I Read the Internets – 11/11/06

This week on the internets, I have mostly been watching a lot of videos. Did you know that you can add a YouTube search to your searchable engines bar in Firefox? Oh yes, it can be done.

Anyway, some of the videos I watched this week were more worthy of mention on IRtI than others: Mirli, a friend of mine on LiveJournal, posted about a commercial that annoyed her (and it annoyed me, too). Meanwhile, Jill at Feministe posted about a Paris Hilton music video, wondering: “Is it just me, or does this just feel”¦ wrong?

Judging by the comments to that post, no, it’s not just her. People come up with many reasons for why the video makes them feel ooky. Personally, I suspect that my own discomfort with it has a lot to do with Paris Hilton being from Krypton.

If the Paris Hilton video leaves you thinking about the rhetorical links we as a culture draw between slenderness and weakness – and how could it not, right? – you may be interested in what’s been going on with Blood Elves in the MMORPG World of Warcraft. Mike Schramm’s got lots of links on the subject over at WoW Insider.

And, hey, what discussion of weight and build this week could possibly be complete without a reference to Karen Healey and Terry Johnson’s paper, “Comparative Sex-Specific Body Mass Index in the Marvel Universe and the “Real” World“? Obviously not this one! Once you’ve read the paper (and it’s short, kids! Fear not!), check out Healey’s expanded (now with more snark!) commentary on it over at Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed).

You may have noticed, reading the paper, that it was peer-reviewed by Cabell Gathman, whose own article, “Real Girls Don’t”, I linked to last week (I sometimes think that feminist geekdom is like the smallest world there is. I’ve actually met Cabell – her cat molested my shoe. True story! – and Karen and I write novels together. But all of this is beside the point, which is:) I think Gathman may have done us a huge favor by using that phrase – Real Girls Don’t – in her article. It describes a very prevalent cultural meme so concisely! For another example of this assumption in action, check out a recent post on Fanthropology, where quincunx points out some interesting reactions to a study that suggests that (slightly) more women than men are playing videogames.

On the subject of shout-outs for women who phrase things particularly well, be sure to check out Amy Reads’s post, “Why I Read Comics (and books, and television, and movies…),” at her blog, Arrogant Self-Reliance. A little snippet:

Why do so many people believe that critique is hatred? That criticism can never be constructive? That analyses are judgments? When I declare my utter astonishment and dislike for the Sam Bradley Is the Father of Catwoman’s Baby storyline, it doesn’t mean I dislike the book, the writer, the artist, the publishing house, the fans, or even the characters. It means that *I don’t like that particular part of the plot*. That’s an opinion. When I declare that Sam Bradley shouldn’t be the Father of Catwoman’s Baby for the following five reasons, that’s a critique. If I say “Catwoman, bleh!” that’s “teh crazy” talking, and you should cyberly smack my hand, forthwith.

The comments over there have gotten pretty interesting, as Ms. Reads and her commenters play with the idea of whether or not it’s ok for her to clarify her meaning in comments to a post about, in part, why authorial intent doesn’t matter. This may be one of those wacky “former English Major” things, but it cracks me up. Also, I want to go on record here and now and say that I totally agree with everything that I think Amy Reads is saying, there.

“¦BWAHAHA! AHah”¦ hah.


Ok, I’m fine now.

Looking at literature more from the production end than from the critiquing-the-finished-product end, Kameron Hurley (at her blog, Brutal Women) starts off talking about Hannibal Lector, and finishes with some interesting questions for fantasy world-building in a post titled “Empty Vessels & Cannon Fodder.”

I’m going to end my roundup of internets reading this week with a post about the media coverage of a recent non-internets event in the US. Jill of Feministe makes my list for a second time this week, with her post “The Old Boys’ TV Club,” about a gender imbalance she saw in the reporting surrounding the election.

That’s all for now, I’m afraid! But don’t worry – I’ll have read plenty more internets by next week. And if you happen to read some that you think I should check out, feel free to email me at robyn [dot] fleming [at] gmail [dot] com with a link.


