Greetings, loyal readers and true believers. GayProf is having a week of living blogfully. My good fortune allowed me to finally meet (in RL) one of my favorite bloggers of all time: Dorian from Postmodern Barney. He and his friend John made a rest stop in Midwestern Funky Town on their cross-country journey.
When I first started this blog, Dorian was an early inspiration and a really generous reader. He was just as rockin' cool as I imagined (and pretty darn sweet). It was also a pleasure to meet John, one of the few other people I have ever encountered who played Starfleet Battles as a youngster (Yes, I was that type of nerd).
My week of living blogfully will include another blogger visiting Midwestern Funky Town later this week. Dare to guess the identity.
Today, the blogfully week continues with a the conversation that I recently had with HistoriAnn over blogging, academic priorities, and the solution to world hunger. Okay, maybe we didn’t quite tackle all of that. Still, read Part I of our conversation here today and then head over to her corral tomorrow for the conclusion.
Part I: Blogging the academic life
GayProf: It’s great that we are finally getting around to a joint post. Of course, my first choice would have been to debate the intricacies of the Wonder Woman episode where Formicida, Queen of the Insects, brings an environmental message to evil and polluting U.S. corporations. I suppose, though, discussing academia is good, too.
The relationship between blogs and academic life seems tricky. Some suggest that it should be construed as important as any other type of intellectual inquiry in tenure/promotion files.
I guess I am conflicted about what I think of that. For me, I liked my little bloggy because I could write about things that I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to write about in more narrow academic circles. Also, it gives a chance for academics to reach a much wider audience. Not many people outside of universities, for instance, would care to pick up a film journal. On a blog, though, they can read a quick post that contemplates the racial meanings of Ricardo Montálban’s roles in film and television (I was sad that he died, but I take comfort in knowing that his casket was upholstered in the richest Corinthian leather possible). Alas, I think more people will have read CoG than will ultimately ever read NERPoD (even if NERPoD is a bit sounder and has fewer typos).
HistoriAnn: I agree with you GayProf: My instinct is that my blog is not something I want to submit as part of my annual report or for my salary exercise.
GayProf: At a talk by Benedict Anderson I once attended, he speculated that the moment that a text becomes something that college students can be tested over it more-or-less loses its revolutionary potential. Maybe the moment that a blog becomes part of merit metrics, they also lose their fun. Then it’s no longer a way to pass the time cracking jokes, but actual work.
HistoriAnn: I also enjoy blogging because of the new people I've met (well, most of them, anyway) and the large audience who will read my blog and engage my opinions who will in fact never, ever pick up my books and articles. A lot of people -- mostly historians or feminist academics outside of History -- have let me know, either on the blog or in person, that HistoriAnn has been really professionally or even personally useful to them, and I'm thrilled that so many people seem to appreciate the community that we've built there.
GayProf: It seems like community is the most important aspect of blogging. Certainly one of the reasons that I started my own blog was that I was feeling a lack of community in many aspects of life in the dreaded state of Texas. Blogging allowed me to connect with different groups of like-minded folk: The queer, other scholars, those obsessed with seventies pop icons. It turns out that those are some rather overlapping communities.
HistoriAnn: Yes. At least, for feminist bloggers and most academic bloggers I think community is the most important thing. There’s a similar interest in creating safe spaces in which we can have conversations across vast geographies, and pretty much in real time. Although friends of mine have commented recently that they think that the historical profession is just too ‘nice’ these days—in that no one really wants to attack anyone’s ideas, they just ignore them instead—I think ‘nice’ is just fine by me in terms of the space I have in the blogosphere.
GayProf: Too nice?(!) I am not sure what conferences they are attending, but I see lots of meanspirited folk become sharks at various panels. Geez – Are they hoping for an Alexis-and- Krystal-in-the-pool sort of moment?
HistoriAnn: Well, who isn’t, so long as it’s not you getting wet? (Just kidding.) But, to return to the question of blogging on the clock versus for fun: blogging is a choice that I think of like a hobby, although "hobby" seems like I'm selling myself short--should I say "avocation," as opposed to my "vocation?" I never dreamed that my avocation would be something that would attract more than a few hundred regular readers. If I put it on my annual report, it would become another obligation, and as a middle-class woman in the early twenty-first century, I've got plenty of obligations to work and to other people in my life. Maybe it's illusory, but keeping it off the books makes it feel more like fun than work.
Realistically, even if I included my blog in my annual report, I'd only get a fraction of credit for it anyway. In my department, our effort distribution is 50% teaching, 35% research, and 15% service. Since blogging is neither teaching nor research -- although it may serve to facilitate both of these aspects of my work -- it would doubtlessly fall into the catchall category we call "service" (as in service to the department/university/profession/community, etc.)
So, all things considered, I like the fact that Historiann is "space off," although it's clearly linked to who I am and what I do professionally. It has brought me into contact with scholars like you, with whom I have a lot in common but who otherwise don’t attend the same conferences, generally speaking, and it’s always good to have more friends and connections than fewer, right? I don’t mean that in a careerist sense, but rather in the sense that it makes me feel connected to a broader community of likeminded scholars. (This is something I think I value more now from my wifi connection in the Colorado Territory than I would if I still lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts or even in Oxford, Ohio.)
