Chris Cagle has a new blog post that addresses what seems to be a decline in blogging in the field of film studies. Chris grounds this observation in the context of his own essay in Jason Sperb and Scott Balcerzak’s edited collection, Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction, Vol. 2, in which Chris offers a polemical argument endorsing the potential benefits of academic blogging for film scholars. Like Chris, I find that the initial energy behind academic film blogging seems to have waned–even as my own output has declined dramatically–and I think it’s worth asking about why that is happening. I have a couple of answers in mind and would be curious to know if others have similar experiences:
First, blogging has lost its novelty factor. Blogging appealed for early adapters and now we’ve moved on to other forms of networked communication–Twitter, Facebook, mashups, image macros–that make the practices of blogging feel less vital and immediate. There are so many competing communication formats, blogs are just one place where we can devote our limited energy.
On a related note, film scholars may be deciding that the energy needed to maintain a blog isn’t worth the payoff. I’d imagine that most tenure committees still don’t give significant credit to a well-maintained academic blog. I barely mention mine in my tenure file, even if it (indirectly at least) had a profound effect on how I was able to build a scholarly network. But on an anecdotal level, blogging feels like the one thing I can sacrifice while trying to publish, teach, grade, do service, and maintain a healthy family life. Short and fast–again, think Twitter and Facebook–is easier, even if it is more difficult to archive.
Similarly, TV lends itself to water-cooler discussion. Even if large numbers of TV fans can use DVRs and other tools for catch-up viewing, there is a premium on watching live and sharing in the reactions to narratives as they unfold. While film premieres have a similar value–there is obviously some pleasure in being the first to see and review a movie–the fragmentation of the theatrical distribution schedule has made it harder to sustain the conversations that many independent films inspire. Even if VOD allows for somewhat more simultaneous distribution schedules, most of us aren’t watching movies that way.
Finally, I wonder if it’s the movies themselves that are the problem (or, more precisely, if it’s our perception of the movie industry). Chris is perhaps the best example out there of a scholar who uses his blog to explore film history, but blogs seem best suited to looking at the contemporary, the immediate, and as a number of non-academic film critics have asserted, there may be reasons to be pessimistic about the current state of the film industry. Richard Brody of The New Yorker is more subtle here than David Denby or David Thompson, who both seem to have concluded that cinema is declining or dead. But there seems to be an on-going and inescapable sentiment that movies have lost their cultural relevance.
There are probably other factors here. Some of this could be purely a personal perception. I’d also be curious to see if academic TV bloggers feel as if the initial energy associated with blogging has faded. Like Chris, I don’t think that these forms of networked scholarly communication are dying so much as they are transforming. And I still see more dialogue between entertainment journalists and media scholars, but like Chris, I’m curious to see what forms this dialogue will take.
Update: I think the cinetrix has probably the best possible response to the current round of hand-wringing about the decline of film blogging. I’ll be the first to admit that some of what I was describing is probably personal, and some of it may be specific to academic writers (although even there, I realize that a number of media scholars continue to blog frequently and continue to offer a wide array of approaches to blogging).