  1. says

    This may be one of those wacky “former English Major” things, but it cracks me up

    What is it about English majors and our adoration of verbal parlance??? And for me, my total love of hearing myself talk, and clarifying everything that I say? It’s driving me nuts :)
    And huzzah! I’ve been read on the internets! Thanks for the link! :)

  2. Revena says

    The question of authorial intent with blogging is kinda sticky, isn’t it? I mean – and this is certainly my training as an academic talking, but also a personal conviction – it seems very clear to me that while one may occasionally gesture vaguely at authorial intent in a critical essay of a published, completed work of some kind (book, comic, film, whatever), basing a whole critique (or a large part of a critique) on what the author meant to say is deeply problematic. How can one know? One can’t, even if the author has spoken on the matter, because sometimes authors lie, intentionally or unintentionally. An author’s words about her work can be great fodder for an interview, or for a deeper understanding and appreciation on a fannish level, but they provide no firm ground on which to build a critical analysis (a jumping-off point, maybe, though…).

    But does that “authorial intent shouldn’t matter” stance apply to blog posts? Are blog posts more like essays, or like ongoing conversations? What about the ones that are stories, or which have been fictionalized to some extent?

    And when does a blog post become a completed work, anyway? As soon as it’s published? Or after the first round of comments have been answered? Or does it never become finished, because as long as there’s an active comment section, more (potentially illuminative) material can still be added?

    And then there are questions of how to deal with authorial intent when there are multiple authors…

    There are some quick, facile answers to all of these questions, certainly, and one of the best is “dude, who cares?”, but I find them interesting to consider, and continue to problematize, anyway.

    …And I should really have written this comment for your original blog post, rather than in response to your comment here! But due to the magic of the internets, I shall copy-paste it, and crosspost. ;-)

    (the multiplicity that comes into play when people write very slightly different responses to ongoing discussions on the same topics across multiple blogs is yet another thing that could potentially complicate issues of discerning authorial intent, I do believe)

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Okay, the Hilton video is kiddie porn which sends the message that the real measure of a man is how hot the chick he can score is.

    The T-mobile commercial is depicting an act of personal violation which, if you remove the magical parts of it, is illegal in the US, and I would hope other countries.

    And I never, ever want to see the sequel to SotL now. Ugh!

  4. says

    The T-mobile ad reminds me of the music video to “Sic Transit Gloria/ Glory Fades” by Brand New. In the video, a guy walks into a bar, and finds that the people in the bar mimic his actions. Toward the end, he gets one of the women in the bar to slide one the straps to her blouse off her shoulder, and then discovers that a shadowy figure is suddenly controlling him in the same way.

    The song, however, seems to portray such power over others as a dangerous thing, rather than as fun the way the ad does.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4875576483616497461 is the address on Google video (if I do a hyperlink, the text does not show up on the preview).

    The lyrics to the song are here.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, the guy gets a taste of his own medicine at the end, presumably before he crosses a serious line in the abuse of power. That’s thought-provoking rather than just titillating. Interesting comparison.

  6. Revena says

    *nod* yeah, that’s a much more nuanced exploration of the idea. And a pretty interesting video, all around – thanks for tracking down a link!

  7. Mecha says

    On reading that post, I am very disturbed by the concept of not being capable of reading intent, or at least, what an author means to say. This comes from more of a media studies and analysis base, but the idea that you can infer nothing about the author intent from what they write is the basis for an complete lack of blame. In personal conversations, ‘you can’t tell me what I mean’ actually means ‘You can’t blame me for what I said/wrote’ in any argument north, east, south, or west of the Mississippi, and it in turn carries to looking at texts in many peoples’ minds. I would say, in fact, that it is the default state. What people say is a reflection of what they mean, and what they want to convey. The basics of persuasive and essay writing, and speeches, are predicated on that concept of meaning reflected in words. The deepest meanings are acquired through analysis, and analysis inherently grasps at intent.

