The Benefits of Grumpiness

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

If you ever read any of those blogging guides that are trotted out regularly, you’ll know that one of the biggest kisses of death for a blog seeking to become popular and ‘mainstream’ (whatever the hell that is), is not to air negativity, sadness, rage, or grumpiness. I say, fuck that. I’m not unique in saying that, or the first one to say it. I would really hate this post to be interpreted as some pretentious ‘I’m so different and unique’ article, because I know I’m not. But my lack of uniqueness doesn’t cancel out my critique.

Here’s the thing: I think we should get grumpy more often on blogs. I think we should air negativity, and rage, and fear, and uncertainty, rather than projecting a banal and static idea of what these online spaces are for. I’ve said this before on my blog, and yes, I’m repeating myself. The need to say it over and over again comes from the fact that I often feel like I’ve hit a brick wall with the blogging community and with wider blogging culture, which is really just a reflection of culture in general. So every time I encounter that brick wall, I feel the need to write about it here. Perhaps this is pointless, and maybe it doesn’t do me any favours. But, in case you haven’t noticed, most of the things I write about on this blog aren’t savvy self-marketing. Rather, what I hope comes through, is a three-dimensional human being. So here is a dose of much-needed grumpiness, because so many things should be given the finger lately.

Every time I get invited to blogging ‘masterclasses’ and conferences I get depressed. As well-meaning as most of these invitations are, I know the majority of the ‘tips’ offered to aspiring bloggers by now: don’t write long posts, sell yourself constantly, be like everyone else, writing is boring and people have short attention spans so use pretty pictures instead, don’t be confrontational/negative/complex/human/sad/intelligent, speak to your readers in a simplistic way and don’t use ‘big’ words, a picture in every post is a must!!! No, just no. I don’t doubt that there may be helpful classes about blogging out there, but I also know that the dominant guidelines offered tend to be conformist and conservative in nature; they also streamline blogs into a recognisable formula or template (like women’s magazines), and that just pisses me off. So you know, I don’t feel flattered or special when someone cheerfully offers to turn me into a formula, and erase what makes me me, as if they are being helpful.

Another thing that’s been pissing me off can be summed up by this article. I heard the other day someone complaining on the bus to my university that they were tired of hearing academics in the humanities complain about how hard the situation is for humanities departments and staff. Well, we’ll stop complaining when we aren’t treated like shit, is that a deal? I’m pissed off that I recognise my situation and that of many of my friends all too well in this post; I’m pissed off about reading article after article ‘defending’ the humanities when we shouldn’t have to justify its existence in universities; I’m pissed off at the virulent anti-intellectual culture in Australia that actually believes education is irrelevant and ‘elitist’ when most academics I know earn shit all and do what they do for the love of learning and teaching; I’m pissed off that when I mention I have a PhD in English in a job interview FOR A WRITING JOB it’s viewed as a hindrance rather than an asset FOR WRITING; I’m pissed off that I’m made to feel ashamed of my PhD and my years of hard work and study on a daily basis; I’m pissed off that we don’t actually know how lucky we are in Australia, how good our economy is, how prosperous our country is and how much more generous we should be; I’m pissed off that we don’t realise that degrading and hating education is a kiss of death for a country and one day we’ll look back and realise we fucked up royally when we cannot compete with other countries; and I’m pissed off that no one seems to care about this other than academics who are yes, complaining, because there is nothing else to do. Let me make this clear in case the good old ‘ivory tower’ analogy is used in one more sneering article about academics and the humanities: there is no fucking tower, we’re currently in the dungeon, and we’ve been there for years.

I’ve just committed a million blogging sins, feel free to judge me at the blogging altar of popularity. Or, here are some bunnies.


Kelli / Fog and Forest said...

I completely agree, Hila. There are a few blogs I used to LOVE a few years ago, but as they've gotten more and more popular I feel like the authors have become such blank slates (at least in their internet personas) that I find them totally unrelatable. Personally, I think the gritty, difficult, sad stuff are the things we need to talk about most. We need to take some of the shame out of having those feelings to begin with and also stop with this obsession of having the "picture perfect" life.

elegancemaison said...

I loved this! I concur with all that you have 'grumped' about. I'm not an academic and hadn't realised that you were 'got at' so often in so many ways.

I wonder whether your situation is unique to Australia though. I suspect that any attempt at erudition that the UK public or media might catch sight of, will immediately be pounced on as 'elitist'. So much of our culture is being dumbed down. Not just in the blogging world.

