Life Writing

Pocketed idea: Conversations w/ ppl who @ me

It’s the last week of classes for the term. Actually, at the moment of writing this, it’s the last day of classes. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been caught in marking, writing, reading, and applying for jobs. Looking back on the whirlwind of this semester – including finishing the PhD and successfully defending – I am surprised by the writing I nearly constantly kept up while teaching two courses. It was a bit of a challenge because it was something new, but it’s been a useful exercise of maintaining a teaching and research workload balance, and maintaining a work/life balance.

Throughout the term, I have been focusing on two papers – one that I am co-writing, and the other one being my Game Boy Camera paper that I am developing from my RCADE talk. Both papers are in the “let’s do one more round of research to make sure no glaring omissions are made” before editing and shaping it to be ready for submission. And I feel good about where those papers are.

But I have also had “pocketed ideas” – ideas that I really liked and am really excited to write, but can’t. Instead, I am slowly collecting secondary sources and reading here and there. And I thought it’d be a good exercise to write out this idea, as the blog, for me, has always been a good writing exercise of thinking through fresh and new ideas.

So, here’s one: the podcast, Conversations with People Who Hate Me by Dylan Marron and its auto/biographical coaxing.

Since it’s beginnings, I’ve been really interested in Marron’s podcast. If you’re not familiar with the podcast, the basic premise is that Marron calls people who have left “hateful” comments on any of his online material, which is left-leaning. In the second season of the podcast, he has been moderating calls between two people, where one person received a hateful comment on any of their online content or are people who Marron knows has opposing views on a particular subject. Despite the majority of the callers being right leaning, or, in the case of moderating, politically right and left, Marron has had discussions with left-leaning individuals that have critiqued his work, or moderated two left-leaning individuals who had different opinions on a particular political matter.

It’s been fascinating to listen to Marron have and moderate these discussions. And as I was preparing my Digital Lives and Introduction to Academic Writing classes, I thought this podcast would be a good example of auto/biographical coaxing.

This idea didn’t come right away – I just really liked the podcast, and threw it on the syllabus under the week of Online Affect (and for Intro to AW, I made it a last minute optional listen for a unit on digital rhetoric). But when I listened to the episodes a second time before teaching it, I noticed how big of a role life narratives or disclosures were in all of the discussions and in Marron’s moderation.

For Marron, it becomes easier to have certain discussions or see the other person’s viewpoint (and for the other person to see his viewpoint) by coaxing and telling a life narrative or disclosure. While he doesn’t say this outright, you can listen to how he develops certain coaxing strategies throughout the podcast, and that he sometimes tells similar life narratives in response to certain claims the other person makes.

In my Digital Lives class, we discussed how the life narratives/disclosures allowed for certain abstract arguments (whether by Marron or by the caller) to be grounded in real life experiences. While not changing someone’s perspective, there are moments of empathy and connection between people on the podcast.

In fact, “empathy” was part of a tagline for Marron’s show – not necessarily said in the show, but were stickers in the merch store that said “Empathy is not an endorsement” (which are, upon checking, no longer there – but he does mention this these stickers on his show a couple of times!).  Marron states in the beginning of the first couple of episodes that his aim isn’t to change people’s minds, find common ground, or critique the other caller, but rather to help both of them understand why they wrote that hateful comment.

Now the “hate” in this title has received some critique, to the point that Marron is considering renaming the podcast. His callers claim that they don’t hate Marron, they just wrote a hateful thing that they are sorry for. And the “hate” doesn’t have Marron engaging with hate groups of any sort. Still, we did discuss in the class how “hate” can be a flattening  of someone to a stereotype and/or a depersonalization/distancing process, and thus making it much easier to write hateful messages. In particular, we discussed the “hate” in the title of the podcast in relation to Ahmed’s quote on the circulation of hate. Ahmed writes, “The impossibility of reducing hate to a particular body allows hate to circulate…[and] justifies the repetition of violence against the bodies of others” (Ahmed, “Affective Economies, 123). For many of the callers, they never thought Marron would even see their comment.

The coaxing and telling of life narratives/disclosures in Conversations with People Who Hate Me make possible the reduction of a hateful action to be reduced to a particular body in the hopes of halting that circulation of hate and confronting hateful actions. Or at least, I’m playing with that idea. The podcast and the significant role coaxing plays is an interesting idea to consider, especially in relation to the Change My Mind memes and youtube series (spoiler: he, and whomever says this, doesn’t really want their mind changed). But this is an idea I may exploring next term!

And now I am off to do some marking and reading before I conclude my final class. Cheers!

 

Teaching

Play-Doh cyborgs in the classroom

I’m currently sitting at my campus office desk with a wall of Play-Doh canisters in front of me from a classroom activity I did on Tuesday. I get a lot of awkward looks or looks of utter confusion when someone sees them.

I could take them home, but I like them here: it’s a conversation starter about one of the best classes I’ve had in my  teaching career.

Some context: the Play-Doh was for my Digital Lives class this term. For their final project, they have the option of creating a “critical media project.” But because a “critical media project” is something that they may never do outside of this class and have never done before, I needed to provide a workshop where they can can create a critical media response to a particular idea or content.

Enter Julie Funk, a colleague of mine that I have and continue to work with over at the Critical Media Lab. While I do make critical media projects, I do find it helpful to have a person who is not the instructor to lead a workshop on a new idea. Having a guest speaker breaks up the flow, adds another voice (which can be helpful if students think that I am the only person that does this stuff), and adds another kind of teaching style and knowledge that I do not have.

