Legitimating Television: Blogversation

This is cross-posted at Dr. Television.

In this post, Elana Levine and I aim to offer a look into the origins and purpose of our new book, Legitimating Televison: Media Convergence and Cultural Status. We include an abstract of our argument (which is also our back cover copy), and then engage in a “blogversation” about the project and its aims.

Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status explores how and why television is gaining a new level of cultural respectability in the twenty-first century. Once looked down upon as a “plug-in drug” offering little redeeming social or artistic value, television is now said to be in a creative renaissance, particularly as critics hail the rise of “cinematic,” Quality series such as Mad Men and 30 Rock. Likewise, DVDs and DVRs, web video, HDTV, and mobile devices have shifted the longstanding conception of television as a family-centered household appliance, offering a new understanding of TV as a sophisticated, high-tech gadget.

Newman and Levine argue that television’s newfound, growing prestige emerges in concert with the convergence of media at technological, industrial, and experiential levels. Television is permitted to rise in respectability once it is connected to more highly valued media--and more highly valued audiences. Legitimation works by denigrating “ordinary” television associated with the past, and thereby denies the continuities between past and present. It also distances the television of the present from the feminized and mass audiences assumed to be inherent to the “old” TV. It is no coincidence that the most validated programming and technologies of the convergence era are associated with viewers of elevated economic and cultural status. The legitimation of television articulates the medium with the masculine over the feminine, the elite over the mass. In so doing it reinforces cultural hierarchies that have long perpetuated inequalities of gender and class.

Legitimating Television urges readers to move beyond the taste question of whether television is simply “good” or “bad,” and to focus instead on the cultural, political, and economic issues at stake in television’s transformation in the digital age.

Why we wrote this book

EL: While we have been excited by much of the scholarship emerging that deals with the many changes television has been facing, and continues to face (economic, technological, experiential), we also noted some gaps in that scholarship. We kept noticing these discourses of distinction in popular, trade, and scholarly talk about TV, but no one seemed to be talking about it or acknowledging their implications. And once we started noticing it, it was everywhere! I, for one, worry about all of the “future-casting” that seems to be going into contemporary talk about TV (scholarly and popular) and wanted, in part, to do the historian’s work of noting both the continuities with and the disruptions to the past in contemporary developments. So we wanted to historicize a lot of the conversation about convergence-era TV, and specifically to do so around questions of cultural hierarchy and value. In addition, we wanted to inject more of a cultural studies-influenced sense of struggle over television’s status in the cultural hierarchy, something we don’t see a lot of attention being paid to these days.

MZN: We have now seen a fair number of attempts to grapple with how television has been changing during the digital age. Some say television has changed so much that it’s not even television any more (e.g., one book has the title Television after TV), which seems like such a radical break. We wanted to make an argument about the cultural implications of convergence as it works in relation to TV, and in particular how issues of social power underlie many of the shifts we observe in TV’s identity under convergence. We see the old concept of TV as crucial to the newly legitimated medium. A lot of people seem to be aware of some of the same things we observe, but I think our concept of the legitimation of television explains recent developments in a way that has not been done, and puts their meaning into focus. The gender and class implications of television’s legitimation have not been very well recognized.


MZN: Lynn Spigel’s Make Room for TV and William Boddy’s New Media and Popular Imagination are most foundational in my thinking about our work, as both are ultimately concerned with how people think about television as a medium, and what place television has in our everyday lives as a result. We are also building on essays by Derek Kompare and Matt Hills about TV on DVD, and by Dana Polan and Christopher Anderson on the cultural status of Quality TV, particularly around HBO and its series. More in terms of background knowledge and approach, I am always inspired by Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, which is a book I think everyone across the humanities should read. Bourdieu, of course.

EL: I come to the project with the same influences, although I would also add two other streams of work: British Cultural Studies approaches to television, especially John Fiske’s Bourdieuian takes on cultural hierarchies and appreciation of the tastes of “the people.” For me, the study of television has always been about seeking an understanding of and empathy with a culturally denigrated medium and the subordinated social positions of those who find in that medium their culture. The legitimation of the medium, as much as it is still struggling to achieve dominance, seems to me to dismiss all of that. And that feels like a betrayal of what both television and the cultural studies-influenced field of television studies mean to me. I’d additionally add feminist scholarship on TV melodrama/soaps, especially work by such scholars as Tania Modleski, Jane Feuer, and Lynne Joyrich. These scholars understand deeply the gendered nature of cultural hierarchies and attend to television’s feminized texts as a challenge to such easy dismissals.

