The Heartbreak of the Friend Zone, and also NERD ALERT

March 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

you dont know how i'm feeling

Pretty much everyone who knows me even slightly knows that I treat television the way normal people treat comfort food. When I am grumpy or buried in a research project or seasonally affected, I have a few old friends I can always count on for a pick-me-up. Not meatloaf, not cookies, but The X-Files (just the first 6 seasons, obviously), Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock. Arrested Development and 30 Rock are relatively new additions to my repertoire; I’ve probably only watched each series from start to finish about four times. X-Files and Buffy have been with me much longer. I was a VHS hoarder of X-Files episodes by the time I was 10 (I distinctly remember speed-rollerblading home from swim practice so I could re-watch Eve; at one point in the episode, a 10 year-old girl who also happens to be a homicidal clone discovers the dead body of her father –her handiwork, of course– and when asked what happened, states simply that “he was exsanguinated” — to this day, one of my favorite lines of dialogue), and have probably watched each episode at least ten times, some episodes (like Eve) even more. The same holds for Buffy; once every few months I feel the tug of nostalgia and start plugging away.

So — as a superfan, I have opinions about the following video. Like, Xander falls in love with Cordelia before he meets Anya, and eventually Xander and Willow do get together, precipitating Xander’s breakup with the aforementioned Cordelia, and Spike is king of the embittered friend zone and especially during seasons 5 and 6 exhibits Twilight levels of stalkerish fuckery, so much so that he ends up trying to rape Buffy because he loves her so much and she keeps leading him on (read: talking to him) after she died and went to hell heaven that one time which……I just can’t with that plot line, but I digress, the point is that this video should have a superfan trigger warning, but other than that is pretty great.

Modern Primate Talks about Steubenville Football & Rape Culture

January 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

In “videos I wish didn’t have to be made ” news, here is Chris’ take on the recent Steubenville football rape story. For those of you who haven’t heard, several high school football players in Ohio raped a teenage girl in August, posted videos and pictures of the assault online, and then went about their lives as usual because, you know, football. They were even publicly defended by their coaches, because according to Coach Nate Hubbard, the girl was probably just embarrassed she got so drunk and needed an excuse for her behavior. Which — I mean that’s what all rape defenders say. The problem is never THE MAN WHO COMMITTED THE RAPE, it’s the girl who let it happen to her. It reminds me of how people always blame the victims of random shootings for leaving their houses, or robbery victims for having things to steal. Oh wait, no one blames those victims for the crimes other people commit? Huh, I wonder why that is. But I digress. Anonymous ended up getting involved, which the local authorities didn’t like; they have since created a website in order to debunk (at least, attempt to debunk) the assumption that law enforcement was involved in a coverup, because, you know, football.

Chris’ video discusses the story, but is careful not to restrict his condemnation just to Steubenville’s football team. What those boys did to that girl is repugnant, inhumane, disgusting, the list goes on — but they are far from violent, anomalous monsters. If only they were. As it is, rape –and the culture that engenders it– is so deeply engrained that it has become almost normal, something 20% of all women can look forward to experiencing at least once in their lifetimes (though of course that statistic is misleading; 1 in 5 of women REPORT having been raped, which doesn’t account for the untold numbers of women who haven’t). And not just because some men are rapists. But because lots of men (and women) normalize the conditions in which rape is likely to happen. That’s the tragedy. That this isn’t an isolated event.

This is another one of those cases where the only kind of justice –at press time anyway– is of the vigilante variety. Yes yes, there are always risks with these kinds of interventions; the information provided by Anonymous (and everyone else who has disseminated information about the involved parties) could be wrong, and innocent people could end up in the crosshairs. But it’s difficult to muster any sympathy for the people who belong there.

About That Public Shaming…

November 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Following last Tuesday’s election, a number of American teenagers took to Twitter and began spewing racist invectives against President Obama. Jezebel blogger Tracie Egan Morrissey found these tweets and, in the name of teaching a lesson about accountability, contacted the teens’ high schools and athletic directors. She then published a long article in which she posted the teens’ personal information alongside their offensive (and I mean offensive) tweets. Chris Menning of Modern Primate has some things to say about the story, most notably the fact that Jezebel unfairly implicated an innocent teen in their expose, acknowledged their mistake in an @-reply tweet, but did not issue an apology to Zoe Kimball, a long-suffering victim of trolling and online harassment, or address the fact that Jezebel’s editorial staff unceremoniously changed their header graphic after realizing what they had erroneously posted.

