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!