Tag Archives: Blogging

Cultural Announcement: Reflections on an “Academic Blogging” Journey

This has never exactly been a personal blog—while Cultural Learnings started in 2007 as a broadly conceptualized space for personal expression, it quickly morphed toward television and other media, and at some point or another I eradicated whatever markers of personal blogging were left over from the early days.

But, at the same time, any blog is ultimately personal, regardless of the specific topic of discussion, and this is particularly true given how the personal and the professional converge around the space of critical studies of media in my case when I started work as a PhD student in Media and Cultural Studies in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And so it feels right to use this as a space to discuss a professional (and personal) development, which is that having defended my dissertation earlier this month, I will begin a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia this fall.

First and foremost, I need to acknowledge the fortune of this opportunity. Within the space of academia, jobs—and especially tenure-track jobs—are in short supply, both due to a surplus of qualified candidates and the increased (and problematic) reliance on part-time adjunct positions, and I am incredibly lucky to be in this position. This was made possible by the guidance of advisors (both formal and informal), the support of family, and the confidence of friends and colleagues, yes—but it also depends on right jobs at right times, and chips falling in the right places, all of which are more difficult to control. To say that luck was involved is not to self depreciate the work I did, or the support I received at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and Acadia University before that), but rather to acknowledge that even with all of the hard work and support in the world, there are still people who don’t get jobs. And so the fact that I have this opportunity has put into perspective the various individuals whose generosity, wisdom, and in some cases timing led to the series of events that made this opportunity possible. I give thanks for it all.

But I want to take a moment to reflect specifically on the role that this blog played in this process, given how interconnected it is with all of the above. Although this was not designed as an “academic blog” initially given that I was still an undergrad when I started it, it evolved into one when I became a graduate student, and has transformed in ways that have made it a significant part of my professional identity. There is much debate in academia regarding the role of blogs and other social media in how grad students and junior scholars develop their place within the field, and I knew entering the job market that my output in this space was something that could set me apart for better—“he’s written a lot, on a lot of topics, for a diverse audience!”—or for worse—“why was he writing blog posts when he could have been publishing peer-reviewed journal articles?”

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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,



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The Lost Weekend: Reflections on Reviewing Lost

Reflections on Reviewing Lost

May 22nd, 2010

There are a lot of articles floating around the internet right now about Lost’s legacy (including a great one from my brother), but I don’t necessarily know if I’m prepared to contribute to them.

This comes from the fact that I’ve already written about nearly every facet of this series. Because of my recent “Television, The Aughts & I” series, I’ve written extensively about how Lost was part of my initial initiation into the world of being a television obsessive. Due to the complaints piling up even before this past season began, I already wrote my lengthy diatribe against those who believe that Lost “owes” something to its fans. Since we were also already in a list-making mood before Season Six, I’ve done my list of key episodes as well. And not only has the mysterious nature of Season 6 kept the series’ conclusion almost entirely unpredictable, but reviewing every episode along the way means that I’ve already analyzed much of the season’s narrative in great detail.

However, I feel like I’m letting the haters win if I don’t write something “broad” ahead of the finale: I’ve been arguing for weeks that the people who believe that a finale could fundamentally change their opinion of the series are a bit nuts, so to avoid writing about the series’ legacy (definitively speaking) until after the finale would be conceding defeat on that particular argument.

So, taking all of this into account, I figure the best way to write about Lost is to write about the experience of writing about Lost, which feels especially timely considering the attack on Lost criticism in Mike Hale’s New York Times piece I responded to on Thursday. I am not paid to write about Lost, nor are paid critics necessarily required to write as much about the show as they do. If we ask why myself or my fellow critics write about the show with such passion, the answer would be part reflection on the show itself, part reflection on the fan culture surrounding the show, and part reflection on the ways in which television criticism has evolved over the past six years.

Critics write about Lost for reasons beyond its popularity, just as bloggers write about Lost for reasons beyond blog stats, and their reasons offer an interesting glimpse into Lost’s legacy and an explanation for why so many of us will be burning the midnight oil long into Monday morning and still writing about the show in the months ahead.

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Cultural Learnings Celebrates its First Anniversary

One year ago today, I started Cultural Learnings.