So, when I asked Funk how to run a short workshop on critical media projects, she suggested Play-Doh. And so I ordered a pack of Play-Doh.

Because the final unit of this course is the Cyborg unit, we worked together in making some questions that would have students reflect on Haraway’s conceptions of the cyborg and/or the short anime film, Blade Runner 2022: Black Out. Here were the slides of possible questions they focused on:

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The students haven’t read Haraway, and I don’t expect them to. Rather, I have selected quotes from Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” and dwell and elaborate on these concepts. For a 1st year course, it’d be difficult to have them read and then process the whole essay while also focusing on certain aspects of the essay. So far, focusing on certain aspects of Haraway’s essay and connecting it to certain images and quotes from Blade Runner 2022 have been a success: students are grasping those concepts of how cyborgs defy unity, perfection, origins, and completion. Oh, and it’s not just Blade Runner. Next week is Joshua Whitehead Full-metal Indigiqueer, and the week after that is Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer emotional picture.

But anyways, I digress.

The result of these activities were fantastic. Groups focused on factory farming,  the eye in Blade Runner and the meaning it has not only in the anime but in cyborg fictions,  our anxiety over social media accounts, government pet surveillance, and technological bacteria that then got them thinking through medical access and class.

It was a fantastic class, and I just loved to see not only how much the students enjoyed this activity but also how much they engaged with the introductory concepts surrounding the cyborg.

Below are the projects with a short caption description of what they are. Thanks again to Julie Funk would did a phenomenal job facilitating the workshop. Enjoy:

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This group saw a future where cats were used by the government as “spies.” They were sold as pets, but their main purpose was to spy on individuals. This cat’s name in particular is Lucifer. The group was thinking through privacy and data and surveillance.
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This group was thinking through factory farming. The pig on the left was “natural” while the pig on the right was “synthetic.” The synthetic pig was designed so that there would be “more meat per square unit” and perceived as “perfect.” For this group, they were thinking of the lumpy, imperfect pig as the cyborg.

 

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This group was thinking through the multiple social media accounts we appropriate on a daily basis, and the kinds of anxiety it can produce. They chose Squidward from SpongeBob because they felt he represented that kind of anxiety (and he’s also a squid with multiple arms). 
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Another group also did an eye, but they had discussions around how “eyes” are sometimes seen as “windows into the soul.” And they used this object to think through this concept within Blade Runner 2022. 
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This group made electronic bacteria that would be injected into a person in order to keep the body healthy. Julie pushed to group to think through access and class: who would have access to this? The group’s response: the upper class. The group was really into this since some of them are in Science and got them really thinking through access and medical care. 
The Dissertation

A very belated “I’m a doctor now” celebratory update and a return to a regular blogging schedule

While over on Twitter I’ve made the announcement, I realize that this blog has not been updated on the exciting news: On Wednesday September 19th, I successfully defended my dissertation and I am now a doctor! Hurrah!

Leading up to the defence, I was quite nervous – although not so much for the question period. Instead, I was nervous about my presentation. At Waterloo, the defence goes something like this: You are given 30 minutes to present on your dissertation, and then that is followed by 2 rounds of questions. When I told a friend that I was most worried about the presentation part – because I wanted to make sure I could deliver a not-dull presentation that was both accessible to the general audience who hadn’t read my diss and nuanced enough for those who had read it – my friend said that I was the first person who expressed concern about a good presentation. “Usually, it’s the other way around: people are concerned about the question period.”

And leading up to the defence and talking to other people, I found similar sentiments: looks of puzzlement and confusion as I explained why I thought the presentation was so important. Even one person said, “I didn’t care about my presentation. I just used 10 minutes and went right into the question period.” I also heard a story where someone refused to present – and they still passed.

The word that went around was that no matter how bad the presentation, you were “graded” on how well you answered the questions. And, I guess, that could be true. But still: the presentation was important to me.

Looking back on my defence, I was quite proud of my presentation because it did a lot: by focusing on the presentation, I felt more engaged with my entire dissertation and it kept me thinking about my dissertation leading up to the defence (the strong and the weak parts); it helped me anticipate questions that I may receive or address questions I was anticipating; it helped frame the discussions that were happening in the question periods; it demonstrated my critical media projects, ensuring that those projects were highlighted and could be brought into the questions (or referred to in the questions); it warmed me up and made me feel ready for the questions. There are probably other factors the presentation played into but these are the one I want to highlight.

And although there were times when I felt like I was rambling in the question period, apparently I was not. I was surprised to find out from the report my supervisor shared with me that I am really good at vocally articulating my research and complex ideas. This floored me because I have had a long history of struggling with anxiety during presentations, tripping up on words, physically shaking, etc. I still struggle with it today. As one student commented 2 years ago, “I noticed you are shaking while talking in class. Don’t worry, you are doing a great job.” (I’m paraphrasing, but they did point out I was shaking and did comment I was doing a good job, I swear!). And I know that this still happens today. So, when finding out that I’m really good at speaking and answering questions, I was blown away and so happy.

So if you were just keeping tabs on me with this blog, rest assured – the silence was not the result of a bad defence. It was a great one! And since then I’ve been busy with writing job applications and teaching two courses, while also trying to continue some research!

That being said, I am going to make a conscious effort to return to regularly blogging here. I want this blog to be a space for thinking through teaching moments and research ideas. I’ll be starting that next week, so stay tuned!

Cheers,

Dr. Philip Miletic 🙂