    The fact that there are misunderstandings might invite one to say, ‘Read what I mean, not what I say’ AND ‘Read what I say, not what I mean’ in the same breath, and I have pretty much seen that happen. But to do so is a technical cop-out. As long as people aren’t psychic, what you say is what you mean, until you clarify. Otherwise, you let everyone off the hook because ‘That’s not what I meant.’ What seems to be sought for in that idea is give room. Some space for people to say, ‘That isn’t what I meant. I chose to say it poorly. Perhaps this conveys it better.’ Having to say that (as any majority person in a minority space will have to, over and over again) again implies that the default belief is that words intent.

    I do agree that the blog post difference is an interesting question, because ‘blogs’ shift the interaction model and the intent betrayed by the usage of that particular medium (versus movies, books, etc, which often end up standing completely on their own. Get a good editor!) I would say that it depends greatly on the environment and writer as to what peoples’ default interpretation would be, and if you don’t like that default, make it clear. A self-contained screed is its own single message, and can be criticized directly. A message with a comment link evolves, but the basic message is still at the top level (versus no comment link) and is in essence something like a ‘public speech.’ If the post is phrased as a _discussion_, then it’s different again. If the journal’s topic is mainly explaining things, without any intent, then again it changes. And if the person tends to short link posts, well, another environment is set up. It’s ultimately part of the social contract and expectations of the environment. It’s also why some people (especially in disagreement) end up in incredibly long discussions, because we are _expected_ to clarify our intent at all times. But that cuts both ways in my opinion. The author has to do the same.


  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m not sure where I fall in the spectrum. I’m of the opinion that some people delude themselves so much that nothing they say is what they really mean. With that possibility in mind, I’m not comfortable saying I know for certain what an author’s intent was.

    But I do think speculation is valuable – otherwise, we never even raise the question of harmful intent.

    This is why I prefer to talk in terms of metamessages. I don’t know for sure that the writers of Stargate thought Sam needed to be weakened to be attractive; I do know that’s the metamessage coming across to me in some episodes. Are writers responsible for the metamesssages they send? Well, TV and movie censors seem to think so. My own opinion is more complex than that, but I do know TV and film writers labor under the awareness that if the censors think they’re sending a bad message, they will have to re-write.

    In summary, I think it’s safe to say TV and film writers are very aware of metamessages. They may not always intend to send the message I’m getting, but they should be aware I’m getting it so they can refine their writing to put across the values they really intend.

  9. Revena says

    On reading that post, I am very disturbed by the concept of not being capable of reading intent, or at least, what an author means to say.

    This is an interesting thing for me to say, given the subject matter under discussion, but I don’t believe you read that post with an open mind. I happen to have seen you make this argument about authorial intent before, and I gather that you feel strongly about the concept.

    I don’t think you really understand what Amy Reads and I are talking about, in terms of authorial intent not being useful in a critical analysis, though. You seem to have the idea that refusing to use authorial intent as a basis for critique is the same as refusing to make any conclusions about the messages in a work – this is not the case. It is merely the practice of limiting the scope of the analysis to the work itself, forcing the person performing the analysis to focus on the words actually present in the text, rather than allowing him or her to rely on impressions about what the author might have meant to convey (you’ll notice that, if the author has conveyed it, authorial intent won’t be necessary in the analysis – the material would be in the text. Should we be forever assuming that all authors are lousy communicators, and aren’t getting their points across at all?), based on what the person performing the analysis knows about the author – a knowledge which must, necessarily, be incomplete.

    The basics of persuasive and essay writing, and speeches, are predicated on that concept of meaning reflected in words. The deepest meanings are acquired through analysis, and analysis inherently grasps at intent.

    No, this is incorrect. Critical analysis inherently grasps at effect, not intent. If I write something racist, with the nicest, happiest intent in the world, that doesn’t stop it from being potentially offensive. And it wouldn’t be fair of me to let my one racist work out into the world, without any sort of frame or language within the work itself to clarify the meaning of it, and then expect every reader to understand what I meant by it.