I admit to often using lots of (my own) pictures in my blog whenever I can as it's usually the pictures telling the story. Though I do enjoy the occasional rant as well.

I have let my exasperation at other blogs get the better of me in my comments. But in trying to reach the real person behind the fluff I either get "hurt" little whimpers from the originator followed by a horde of sycophantic comments from the blogger's previously mostly silent followers. Or once - a really vicious and threatening personal email. She, like many other bloggers, didn't seem to understand that a public blog is a published work and that she had to take responsibility for what she wrote - and can't stop me reading it either. And of course that she didn't have to allow my comment anyway. As far as I know (I don't look)she apparently continues to post jolly stuff giving the impression that she is as sweet natured as the hearts and flowers she writes about.

And by the way - its KITTENS we want to see! ( Only joking...)Cx

Petra said...

I wholeheartedly agree. it's depressing that everyone seems to be looking for the lowest common denominator to please the biggest crowd. it's depressing that doing things differently roots you firmly in a very small circle on people who are doing things differently, too. no outreach whatsoever. and it's depressing that there seems to be no end to it. I still believe that people will get fed up with uniformity one day. if something, a trend or a development, gets too extreme there is usually a counter-movement at one point. well, at least I hope there will be...

Sarah Libros said...

This is really fantastic. One of the main reasons I have a blog in the first place is to speak out/vent about things that I'm pissed off about. I also want my blog to be an honest place so I will never try to act like I feel positive and everything is perfect when it isn't. If all I see on a blog is positivity, I will general not take the blog very seriously because I know that some of it must be fake.

As for your academics being undermined, that is so unfair and I can't imagine how frustrated you must feel. Keep speaking up for yourself and I really hope that this situation improves.

Amelia said...

As Fiona Apple said "[..] we don’t have the freedom to express all of these darker sides of our emotions. Because we’re supposed to keep everything very, you know, friendly and polite and appropriate all the time. And I think that every emotion is appropriate whenever it arises."

My role model in life is grumpy cat therefore I completely agree with your post.

achariya rezak said...

YES! THIS! I felt guilty for this annoyed rant about things I dislike on blogs just the other day, and lo, you are here expressing the same opinions. Here's what I wrote:


My considered opinion about annoying things on blogs

I used to like the blog A Beautiful Mess because it had nice pictures and interesting projects. Then I realized that by keeping to a blogging schedule and churning out set bits of content, the site’s quality was drastically reduced.

I don’t like craft projects that turn perfectly nice raw materials into useless bits of crap.

And don’t insult my intelligence by teaching me to make iced tea.

Also, what’s with people blogging their smoothies? People shouldn’t blog their smoothies. The only recipe for a smoothy is “Put stuff in a blender. Turn it on.” It hurts my head when people think this is worthy of a blog post.

Sigh. I’ll probably delete this before long because it’s simply an
exasperated rant.


And just like you, I wonder why I want to delete my rant, when I've raised legitimate issues?

Nova said...

Yeah Hila!! I don't remember where I found you but it happened fairly recently I think. I think you're awesome.

I wrote an article for an online magazine a few years ago (for free) and they asked me to dumb it down for their audience...they'd prefer top ten lists and the like. I said no. If everybody is treated like they're dumb they're going to act dumb. People can stand to read a paragraph every once in a while.

Anyway keep up the grumpiness, there are only so many outfit posts and sponsored giveaways I can stand to see in a day.

Karenina said...

This is just wonderful. Soooo cathartic. Thank you! ('s just as bad over here in Canada; an outright attack on knowledge and intellectuals. It's shameful).

dobryfilmzlyfilm said...

Good points!

Constructive grumpiness is a great starting point for an interesting article or discussion. I prefer it to puppies, rainbows, and flawlessly painted smiles.

As a translator/grad student in the humanities I feel your pain. In the EU, when applying for any scholarship, grant, etc., you have to give a report on how your research will benefit the industry. And what should we write? That a paper on intersemiotic translation will help to devise new fishing industry regulations? That researching the various strategies used by the translators of literature for children throughout the ages will help raise good bureaucrats?

Accidentalwriter said...