Challenges of writing about the present

MZN: When you write about the present, you aim at a moving target. You can think you have figured out what to say about something, and just as you are saying it, the subject changes or new developments complicate your points. You lack historical distance and risk seeing change as more important than it is. We tend to think of our present moment as a break from the past, and to see ourselves as somehow special. Actually I think part of our book’s contribution is in questioning this very tendency toward misapprehending the present, and failing to recognize historical continuities. We call it a history of the present and a polemic, and I wonder if a history of the present can avoid being a polemic in some sense, as our concerns are so immediate and so present in discourses we encounter day by day.

EL: Yeah, I worry about the “ranty” nature of the book at points, but I also feel so strongly about the ideas that I’m kind of proud of the rants, too. My worry is not so much that we come off sounding cranky, but that that crankiness will soon be seen as short-sighted, in that it misses a development that is about to come. Still, we’ve been studying these discourses for a number of years and, if anything, see them increasing rather than decreasing or changing.

What do we hope will come of Legitimating Television?

EL: I hope that readers of our book will think about contemporary TV and the discourses surrounding it in new ways, that they will start to notice the discourses of legitimation all around us and the ways in which these discourses operate in tension with those of denigration. I hope that scholarship that focuses on the economic and technological convergence of TV and other media will not reproduce the classed and gendered hierarchies of so much legitimating discourse--or will at least be more self-conscious about it. I hope that the critics and other journalists talking about contemporary TV will avoid the either/or dichotomy of trash or art that pervades discourses of legitimation and delegitimation and consider the ways their words shape the way we all think about TV. Mostly, I just want to see thoughtful, socially and politically engaged work on TV that has an historical sensibility and that tries not to reproduce damaging cultural hierarchies.

MZN: I’m eager to see more scholarly engagement with television texts in aesthetic terms, and some of this book indeed works in this area, e.g., the discussions of sitcom and drama forms. My previous work on TV storytelling is also an effort in this area. But I’d like to see aesthetic considerations of television proceed in full consciousness of the power of aesthetic discourses, and to the extent possible without the naive appreciation of “good TV” or denigration of “bad TV” that reinforces the cultural hierarchies central to legitimation and delegitimation. This is a challenge to be sure, but one that I think must be undertaken if TV studies is to maintain a critical perspective. Similarly, with new technologies and audience practices, we ought to be wary of endorsing the so-called control and activity of new ways of watching without recognizing drawbacks and their ideological implications.

What you should know before you read

MZN: I wonder if some people might see the book and infer that we’re rooting for TV to be legitimated. Sometimes when I tell people that the book is about the idea that TV has gotten better, they seem excited by the thought and eager to endorse it. (Others are more cranky and say things like, “I disagree!” or “I don’t watch television.”) Our purpose is to document and analyze legitimation as the emergent common sense, but also to argue that it’s not ultimately a force for good.

EL: You put that so democratically. We say legitimation is bad! But, at the same time, it’s important that readers know: 1) We love TV. 2) We know there are some benefits to the legitimation of television, but think the discourse as it now stands does too much damage to television writ large and to classed and gendered conceptions of cultural and social worth. 3) That is not our living room on the cover.


Legitimating Television, Process

This is the first of two planned posts about Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status, the book I have written with Elana Levine (Amazon). In this entry I reflect on collaboration as a scholarly endeavor, and elaborate a bit more about the processes of academic work, picking up where I left off in my last post on the academic summertime. A subsequent post will discuss the book’s ideas.

Like most academic works, ours is the product of years of research. My computer files tell me that I began to take notes on the topic of legitimation of TV about four years ago, fall 2007. But our project began at least a year or two before that moment, which is just the time that legitimation became a concept bringing our thinking about television’s changing cultural status into sharper focus.