Setting aside the implications of sloppy journalistic practices (it’s called reverse Google image search, and it takes 30 seconds; that’s probably a good place to start when you decide to plaster some kid’s face front and center in an article accusing said kid of calling the President the N-word — at the very least, to see if there’s an Encyclopedia Dramatica article written about the target, as was the case with Zoe Kimball), and tabling the fact that the bigots in the Jezebel article are underage (I am not a developmental psychologist, do not know these kids, and can only speculate about whether or not any or all of them are mature enough to fully grasp the concept of “public” expression, or consequences generally), the Jezebel story poses another, and as far as I can tell, mostly unacknowledged problem — namely, the ways in which public shaming risks replacing one form of problematic online expression with another, and arguably worse, form of problematic online expression.

Some background: the implicit argument of the Jezebel article is that racism is alive and insidious as ever and that we need to do something, anything, to show that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated, and furthermore that you should watch what you say, because someone could be watching and go all Adrian Chen on your ass. As a friend of mine convincingly argued, Jezebel’s approach to racists can therefore be likened to a university’s zero-tolerance approach to smoking on campus (which is its own form of public shaming). These kinds of campaigns, whether anti-smoking or anti-racism, convey the message that THESE BEHAVIORS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE, which ultimately (ideally) translates to behavioral change.

I don’t disagree with the basic premise that practice (“you’re not allowed to smoke here, because it’s a public health hazard”) impacts ideas (“I don’t want to be a smoker anymore”). But in the case of shaming racists on the internet, at least in the context of the Jezebel article, I wonder if the message conveyed to those who have/would post racist messages online isn’t “you shouldn’t be racist” but rather “you shouldn’t be racist…under your real name.” A surprising percentage of Jezebel’s reader comments seem to (inadvertently) argue as much, and provide slight variations on the assertion-cum-justification that “look, the tweets were public, if you post this stuff publicly prepared to be publicly shamed!!!!” –as if the kids’ misstep was to post their bile under their real names, and not the bile-posting itself. This isn’t to say that commenters on Jezebel are somehow complicit in the kids’ racist statements, but that their reactions give other racist kids (and adults) a compelling reason to create pseudonymous accounts on Twitter or elsewhere.

My issue with the Jezebel article, then, isn’t that I think people have a “right” to be terrible on the internet. In fact if one more person starts bleating about how they have a right to say whatever they want on Twitter because of free speech, I will throw my computer in the toilet (YOU GUYS, THAT’S NOT HOW FREE SPEECH WORKS). But I am wary of the implicit (again, if inadvertent) incentivizing of anonymous racist expression. Because the thing about anonymity is, once someone becomes anonymous, you lose them. You can’t appeal to their better nature because you don’t know whose nature it is. You can’t remind them of the real world implications of their speech and behavior, and can’t force them to confront the repercussions of their actions, because where would you even start? By pushing the behaviors underground, you risk creating a whole new, and arguably worse (at least trickier to handle), beast. Furthermore, and ironically, the very possibility of online shaming comes under threat. After all, you can’t shame people who can’t be found, and who therefore can’t be held accountable.

This doesn’t mean I reject the idea of exposing bigots on the internet. I actually think that public online shaming, if done carefully, may prove to be a better and more effective alternative to various censorship measures, which are more problematic than they would be helpful. But public shaming poses its own set of problems — problems Tracie Egan Morrissey tripped over when she didn’t double and triple and quadruple check to make sure the minors she was shaming weren’t themselves victims, as was Zoe Kimball (because even if it turns out that shaming a group of racist 15 year-olds is worth it, and will ultimately reduce the overall frequency and ferocity of online racism, you had better be damn sure you’re shaming the RIGHT 15 year-olds). The difficulty of getting one’s facts straight isn’t the only complicating factor, as even the most well-intentioned attempt to expose existing bigots might just be a catalyst for emboldening groups of even bigger (and more smugly entitled) bigots.

In the end, then, my argument is that the jury is still out, and that we should think a bit more about the ethical trade-offs of vigilante justice before we decide that public shaming is the best way to deal with problematic online behaviors. It may be that shaming is our best option, but it might not be. It would, I think, be best to proceed with caution.

America’s Calling: A Summary of the Social History of the Telephone

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

For the past two three weeks (thanks a lot, Sandy), my New Media’s Past and Future class has focused on the history of telephony. As frustrating as it was, the Hurricane That Ate Week Nine actually gave us a great deal to talk about re: similar, particularly in relation to the process by which the telephone became an “anonymous” technology. This connected nicely to discussions of the storm, since technologies that are normally invisible (the telephone, internet, even good old electricity) were very apparent during the hurricane, if only in their absence. It was, in other words, an extremely annoying, anxiety-inducing week-long teachable moment. For the sake of morale, I will call that a silver lining.

The primary reading for this unit was Claude Fischer’s America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940. I’ve posted a summary of the book’s main argument –along with some relevant clips and images — here. First, a sneak peek!

