The Apex of Televised Love

So I’ve been watching The Bachelorette this summer, in a red wine and sponge cake-fueled frenzy, and here’s the thing:

I kinda feel bad for the guys.

Not because there’s something wrong with Desiree, the eponymous unmarried star.

see? she’s mostly harmless.

She’s pretty, she has great skill at enacting enthusiasm, she seems truly invested in some of the dudes.

No, my sympathy for the men–there are four of them left, after last night’s roses and tears–lies in the weird emotional churn in which they seem to be embroiled.

It’s reality TV, I know; so take it with a grain of salt, you say. But still. Nonetheless. It’s strange to watch these dudes push themselves to feel, damn it, on someone else’s timeline.

The show–if you’ve never seen it, and don’t pat yourself on the back too hard there, tiger–is pretty straight: 1 woman, 25 dudes, a slow/painfully accelerated series of ridiculous “dates” designed to help Des determine which of the guys might be her future husband.

And now they’re down to four. Next week, she meets their families, and their families meet her. Zounds!

What I’ve found interesting is the pressure that several of the boys seem to be putting on themselves to fall in love with Des already, like they’re sure all the other dudes have.

Continue reading “The Apex of Televised Love”

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

I spend a lot of time on tumblr.

Ostensibly, this is for “research” purposes.

What? I study fandom, fandom lives on tumblr, ergo: I study tumblr.

And about 40% of the time, I do. Because reblogging photos of the Overlord totally counts.









One of the things I’ve learned over there is the desire seems to drive many of the interactions in that space: the users, the teenage girls and young women who hang out there–they want to be seen.


They want to be noticed, listened to, taken seriously, treated as individuals worthy of love, respect, and praise.

But for that to happen, they first must be observed.

In Discipline and Punish, the philosopher Michel Foucault discusses the panopticon–a prison model designed in the 18th century that allowed a guard to see into every cell from a central watchtower, like this:

For Foucault, the panopticon is a metaphor for the disciplinary power of the state, one which doesn’t rest in a king or a president or even an government; rather, it sits in what he calls the “apparatus” of that power–the mechanics of our everyday lives. That is:

And although it is true that its pyramidal organization gives it a ‘head,’ it is the apparatus as a whole that produces ‘power’ and distributes individuals in this permanent and continuous field. This enables the disciplinary power to be both absolutely indiscreet, since it is everywhere and always alert…and absolutely ‘discreet,’ for it functions permanently and largely in silence. (177)

To put it more bluntly: we are all the panopticon. We’ve internalized the norm-ing forces of our society, our civilization, and we replicate and transmit the disciplinary power of those norms through our everyday interactions.

We’re the watchman. We’re the prisoner. We’re the Man.

Ultimately, Foucault argues, it’s this observation, though, this constant state of surveillance that we ourselves embody and enact, that creates the individual. As he puts it:

“Discipline ‘makes’ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its own exercise.” (170)

On tumblr, then, I’ve noticed a desire to be seen, to become both the object of disciplinary power and the instrument through which that power’s divined.

You’ll see a lot of posts like this, is what I’m saying:


This is only 1/3 of the list of questions, BTW.

Users post selfies, they post confessions, they post minute-by-minute details of their day. And for this, you as a reader are asked to “follow” them–no, to become a follower of them–so that you might be notified each time they post to their blog. So you can see them, each and every time they ask you to look.

More than other online spaces I live in, tumblr is a place where the reader’s greatest sin is to ignore the writer, where the writer’s greatest fear is that no one will respond to or reblog their self-hate, their gif set, their grin, yes.

And I say this for myself, too: on tumblr, I feel more vulnerable than I do on here on my blog or on twitter or over on AO3. Which is odd, to say the least, given my utter lack of shame about the content of my writing in genera.

But, on tumblr, when I’m seen? It’s usually terrific. But when I’m not, when the guard in the tower has her back to me, I–my digital self–disappears.

My prof asked: Is this desire to be seen generated by the panopticon? Or is it a form of resistance?

No, I said, quick. It’s not resistance. But as for the other?

I gotta say: I find that question really fucking disturbing.

Productive, yeah. Interesting, sure. But really really disconcerting.

Freedom’s just another word for liberal dogmatic thought

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Earlier this week, President Obama called once again for all American children to have the opportunity to attend college. This isn’t a new idea for him; it’s one he’s touted in some form since his 2008 campaign, but one to which he’s returned repeatedly since last month’s State of the Union address.

For Obama–for a hell of a lot of other people–education offers freedom.

