Monday, September 24, 2007

thoughts on media and circulation

Some of you have probably heard me talk ad nauseum about my recent publicity surrounding my quotation marks blog. The whole business of that blog’s growing popularity and it’s coverage in other media has led me to think some things about circulation, new media, and how content does and doesn’t cross to a new medium. I decided to use my (less popular) blog to think through some of these issues. Sorry so rambly.

So the first thing that is interesting about my blog experience is the nature of circulation – the way website visits spike when popular blogs or websites link to it, for example. Interestingly, when Yahoo picks linked to my blog as the pick of the day my spike in visits was only average – about the same as any blog with a large readership. However, promotion in a more mainstream internet source (that is, yahoo picks gets more mainstream attention than I Blame the Patriarchy, to give one example of a website that led to a similar spike) gets the attention of a different audience. I do not believe that it is coincidental that my promotion by Yahoo was followed a few days later by contact from an Associated Press reporter.

At this point, it is interesting to discuss the way media translate. While I don’t view my website as peevology, others certainly have included it as such. The AP article, and other subsequent coverage, tended to emphasize the tone as “annoyed” even “blasting”. Many of my interviews focused on what was annoying about certain uses of language. What seemed to be lost in translation between my approach and the reception of these members of the media was my sense of playfulness. It’s my suspicion that a playful snark is the primary mode for many writers in the internet medium. Traditional journalism employs that tone less often, perhaps because of the broader audience who might misunderstand. It’s also true that by seeing this perception mediated over and over and over, it became more salient to me, and my rejection of it became more important to me.

Another distinction between old and new media came through in the types of emails I received on friday when the story was mostly on web sources and saturday when it hit print. My saturday emails seemed far less aware of the conventions of the internet. On Saturday I got far more emails that didn't seem to require a response, and were not incredibly interesting (I got some interesting ones too) several of which were paranoid that I would repost their message with their email address (for the record, I never post other people's email addresses on the internet). I was left to wonder what made them go to the trouble to email me at all. Internet people, on the other hand, were more likely to be hostile. For example, on Friday someone emailed me whose entire text was "much ado about nothing" and someone else started an entire blog to talk about how I annoyed him called "people with to much time on there hands" (I'm not even kidding, with that spelling). I assign all this to jealousy.

Being the subject of this kind of coverage also leads me to think seriously about the ways individuals are mediated in one-dimensional ways. For obvious reasons, nobody cares about the parts of my life that are unrelated to quotation marks; that is to say, most of it. This is obviously also the case with other people in the news media. I find my name invoked in comparison (positive comparison, fortunately for me) to other people named only for single events in their lives.

Not that any of this is really news, but it strikes one differently when it happens on an individual level, when you know what is being selected and what isn’t.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nothing like a video game crusade...

I followed links to this article in the Nation which reports that a pentagon-approved group is giving soldiers care packages which include the Left Behind video game. Daily Kos and Gameology explain some of the reasons that this is objectionable.

I think as responsible peace-loving Christians, it is important to speak out about how troubling this is. Even fictional stories that portray a violent Christian Crusade against those of other faiths are offensive and dangerous. Giving those materials to American soldiers in a nation populated by muslims invites comparison to other religiously motivated slaughters across history, and it is not flattering for the US or for Christians. I believe all elements of the Left Behind universe are damaging to the civil-religious psyche because of the disturbing masculinist, rambo'd up version of Christianity that they portray. What ever happened to "blessed are the meek?"

(for a more carefully thought out viewpoint about the potential cultural impact of Left Behind, see my friend Kristy Maddux's dissertation.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Tribute to Madeleine L'Engle

When I was a kid I read a lot. I moved from The Babysitter's Club to other children's paperbacks, including the kind published by Christian publishing houses. Even at a young age, those christian young adult books bothered me, they felt contrived and generally badly written. I had always had an ambition to be a writer - in fact, I can't remember a time when I wasn't working on a writing project. I used to use my parent's Apple II computer to write stories on my own personal floppy disc. I had an unarticulated fear that writers who were Christian were not very good, and since I was Christian, I also would be obligated to write this kind of fiction. When I began to read L'Engle's novels and found out she was a Christian, I was relieved. I also had a new ambition: to become a writer of her caliber.
As I grew older, I moved away from wanting to write fiction, but the beauty and conviction of writers like L'Engle still inspire me. I was encouraged when I was reading her obituary today that her most beloved books were written in her 40s and 50s. While my primary ambition is no longer to write in her genre, if I can someday inspire a little girl the way L'Engle inspired me, I will be very pleased with my life indeed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Desert Island Discs: Details

I’m discovering as I write these Desert Island picks that all my favorite albums are really inextricably connected to parts of my life. They become sentimental to me because I love them so much that I listen to them a lot, and eventually my love for them comes not only from their objective awesomeness, but because they remind me of other parts of my life. A great example of this phenomenon is Frou Frou’s Details.

My last year in college, this album easily got the most play in the WAffice – it held the top “most played spots” on our itunes except for a few other songs that got obsessively replayed. I think other WA groups also discovered the tendency of that shared office culture toward obsessive song repeating. Hearing those opening sounds of “Let Go” brings me back to those days of hanging out and working and “working” and making heretical jokes with some people who mean a lot to me, even though we are no longer so close. That was a great year.

The reason we went so crazy for Details, though, is because it’s just a great album. These past few years I’ve moved from my love for confessional mid-tempo folk toward music that doesn’t sound like anything else I know. Frou Frou is definitely that – Imogen Heap’s unique voice combined with electronic accompaniment is distinctive, and really the Postal Service is the only other artist I know of that combines interesting lyrics and melodies with this kind of electronic sounds. Additionally, Heap tends to use unexpected intervals in her melodies – have you ever tried to sing along with her? I have. It’s hard. The lyrics are somehow both strange and mundane (example: if love is surrender/then whose war is it anyway?/do just what I tell you/and no one will get hurt), and this ads to the sense of newness. Even though I basically have the entire album memorized it still sounds new and different to me. I love that.

previous picks:
Why Should the Fire Die
Achtung Baby

Other Players: