Recommended daily reading – 14 September

From today’s feeds and a few other places I went to today:

I’m behind the curve on this discussion, but I finally went to David Bordwell’s blog entry on why he doesn’t watch TV after having read Jason Mittell’s response a few days ago.

As Bordwell acknowledges in an update, Mittell gets that Bordwell’s reasons for not watching much television are not arguments for other people to not watch TV or for scholars to stop studying the medium. Mittell boils the differences between the two, Mittell studies TV, as one of personal taste or interest. Long form vs. short form. Visual art vs. narrative art.

This passage from Bordwell’s post jumped out at me:

I see the difference between films and TV shows this way. A movie demands little of you, a TV series demands a lot. Film asks only for casual interest, TV demands commitment. To follow a show week after week, even on a DVR, is to invest a large part of your life. Going to a movie demands three or four hours (travel time included).

What struck me about this analysis is how different my own reaction is. The episodic nature of TV, even a complex and layered show, makes me choose TV watching over films at home most of the time. I look at films as requiring intensive involvement. There are television shows I can watch readily while doing other things, and I will watch TV repeatedly in ways I don’t watch most movies. Films I mostly have to watch or not watch.

I think one reason for this is that I am drawn to film for visual interest. There are TV shows where I can mainly listen to the dialogue or wait for specific moments, but when I watch a film, I want to be rapt. And any film that I am not at risk of being absorbed by, I tend not to being compelled by to begin with. With television, there are programs for which I set everything else aside, and there are those that I watch more casually. I rarely actually watch movies in a casual way (and I understand that I am probably using these terms at least slightly differently from Bordwell, but I still find the question of which medium requires more of an investment interesting and one that can be considered from different angles).

I don’t have a preference for either medium personally, and thus far my professional engagement has been more with film than TV. In that regard, I think that Bordwell’s comments about the differences in the nature of the investment in each are apt; I probably am daunted by the commitment that scholarly television studies would require to a single show or genre, not to mention the challenge of actually going into TV production, which is where my study of film has taken me.

Following yesterday’s DC Women Kicking Ass interview, Kelly Thompson points to a redesign of DC’s 75th anniversary logo that replaces the four men on the official logo – Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and The Flash – with four women – Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, and Black Canary.

Thompson takes issue with Black Canary, and seems to be suggesting Batwoman in place of Batgirl, or maybe it’s just open to interpretation who that is exactly, but understands the visual appeal of Black Canary and her fishnets in silhouette.

As her own pause before coming up with Catwoman as an alternative implies, it isn’t easy to select four women for the logo. This is not so much for lack of cool or good characters, but because there are too few ‘iconic’ women in the DCU, which is more a comment on the U than on the women. Of course one of the reasons the official design is under question is that once you get past Superman and Batman, it seems like any number of characters could be included, male or female. So, why there are no women is a natural question to ask.

Finally today, one of Renee French’s strangely cute birds with sticks.

Coming to terms with Not Writing

One of the immediate reasons I decided to start blogging again is an issue raised on Dr. Crazy’s Reassigned Time 2.0, which is the practice of Not Writing (see “Reading and Thinking (and NOT writing …)” and “Not Writing”).

It may seem strange to think of not doing something as doing something, but for most academics, and writers and artists, and anyone who does intellectual and creative work, Not Writing, or its equivalent, is an important activity.

But as Crazy points out in the first linked post, it is hard not to feel guilty about Not Writing. Indeed, this summer, almost a decade and a half after I finished my Ph.D., marks the first time I can honestly say that I have been able to accept Not Writing as productive.

The main problem with Not Writing is that there is no tangible product attached to it; there’s literally nothing to show for your labors. The fact that no one, in particular and in the moment, maybe demanding to see anything does not really matter. I think many people raised in America are conditioned to think of work as being attached to things, not thoughts. So, when you spend a day or two or three, etc. working something over, you may know that you’ve done good work, but the fact that anyone else will only have your word for that is what allows the feelings of guilt to creep in.

I think that my writing for PopMatters has slowly helped me to realize that I need time to let ideas cook or stew in my head before writing. The fact that I am usually working on a deadline of some kind and that the pieces themselves tend to require only a day or two of thinking has been useful in that regard in that the tangible product comes pretty quickly after the Not Writing.

What has also been true this summer is that I have, finally, been able to start editing my documentary, and the fruitlessness of sitting in front of the computer monitor without a notion of what to do is so obvious that I have been much more willing to give myself permission to Not Write than I have in the past with more traditional projects like journal articles or conference papers. If you feel like you need to, you can always just start writing prose to ‘get something done’, and that’s mostly harmless. However, as much as digital has turned film editing into a reversible and experimental process, there are still more elements in play than there are in wordprocessing, and messing with footage just because you feel like you need to do something can create more work in the long run, and the work involved in piecing together a segment or scene is such that it isn’t worth doing unless you have some intent to actually use what you’re working on. As a result, I know much more clearly with the film work that I need to leave things alone for stretches at a time than I did in the past with papers, book chapters, etc.

As Crazy notes in the second linked entry, one problem with Not Writing is that it is, despite outward appearances, an activity, one that requires your attention. Just because you’re Not Writing does not mean that you can effectively do something else. It interferes with leisure activities, I disengage from others or from things like books and TV, and I find almost impossible to start writing one one thing while I’m actively Not Writing on another.

When I’m Not Writing I usually need to walk or run, without poor Coco if I’m really deep into working something through. I’ll walk around the house or the yard. Sometimes I can casually throw the ball for Dinah and hang out with the dogs outside. Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust (Penguin, 2001) about how walking can be a way of seeming or feeling productive to others when you’re ‘just’ thinking, but, as she also notes, movement can help some people’s brains get working. That seems to be true for me.

Of course, blogging again maybe a way of Not Writing that involves writing, insofar as Not Writing can involve short, fragmentary forms of actual writing like taking notes, but I think that writing a blog requires enough attention of its own that I’m not sure I use it to Not Write in the same way that I use walking or running, at least not unless I am actually writing about something that I’m Not Writing about.

In any case, the start of Fall term is coming and there won’t be much time for writing or Not Writing.