    This isn’t about shifting blame at all, Mecha. It’s about intellectual honesty. You can’t do a critical analysis of a work and say a work is about something because you know that’s what the author meant to make it about – maybe the author failed, or lied when s/he said that, or any number of things. You have to focus on the text. You can’t do a critical analysis of something and say that it, for example, is racist, without showing that there are examples of racism somehow in the text itself. If there aren’t any, if you can’t show it with the text, then you can’t honestly say it’s a racist work, even if you know that the person who wrote it is a horrible bigot. And that swings both ways, of course – works by good people can occasionally have very bad messages that certainly weren’t intentional, or at least wouldn’t have been in there if the people had understood the ways in which they were bad. Can we not discuss that, academically, because the author “didn’t mean it”?

    In critical analysis, the text, not nebulous notions of the author’s intent, must be your base. That’s all. And any messages you discover are, likewise, in the text, not in the author.

    It really, really is not about blame.

    Now, whether or not critical analysis of the type that Amy Reads and I were talking about is appropriate for blog posts is a wholly different question – if you’re doing a scholarly work, of course it is. If you’re just reading your internets, and don’t get what the author was trying to get across, and you have the option of asking for clarification – that’s another thing.

  10. Revena says

    In summary, I think it’s safe to say TV and film writers are very aware of metamessages. They may not always intend to send the message I’m getting, but they should be aware I’m getting it so they can refine their writing to put across the values they really intend.

    That’s a very reasonable position to take.

  11. Mecha says

    After a little bit, I am struck with the irony of that first paragraph. *chuckle* I do feel strongly about what I talk about, perhaps most of all because I’m often hit by it, but I think you’re right that we’re not quite talking about the same things.

    On reading your explanation paragraph, I have to agree that what I meant was not what you seem to be talking about. Your definition of authorial intent seems to inherently mean ‘using non-textual sources.’ By definition that means that a textual analysis can’t figure authorial intent. ‘You can’t analyze authorial intent from the text because authorial intent is things that the author intends to convey/espouses in general that aren’t in the text.’ What Amy wrote did not make that completely clear to me (her main point seemed to be ‘How can you know what the author meant?’ to which I mentally reply, ‘You read what they wrote.’) S’likely a case of specialized terms meaning specific things to the people more trained in them.

    To say that critical analysis does not also aim for intent in general, however, seems to imply that it is somewhat ineffective as a tool. In fact, if critical analysis cannot effectively infer intent, then the concept of ‘sarcasm’ (among other things) could not ever be analyzed in a text, because sarcasm is a contrast of writer intent versus writer words. It seems to me that intent, as most people use it, is a big part of analysis, even if it is not in the way that you and Amy are using it in the specialized language of the domain.

    The last part of the blame paragraph’s discussion points out why analysis _does_ lead to blame when the message and intent is deemed negative (and praise if it’s positive.) Culpability. Pick a non-loaded way to say ‘You are held responsible for what you write as people interpret it, as they will infer your message and intent from the text’ if you like, but that’s exactly the issue. People do, and will, analyze intent from the text. Now, if you do make an analysis _based upon_ non-textual elements, then it would be intellectually dishonest to say you _didn’t_. That’s very unfair to both the writer (who now wonders ‘how did I convey that message?’) and the other analysts (who now wonder, ‘why can’t I get that message from the text?’)

    And again, the author wrote the text. Culpability attaches due to their overt actions. If someone wrote a comic book where all the women were written in a negative light, I’m fairly sure that they would be held culpable for the messages conveyed, and unless someone did a _nontextual analysis_ (in which they found them a different person than they expected), it would be assumed that their internal beliefs and intent matched the message (and perhaps even if they looked into it.) In turn, an author must attempt to be competent, as you talk about in the parenthetical, and convey their intent completely in the text. (The competence point is like what Beta touches upon with ‘Writers are and should be aware of metamessages.’)

    The blog thing seems to be sidenoted, so I won’t go into that. ^^; Hopefully this makes it a little clearer what _I_ meant by intent, and what I see your meaning to be.


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