigned for Jane Austen’s portrait to be featured on British banknotes. Unhappy that a woman would be featured on official tender (THE HORROR!!!), a bunch of dumbasses on Twitter threw a temper tantrum and started hurling rape threats at Craido-Perez as well as MPs Stella Creasy and Claire Perry, who supported Craido-Perez’ efforts. The British government demanded that Twitter intervene, and called for Twitter representatives to appear before a Commons committee focused on online abuse. Twitter has since agreed to include a “report abuse” button on/for individual tweets, which in theory will streamline the reporting process and allow will Twitter to respond more effectively to abusive on-site behavior.

A few quick points: first, as usual, the number one question I’m getting is “what motivates these trolls??” –to which I can only say slow down buddy, what do you mean by troll? As I’ve written before, how you define the term directly impacts how the question can and should be answered. Given how little we can know about the people responsible –maybe they’re trolling for lulz, maybe they’re just misogynist assholes, maybe they’re hoping to make the front page of the Daily Mail, maybe some combination of all three, maybe something else entirely– it’s better not to focus on motivations. The question is moot, for one thing, and more importantly diverts attention away from the underlying issue of pervasive cultural sexism — which is only reinforced by the subsequent and similarly poorly-defined imperative “don’t feed the trolls.”

For me, then, the issue has less to do with trolls per se and more to do with best moderation practices. In fact I would argue that the troll question follows and is directly contingent upon the moderation question. Kate Miltner and I considered this point in our last Awl post, which although focused specifically on Reddit, could also be applied to Twitter’s current situation. And no, “free speech” has nothing to do with it, dear god.

My Daily Dot Article: “Don’t Feed the Trolls? It’s Not That Simple”

June 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

deal with it dog

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve written an article for The Daily Dot in which I argue against the phrase “don’t feed the trolls.” The post just went live, so for a good time check it out. Here’s a snippet:

Instead of agreeing not to feed the trolls, thereby accepting the terms of the antagonist’s game, the target should be encouraged to respond with his or her own game—a game called Ruining This Asshole’s Day.

The first and most basic way to play Ruin This Asshole’s Day is to shut them down, ideally by unceremoniously deleting their comments. (This presumes that the target has some control over the posted content, and that the target can keep up with whatever comments, which isn’t always the case and immediately begs a nest of questions about best moderation practices—a conversation for another day.) This shouldn’t be done passively, as an act of acquiescence, but actively, as an exertion of power—specifically the one-two punch of a raised eyebrow and extended middle finger.

Now go read the rest please!

What is a Troll, Exactly? My Daily Dot Article on Definitions

May 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

something ducks walk on

New article on trolling on definitions! The setup: These days apparently everything on the internet that is lame/upsetting is “trolling.” This framing isn’t doing us any favors! From the article:

[I concede that language shifts over time; I'm not mad, bro] But describing all problematic online behaviors as trolling and all online aggressors as trolls is a bad idea. Not because there is only one “correct” way to troll, as some trolls might insist, but because using the term as a stand-in for everything terrible online is imprecise, unhelpful, and—most importantly—tends to obscure the underlying problem of offline bigotry and aggression.

For the thrilling conclusion, go here.

Tin Foil Hats

April 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Authorities in Christiansburg can’t confirm whether or not Neil MacInnis did indeed post his warning to 4chan. Who knows what this means — that they never asked? That MacInnis isn’t talking? The world may never know. Given that we still don’t have any answers, Chris and I have been considering some of the ways that the 4chan thread/PDF might have been faked — which isn’t to say that we think it WAS, just that there remains room for (some) reasonable doubt.

For example the fact that the 4chan/shooter connection didn’t hit Twitter until after the Gawker and Wired articles (which were posted 2.5 hours and 4 hours after the shooting, respectively), and the fact that so much time elapsed between the last post on the 4chan thread (2:55pm EST) and the Wired article featuring the thread (6:51 pm EST). (relevant: at the end of their post on the subject, The Daily Dot noted that it “could not independently verify the post through 4chan or Google results.” — which is exactly right, good on them)

With enough skilled manpower, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to create a thread after the fact, post coordinated responses made by multiple users to seem as if written in real time for a total of one hour (allowing for easy time zone fake-out), save a PDF of the thread (or save as an HTML file for editing before saving as a PDF), dial back all timestamps by the appropriate increment (potentially tedious, but possible within the time frame), then send off to major media outlets.

Again, I’m not saying this did happen, just that it could have — making the subsequent eagerness of the media to shut the case closed in the same moment they open it all the more intriguing. Because why would they NOT acknowledge that amount of precedent? Why would they NOT pursue questions about online accountability and anonymity? Those are the big stories here, but they were shut down before they could even be explored.

Questions of journalistic diligence aside, I’m eager to know what actually happened. If MacInnis DID post the message, the case for online anonymity will lose a great deal of steam. And understandably so — if this is the shit that anons are going to post (and not just post but follow through on, which is what would set this case apart), then…how long do you think authorities will continue to allow these sorts of anonymous forums to flourish? If he did not, this case will call into question the very notion of “online evidence,” since pretty much everything can be doctored, a detail the media is either incapable of addressing, or unwilling to acknowledge. Plus would prove just how easy it is to hijack the news cycle for trollish ends.

In short, the implications of this story might prove to be quite serious — but we can’t know HOW serious, and in what direction that seriousness will flow (aimed at 4chan? aimed at the media? aimed at online anonymity?), until we know what happened in the runup to the shooting. And we can’t know any of that if the journalistic response is essentially to reblog the story, the online equivalent of a rubber stamp.

Update: Chris tested out our theory, and was easily able to make it look like the 4chan thread he was working on was posted in 1995.

And Now I Don’t Know

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

not sure dog

……because the thing is, upon closer inspection of time frame and tripcodes, the PDF on Wired looks pretty solid. Now I don’t know what to think, maybe it is real. It’s hard to say; these things aren’t easily verifiable, and there’s always a chance of, as the kids in the business say, “ultra-coordinated motherfuckery” in the form of time zone meddling or extensive photoshopping (nearly 4 hours passed between the last post on the now-infamous thread and Wired’s posting of the PDF — plenty of time for shenanigans). For me, the fact that this has happened so many times before, in exactly the same way, on exactly the same platform, every single time, for the last decade, is one hell of a reason for eyebrow raising. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, maybe I’ve spent too much time on the internet. As of press time, I can’t decide.

Anons on 4chan are discussing the story now — many seem similarly incredulous. Some are downright effervescent. Some are trolling other anons by claiming that all the other hoaxes were in fact a hoax, and that they were all true. tl;dr we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

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