Some Monday Reflections

Some days I look at my twitter feed and I don’t find anything that makes me curious or inspires me to ask questions and reflect. But, not today. I don’t know if it’s the 16 oz latte, my 2.5 mile jog at the YWCA, or the early snow that has my “little gray cells” working overtime, but I have a big list of items to think/reflect/trouble/write about on this snowy, cold Monday in November. At first, I was planning to write a series of blog entries on each topic, but I soon realized that that was too much. So instead, I’ve decided to create a post with just a few of the links, along with some reflections.

Item One

Did Jezebel cross the line by ratting out teens for their racist tweets?

Background: Shortly after President Obama was re-elected last week, some twitter users began tweeting their highly racist reactions. And the data-mapping experts over at Floating Sheep tracked and mapped them. This tracking, particularly how the map made visible where certain clusters of racism tweets existed (i.e. Alabama and Mississippi), was a popular topic on twitter, facebook, blogs and online news sources. A few examples: Map Shows You Where Those Racists Tweeting After Obama Election Live (Colorlines), The Racist States of America (Daily Mail UK) and Twitters Racists React… (Jezebel).

According to Slate, Jezebel took their tracking of the story too far, by not only publicly shaming the twitter users, who were primarily teens, but by

reaching out to the tweeters’ schools to get the kids in trouble (and, presumably, to gin up page views). They then meticulously noted each administrator’s response. They also updated us, gleefully, on the status of the students’ twitter accounts: Which kids were embarrassed enough to delete them? Which ones offered half-assed excuses? Which ones doubled down on their racism?

Here’s Jezebel’s follow-up post, detailing their efforts to contact the tweeters’ school officials in order to hold the tweeters accountable and in the hopes that the officials could “educate them on racial sensitivity.” In their critique of Jezebel’s actions, Slate author Katy Waldman, argues that a major media outlet like Jezebel is not the appropriate venue for meting out discipline. It not only punishes these “stupid kids” too severely for their lack of judgment (evidence of their mistake and the resultant shaming will exist for years online), but is more likely to piss them off and shut them down, then encourage them to be educated and accountable for their tweets. Here’s the closing line of the brief article:

Morrissey writes: “We contacted their school’s administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students’ ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity.” Perhaps. More likely, as my colleague put it in an email: “It probably won’t make them less racist if they’re bitter forever.”

Initially, I felt that the Slate article was a bit too harsh but now I’m not so sure. These tweets are abhorrent and the users who tweeted them should be held accountable, but these teens are minors and represent only a handful of individuals who contribute to (but have not created) the larger systems of structural racism in this country. To shame only these kids (or primarily these kids) enables us to ignore/suppress the larger structures of racism and to fail to consider all of the ways that racist attitudes continue to exist within this country. It’s much easier to focus our attention on a few “stupid kids,” then to face the reality that, as Colorlines’ author Jorge Rivas writes: “racists are everywhere.”

This Slate article raised some interesting questions for me:
1. How should we hold users, especially teen users, accountable for their tweets?
2. What sorts of resources are available for educators, parents, community members for learning how to be more accountable and responsible online?
3. After further reviewing comments from the Jezebel post, I came across this thread in which commenters discuss how they’re contacting school officials. One user refers to these actions as internet vigilantism.

Is “internet vigilantism” an effective tool for holding individuals accountable?

Item two

Two Random Encounters with Judith Butler

1. I found an excellent quotation (from a recent interview) on a great post by Michael D Dwyer about teaching pop culture. His use of this quote comes in a section of his post in which he discusses how we can be both critic and consumer of pop culture (this was a big focus in my pop culture class from 2007).

2. I learned about an advice book that Butler contributed to via this Brain Pickings post. This find is one of the reasons why, even as I am wary of Brain Pickings, I still follow them on twitter. Butler contributes an essay on “Doubting Love,” in the 2007 advice book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation. Looking forward to reading this one; I’ve already requested it from the Minneapolis Public Library! I’d like to think about this advice book in relation to my other research on the self-help industry.

Item Three

Well, I’m quickly running out of time (less than a half an hour before I must pick up RJP from school), so I can’t write much more. Why am I not surprised?! Here’s a In Media Res curated series on The Second Lives of Home Movies that I want to read and reflect on…and put beside my work on home tours.

Bonus Item

Inspired by the snow this morning (and by my desire to experiment with my new iMovie app), I created a digital moment: Minnesota Weather. I plan hope to write more about my thoughts and experiments with the iMovie app soon. For now, here’s my digital moment + my description of the story):

minnesota weather: a digital moment from Undisciplined on Vimeo.

I’ve lived in Minneapolis for the past 9 years (plus 4 years in St, Peter, MN for college and 18 months in Minneapolis in the late 90s) and I still haven’t gotten used to the unpredictable weather. Minnesotans always say, “Don’t like the weather? Just wait 10 minutes.” I was reminded of this phrase when I woke up this morning. Just last week it was sunny, with beautiful leaves on the trees. And, just two days ago, it was in the upper 60s. But, when I looked out my window this morning, around 7 AM, there was snow on the ground. This example of pure Minnesota seemed worthy of a digital moment.