This sounds really startling when I say it aloud, but over the past month or so I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ve been doing this for an entire year. I really wish that this was falling during a less busy time of the year, because as it is I feel like I am doing this post a disservice. I should have spent a week on a retrospective post like the one I did for my three-month anniversary, before my blog became focused closer on television.

But unfortunately, a combination of work and illness has meant that all we’re getting today is a solemn and humble thank you, and a promise that at some point in time I will reward you with some sort of prize for your continued readership. But, for now, let’s settle with this.

Thank you for reading, commenting, emailing, subscribing, questioning, enjoying, criticizing, and inspiring for an entire year. If you had told me one year ago that my blog would win 2nd place in a contest held by the Nielsen Company, I would have guffawed. I loved TV, no question, but blogging about it had never been something I had really considered.

What I enjoy the most about blogging is not that people are reading my opinions, as if I require the validation of a readership. Rather, I have been inspired that people have cared about what I’ve written and have added their own opinions. My experience working with fans of Jericho hasn’t been rewarding in the sense of statistics or prestige, but rather in establishing relationships with people as fascinated by television as I am. Being able to feed and observe your passion has been an experience I did not expect to have, and something I enjoy immensely.

So, with one year behind us, it’s time to look forward to the next year (And there WILL be another year and more). I want to continue to offer content you enjoy, content I enjoy, and content which engages important issues. The Writers’ Strike is only one part of the television story – I am excited for the return of Lost and Battlestar Galactica, and of course the long anticipated return of Jericho, I could finally start blogging about Project Runway (It’ll be late, stupid Canadian broadcasting rights), and I’ll be back on the reality bandwagon with the February premiere of Survivor: Fans vs. Favourites.

Thank you to anyone who contributed to my 200,000+ Page Views, and I hope that you will continue to 200,000 more.

Keep on watchin’,



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“Dirty Sexy Money” at South Dakota Dark

I’ve been watching Dirty Sexy Money consistently all season, and while I’m certainly not head over heels in love I think the sum of the whole is more than enough to overcome some of its weak links. However, for whatever reason, I haven’t blogged about it: it’s on late, and I think I just have been taking Wednesday off ever since Bionic Woman bit the dust. However, I’ve decided to start covering the show…but not here at Cultural Learnings.

I’ve been reading Sound Dakota Dark for a while now: it represents a wide range of contributing voices discussing a whole host of TV shows, a large majority of which I watch. When the opportunity arose to cover Dirty Sexy Money, I jumped at the opportunity: I’m always looking to expand my blog horizons, and this was a chance to work with a great team of people.

However, because I am still wholly committed to this blog, I will be posting a preview and a link to each week’s post here – feel free to discuss the show at either location, although it is in danger of becoming a Writer’s Strike casualty. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Dirty Sexy Money – “The Wedding” @ South Dakota Dark

There are only so many complaints I can have when Donald Sutherland spends an hour of television getting drunk on tequila. When the frustrating Karen and Nick storyline rears its ugly head, all I have to do is think back to Tripp Darling carrying around a giant bottle of tequila and a smile cracks my face.

But the smile wasn’t there for long: while the show’s zip is certainly not lost in this episode, I am fairly certain that the show’s current direction is like Karen’s fifth wedding just waiting to happen.

You can also check out my “Season Thus Far” Recap as well.

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My (And Tim Kring’s) Apologies

My Apology

Over the past four weeks or so, the output on Cultural Learnings has been fairly limited. This has been especially damaging when, over the past week, the WGA strike has essentially provided a whole host of important commentary that any good blogger should be commenting on. However, coincidentally, I was dealing with a strike of my own, assisting my Students’ Union with an information blog during a three and a half week long faculty strike.

As a result, I’m sorry I missed many great episodes of television, many important news stories, and in general just wasn’t around. During that time, I was fortunate enough to finish in 2nd place in Hey! Nielsen’s Best in TV Blog Contest, and I felt incredibly guilty that I wasn’t living up to this fantastic honour bestowed upon me by you, the reader. I plan on trying to live up to that in the near future, so stick with Cultural Learnings in the interim.

Tim Kring’s Apology

However, my apology is not the only one I want to discuss today. Tim Kring, creator of NBC’s slowly fading Heroes, has officially gone on the record that the second season of Heroes has been a wildly miscalculated and redundant exercise (my words, not his). For someone who has defended the show’s various problems (Which aren’t all new, let’s be honest), it is strange to see Kring backing down – the fan response has just been that overwhelmingly negative. And I tend to agree with Alan Sepinwall: just as Kring says this, the show has its best episode of the season. Coincidence? I think not.