GayProf: Yeah, I think blogging could only fall under the “Service” category, which nobody really counts towards anything anyway (No matter how many nifty percentages or fractions that they attach to it. While I have occasionally heard people complain that so-and-so doesn’t do their fair share of service, I have never seen it actually impact their status or potential for raises).
HistoriAnn: Me either! Funny, that. I also don’t see people punished enough for being jerks, but I guess that means I can always reserve my right to be a flaming a-hole should I feel so inclined.
GayProf: Ah, the privileges of tenure. . .
Still, I do think that academics are going to have to engage with internet publishing, including blogs, in more serious ways. I think there is a potential for blogging to be akin to the very early writings of second-wave feminists or African-American and Latino activists in the sixties and seventies. In those instances, most trade and academic presses didn’t want to have anything to do with those works. The ideas, however, were so important that people published them anyway that they could: small independent presses (a thing of the past), self-publishing, or even just mimeographing them so that they could circulate. I think that blogging has allowed a comparable opportunity for people to articulate views that just don’t get traction in the mainstream.
HistoriAnn: This is a great analogy—or, maybe like feminist ‘zines from the 1980s and early 1990s?
GayProf: Blogging also gives academics a chance to have a sense of humor about things. Working in academia, maybe especially in ethnic/race studies, I find that everybody tends to be a little too earnest and serious. Given that ethnic studies professors stand a chance of being arrested in their own home, that lack of humor is probably understandable. Nonetheless, I like to think that we could be irreverent more often, even if we are talking about really serious issues.
HistoriAnn: Exactly. What would you do with your Wonder Woman memorabilia, and what would I do with my Barbies and cowgirl pinups, if we didn't have blogs?
GayProf: Well, I would probably still send my Mego Wonder Woman doll on adventures.
HistoriAnn: Our students get to know us (within limits, one hopes) and we can't help but share a little of our personalities with them in the way we dress, talk, move, organize a class, etc. But academic publications are not about "us" as people -- rightly I think. Blogs even permit us to create alter-egos like a superhero who disguises herself by day as a naval secretary, or like a cowgirl on the High Plains Desert with an amazing library of sexy pin-ups by Gil Elvgren. I think your fascination with Wonder Woman -- bespectacled naval attache by day, superhero of the Allied Powers by night -- captures the fun of blogging. We can develop playful alter-egos who probably have very little to do with our actual everyday professional lives. (And I hope I haven’t disillusioned too many readers for suggesting that I may not actually be a cowgirl who owns a ranch with horses to tend to, fences to ride, and stalls to muck out.)
GayProf: Right, though my secret identity is the worst kept secret on the blogosphere. Diana Prince made it look so easy. Just toss on some glasses and wear a bun-of-steel and nobody second-guesses that you might be wearing a red-white-and-blue playboy bunny costume under that uniform. As there are only a dozen gay-Chicano-studies scholars in existence, you don’t have to be Angela Lansbury to figure my real identity out.
HistoriAnn: That’s another reason I decided to be “out” from the start. I was already tenured, but really—how many other people in the world are there whose research interests are exactly what I do? And how many of them live in Colorado? Anyone considering starting a blog should consider how likely it is you can remain anonymous or pseudonymous if you live in a small state or small metro area. If you live in L.A. or New York, you’ll probably hold onto your anonymity longer, but since most academic bloggers end up in small-town America and Canada, that’s probably unlikely.
GayProf: I never really thought anybody would actually read the blog. When I started, there were just things that I needed to express about my life that wasn’t possible in TexAss.
Setting aside my shaky decisions, and to harp on my previous analogy to the sixties writings (because I tend to like it today), I think that pseudonyms and alter-egos can reignite that previous generations’ notion that the ideas were more important than the individual. They believed that the identity of one particular author was less critical than getting a discussion going.
Still, blogging is simply not the same as other intellectual work. Blogging definitely rewards quantity over quality. The more one posts, the more readers one collects. Indeed, I have seen some really great blogs lose their sense of purpose because the authors wanted to increase their readership. In place of thoughtfully written pieces written every few days, they became a clearing house for news feeds posted dozens and dozens of times per day. It works, too. They have thousands of readers who are willing to comment on a post consisting of nothing more than a picture of a cup of coffee.
HistoriAnn: Yes -- even some academic blogs -- or rather, blogs by people who were once academics -- have fallen into this trap. I try to walk the line by posting pretty much every day, and levening the history geek posts with the political commentary, and the professional issues in academia posts with Barbies or other doll-related posts, just to lighten the mood. (Depressing blogs are to their readers as Kryptonite is to Superman! They will sap your superpowers.)
But there's no question: it's easier to just link to someone else and say simply "heh" or "interesting," than it is to analyze something and open up a question for your readers to reflect on. But then, that's in part why I linked my blog to my real life identity--I thought that people should know where I'm coming from, and that it might curb any temptation to become intellectually lazy.
GayProf: I agree – After all, I can read a newsfeed just as easily as anybody else. Why go to a blog for that?
And there are some topics I won’t do on my blog. People’s murders, beatings, or personal humiliations just don’t seem like appropriate content for a blog with campy comic book covers and jokes about having sex with a car.