Anxiety Is a State of Media/Mind: On SCMS and Feminist Blogging

March 16, 2011

I’ve returned from SCMS and Louisiana (having seen two alligators in the wild on a hike and eaten crawfish and shrimp in innumerable yummy formats) and would like to briefly mention a few of my more memorable media encounters: like the alligator, anxiety-defined all.

Tara McPherson organized New Media Futures: The Digital + the Academy, the workshop where she and I spoke with Nick Mirzoeff, Joan Saab, and Wendy Chun about how digital technologies are altering our new media labor (research and teaching), writing, and publishing practices. While the fact that the projector did not work, definitively disenabling our techie show ‘n tell (has this even not happened at a conference where I am speaking about the Internet?), and thereby providing some felt anxiety for each of the able speakers who could not readily rely on machines to illustrate our points as planned, I’m more interested in highlighting some of Wendy’s brilliant observations about anxiety and new media (studies). She suggested that fears about the future of new media (and its theories and applications) are definitive of the findings and methods of the field, as well as anticipating and self-defining the very forms that new media will take, leading to more uneasiness, more anxious findings, and more twittery tools needed to soothe our ever more shattered nerves and brains. For instance, an anxiety about loss leads to tools that save and thereby produce easily erased, unfindable, updated, quickly unusable, outmoded, unstable records that so engulf us that we become too overwhelmed to remember or (re)visit our saved stuff, thus already producing the loss we anxiously anticipated and the need to build even newer tools and theories to remedy all the more future loss we do and must anticipate.

Now, one might imagine that old-school (dying?) feminist (academic) blogging (and “self-promotion”), the topic of another workshop I attended (highlighting the powerful blogging and other online experiences of Miranda Banks, Ryan Bowles, Alisa Perren, Anne Petersen, Julie Russo, Patty Ahn, and Inna Arzumanova), might be a remedy to our nervous media condition in that blogs (like this one) might allow the lady-theorist (like this one) to calmly, and perhaps communally (or at least in-community) name her own terms, moods, tools, and forms; boy did Wendy Chun get this one right! These amazing, ambitious, bright, primarily young academic women (most were in grad school or ABD, one had just gotten tenure), as well as the mostly young feminists in the room, discussed their blogging, tweeting, and online personae (and thereby use of new media tools and the futures anticipated, hoped for, and associated) as organized by what … Anxiety of course (about being hired, promoted, and otherwise evaluated) and even fear (of hostile readers and punitive potential committees).

Their anxiety made me feel, well, anxious (to feel so differently from everyone else in the room, my comrades, and then try to articulate it cogently) but mostly sad. Then mad, and now compelled to speak and explain. My feminist (academic) blogging might be understood or termed as “self-promotion,” or even “self-branding” (a term tossed about, uneasily, at the session), just look below: I pitch my films and books. Yet I truly think of this very same practice (without fear) as a public engagement in thinking out loud, honing a voice, self-naming, community-building, and stake-holding.

This media platform, like all others, is pretty neutral (yes I know, ownership, design, protocols have meaning, but this is not my point here). Rather, we assign to platforms like blogging (or are assigned) feelings and anticipated futures, but we feminists need not accept the anxiety that holds us in check, that makes us self-doubt, that assures us that speaking about our own good work or new ideas is somehow too prideful rather than merely productive. Feminism gives us all the tools we need to understand that economic conditions like a depression and an academy that sells advanced degrees to pay for itself,  social conditions like patriarchy and racism and homophobia, and psychological conditions like anxiety, should not be suffered as a personal, debilitating and self-censoring problem, but should be understood and fought as political issues best addressed by being named, refused, refined, and remade within the power of movements and with the tools of technology. Sure, all these amazing young women should be anxious about getting a job, but they shouldn’t be anxious about blogging that fact, or blaming whoever they want to blame, or naming the forces in their way, and then doing, showing, and sharing their great work, from which we can all learn and build. I choose anger over anxiety any day (including in your comments, or as I like to think of them my no-mments. We fruitfully discussed in the workshop the value of the under-sung, underdone labor of commenting to better build dialogue, community, and confidence in the anxious world of feminist academic blogging).