Now, I think we shouldn’t give Kring a free ride based on this apology: he’s never been a good writer, and much of last season’s iconic moments came from the mind of Bryan Fuller, not the ex-executive producer of Crossing Jordan. But it’s good to see that he’s at least admitting that his series has fallen off the rails creatively, which shows me that he’s willing to listen to fans. However, adversely, he also considers his vision to be expendable.

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A Brief Hey! Nielsen Update

Hey everyone,

I might get to Pushing Daisies tonight, but it’s a hectic week and I don’t have all that much to say about the episode. What I want to focus on instead is an email I just got from Steve at Hey! Nielsen. After our Sound Off! Week came to a bit of an abrupt end when I pretty much ran out of time, I didn’t get a chance to properly address some issues. One of these was just how fantastic they are about making changes to their system to better reflect actual activity.

In the short term, these are a risky proposition for the Hey! Nielsen crew: they result in decreases in the scores of shows, which angers the fans who have put their efforts into the site. However, they’re about long term sustainability: remembering that this isn’t just a month-long installation, but rather a site that is intended to make an impact for years ahead, this is an important step in that direction.

In this case, Steve revealed two important things:

  • That recent activity is valued more than past activity. In other words, rather than cramming all of your efforts into one day and bursting to the top, it will take a continued presence on the site (Let’s say one opinion a week) to really make a long-term impact. This means that there is incentive for people visiting on a regular basis. This could cause more spamming, more often, but I am hoping that people refrain from this.
  • That although they won’t reveal the exact formula (It’s the internet’s own Caramilk Secret), they can confirm that Reactions, which were where fans of Jericho and Supernatural were seeing people responding negatively out of spite, do not have a huge impact. In fact, they never have, and it has actually been adjusted further.

These two things are great for fans: on the one hand they provide a great deal of incentive, and on the other hand they downplay the negative nellies who ruined the experience for some fans of shows like the Dresden Files, Jericho or Supernatural. It creates a much more positive environment, which I think should help the long-term sustainability of the site.

And speaking of long-term, there’s no more long-term in the TV Blog Contest, which ends tonight. So if you want to get in a last minute vote for Cultural Learnings, it would be most appreciated!

Hey! Nielsen TV Blog Entry – Cultural Learnings


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Hey! Nielsen TV Blog Contest Update – 3rd Place? Madness!

Hey everyone, hope everything is going well out there. While I’m busy off dealing with the faculty strike (They’re talking again tomorrow night, in case someone is theoretically interested in my daily affairs), I missed an email that informed me that Cultural Learnings was sitting in 3rd Place in the Hey! Nielsen TV Blog Contest.

Needless to say, I need to thank everyone who has voted for me thus far. The fact that you’d take the time to react to this site in a positive fashion shows I must be doing something right. I greatly appreciate the support, and only wish I could have been more productive over the weekend to justify this high placement.

Now, you might be wondering what my plans are to dethrone the current leader. Well, I have no plans whatsoever. When it comes to who deserves to win this contest, there is no doubt in my mind that current #1, Jericho Monster, is that site.

Jane has put together a site that has garnered interviews with not only bloggers like myself and Rich over at Copywrite Ink., but also actors like Lennie James, who plays Hawkins on Jericho. Her interviews and postings have been a huge service to a fan campaign, and her contributions don’t stop there: whether on message boards or elsewhere, Jane has been a huge part of the Save Jericho campaign.

And since that’s really what Hey! Nielsen is for, rewarding those who step outside the box to promote their favourite series, I want everyone who might vote for me to vote for Jane as well.

Hey! Nielsen TV Blog Entry – Jericho Monster

Hey! Nielsen TV Blog Entry – Cultural Learnings

Thanks again, everyone: voting ends on October 24th!


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Sound Off! Week – Hey! Nielsen – Is it Making a Difference?

I have to apologize for not being able to post yesterday: I’m currently working with the students’ union as part of some pre-faculty strike preparations, so that took up a great deal of my time. As a result, I’m going to set us back a few days and finish this series on Sunday with some final recommendations. But, before I head out for the weekend, I want to leave what I think are some of the most important statements that Jericho and Supernatural fans made to me in their responses.

