April 20, 2010

On Internet Punditry and Engendering Change

Category: Academic,Digital Media,Gender — Biella @ 7:22 am

One day a very well known Internet theorist writes a rant on women. The rant generates controversy, controversy lands theorist on WYNC on the media , despite the fact the he does not really work on the politics of gender. If this is so, why then give him more air time and focus on the NPR show? There are three lessons that precipitate from this social fact that are worth highlighting:

1.The fact that NPR chose him to pontificate and not… a woman nullifies Shirky’s thesis that behavior is one of the most important factors in keeping women behind, unless of course NPR asked a bunch of women but they were too meek to be on the air (not likely). If they wanted to keep the star power that is Shirky, the very least they could have done is had a woman respond. The solutions to get more women in the limelight are so easy to implement but they do require some thoughtfulness and foresight.

2.So what I am saying, it is about networks and Shirky, isn’t he a theorist of networks and behavior? It seems to be to more controversial, he really did not address how important networks are for the politics of visibility, instead he focused on individual behavior. If famous highly networked folks, most of them men, don’t highlight women in their blog posts, their twitter feeds, and don’t invite them to conferences, it is going to make very little difffernce whether a woman is meek or confident. So if there are more guys that are visible, which is certainly the case, it is as much their job to help engender change, not so much by pontificating but acting.

3. I realized that though I first thought his rant was a reflection of his personality (at least his public persona, I am sure he is a nice guy), in fact the rant is valuable to an anthropologist interested in digital media because it is an auto-ethnographic snapshot of web 2.0 punditry culture. It often comes across as smarmy and snarky, which is due in part, to how difficult it is to get your message heard in the sea of many voices. Just like there is an aesthetic of audaciousness in a lot of Internet memeology, for example, the pundits too must often act in extreme ways to get attention–which might inf fact be one of the reasons why they are reluctant to share the stage once they have worked hard to get there.

5 Comments »

  1. On the Media is a production of WYNC and while it is distributed on many NPR affiliates, it’s not an NPR production.

    Also, you neglected to mention that OtM cited a study of the number of male vs. female guests on NPR and other networks at the very beginning of the story. So, to say that they were willfully negligent in having selected a male to discuss the topic (with a female host) is a little too far; they were at least cognizant of the gender of the guest that they selected.

    I think it was merely a matter of Brooke finding his rant and wanting to highlight it.

    Comment by Jason D. Clinton — April 20, 2010 @ 9:11 am

  2. [...] Interprete On Internet Punditry and Engendering Change gabriellacoleman.org/blog/?p=1975 – view page – cached One day a very well known Internet theorist writes a rant on women. The rant generates controversy, controversy lands theorist on NPR, despite the fact the he does not really work on the politics of gender. If this is so, why then give him more air time and focus on the NPR show? There are three lessons that precipitate from this social fact that are worth highlighting: Tweets about this link Topsy.Data.Twitter.User['planetdebian'] = {“location”:”",”photo”:”http://a1.twimg.com/profile_images/139043236/debian_normal.png”,”name”:”Planet Debian”,”url”:”http://twitter.com/planetdebian”,”nick”:”planetdebian”,”description”:”Twitter feed set up by @gothicx”,”influence”:”"}; planetdebian: “Biella Coleman: On Internet Punditry and Engendering Change: One day a very well known Internet theorist writes a … http://bit.ly/bUydMN ” 8 minutes ago view tweet retweet Filter tweets [...]

    Pingback by Twitter Trackbacks for Interprete On Internet Punditry and Engendering Change [gabriellacoleman.org] on Topsy.com — April 20, 2010 @ 9:22 am

  3. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the clarification (changed the name). And I am aware that they cited the study, which in fact is what made the segment even more ironic: they were to some degree perpetuating the problem they were reporting on. There is actually no reason to have this disparity; we can have total parity in the media. It just takes some effort that is all.

    As per Brooke and the show: I really like it and like her but the study you refer to shows that even if there are females in the media, there are certainly not enough. Liking her/the show does not take away from the points I am trying to make. In fact, I expected his commentary to address not only the arguments in the rant about behavior but perhaps some other issues that were raised post-rant, for example, issues that were more structural. Instead, the focus was more or less the same.

    Comment by Biella — April 20, 2010 @ 10:56 am

  4. [...] Biella Coleman comments on Clay Shirky and WYNC on the media [...]

    Pingback by Good girls don’t linkspam (3rd May, 2010) | Geek Feminism Blog — May 2, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  5. It seems to me that if his observations are true, it’s a sad commentary on the world we live in. You have to be an “arrogant self-aggrandizing jerk” to be taken seriously? No wonder the people at the top (politically, financially, you pick) act like sociopaths.

    Comment by Daniel Burrows — May 6, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

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