Unfortunately, in the world where Rick Santorum spins, a world where other people’s sex lives pose a clear and present danger to his own, freedom = slavery to “liberal” ideology, to thoughts that are critical of this country, her leaders, her practices. In a speech in Michigan on Friday, Santorum told an enthusiastic [geriatric] audience that:

President Obama once said that he wants everyone in America to go to college. What a snob. There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor. That’s why [Obama] wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.

Yes, that’s right: America needs some of its children not to go to college so that those children can “work hard every day”–which, apparently, people with college degrees–people like Santorum!–do not do. Yup. We just sit around not fixing shit and watching the world go to hell as we stare at our degrees and drink pinot and sing the Marseilles. Man, Rick: you nailed it.

But let’s be clear: for the Vest, giving all Americans–read: black, white, latino, asian, rich, poor, southern, northern, first-generation, seventh generation, christian, muslim, atheist, jew, woman, man, gay, hetero, transgender, bi–the same chance to access higher education is akin to packing these young minds into the rhetorical Amistad and shipping them off to Marxistville. Learning = indoctrination in what Santorum sees as multicultural bullshit, gender equality, and the notion that no idea should be swallowed hook, line, and sinker without critical reflection and inquiry.

You fear ideas, man? You fear exposure to ideas? What does that say about the strength of your own convictions? Oh, that’s right: we’re not talking about what you believe–for you, it’s a given that those ideas are “correct,” grounded in your god’s law or whatever. For you, any idea that doesn’t match your Opus Dei-inscribed view of life, the universe, and everything is “liberal” and therefore dangerous and wrong.


Also, Rick, my love, you have a very strange understanding of how “teaching” works. I can assure you, as one of those “liberal” professors for whom you express so much contempt, that exposing my students to ideas, to perspectives that are unlike their own, does not automatically cause them to adopt those ideas. Far from it. Students are not obedient little sponges, darlin’–they come in just as resistant, just as married to the ideas they consider their own as any adult. If anything, I think, they are a weird paradox at 18, 19 years old: on the one hand, they’re open and pliant and more receptive to experience than ever before. But on the other, they recognize that openness, this newfound desire to be more than they are and they resist that, push back against their own wills with everything they’ve got; not all the time, not in every instance, but often enough so that their own identity–the one they’ve spend their adolescence and late teen years constructing carefully, so carefully–is not corrupted.

They’re smart, Rick; they’re so much fucking smarter than you give them credit for. And yeah, sometimes they change their minds but they’re the ones that do the changing, not me or any of my colleagues [not all of whom are the liberal bastions of idiomatic thought you seem to imagine].

And that’s what you’re really afraid of, isn’t it, Rick? Of your kids changing their own minds. Having thoughts that you didn’t plant in there with the spade of the Bible. It’s called growing up, man: it’s called becoming a human being. It has less to do with what job the kids end up getting, whether they’re on Wall Street or own a business on Main Street or care for kids with cancer or create their own comic series. It has much more to do with the way that the kids see the world, the epistemology that they fashion for themselves to help them make sense of their own existence and I know I’ve lost you now, baby, because I used the word “epistemology” and if you’re not careful, I’ll point right back to Foucault and that would REALLY piss you off, wouldn’t it, me citing the ideas of a gay French dude, right?

So, Rick, let me bring it back to a place that maybe you can understand, one where you won’t be smelling poppers and dreaming of Donna Summer as you read my text. I used to work for an amazing woman, a university president [stay with me, Vest: take a deep breath] who didn’t just believe that, as our university’s slogan said, “Education Offers Freedom,” she embodied this ideal. Both of her parents and her grandparents: all college graduates. Her parents: both teachers who moved from Chicago back to the South in the 1950s, going back to their family’s roots–to the roots of slavery–to teach those who hadn’t gotten out, not yet. She and her husband: both teachers early in their careers. She: president of a for-profit university [hey, you like that idea, right?] with an on-campus presence that encouraged students, faculty, and staff alike to come to her with concerns, questions, comments. She embodied the potential of education in her DNA, in her everyday actions, and in the genuine love and concern she felt for all of the students, even those she met only in passing, or only on graduation day when she handed them their diploma.

Rick, this woman’s life illustrates the truth of the axiom that education can offer freedom: from poverty, from circumstance, from history, and yes, from ignorance, from fear, from derision. But the key word here is CAN; education isn’t a magic bullet, it’s not the universal means of escape from the dominant ideology. It’s a tool, man, a tool to which all those who want it should have access. This is what the President means when he says that everyone should be able to go to college: everyone should have the chance to see if education is the key to their lock, an answer–never the only answer–to some of their questions.

Your fear precedes you, sir. Your desire to consign others to ignorance all in the name of “freedom” is repugnant and will only hasten your obsolesce as a political and cultural force.