Also, a shout out to a great panel I went to on Interactivity. Marina Hassapopoulou spoke about the legacy of expanded cinema and video installation to help us historicize new media, Aubrey Anable about the lie that interactivity is a forum for democratic participation in the new urban planning of New Orleans, and Vinicius Navarro about the new media index as an emptiness that points to a referent in-between.


9 Responses to “Anxiety Is a State of Media/Mind: On SCMS and Feminist Blogging”

  1. Great post – I was sorry I couldn’t be at the blogging workshop (alas the teaching workshop I was part of was scheduled at the same time). I too endorse anger over anxiety, as anger can be directed outward while anxiety only tunnels inward. But we work within an academic system that has structurally embedded anxiety into its operations, setting up an imbalance of supply and demand for labor that ensures that academics are so uncertain about their employability that they self-police in fear of that one public misstep putting them out of the running. Even for those in tenure-track positions, the pre-tenure years train people to internalize the fear of speaking out, and by the time they are “safe,” anxiety feels more normal than anger.

    The starting point is certainly for those of us with little to risk to take risks & help expand the field of the normal & acceptable. But that’s not enough to deal with the larger issues at play. How else can we provide space for speaking out without encouraging people to commit career suicide?

  2. […] Alex Juhasz – Anxiety Is a State of Media/Mind: On SCMS and Feminist Blogging […]

  3. MP:me Says:


    Your question hits this right at the hardest spot: since these ARE larger structural forces acting out upon individuals, I say recognize them, and say “NO, I will not be anxious to be kept in check.” But from where I sit, that seems easy enough to say. And yet, as you know, we were all once grad students although not in these dire circumstances. But I said NO then, doing my activist/AIDS/video dissertation (the first at NYU) with no model, and an uncertain acceptance (although I did have a supportive committee and activist community). And also, is it really true that speaking your mind, doing your best work, reflecting on fucked up conditions is “career suicide.” I like to think that there are many of us in this career that value this above all else: speaking to power, speaking about power. We’re not accountants, or are we? Finally, your larger point about providing space seems crucial, and seems what people are really wanting now with this flurry. What might a forum like that look like? Who would be there? Is it on line? Do the anxious lead, or those of us “with little to risk?” or do we manage to do it together?

  4. Alex,

    I totally agree that taking risks & speaking out pre-tenure is not equal to career suicide. But it is often higher-risk than conforming & playing along (or at least feels that way). And to be honest, when you’ve got a pool of 300 candidates or more for a position, it’s hard to justify taking risks on candidates, even if you pass the blame up the hierarchy – “I’d love to work with this outspoken rabble-rouser, but my Dean would tank her tenure case, so let’s play it safe.” I do think that there are positions where “safe” (or at least “timid”) is a disadvantage, but alas there are probably more where it’s an asset.

    I think mentoring & leadership by example is key, where more senior faculty show that speaking one’s mind, making research & teaching innovations, and questioning authority & the status quo are shared values (of course, today’s innovation is tomorrow’s status quo…). And from a broader perspective, the fact that there are spaces like this to have such conversations in public is a huge improvement from my grad school days, and thus “risky blogging” needs to be embraced & encouraged.

  5. […] a different investment than might be true for my largely anonymous and quiet readership (see last post on feminist blogging and the “service” of […]

  6. […] reverberate with the issues of safety, anxiety, self-authoring and violence I have been discussing here in regards to what we might want from online spaces. We are reminded that most online spaces mirror […]

  7. […] a particular responsibility to share these thoughts because, barely a month ago, I participated in a workshop at the SCMS conference on "Blogging, Tweeting, and Posting: Online Media Community Building and Scholarly Promotion." With […]

  8. […] mark the value of my colleagues’ work when I blog it, and I feel this is a particular kind of feminist mentoring that senior women in academia can and do provide online. There’s been some great posts about […]

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