Thursday, June 16, 2005

Blog Aesthetics

When Miss J. was down here and took me to lunch for my birthday, we were talking about how cool it might be to teach a class on blogs, being as she is on her way to being the world's most awesome English professor. (It just occurred to me, when she gets her PhD, I will be able to call her Dr. J. How awesome is that?!) Of course, I think it would be--both to call my dear friend Dr. J. and to have a class on blog aesthetics. I'd love to publish a book of blog theory. Sadly, I'm sure Johns Hopkins or MIT or Minnesota will be the first to do so. Still, I can't wait and I hope some of you academics are already on this. Meanwhile, I'd like to talk about the aesthetics of one of my favorite blogs. Unfortunately, I promised the author I wouldn't. Fortunately, he's not around at the moment to hunt me down and kick my ass. But still, in an effort to maintain the frith between us, I'm not going to name names or cite particularities from his blog. Instead, I want to talk about the work humor does and the kinds of work I think the unnamed blog does. Here at Tiny Cat Pants, one of the important, revolutionary things I'm doing is not at all for any of you; it is just for me. Growing up as I did, a lot of emphasis was put on not putting yourself out there, not writing things down for fear that they would come back and bite you in the butt, and not being too unpleasant or loud or obnoxious or bossy. Some of this had to do with the peculiarities of our situation and some of this just had to do with "proper" behavior for women. There's a way that, in order to be a good woman, you feel like you have to always put your best face forward, that you have to smooth things over and nurture everyone and not upset anyone. I've got that deeply ingrained in me. I'm really, often, afraid that being open and honest about my pride and joy and successes and my fears and failures and insecurities will cause you all to not like me. I don't mean specifically you particular people. I mean, the whole world. One really interesting and empowering thing that happens for me as a writer is that I'll write something, say about my family, and I'll think "No, I can't say that. That's not proper. That's not something I can talk about in public. Shit, this will be the thing that finally shows people what a needy, terrible freak I am and this, this will be the thing that causes them not to like me." But it doesn't. What I learn, continually, is that being open and thoughtful and honest, even if it means being vulnerable and uncertain and afraid and letting others see that vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear, is good, at least, good for me. That there is nothing about my honest attempts at engaging with the world that would cause other good people to shun me. Still, in order to really get what's going on at Tiny Cat Pants, you probably should be aware that part of what I'm doing is searching for that line. How far in can I let you and still feel comfortable and okay and safe, even if writing it and putting it out there is terrifying? How close can I let you get and have you still recognize our shared experience as humans? The thing that I think is really genius about the other blog is that I think that author is trying to find the far boundary. How far can I push you away and have you still recognize our shared experiences as humans? What can I say to both put you off and knock you off-guard? What can I say that is so outrageous that you're alarmed by both what I say and the shock of recognizing that you've almost said it (or have said it) as well? So, then, the question for the hypothetical blog theorists is "To what end?" What purpose does that kind of blogging serve? Take for instance, our recent discussion about Egalia's mess. The comments go on for a while very seriously and then someone says, "Oh just shut-up, and take your top off." I laughed so hard the first time I read this, but I've been thinking about it, and it's hard for me to articulate why it works. Why is it so funny to me? It's two-fold. One is that extreme risk the commenter takes in even making the comment. He knows he's saying the very thing almost everyone reading those comments least wants to or expects to read (but is afraid will come up). He's also got to know that a great many people aren't going to know that he's trying to be funny or they're going to get that he's trying to be funny, but not find it funny at all. The risk he takes thrills me as a reader. Then there's the unknown element. Is he parodying the very attitudes we've been complaining about? Is he mocking the men who would make them seriously? Or is he mocking us? Or is he trying to diffuse the tension? Or what? Well, okay, maybe it's three-fold. It's also funny because, of all the things I listed about ways discussions about feminism go, I accidentally left out "being reduced to and dismissed because of one's sex organs," even though the whole post centered around the controversy over the term "breasted Clinton." The commenter shows that he's clearly aware of that strategy of dismissiveness, but instead of just saying "you forgot the 'show us your tits' contingent," he enacts it. I find that incredibly brave and hilarious, because, wow, could that go wrong. Anyway, one of the most interesting things that goes on over on the blog that shall not be named is the complex set-up of some of the posts. It's supposed to be funny (I think, maybe he's just really an asshole) and so there's the opening shocking thing, the buildup and the pithy resolution. But always, I find that the thing that sticks with me, the real nugget of true or funny or outrageous is elsewhere in the post. It's just a moment where something really genuine transcends the jerky, off-putting persona. Hmm. Let's get at this from another angle. (Cindy, if you mind, let me know.) Take Cindy St. Onge and her post on vaginal teeth. The whole thing is shocking and thought-provoking and outrageous and very, very funny. But just when you least expect it, she cuts right through all that and smacks you right in the heart: "May every wild thing of this earth bare fierce teeth." You can see what I mean when you read it, that you're going along all funny and political and then she really gets you. It's like you start from the position of considering something along side her, your position as reader is equal to hers as writer; she's just telling you something interesting that you're both going to be outraged but laughing about, and then she turns right towards you, dear reader, and points a lupine finger right in your chest and says "My freedom needs to be protected, violently, if necessary." She is the wolf in grandma's clothing*, ready to eat old women and mothers who send their precious young girls into the woods alone and the snotty girl in the red cape and the woodsman out destroying her habitat if she has to. And, wow, it's an incredible moment, precisely because it's so sharp. The unnamed blogger goes about this from the other direction. As a reader, you stand in direct opposition to him. He's the man in wolf's skin (which is important to get, that his whole persona is about pretending to be everything we fear ordinary white men are) spouting off at the mouth. So, when that moment comes, where you see the man in the wolf's suit, it's pretty shocking--you as reader come colliding into him. You don't just stand next to him in those moments, you're practically perched on his shoulder. Do you like the view? What does that mean if you do? *This is a metaphor. It implies nothing about Cindy's age or style of dressing. It has to do with her manipulation of archetypes, or is intended to, at least.


Blogger Cindy St. Onge said...

(Addendum to the footnote) Or how often I shave my legs.

Write that Blog book, B! You're in the trenches--posting and reading and feeling and laughing, yet you maintain an analytical eye toward the whole process. The academics couldn't touch you, and theirs would be a lesser effort.

6/16/2005 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger egalia said...

I found the comment hilarious too. It was a great relief from some of the others I'd read that day.

Can we guess the blogger? I won't say who I think it is, but I have my suspicions.

6/16/2005 10:39:00 PM  
Blogger Yankee, Transferred said...

I am convinced I know who the blogger is. I have to tell you that I never comment over there, but I go there every day. It's like a drug. But I am a permanent lurker because he is just one.step.beyond what I think is a decent way to treat human beings, even though so often I know EXACTLY what he means.
Write the book! I'd buy it! I think you are a great writer.

6/16/2005 11:05:00 PM  
Blogger Taketoshi said...

I thought it was an excellent addition to the discussion, as an odd way that's difficult to describe. I was thinking about almost exactly the same question on my way to work this morning. odd.

6/17/2005 10:57:00 AM  

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