The Imaginary Forest: Cultural Learnings in 2010

The Imaginary Forest: A Cultural New Year

January 1st, 2011

Starting a blog is a lot like playing pretend. Just as you have to pretend that you’re in the middle of an imaginary, magical forest fighting some unknown evil, your plastic sword a piece of forged steel, you sort of have to imagine that there’s someone out there reading. Before you ever receive your first comment, you need to imagine someone out there who might write that comment. Before you ever recognize that first regular reader who keeps coming back, you need to imagine that someone will come in the first place.

Cultural Learnings, for quite some time, felt like a form of pretend: I was a pretend television critic, a blogger who spent his free time doing what critics do. While we sometimes associate pretend with our childhood, and our obsession with the imaginary and the escape from reality it offers, it can easily extend into adulthood. We are still capable of aspiring to things, and sometimes we need to stretch “reality” in order to keep our goals even vaguely within reach. For me, this blog was an opportunity to feel connected to the medium of television in ways which went beyond forcing my English professors to allow me to write about it, a chance to at least pretend to be part of a broader community of like-minded people when I was instead surrounded by people who thought I was obsessive (which, while not untrue, was still somewhat marginalizing).

And just like when we play pretend, there are moments in blogging where a brief brush with reality invades the imaginary: there’s something visceral about swinging a plastic sword and colliding with a nearby tree, just as there’s something visceral about finding your post on the front page of Digg – back when, you know, Digg was relevant – or receiving a particularly intriguing comment. They’re the moments that keep you playing along, the moments which start to make you think that maybe pretend could become reality with time.

For a few years, Cultural Learnings sat in this liminal – I imagine this is a cheap pop among regular readers at this point – state. There have been readers, regular readers even, for a few years, and 2008 and 2009 each brought their own brushes with respectability. I’ve been incredibly grateful for all of this, and have never felt as if the blog necessarily needed to be more popular (it’s not as if it’s making me any money) or more “real.” The truth is that the blog has always been a sort of personal exercise, an opportunity to feel connected to the medium of television in a way which went beyond the living room (or, in some cases, the classroom), and so the occasional comment and the stimulating conversation which followed were more a bonus than anything else.

And yet in 2010 things really did change. I don’t feel as if I did anything different: there’s nothing I can really point to that led to any sort of shift in the blog’s status, no stroke of genius or groundbreaking discovery to be found. However, as I went on fighting my way through the magical forest, the world did become real: it became a group of dedicated and intelligent Whedonites, it became generous and supportive colleagues within both academic and critical realms, and it became an “audience” of informed viewers of television who wanted to join in on the conversation. Over the past year, it felt as if everything fell into place: while this has always been something I enjoyed immensely, perhaps explaining why I was so willing to keep doing it for free, there was something immensely gratifying about receiving the kind of feedback that I had imagined there might one day be, and to get the opportunities that I always imagined might come.

As the year comes to a close, and a new year begins, I want to thank everyone who has been a part of this new reality – this includes those who gave me those opportunities, those who promoted the blog to their own readers, those who sent me kind emails, those who commented, those who follow me on Twitter, those who simply read the blog, or those who got to this post by Googling “forged steel + magical forest.” It is my plan to keep fighting my way through the forest in the year ahead, and I hope that you’ll continue to join me on this adventure…which, when I think about it, almost feels more like fantasy when grounded in reality than when simply a figment of my imagination.

Happy New Year to you and yours,



Filed under Cultural Learnings

16 responses to “The Imaginary Forest: Cultural Learnings in 2010

  1. Eldritch

    Happy New Year, Myles.

    It’s been a pleasure reading your blog this year. You bring a perspective and depth of analysis that I haven’t found anywhere else. It’s been good work.

  2. Keep up the good work, Myles, and I’ll keep reading. I’ve been reading since 2008, so I don’t imagine I’ll stop now that you’re all famous and stuff (although, I have to admit, I don’t think there was ever going to be any other outcome with the insane amount of output you generate . . . I mean, good God, man, do you sleep?)

  3. Jeremy

    Happy New Year, Myles!

  4. Gill

    Happy New Year, Myles! I’ve really enjoyed reading your responses to the Buffyverse and gone on to read other stuff with interest where I’ve actually known the shows. (Brit here.) I look forward to sharing more and commenting too.

  5. Happy New Year, Myles! I found your blog via TV, eh? because of your Being Erica reviews, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Here’s to another year of great posts!

  6. Kate

    Myles, you’re a fine writer and a nice virtual person. I always enjoy your insights and your style. You are a great example to anyone with a dream of getting to do what they love. Happy New Year!

  7. thedalyn


    As someone who also had to defend her choice to study TV, I find it comforting to know there someone else out there who is also fighting the good fight. You help remind me that, even though many of my rhet/comp colleagues think otherwise, television is important and worthy of study. Being halfway through a dissertation on reality TV of all things, I sometimes need that.

    Thank you. And happy new year!


  8. Brad

    Hey Miles. I found your blog during Lost’s final season. Glad I did. Good luck with your new fame 🙂 Ever consider a podcast?

  9. Arthur

    It’s always a pleasure to see your TV reviews and commentary. Can’t wait to see what you got in store for 2011.

    Happy New Year, Myles.

  10. You are honestly one of the smartest people doing this, sir. Congrats on the success, it is well-earned.

  11. Katie

    I was one of those Whedonites who found you through Whedonesque earlier this year, and as I explored your blog I stayed for more than the Buffy/Angel. As a self-professed TV nerd, I appreciate someone else being able to both geek out but also not let that get in the way of analysis. You are so articulate, and you motivate a lazy Lit/Writing undergraduate like me to maybe work more on my writing in my free time a little bit more. You are a more eloquent version of those of us who scream at our televisions, or in my case the computer screen. Also, you give me stuff to read when procrastinating on schoolwork, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

    Happy New Years, Myles! This year you’ll get so famous that Michael Ausiello will start deferring to you on all matters of television. Well, that might just be a pipe dream…

  12. mck

    In 2011 I’m going to pretend I can write as beautifully as you. I hope something can come of it. Thank you for sharing your obsession with us.

  13. skittledog

    Happy new year, Myles. I also found you through your Buffyverse catchup this year, but soon added you to my regular rotation of people to read on all my favourite US shows (also a Brit…) and I plan to stick around for as long as you keep writing about shows I watch. But more particularly, thanks for openly being a person finding their way into the critical community, making a name amongst various other critics and review/recap websites: I find that a little fascinating to watch, since a tiny part of me always thinks ‘I could do that’… and then the rest of me remembers to be sensible. But it’s nice to know it is possible. You know, for talented hard-working kinda people. 😉

    Anyway. All the best for 2011!

  14. Evamarie

    Your blog rocks, don’t ever stop! I love your blend of academia and tv-critic!

  15. Pingback: Some Blogging Sentiments from 2010 « Signifying Media

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