The reality is that Hey! Nielsen is a social networking site with a purpose: to better inform the Nielsen Company and their advertisers/partners about what parts of television, movies, etc. are most popular. The site is sold as a way to take the example of Jericho’s fandom to the next level, and this is why Jericho and Supernatural fans rushed to the new medium.

But the problem that the site faces is that it has no proof (as of this writing) that this is actually making a difference. There is no tangible return on their involvement: they spend a week pouring their hearts out about their favourite show, but did that make a difference? And, if it didn’t, why should they bother with this site when they’re already posting on message boards or on LiveJournal in the same fashion?

I know that the site doesn’t purport to have a direct impact on Nielsen ratings, but I think that the “purpose” of the site has led to a great deal of disinterest in its development. It’s one thing to post on a message board, such as the CBS Jericho Message Boards: you know you’re making a difference, but you have no illusion of your post being read by Nina Tassler and for Jericho to receive a third season order in the process.

But when you post on Hey! Nielsen, there is that illusion: that, in some way, being #1 on this site could be a breakthrough for your fandom. But then nothing happens: Supernatural’s ratings haven’t seen any sort of spike, Jericho doesn’t have a timeslot yet, and the Dresden Files (Newcomers to the Hey! Nielsen game, and to this blog. Welcome!) still remains canceled. People see this and, for obvious reasons, start to wonder if it was all a waste of time.

What Hey! Nielsen needs to do now is give its users at least some sense that someone is listening: I don’t care if it’s a PR letter from the head of the Nielsen Company, the first in its user-led focus groups being announced, or something to prove that they’re paying attention. A social networking site that purports to being a megaphone for fans to extend their views to a more important audience is a novel concept, but there needs to be some reciprocity in the relationship.

For now, here are what Jericho and Supernatural Fans thought of the site’s future differences, read below. If you have your own thoughts from the perspective of another fan group, let us know in the comments below!

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Hey! Nielsen: Giving Voice to Internet Fandom

Late last week, I was invited to take part in a private beta for a new website called Hey! Nielsen. And yes, it is that Nielsen company, the same one that has been attacked from all sides for its misrepresentation of a show’s true popularity. But, impressively, Nielsen is stepping outside of their boxes and notepads, instead turning to the social networking craze of the internet to find a new way of measuring popularity.


The result is a website that, in my experience with it, has a great deal of potential in terms of monitoring internet chatter. However, the most important thing at this point is that people actually start using this service to their advantage. Starting today (Monday, September 24th), the private beta becomes public, and the world gets a chance to make their opinion heard even without a fancy box sitting on their television.

Users are able to do three things:

  • Post their own opinions about TV Shows, Movies, Celebrities, Music and Internet sites like Jericho Monster or TelevisionWithoutPity.
  • React to other people’s opinions and post comments about their agreement/disagreement.
  • Rate each TV Show/Movie/etc. based on their own preference so people can view their profile and get an idea of their personal taste.

For fans of a series like Jericho, which is actually mentioned in the site’s opening introduction as an example of how this can work, this is a fantastic opportunity for them to have their voices heard. However, I would suggest that anyone who joins from Jericho’s legion of fans, or the fans of any other show, that they use this service as more than just promotion. Hey! Nielsen is about both what people like and don’t like, so while promoting your favourite show be sure to offer opinions on others.

On a personal level, Cultural Learnings was selected to take part in the Best of TV Blogs Contest being held for about the next month or so. As part of that, there has been an area set up where you can post opinions about this site, as well as a whole host of much better TV websites, and then there are some prizes awarded. So if you want to show me some love, or perhaps make a commentary about how awful a human being I am, feel free to do so. Just rate the site, and then leave a comment if you wish.

Hey! Nielsen – Cultural Learnings’ Contest Entry

There are a lot of exciting things planned for the site: widgets, feeds, and a TV viewing calendar feature are all planned for the future, although are not likely to be present in the public beta starting tomorrow. I’ll be posting some opinions throughout the day, especially with some big premieres to come this evening, so stay tuned: I’ll post them here once they’re up so you can get a feel for how the service works.

Cultural Learnings’ Opinions

Jericho – The Best Fans In Television


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