We began by collecting research on TV on DVD and what I was thinking of as the cinematization of television in terms of audiovisual style and storytelling, but also in terms of distribution (as on DVD). I’m not sure when this was exactly but it was likely around the time that so much popular press attention was being given to the significance of discs for television’s business model, story forms, and cultural circulation. For instance, between 2004 and 2007 we saw a steady stream of articles in newspapers and magazines singing the praises of DVD as a solution to some of television’s enduring problems, such as:

-James Poniewozik, “Show Business: It's Not TV. It's TV on DVD,” Time, April 19, 2004.

-Scott Collins, “Some Television Reruns Hit Their Prime on DVD,” Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2005.

-Toni Ruberto, “DVDs offer viewer freedom,” The Buffalo News, September 17, 2006.

-Claire Atkinson, “What to Watch? How About a ‘Simpsons’ Episode From 1999?” New York Times, September 24, 2007.

DVDs (as well as DVRs) were also central to the discussion of television in Steven Johnson’s 2005 book Everything Bad is Good For You, key to his brief in favor of contemporary popular culture as a kind of cognitive pencil sharpener. The repeatability of television made possible by the digital revolution was supposed to have improved television and pushed its place in the cultural hierarchy from disreputable trash to a more elevated level.

Television scholars were remarkably quick to assess the implications of this new development. Derek Kompare and Matt Hills wrote important articles on the topic -- both highly recommended to anyone interested in how TV has changed in the past decade -- just as the popular press was also grappling with the same developments:

-Derek Kompare, “Publishing Flow: DVD Box Sets and the Reconception of Television,” Television & New Media 7:4 (November 2006), 335-360. (pdf)

-Matt Hills, “From the Box in the Corner to the Box Set on the Shelf: 'TVIII' and the cultural/textual valorisations of DVD,” New Review of Film and Television Studies 5.1 (April 2007), 41-60.

But the moment I most vividly remember as having made an impression on me, an impression that would remain as we worked through our ideas and towards the book, was even before these popular press discussions became commonplace. One day in January, 2003, we were wandering around a Tower-records-type retailer (this was in Paris, which is why I remember the date but not the name of the store), and were quite overwhelmed by the television section of the DVDs. It had not been that long since shows were first appearing in season and series box sets, and to see the number of American Quality TV series packaged so lavishly and appealing to our sensibilities so strongly was really shocking, as was, in my recollection, the typical price tag. I remember the HBO titles like The Sopranos, and I’m sure there were cult shows like Buffy. I recall that store’s TV on DVD section was quite large at a time when TV on DVD was still pretty new and exciting.

Season box sets of highly regarded programs produce such a different identity for TV shows as objects of intense consumer desire and significant commodity value, especially compared with the earlier reputation of television as disposable and ephemeral mere entertainment. In this new figuration, television was clearly attaining a newly high value that was quite the contrast against its historical identity as mass culture, as a vast wasteland, as the idiot box or boob tube. Over the span of time between 2002 and 2007, then, Elana and I began to collect research materials and to talk about how we might write something that would engage with this shift (individually or together, I’m not sure when we decided this was something to do together). A lot of our thinking coalesced in a series of conference papers we gave, which developed our project and provided an initial base of evidence and concepts on which the book would build. At the same time, both of us were busy with other things and this work was rarely if ever on the front burner for long (for starters, I had another book to write), which is partly why is took a long time to come to fruition.

In general I believe it’s beter to avoid working up new material for a conference presentation, and to try to present material that’s more or less publication-ready. This way you don’t stress out for three weeks before the conference figuring out what you are going to say, you don’t end up deciding you don’t like your topic after all and trying to give a different paper under the published title, and you don’t give a really rough draft that makes you look sloppy and abuses the audience’s attention. Perhaps more importantly, if you are working up new material, you might end up writing something 12 pages long that never goes anywhere, which seems to me, despite what I’ve said earlier about reconsidering what it means to be productive, like a squandered opportunity.It’s unusual that 12 pages of work all by itself is publishable as is in a journal or book in today’s academic publishing world, though maybe that’s too bad.