Reader, Writer, Angel, Text

20120120-123502.jpgEarlier this week, I read Michel Foucault in chorus with slash, literally flipping back and forth between his 1969 essay “What is an Author?” and my own slash production practices, between French intellectualism and the inner workings of a drunken, fictional angel. I was reading Foucault as I was navigating through the authoring of my own slash fic, not just the writing (that’s the easy part), but navigating my text-only relationship with some of my readers.

In the essay, Foucault talks about the function of the author, how even though deconstruction established that the author was dead, the function that the notion of “author” performs has persisted: the author as an organizing force in terms of context, quality, time, and the search for THE definitive meaning of the text. He also cracks open the notion of the author(ial function) as unified, a singular, homogenized entity to which criticism can return.

And this is where he ran head on into my slash fic.

The collision occurred when one of my regular (and very encouraging, supportive) readers began a very kind comment thus:

“I’m overwhelmed CC that was beautiful.”

My reaction: What in the hell is “CC”? I had no clue as to what the reader was referring. And I had this nagging feeling that I should–but I didn’t.

It wasn’t until another reader began her comment with:

“Hi Catchclaw”

that my feeble brain clicked the pieces into place:
CC = Catchclaw.
Catchclaw = my pseud.
My pseud = me.


So Foucault’s discussion of the multiplicity of an author’s selves became immediately relevant.

At some level, I was conscious of the negotiation that I do between “me” and my pseud-self, between the me(s) who move around in the everyday world and the pseud who writes. But–but. Somehow I had left that mental distance between these two (or more) selves–shall we say between the performative space of the everyday and the online space in which my pseud performs–firmly intact.

What I had not consciously realized was that I am engaged in a kind of electronic self-construction, of a process of constructing a writerly self using only my pseud and my textual responses to my readers [ETA: and my profiles both here and on various archives. Forgot about those.]. Of course a reader would call me “CC,” a logical nickname for my pseud. But at first, I did not recognize “CC” as a signifier of me, as a referent that pointed back to the one who writes my stuff.

It was a strange moment. Foucault, meet Castiel.

I’ve realized that the commenting system on one of the archives where I post has become the space in which these negotiations between pseud and self(ves) are regularly playing out. On one hand, the comment system on the site appears restrictive: the kind of conversation that you can have in this space is: Comment. Full stop. Response. Full stop. Comment. etc. It’s like it’s designed so that each exchange has two steps that always occur in the same linear fashion: comment then response. The reader always gets the first word, and, in theory, the writer can always have the last–or can negate the reader’s speech entirely. We can delete comments, you see.

Even the structure of the electronic space in which these exchanges occur reinforces this dynamic: any response I leave to a reader’s comment appears within the same color-delinated block on the screen and appears below the reader’s text. My responses always appear in italics–the archive’s choice–and so can be easily visually distinguished from the reader’s text.

What’s happened for me–and other writers in this archive space, I imagine–is that the comment space on some of my stories has evolved into a conversation, rather than a call and response, a dialogue between reader(s) and writer. The first moves of each discussion remain the same: comment and response, but sometimes readers post additional “comments” that are responses to MY responses to their earlier comments. We end up talking, I would say, rather than simply exchanging text in a linear, predetermined fashion. In such a space, the reader can have the last word–if I choose to allow it, choose not to leave the last response.

As a writer, I find this to be awesome–potentially intimidating, perhaps, but very cool in its potential. I firmly believe that, as an author, I have no control over a text once it’s outside of me, once it’s in a space where it can be read by someone else. So the responses that I receive from my readers are often fascinating to me: they often see things in my stories that I did not, or recognize patterns in a text of which I was not conscious. I love Roland Barthes’ notion that a writer is born simultaneously with a text, and that it is the reader, not the writer, who makes the text live, who imbues it with life. This is the relationship that I see between myself and my own texts, between the texts that I post and those who read them.

My readers’ input makes me [allows me to] read my own texts in a different way; that is, when I go back and re-read a text that I’ve posted with their feedback in mind, I’m often able to see the text differently. Not to see their reading–not possible–but to have my own reading redirected, refocused. One of my readers compared a move I made [ETA: no, a move the TEXT made, not moi] in a recent story to a “kaleidoscope”–which is so lovely–and I think it’s a fine metaphor for what my readers give back to me: they turn the kaleidoscope of my perspective on a story and point out elements that often I could not see, before.

As a writer–as someone who teaches writing–I see these kinds of exchanges as such a tremendous gift. I feel fortunate that texts that began as “mine”–a funny thing to say when you’re writing fan fic, eh?–have found readers under whose gaze they’ve been able to become something more.