One of the things people tend to assume about established technologies is that they’re not making any assumptions. Knowing how to use a telephone is such an obvious thing, people think, if they ever bother thinking about the telephone at all, because why would they, it’s such a natural part of human life, right? WRONG, says Claude Fischer, who reminds us in America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 that the telephone was something people had to learn, which itself was something the people selling the telephone had to teach, and later something advertisers and marketers had react to when people began adopting the new technologies in unexpected ways.

Happy helloing, everyone!

Taxonomy of a NYC Dog Park: CROSSPOST ON MODERN PRIMATE

November 8, 2012 § 2 Comments

Since adopting our 5 month-old rescue puppy Nathan, Chris and I have spent a great deal of time at the local dog parks. Over the months we have met a number of interesting characters, most of whom fall into 10 basic categories.

In no particular order, these categories are:

  • The Frazzled Parent
  • The Mean Old Man
  • The Breedist
  • The Helicopter Parent
  • The Dog-Hater
  • The Bench Warmer
  • The Screamer
  • The Apologist
  • The Sign Ignorer
  • The Know-It-All

You should head on over to Modern Primate & read all about it!

[and/or full text after the jump]

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Your Tears Are Delicious: Liberals Dance the Waltz at the GOP’s Bawfest (CROSSPOST FROM MODERN PRIMATE)

November 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

A few notes on political Schadenfreude, one of my favorite emotions!

In the wake of yesterday’s thorough trouncing of the Lemon Republican Party, people—specifically liberals—have been throwing the word “Schadenfreude” around with finger-tenting aplomb. Shortly after midnight on Election Day, for example, Daily Kos published an image of a bottle of “Tears of Impotent Rage” captioned with the phrase “Drink All You Want” and simply titled “Schadenfreude.” Talking Points Memo proclaimed as much in its November 7 headline, which states that “Liberal Schadenfreude Hits Impossible Heights as Results Pour In,” a point a simple Twitter search of the word immediately confirms.

But is Schadenfreude all that’s going on here? My vote is for not exactly!!

MORE ON MODERN PRIMATE, MY FELLOW AMERICANS!

Regarding Romney’s “Passionate” Debate Performance

October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

My partner Chris Menning just published an article over on Modern Primate that is well worth a read. Of Mitt Romney’s blustery debate performance, Chris reminds us:

As a white man, Mitt’s allowed to be as emotional -aggressive, rude, even angry – as he wants to be. All of those qualities make him strong. But as a black man, any of those qualities would hurt the President. The same goes for other historically underrepresented groups. If it were either Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, getting angry would have people accusing her of being too volatile to hold such an important position. Really, the only way you can be aggressive and rude and have it perceived as a strength is when you’re a member of the group who makes and universalizes the rules — in other words, the white majority.

More on this depressing reminder here.

How to Train a Willful Puppy, Part 1: Don’t Feed the Troll

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Crosspost from Modern Primate! Nathan Scott Phillips-Menning! Obedience training! Don’t troll me, dog! Click through to the MP!

[and/or full text after the jump]

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More Talk About ROFLculture, or Whatever It’s Called!

September 12, 2012 § 3 Comments

The conversation continues! In my most recent Modern Primate post, I discuss the weirdness (and truth, hence the weirdness) of the claim that meme culture is dying, or at least in the middle of massive transformation.

Full article, where I discuss the relationship between these changes and changes in the larger social web, here!

[and/or full text after the jump]

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On Shifting Sands

September 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

THEN WHO WAS TSHIRT

The other day my partner Chris Menning argued that search interest in the term “meme” had plateaued, and speculated that this had something to do with lulz Anonymous’s post-OWS inactivity, or maybe not inactivity but lack of media attention (which essentially amounts to the same thing). The idea being that Anonymous–and by “Anonymous” he meant little-a, i.e. the anon most closely associated with 4chan’s /b/-board–was no longer generating new memetic content, and therefore no longer fueling the once ubiquitous meme-train (and subsequently, Google search interest in similar).

Today Chris clarified his position, specifically by defining his terms a bit more carefully and also by positioning his argument in relation to existing arguments, including one of my own blog posts wherein I wring my hands over ad-hoc methodological reframings. And wring my hands I did, oh boy. Because these aren’t easy conversations to have, in fact can be the source of great existential turmoil. But they are important conversations to have, and not just important but inevitable. Things change, especially when underground content or behavior begins to go mainstream, and particularly when said mainstreaming begins making certain people money (see above). I devote the last two chapters of my dissertation to precisely these issues, and precisely these shifts, and postulate a number of interconnected reasons explaining not just the how but also the why.

The fact is, though, this dust is still settling. We don’t know how or when the story will end, or if it even makes sense to use that sort of framing. We’re certainly in a period of transition, and it certainly is the case that the meme/troll space of 2012 is very different from the meme/troll space of 2008. The question of whether or not that’s a good thing is irrelevant — we are where we are, deal with it. I’ll keep wringing my hands, and the world will keep turning, and otherwise who knows.

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