In working on Legitimating Television, though, we did a lot of our initial writing for conferences, and these presentations were a great value to our process. Elana and I both gave conference papers that became book material at Console-ing Passions 2008 in Santa Barbara, and 2010 in Eugene. We both gave papers at the one-day Unthinking Television conference in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2009, that found their way into the book. Of the book’s eight chapters, four were to a great extent built around those six conference papers, cutting and pasting parts here and there and integrating different papers together. My 2008 CP paper ended up partly in chapter 4 and partly in chapter 7 (see the book’s table of contents below). Elana’s 2008 CP paper gave chapter 6 its main ideas and some of its examples. Her 2010 CP paper was the basis for chapter 5, while mine was mostly integrated into chapter 4. The book also includes work here and there that first appeared on Zigzigger (this post on widescreen TV lives on in chapter 7), though with much modification. We also included a few bits and pieces from an unsubmitted column I wrote for Flow when I was a columnist (2008-2009). I decided not to submit it because it seemed too much like the introduction to a book and not enough like a column for a web publication. Chapters 2, 3, and 8 are just about all new, but the rest of the book is a patchwork integrating material previously shared in some way with an audience as work in progress.

Some people have asked us how we went about co-authoring a book. It’s not that unusual to see original research monographs have more than one author, but in the humanities it’s still something a bit out of the ordinary, and people seem to wonder how the process unfolds. Our training in graduate school, especially in the humanities, assumes single authorship and offers little guidance in producing collaborative research. Editing a book or writing a textbook might lend themselves more to collaboration than this kind of work, though I haven’t done either of those things so I can’t speak to their finer points.

We might think of collaboration as having greater or lesser degrees of intellectual integration. There may be some projects where work can be divided among collaborators in a way that doesn’t require them to share all of the same ideas and expectations, and to work out arguments and evidence together. Ours is the kind of book that does require that kind of collaboration. We conducted research separately and wrote separately, but we did not divide up the work into discrete sections and each keep to our side of a line. We wrote the chapters one at a time (you work on this one, I’ll work on that one) but they are all still products of our collaboration. Sometimes the ideas of a section come more from one person but the words are composed mostly by the other. I wrote most of chapter 6’s first draft, but the conceptual work was mostly Elana’s. There are parts where the research was done by one of us and the other wove it into an argument. In chapter 2, for instance, I wrote a section of a couple thousand words to be integrated into a longer discussion written mainly by Elana, but she revised my part to make it fit, and I revised hers after that. And in revision, there was never any sense of the words being proprietary. Some parts of the book were revised so many times by us both that they really were written by two people. Having said all of this, there are passages of the book only I could have written, and passages only Elana could have. I would rather preserve the veneer of total collaboration than reveal which parts these are, but people who know us will be able to figure them out. There are also phrases I’m especially happy with that I wrote, and quotes that express a thought especially nicely that I found, and I feel pleased about these. There are similar passages that Elana wrote or quoted, and I admire these no less, but in the way you admire someone else’s good job.

Sometimes I infer that the subtext of the co-authorship question is that for a married couple it might be a special challenge to write a book together. This would depend on the couple, but for us it was undoubtedly easier to co-author a book with each other than it would have been with anyone else. We talk about TV all the time anyway, and our “work” and “life” are continuous. The ideas benefited from the continual hashing out during car rides and over lunches at home, and we could discuss progress bit by bit as each of us worked on separate parts. I think it helps to live with your co-author, though I can see that in other situations it might be preferable to be separated by some physical distance. I like collaboration for many reasons: it solves the problem of scholarly loneliness and isolation, it makes possible synergistic productivity, and it might lead to a multi-dimensionality that one person’s work can never have. I also believe it provides some of the same rewards as solitary scholarship at a reduced rate of labor (though certainly not reduced by half). I like collaborative writing and I want to collaborate more in the future, though a collaboration I might have with people other than Elana will have obviously different dynamics. (I have co-authored one other publication, a journal article soon to appear that I look forward to linking to when it’s out. That experience, writing with someone other than my wife, has also made me eager to collaborate more.)

Most of the book’s research had been accumulated by the time we signed a contract with Routledge in fall 2009, and the writing was done in a sustained effort between the spring of 2010 and the early winter of 2011. It’s definitely easier to write a book quickly with two authors, though having an infant child (born in late 2009) whose care both authors are responsible for providing can add more than a bit of difficulty. It also, however, provided us time away from teaching, which was technically family leave but (now I speak mainly for myself) actually freed up some extra writing time. We wrote the book mostly
one chapter at a time and passed them back and forth through cycles of editing and revision. In the final weeks, once all eight chapters had been drafted, we often worked across a coffee shop table to facilitate discussion of revisions. When the page proofs arrived a few months ago we returned there to pass them back and forth marked up in different colors of ink. We still go to that coffee shop sometimes and sit across the table from each other. Of course we’re pleased that the book is done, but we also miss those days.

Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status
1. Legitimating Television
2. Another Golden Age?
3. The Showrunner as Auteur
4. Upgrading the Situation Comedy
5. Not a Soap Opera
6. The Television Image and the Image of the Television
7. Technologies of Agency
8. Television Scholarship and/as Legitimation


What I Did on my Summer Vacation

Fall is practically here. The public schools are back in business and a fresh crop of freshmen have appeared at UWM, wandering the campus in packs and wearing those lanyards they must give out with room keys and ID badges, but which no one seems to need once classes start. We don’t begin the semester until after Labor Day but my course syllabus has been ready to go for a few weeks. I’m starting now to think more clearly about what the course will actually be like. It’s an advanced new media course which I am adapting from a graduate seminar I taught last fall. I have just begun a year-long fellowship at the Center for 21st Century Studies, which is the reason I’m teaching only one course each semester in 2011-12, and on Monday I claimed the keys to a new office with a view of the city and the lake.

I love (ok, enjoy and get various rewards from) teaching, but I also love the annual summer break from teaching. From May to September I have been granted 122 happily classroom-free days. Academics get irritated when civilians think we have the summer off, but this kind of conversation is so familiar and in my experience well-meaning. Actually, I say when feeling like talking about myself, I’m kind of busier during the summer. Graduate students are hurrying to finish MA theses, sending me work to read chapter by chapter and thesis by thesis. Service is supposed to pause but it doesn’t. I worked this summer on an assessment for the large lecture course I taught for many semesters. If teaching a new course or even a modification of an old one in fall, books and articles need to be collected and ordered and requested from the reserves at the library, but only after a process of deciding which to assign. Peer-reviewing manuscripts is an all-season task, though I am still not asked to do very much of it. Research has the biggest claim on my time, and I have spent much of this summer reading, taking notes, writing and rewriting, editing, revising, looking up dates and names on Wikipedia and IMDb and Google Books, corresponding with coauthors and editors, planning future research, and more generally managing a number of ongoing projects. Since May I have been juggling work on a couple of journal articles, a couple of book chapters, a co-authored book soon to be published, and two large projects in the early stages of research. I’ve been making conference plans for fall and spring. I also spent some of my time researching a project that I decided to abandon despite having spent a lot of time thinking about it and shlepping to the library to claim ILL books (maybe it will linger in the deep archive of my mind, some day to be integrated into another project or brought back to life on its own).

Summer is also a time of leisure, though, and I always feel a tension between the need to “be productive” as an untenured prof, and the desire to enjoy the season, the welcome visits from friends and family, the outings and trips and times of recreation and fun. This makes the summer not only busy but unfortunately stressful. I know this is a “white whine” and I don’t really work for a living like the vast majority of people who toil at jobs that really feel like work all day, all week, all year. But time is finite and an afternoon at the beach sometimes, perversely, looks like a missed opportunity to “be productive.” An afternoon of “being productive” can also seem like a missed opportunity to have fun, which is after all why God gave us summer. Even supposedly multi-functional fun+productive time, like a weekday afternoon at the movies (privilege of the film scholar!), can seem like a decadent indulgence. One day in early August I was going to spend an afternoon writing an essay while my sister and brother-in-law, visiting from out of town, took our 7 year-old son to a water park. After waffling briefly I opted for the water park and was pretty glad. But at the change of seasons I always feel frustrated by the incompleteness of the summer’s work, by the inevitability of goals unmet (even if I knew they were unrealistic all along).

Despite the prevailing cultural mandate of summer exuberance, my favorite time of year lately is actually the first few weeks of January. Our campus wedges a three-week winterim session in between fall and spring, and if you don’t teach winterim (I haven’t and will avoid it until we feel like we need the money) you have a nice month-long break from the classroom. The Christmas-New Year’s week is a wash as school and daycare are closed, but the first three weeks of the year are almost perfect. The kids are occupied all day, the weather is shitty, there is no sense that January ought to include leisure, and the weekdays are free for reading and writing, which is how I prefer to spend them most of the time. But the afternoon at the movies or the long lunch can be that much more pleasurable in winterim, when the rest of the world is really at work, the grind of teaching isn’t making every week into a struggle just to get to Friday, and there is so little expectation of fun. When I say that I wish the summer would be more like the winter it’s not just that I like indoors better than outdoors and sweaters better than shorts.