BESIDE: It’s alright to cry

Just a few minutes ago, I watched President Obama’s speech to his workers/supporters at his campaign headquarters in Chicago. Beautiful. There was much in his remarks that made me pause, reflect and be proud of what we did on November 6, 2012: his valuing of social justice, his recognition that he is a self-in-community and not an autonomous I, his articulation of hope. But what really struck me this morning was his willingness to cry and to share that crying with others (both at the headquarters and via social media). Instead of being an embarrassment, treated as evidence of his weakness, this video of him crying is being celebrated and shared by his official website. Accompanying the video is the following text:

What a powerful message to send to boys (and to all kids and grown-ups)! I’m reminded of another video in which an African American man suggests that it’s alright to cry: Rosey Grier’s rendition of “It’s Alright to Cry” from Free to be…you and me.

a queer ethics? not good/bad, but charming/tedious

As I was scrolling through my Tumblr feed this morning, I came across a quotation by Oscar Wilde, posted on the explore blog (edited by Maria Popova/Brain Pickings). Curious (as always!) to know where it came from, I clicked on Wilde’s name. Brain Pickings side project, literary jukebox popped up. Admittedly, I was initially skeptical. But, when I clicked on the record player and Wilde’s quotation was paired with Aimee Mann’s new song (which I really like), Charmer, I was intrigued.

I’m not sure if I’d like all of the match-ups as much as this, because I haven’t had a chance to review the literary jukebox archive. But, as I thought about the lyrics to Mann’s Charmer, I was struck by the challenge they offer/trouble they cause to how we make sense of Wilde’s quotation. I’m intrigued by his quotation, which comes from Lady Windmere’s Fan (according to Brain Pickings), so I’m planning to pick up Wilde at the library this afternoon.

Mann’s version of the charmer is fairly dark:

When you’re a charmer
People respond
They can’t see the hidden agenda
You got going on…

When you’re a charmer
The world applauds
They don’t know that secretly charmers
Feel like they’re frauds

Since I don’t know the context of Wilde’s quotation, I’m not sure what he means by his shift  away from good/bad to charming/tedious. Is he suggesting the foundation for a new (queer?) ethics? Denouncing ethics? Or, something else altogether? That exploration will have to wait until after I’ve read Wilde’s play.

For now, his quotation makes me think of some discussions within queer ethics about moving away from moral judgments of good/bad. I’m trying to remember some of these discussions right now. I wish I had my copy of Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness with meI’d like to put Wilde’s quotation and Mann’s song beside my post, On assholes, douche bags and bullshitters.

Beside/s: Fall thoughts on the academy

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not teaching this fall. It’s the first time that I haven’t been in school in the fall as a teacher or student for 33 years. Will I ever want to go back? I’m not sure. For now, I’m taking some time to think through my relationship with the academy/academic industrial complex (AIC). Here are a few things about the state of the AIC that I’ve recently encountered online. When I put them beside each other, they make me think that higher education is a fundamentally broken system:

1. A tweet about the dismal job market:

2. A post about the terrible process of trying to get an academic job. Here’s one excerpt:

The more I talk with PhDs around the country, the more I learn that my husband’s and my situation isn’t that, um, unique. There are PhDs who have secure jobs but who live thousands of miles from their families; PhDs who resemble nomads moving from state to state after their lectureships and VAPs have ended; PhDs who have given up on academia altogether because of the poor job market, the politics, and the bad taste it has left in their mouths; PhDs who cobble together a “salary” by adjuncting at 2-4 different schools (often miles apart); and PhDs who live on unemployment (until it runs out), with no insurance, and no extra income from a spouse or partner to help make ends meet. As a professor tweeted earlier this week, “Academia is such a racket.”

At the end of her post, Kelli Marshall writes: “academia is indeed a racket, and it is flawed on many levels. But I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy publishing (most of the time). And I don’t think I’m willing to surrender just yet, as this “old” PhD still has some things to offer.” I’m not sure that I could say the same. Increasingly, I feel that the academic is more than flawed. It’s broken. And I’m confident that there are other spaces for me to teach and write and engage.

3. A report that Emory University, where I earned my Ph.D in Women’s Studies, is closing their ILA (Graduate Institute for Liberal Arts) program. It’s very sad to see such an exciting learning space (I took several ILA classes) being shut down. Here’s part of their explanation:

Forman acknowledges that the departments and programs most impacted by these changes have made “important and fundamental contributions to our campus, and they have passionate supporters…. There is nothing about this process that has been easy. However, we have a primary obligation to our students to allocate resources in a way that will allow Emory College of Arts and Sciences to train leaders of the century to come. Emory students — both at the undergraduate and graduate level — have the right to assume that they have access to a world-class education regardless of the course of study that they choose here, even if that ultimately means that we cannot support all of the possible choices.”

So, what does the future of the academy look like? How can they train students to be future leaders and provide them with “access to world-class education”? Get rid of interdisciplinary programs that give students the important skills and tools for learning how to do interdisciplinary work. As I posted in my tweet about this news report: Ugh!