I have struggled with the apparently commonly held views that my natural/innate style of writing is 'infantile' and unsophisticated. I eventually responded by writing a piece which I thought was more in line with the expectations of the literary intelligentsia, and although it was an interesting and somewhat enjoyable exercise - it still felt like I was being dismissive of and disloyal to the integral aspects of my writing roots. Individuality and integrity may not be commercially savvy or 'bankable' - however - to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and to be able to recognise the person within and without is all that really matters (in my humble opinion). To thine own self be true.

Danielle P. said...

A resounding "amen" to everything you've written, Hila. Allow me to join you in holding a finger aloft to all that nonsense.

Rambling Tart said...

Yes, yes, and yes. I love your because it ISN'T formulaic - it's you. :-) It's what matters to you, is important and compelling to YOU. Isn't that why we read blogs? Not to get a glossy recipe or fashion tip - though those are helpful - but to connect with someone for a few minutes, to find ourselves in their experiences so that we can face ours with new eyes? That's why I read. That's why I write. Some days it's down and dirty - some days it's happiness and sunshine - because that's life. I am truly sorry for how badly you amazing, educated, hard-working academics are being treated and labeled. I wasn't lucky enough to get an education and I admire you tremendously for all the money, time, and massive amounts of effort that goes into learning what you've learned. I hope the entire country will treasure you too, and do whatever they can to celebrate education and make it important and possible for everyone who wants it.

Ana said...

Very well said Hila. Liked your post, Alecia's article (more or less the same is happening in the UK), and of course, the bunnies ;)

Hila said...

Kelli: I know, that idea of the 'picture perfect' life is so damaging, it makes everyone feel inadequate, including (I imagine) those who project it. And I think many popular blogs become 'blank slates' for the sake of their advertisers/sponsors. Also, they don't want to 'offend' their readers. My grandfather used to say that if everyone likes you, you're doing this life thing wrong.

elegancemaison: Oh yeah, the word 'academic' is often used as an insult here in Australia - people have made fun of me to my face about my PhD, like it's something to be ashamed of. It is probably not unique to Australia, but it has unique Australian strands to it.

I have absolutely no problem with beautiful imagery on blogs, as I use them myself, and love them too. And when your art is image-based (like painters and photographers) using your blog to display that is entirely logical. My problem with the blogging community is more with the fact that it privileges images over words, and fails to recognise that words are art too.

And yeah, sorry, forgot about the kittens ...

Hila said...

Petra: I agree with you, and hope for that 'one day' when people will just get sick of it all. Does that make us really idealistic, or really stupid? I hope idealistic.

Sarah: Thank you, I hope the situation improves too - I don't see how universities can survive if things don't improve.

Amelia: Yep, grumpy cat rules!

Achariya: Well, I don't delete rants, I publish! My main concern is with the wider blogging culture - the ethical concerns that I have with the way this culture is developing and often being manipulated to replicate the same old familiar media models (particularity to women), thus pushing anything that doesn't fit this model into the category of 'alternative' blogs. Blogging is a medium with the potential to be more inclusive and less conservative, but I don't see this happening.

Hila said...

Nova: If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked to dumb things down in my own writing, I'd be rich. It's depressing, and insulting - we just assume now everyone is too stupid to read. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy too: if you treat your audience like simpletons who can't handle 'big words' and thought, that's how they'll respond - and that's the crowd of people you'll attract. If you raise the expectations and the standards, I think most people are capable enough to raise their thinking level too.

Karenina: That's sad to hear, I would've thought Canada would be doing better on this front than Australia. Anti-intellectualism is built-in to Australian identity as a core part of its nationality. It sucks, big time.

dobryfilmzlyfilm: "And what should we write? That a paper on intersemiotic translation will help to devise new fishing industry regulations? That researching the various strategies used by the translators of literature for children throughout the ages will help raise good bureaucrats?" Exactly.

I feel your pain, because every job/grant application I've filled out in the past few months and years has asked me that question, and I often wonder the same thing as you. Humanities departments have to justify themselves now according to a model of 'evidence' that was created for science disciplines. How do you 'prove' what books can do, what a poem can do, what historical research can do? How do you 'prove' the impact that has on a society, a culture, a country, or an individual student? You can't: this is not black and white data, there aren't mathematical equations to the study of the humanities. The study of art, literature, and culture is its own end - it doesn't need justification or 'proof'. And the fact that we are required to justify it is the underlying problem to all the funding problems we have now. Because when it comes to showing 'proof' and data, we can't compete with the sciences. It is so thoroughly depressing, I often want to give up. Knowledge is knowledge: it shouldn't be 'justified'.

