Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Conformity and higher-ed

We complained a lot in grad school about what William Deresiewicz apparently takes aim at here in his new book: namely that the kids we teach are horribly conformist.  But I'm wondering if we just refused to respect these kids' peculiar kind of resourcefulness.   As a critique of the system and how it encourages conformity, this seems apt.  But in thinking about alternatives, what could have been and could be, maybe we have in mind a standard of weirdness these kids just find horribly uninteresting.  Perhaps it's us who are too focused on being weird, and not on getting stuff done.  Deresiewicz seems to think that being better questioners, better rebels and truth-seekers will solve problems, but what if that's exactly wrong?  What if we're holding these kids to an unfair standard?  Efficiency is these kids' best quality--maybe they're on to something about actually shutting up for once and producing things.  Maybe they are makers, not thinkers.  Wondering if that could be a good thing.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Nomadology and sports

I promised some Barthes on sports.  Also, get ready for some Deleuze.  Just letting you know, it's in the works.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Some thoughts on watching sports and sportswriting

From over at my sports blog, Rip City Reviews:

Just spent some time watching 120 Sports, if "watching" is the right word for it.  The MLB's Mark Newman had a nice little piece/advertisement describing what it is like to see it and just how it signals the arrival of a different world of sports viewing:

Picture a world of two-minute segments (hence the name) and ever-changing topical data cards, a world integrated with social media and a constant conversation that powers through everything in sports that fans are talking about everywhere. Imagine a fast-paced look at LeBron James' future and Mike Trout highlights and World Cup analysis and NHL mock drafts and Wimbledon previews and Bob Stoops' contract at Oklahoma and Tiger Woods back in action and NASCAR's Kentucky Speedway and college basketball recruiting and ...

There is no end, there is never an end. The videocentric show goes on, and 120 Sports will learn what you want the more you watch it. You are about to have access to unauthenticated video programming through a new platform built to intuitively integrate video and data in ways you haven't experienced. 

There were some good things about it, some bad things too.  Overall, it probably represents progress in sports viewing, simply because of the hurdles it overcame trying to license so much stuff from various leagues, and the sheer disruption that produces for the model of distribution whereby the leagues each have their own special devoted cable channel.  In other words, it is remarkable for the amount of "content" that it has made available out of mere "broadcasting."

The result though, isn't as entirely surprising as this makes it sound.  The end result is something like a Facebook news feed that is nicely selected for you.  Meaning, really--because the newsfeed isn't really anything new in itself either--that it's just channel changing done for you.  The British cultural critic Raymond Williams coined a nice name for the resulting effect in the 1970s: 120 Sports produces a constant content "flow."

As such, it may be the future, or simply the retrofitting of an outmoded gesture/haptics that now (like the Facebook news feed) restores a little bit more control to the provider side of things and siphons it slightly away from the consumer, by shifting the consumer-producer relationship to one centralized media hub or output point.  Basically, its the internet's version of a cable sports package.

The one thing that may be the wave of the future involves the way the channel changing (as it were) changes for you: it does so according to the development of stories along social media.  After live-tweeting some basketball games like the press guys do at the games, I can tell you, it's REALLY fun, and much more fun than following stories as they are ultimately processed by sports highlight shows.  The more that it is raw twittering that determines narratives, the less those narratives get processed, and the more interesting are the possible ways that the story develops.

This is just like enlarging the stadium so that people who don't sit next to each other can sit next to each other.  The strange result, in other words, is that we no longer become spectators interested in a representation but participants in a media event.

Pessimists thought this most likely would produce worse writing, but the exact opposite has happened.  It makes for a whole new mini-genre of writing: the sports zinger genre.  This is something that has purchase at the moment and will have it later when its outmodedness (anticipated and in a way built in to the form) is taken into account, but never quite fully captures the instant, never quite fully commentates upon it authoritatively, just shapes and solidifies and concretizes and memorializes.

Together with other types of writing that pop up around media-integration like this, it is productive of content that centers around the fundamentally great fact about sports writing as a whole: namely, that there's no need to craft a full narrative, not only because the narrative is ongoing continually, but because the words may have an effect, and at any time--like a cheer of support or of derision--affect the nature of the game it comments upon.  Any time there is a sign of narrative closure, events rupture it--I've never seen a field of storytelling that spends so much time pushing anti-narrative as sportswriters.  Contact with the immediate event, shaping that event and giving it significance or linking it to various networks, and then letting the thing go before anything more than a network of association, facts, statistics, what have you crystallize into anything too definite... that is sports writing, and it is glorious, and there is no other form of writing that comes close to it.

But for that, all you need is a Twitter app and a TV, really, not a whole sports platform, as it were. And that means that Twitter's auto-emojiing of the hashtags for the World Cup may be actually, in the end, a bit more relevant than 120 Sports.  In a way, while it moves towards mediatizing sports, it still conceives of its audience as a set of consumers still watching something like a channel and a flow.  And consumers have become users, fellow producers or mediators.  The ultimate irony for 120 Sports in general may be that, in the end, after working so hard to bring a good product to an audience, that audience depends not on the quality of their product, but just how much and in what ways it gets used.