Grad students, get out your shovels; it’s that time of year again – essay writing season! And no, by shoveling, I don’t mean carefully crafting the BS needed to meet word count and content quotas; I’m referring more to the feeling of being snowed in by the demands of academia. Just when you clear your driveway of one task, you’re being buried by another one. Until that final bell, there is no time to bask in the glory of recent accomplishments. The only way out is endless shoveling. As terrifying as a work whiteout can be, you have to keep driving!
My most recent near-death essay-writing experience was a final paper for Hugh Hodges’ Public Texts II. While the writing process wasn’t that bad, it felt like a date where I was getting endless text messages from other girlfriends. It’s really difficult to give a focused effort when you’re juggling course readings, other papers, and undergraduate marking, but that’s the life of a Grad student; you have to be an academic player! It’s the game you’ve chosen to play and now you have to excel.
For Hugh, I ended up writing on Stuart McLean’s CBC radio program, The Vinyl Café. I was interested in examining the show as a participatory culture, albeit a restricted one. Part of my argument roots the show’s popularity in its ability to make its audience feel like a public that actively plays a role in shaping the show’s ideology. I also explore the possibility that the show’s producer/consumer collaboration is somewhat of an illusion but in terms of audience investment, this doesn’t really matter; the fan-base buys in because they believe that their voices matter.
Which brings me to rethinking Don’t Panic Trent. When Cindy and I took over this blog back in January, our goal was to make it an interactive space that did more than just mimic discourse – we wanted the real thing! Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics describes discourse as reciprocal: “[it] must be circulated, not just emitted in one direction” (Warner 100). So did we make it or did we fake it?
From my perspective, though there is always room for improvement, the blog is moving in the right direction. On an internal level, having two editors this semester really made for some great cross-blog conversation. In particular, Cindy did an excellent job of tying some of my write-ups into her posts. This moved the blog away from being purely episodic; it became an extended dialogue that readers could invest in.
Speaking of the audience, we also made strides towards dissolving concrete author/reader divides. Guest MA blogs and interviews contributed to creating a space where “the distinction between author and public [lost] its basic character” (Benjamin 28). Nancy Fraser’s idea of a discourse containing “a multiplicity of publics” where members can speak in “[their] own voice” (69) really took off when a comment by Professor Michael Morse eventually evolved into his own posting. The disagreement turned the site into a forum where both parties were able to clarify their position: “even when those interests turn[ed] out to conflict” (72). Varying voices and opinions added a dynamic where “at any moment, the reader [was] ready to turn into a writer” (28).
Hopefully, reader participation on this site is a trend on the rise. Different narratives enhance our community “with valuable new information, ideas, and perspectives” (Ellison et al. 138) that the “Don’t Panic” editing team could never hope to achieve on its own. This site is also an opportunity for its readership to bridge social capital between members (138). Naturally, more contributors means a greater archive to draw upon in the years to come.
So that’s my piece; now, it’s your turn. What can we do to get you, the reader, more involved? The site layout, content, and publication cycles are all fair game. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or simply comment on the message board below. Say a lot, say a little, send a hello… but say something! Don’t leave me hanging here! Your time starts now.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Media and Cultural Studies: keyworks. Eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham & Douglas M. Kellner. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2006.
Ellison, N., Lampe, C., Steinfeld, C., Vitak, J. “With a Little Help From My Friends: How Social Network Sites Affect Social Capital Processes.” A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. Ed. Zizi Papacharissi. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. 2011.
Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actual Existing Democracy.” Social Text, No. 25/26. Duke University Press,1990. 56-80. JSTOR.
Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zonebooks, 2002.