Hila said...

Accidentalwriter: I don't find your writing style infantile at all. Really, I'm being honest here. I think people sometimes mistakenly call honest writing 'childish' - as if it's somehow too naive or idealistic not to hide behind irony these days. My writing has been called the same. I don't fall into the category of the trendy young writers who seem to be popular these days, who all seem to write in this cool, distanced, ironic style. It's simply not my style. I think you ultimately have to write the way you are.

Danielle: Oh yeah, big finger. Thanks!

Krista: It's so bizarre isn't it, this lack of appreciation and respect for education. I don't expect to be fawned over, but I also don't expect to be treated like a piece of shit or hear the word 'academic' as if it's a swear word. I think part of the problem in Australia is that we're simply overly privileged - we just don't realise how good life is here. Access to education is something we should be grateful for, there are people around the world who would kill for it and who spend most of their lives working like slaves so their children can have access to it and have better lives. Education is elevating, we should be damn proud of it, not making fun of it. Sigh.

Ana: Yes, I've heard it's really bad in the UK too.

William said...

I have to admit that I have this creeping fear of the future. Next year, I start my Master's degree. Right now, I am just doing a simple M.A. in Liberal Studies. I have always been more of a Jack-of-all-Trades as far as intellectual pursuits go, although I tend to lean more towards Philosophical theory. I am also pursuing the simple M.A. because I have been away from academia for a few years and need to re-establish myself academically. Instead of going to straight to a PhD program, I got my B.A., got married, worked two jobs, and then, my marriage failed and I found myself in Philadelphia for two years working as a Manager in retail. I decided that I did not like it and admittedly, was also very bad at it. Lately, as a matter of both curse and luck, I found myself back in rural Indiana because of family issues that required my attention. As I swam the ocean of limbo for about a year, I figured it was time to just go ahead and go all the way with my pursuit of the mind. Now, I am hearing all of the horror stories and I admit, I am scared. But, I cannot see myself really doing anything else. I am not good at much; but I can write, I can think, and I can learn. I also play the piano with much competence, but I prefer to keep that as my cooling down, leisurely activity. How does this fit in with your blog about grumpiness? Well, there is much to be grumpy about. Life is not all bun buns and kittehs. And blogs serve not only as topical information, but as public diary or journal. As a public expression of what is going on in my life, or more precisely, your life, your blog can be as grumpy as you damn well want it to be. The dwindling prospects of the mind are something to be concerned about. I have discussed my intention to pursue academia with family and friends and they ask about value? How much money do I stand to make? Really?! I don't make much money now and I hate my job. Sure, I could pull out the necessary loans and go to Law School, but I am sure I would hate that just as much. Truth be told, those in the humanities are interested in the intrinsic value of thought and ask only to be paid what is necessary to be comfortable. In return, the world gets a model of inspiration. A humanities professor challenges the student to view others with compassion, to think about and engage with history and its effects on the modern world, to critically evaluate art, poetry, and the written word, and most importantly to intelligently and critically challenge those who would exert power over them. The value is extraordinary considering the meager wages academics ask. And to think, one dares be grumpy. So, I am just going to get on with it. I am poor now and my prospects may find me in the same boat, but the value to the self outweighs any leisure my money can buy at the moment (although, I hope to retain a little for gaming purposes ;-)). However, as is the case for all things challenging with little financial value of return, complaining is par for the course.

querido diário said...

i wished the internet had more blogs like your yours and more posts of people questioning things and not getting along with it like blank mindless sheep.

i love pictures,i think that is the best way to my self expression but words are priceless to me and some truth and depth should not be considered aberrant but liberating!

Hila said...

William: A friend of mine linked this article, and I couldn't help but think of it again as I read your comment: "Find what you love and let it kill you." Which is basically what I'm doing right now with my life. And I guess, what you're planning on doing too. It's not easy, in fact, it's often dangerous, the path we have chosen. But like you, I feel like I can't do much: I know how to write, I love to write, and I'm not going to try and pretend that something else will make me happy because it would give me more money. I'm just tired of justifying things that do not need justification. I'm not the first, and probably won't be the last, to voice this frustration. But there's something to be said for voicing it.

Good luck with it, and feel free to come over to my blog and complain all you like! My shoulder is always sympathetic.

querido diário: Thanks :) I sometimes feel like an irritating shit-stirrer!