With tousled hair and smudged glasses, my friend Avocado Roll [AR] drives me to Pearson International Airport. Despite the ungodly hour, she entertains me by recounting her latest anxiety dream. It begins conventionally enough; while at work, AR suddenly realizes that she has forgotten to wear pants. [Aside to British readers: please replace the word pants with trousers and stop laughing your ‘fannies’ off]. Heading to the mall to cover her shame, AR finds that she has no money. ‘Ah,’ I sagely interject, ‘you resent a job that is at once beneath your intellectual capacity and yet necessary to fund basic needs.’ ‘No wait,’ she says, ‘here is where it gets interesting.’ At this point, Barbara Bush appears, agreeing to take AR shopping while sternly noting that she will provide a mere $20 for the new clothes. We laugh together in a familiar way that I will soon miss. ‘Do you long for maternal care?’ I inquire. ‘I think not,’ she chortles, ‘Barbara Bush was supposedly a bitch who hobbled her children.’ AR has a PhD in American history. She also has a penchant for sushi, her blog name stemming from an incident in London England over a decade ago when, drunk on sake, she kept waving the waiter over and shouting: ‘I’ll have another avocado roll.’ Like ten times. Now she is married with an adorable 7-year-old daughter who is equally capable of devouring Japanese treats with wild abandon. I call her Mini Roll [MR]. Why did I write and then post this story? Why did you read it and what was your reaction? Does it reveal something about me? About you? About the currently superficial state of political analysis, Jack Layton’s inspiring funeral notwithstanding? These are the questions that haunt my nightmares, though they hardly compare with the sheer terror of meeting Mrs Bush in the fitting room at Old Navy. When interviewers wonder what motivates me to blog—in Toronto I spoke with Sarah Hampson of the Globe and Mail—I admit that I enjoy what is for me a new kind of popular writing, which both addresses a broad audience and disseminates feminist ideas in a fun, palatable fashion. Although truthful, this answer is inadequate. While visiting my homeland of south western Ontario I therefore decided to pursue the matter further, starting with a book entitled Blog Theory (2010) by Jodi Dean. The fact that I perused the University of Toronto bookstore rather than the internet already indicates my lack of trust in the information provided online. Academic books are vetted by knowledgeable referees and considered by editors; they typically take a long time to produce and are thoughtfully presented. The monograph that I just completed, called Defining the Modern Museum, is based on 8 years of archival research undertaken throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. It will advance my career and earn me a high score on my next evaluation. And by high score I mean substantial salary increase. In contrast, this blog takes up plenty of my time and yet gets me nothing, at least not monetarily, and is not valued within the university setting. I did not even mention it while compiling this year’s list of accomplishments. Writing this blog has nevertheless become one of the most rewarding parts of my life. What should I make of my ambivalent relationship with online culture?
According to Dean, ambivalence is central to how blogs function for they are at once active forms of what she calls communicative capitalism—ensnaring readers in circuits of communication for its own sake, producing (non)participants as ‘whatever’ beings who do not really belong to anything, and dispersing affect in a manner that can only leave one perpetually wanting more—and already dead. Media historians contend that the heyday of blogs was before 2007, when they were displaced by social networking sites. In contrast to hopeless romantics who imagine that blogging enables the democratic exchange of ideas, Dean reports that most sites are now devoted to flogging corporate products, repeating mundane trivia, asserting un-fact-checked opinions, and circulating photos of your aunt’s cat (hey!). Even as ‘displaced mediators’ that are no longer kings of the internet, blogs continue to proliferate in the millions, doing their bit to ‘appropriate and reassemble our longings into new forms of exploitation and control’ (30). Not offering a rosy picture, Dean ultimately agrees with Mark Andrejevic’s Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched (2004) by concluding that blogs incite ‘practices of online disclosure, discussion, and surveillance’ (29). Yes that is all well and good, but I am starting to get a little bored, and maybe you are too, oh faithful readers. What’s that you say? You want me to tell you another story about underpants? Amuse you with a witty description of the man I saw riding his bike on Jasper Avenue the other day, track pants resting mid thigh to fully expose two white hairy cheeks? (After spontaneously clutching my stomach and shouting ‘Ack!’ I regretted not having my camera with me.)
Perhaps most interesting for me was Dean’s claim that blogs promote a kind of ‘mandatory enjoyment,’ perpetuating ‘the subject’s attachment to new forms of subjection as a way to ease the pressures of the injunctions to succeed, be more, be better, be real, and enjoy’ (13). Let me entertain you, my beloved and discerning fans, for in return I will adopt a rewarding blogging persona. Like you, I take pleasure in seeing myself being seen both here and on Facebook, seeking reassurance that my life has meaning and value. Dean is right to point out that this experience is ambivalently stressful, for even as blogs and social networking sites insist that we enjoy life, they present us with written and visual proof that others enjoy their lives even more. Is that why we dwell on mundane details, using daytum.com to post the carefully calculated number of times we’ve masturbated or cooked dinner? [All I can say is: Amateurs!] Is it comforting to watch horribly dull people lead horribly dull lives in their camera laden apartments? That is what Torontonian Hal Niedzviecki asked when he experimented by living life online as a form of research, recording his experiences in The Peep Diaries and featuring them in a documentary called Peep Culture (2011), which I watched on the airplane after I woke up from my unbidden take-off nap. You see, for me a vibrating plane is like a tranquilizer gun to a hippo, or a Vulcan nerve pinch to a doomed red shirt. I am powerless before its drowsy power, a power possessed by only one other machine: the Intrepid my partner was forced to trade in so that he would not always be stuck sitting beside an open-mouthed-drooling fool.
Unfortunately, Peep Culture was not very revealing, with Niedzviecki admitting that he increasingly strove to be more entertaining in response to viewers’ demands. In the end, however, he was still pretty dull. Yet this demand for affect might be moving out of internet and into the everyday. We are supposed to be emoting all the time, and then reporting our feelings immediately, easily, to relative strangers.
Well I have to apologize, my friends, for this rather serious post, which notably lacks profanity. I am pretty chill these days even as there is a lot going on in my exciting, whirlwind, satisfying, adventure-filled life. Foodies should check out the menus/recipes section for a full report of the Moroccan meal I made yesterday. More significantly, Ogre has returned home, where she will hopefully refrain from harming the baby, and Muffin has moved in, dropped off yesterday by the lean and ripped, 6-days-out G-Smash. Sorry She-Hulk but I am not fond of your cat’s gateauish handle. When I suggested renaming her Adora McGillacuddlies, my partner vetoed it in that man way he has, with an expressionless and unexplained ‘no.’ After discussing acceptable alternatives, we have decided to let you play name that cat. Please consider the list below and vote in what will doubtlessly be an act of false democratic participation that is not only unimportant, but will distract you from joining a flash mob on parliament hill. My bad! Oh, and be sure to tell everyone how much fun you had on Twitter and Facebook.