Four Models of Film/Media Blogging

Cross-posted at Dr. Mabuse’s Kaleidoscope. Any comments to this post can be left there.

Clearly there are more than four variations on the potential use of the blog (software-interfaced diaristic website) to write about film. But Jason's review/discussion of Julia Lesage's social bookmarking essay asked for reactions, and while I agree with him that Lesage's essay is a valuable and welcome championing of online film discussion, I had a couple of misgivings.

First, there's Lesage's argument seems to be that blogging is nice, but social bookmarking gets the benefits of online community without the work of regular blogging. I'm open to that idea, but remain skeptical. Lesage says her catalog of blogs has been immensely helpful to her, and I won't doubt her. In my hands, though, I could see falling into the trap of spending more time tinkering with tags than doing the productive work of reading, digesting, and synthesizing. Anyone who has accumulated books on the mistaken premise that owning is 90% of the reading will be familiar with this danger. One nice thing about blogging is that for all the mystification of its terminology to neophytes, the technical interface brings a minimum of fuss.

Second, Lesage wants to claim that film blogging is an important development, but does not point to one single insight that a blog has brought that would not have been seen the light of day otherwise. One can, of course, but the oversight suggest to me a subtle and unintended trivialization of what academic blogging can bring to film and media studies. The tone of the essay is one of the teacher who is glad that her students have found a forum for saying smart things outside of class, not of a scholar who has to build those ideas into her conception of what the discipline does. Maybe I'm being unfair in that characterization, but at the very least I cannot piece from Lesage's essay what exactly what role blogging is suppposed to have in scholarship, or how it expresses the relationship between scholars and their "lay scholar" counterparts.

To that end, I thought I'd suggest a schematic of this relationship:

[Academy in dialogue only with academy]
The blog - or more properly, the discssion that emerges on blogs and between them -can be a virtual seminar or colloquium or an online extension of the informal scholarly discussions that take place in any university department. The benefit of blogging these conversation is their liberation from geographic constraint and institutional divisions; potentially the conversation is wider and far richer. I've written on this model before, and it informs my own film studies blog. The nature of this conversation can vary considerably. Blogging can be a sketchpad of ideas; a means of sharing work published or in progress (Michael Newman's posting of his dissertation on American independent cinema); a survey of recent scholarship (Jason's book reviews at Mabuse); a step to fill in gaps in academic journalism (the various conference bloggers at MIT5); or a platform to discuss pedagogical issues often marginalized from scholarship proper (my review of intro textbooks). In any case, these discussions do not seek to supplant traditional scholarship but to abet it.

[Academy in dialogue with lay audience]
Though I write my blog as part of my scholarly practice, I've realized as time goes by that lower-level students and those outside the academy sometimes read it. As such, I find myself subtly shifting the tone, explaining what would perhaps be obvious to the nonexpert. Others go further, using their blog to present specialized knowledge for a non-specialized audience. If you look at a few of the prominent economics blogs, such as Brad DeLong or Marginal Revolution, you can see alongside specialist discussion of mathematical models and scholarly papers an accesible discussion of economics' applicability to policy and broader real-life questions. Perhaps the best example I can think in the realm of film studies is David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's blog, which has both an implicit and explicit pedagogical impulse.

[Lay audience challenging academy]
Heterodox challenges can come from those with academic credentials, of course, but for those who resent the orthodoxy-solidifying effects of the scholarly apparatus (espcially peer-review) blogging appeals in its ability to offer a separate publishing and scholarly arena. The Valve, for instance, was founded by John Holbo, an academic philosopher disgruntled with the field of literary studies and its (mis)understandings of philosophy. The site is not entirely anti-academic, but often it does seek to challenge the critical theory-oriented model of textual literary scholarship, by sidestepping the current venues of that field. I'm not sure that challengers are trying to dethrone film studies yet; the humanist film critics have a print-based film culture to call home (see Paul Schrader on the canon), and the cognitivists, analytic philosophers, and historians of style have had the prestige of Bordwell and the institutional support at Wisconsin to carve out a space for heterodoxy within the academy, paradoxical as that may sound (i.e. it is no longer strictly heterodox). Still, some calls at Mabuse have championed blogging to get around the "log jam" of ideas in traditional scholarship.

Film Culture
[Lay audience in dialogue only with lay audience]
Particular because films, television shows and other moving-image media are popular entertainment as well as an object of study, there are many more bloggers writing about film outside the academy than from within. Too, film academics are also lay viewers, as the recent discussion of summer films here at Mabuse attests. Not the line between popular film culture, cinephile film culture, and academic film culture is easy to draw; Chuck Tryon's excellent film reviews are clearly the work of someone with a deep film studies education, yet I classify them as "film culture" because they are above all film criticism, an evaluative practice, aimed at circulating and promoting film texts in a shared receptive community. Film scholars, that is, can participate in a larger film culture as, more or less, equals: better educated, certainly, but still peers in the discussion.

These models are not exhaustive or mutually exclusive. But I think it's helpful to specify exactly what we want blogging to do. After all, those of us championing this new medium are doing so not simply because the medium is new but because we think it can help us accomplish something valuable.


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