The problem with the academic summertime is a problem of how to think about academic work. Academic time (at least in my experience) has to be seen as fluid and multidimensional. The interest lately in promoting “work/life” or “work/family balance” is misguided, for a number of reasons, one of which is that work and life, business and pleasure, aren't separate. (Another reason is that it depends on a gendered conception of both life/family and of work, requiring women to shoulder an unfair share of the burden of an inequitable system of academic labor, childcare, and domestic responsibility). The idea that time is spent either on business or on pleasure, and that time spent on one is stolen from the other, is deeply ideological, rooted in an ethos of productive labor and industry that ultimately serves the interests of capitalism and class stratification. It is the right-wing politicians and neoliberal culture that sees the individual academic's productivity in terms of quantifiable return on investment, and questions the value of teaching and study as an end in itself. This is the same culture that makes academics eager to demonstrate their long working hours and quantify their productivity to answer the call that higher education pay, that it be economically accountable rather than an institution worthy of pubic investment. But even putting the deep ideological problem aside, it's also wrong to think of productivity in terms of the typical quantifiable metrics of an academic worker in hours of labor or courses taught or scholarly output.

The idea that producing articles, chapters, talks, books, blog posts — and more generally work to be lines on a vita or entries in an annual report — is "being productive" is a consequence of a flawed system for qualifying academics and establishing reputation and value. We can't easily change the system, but we can change how we think about our work. It's true that publishing is a sine qua non of academic success today, and that it is unfortunately more likely than teaching to lead to many people's professional fulfillment. But quantity isn't quality, and sometimes it's more productive to spend your time taking a walk or watching TV than forcing words out of your miserably typing fingers. One really good paper should be a more impressive accomplishment than half a dozen mediocre ones. My summer’s aborted research project, which was going to be a series of brief essays on Billy Joel songs (maybe blogged, maybe to become a short book), led me to a number of really good articles and videos, and inspired me to listen to the entire catalog of a recording artist I have felt strongly (positively) about (well, until An Innocent Man, after that I can’t really take that much of him) for almost thirty years. It helped me clarify in my own mind what I find so interesting about Billy Joel (this must wait for another time), which was satisfying in itself. Another of my big new projects, a book about taste in popular culture, might accommodate some of my ideas on this topic, so this research could prove "productive" down the road. But if it isn't, I don't really care. I liked reading and listening and thinking about Billy Joel these past few months, and I refuse to see it as a waste. I refuse to force myself to write an article or chapter on this when I don't know what shape it would take, who would read it, what scholarly conversation it enters into, and whether I have enough expertise to analyze the material as I might want to and interest to see it through to completion.

Sometimes I find the most useful and rewarding scholarly experiences are these kinds of meanderings, readings in topics that I decide are wrong turns, obsessions that come and go. Some inform my work in some way, eventually, and some turn out to be diversions, hard to know. Sometimes as a media scholar you can get into something seriously for months or years, and figure out what to do with it later. This seems to be my habit. I've watched cooking shows fairly avidly for ten years, sometimes more avidly than others. This summer I wrote an essay about a Food Network show, Everyday Italian with Giada de Laurentiis, for an edited book. I didn't realize six or seven years ago when I started watching Giada that this time was ultimately to be "productive," except maybe in practical culinary ways.

My other big new project, the one I proposed in my application for a Center fellowship, is research on the early history of video games in the home and the connection between games and television especially in the 1970s and early 1980s. I have been reading up on this for almost a year, trying to discover scholarly literature on this topic (it's scant) and assessing what primary sources could prove useful in a social and cultural history of games. To the extent that my childhood experience playing Atari and Intellivision in friends' basement rec rooms informs this work, that time was also "productive." But I see this project as something I intend to spend years doing. I don't know if I will write anything this year, as I collect, read, and make notes on popular and industry press and try to get my hands on the games themselves. That’s why I also have the taste project, which is more writing-ready. Scholarship can be like slow food. I'm not just cooking a dish all day, I'm growing the vegetables, raising the hog, waiting for the wine to get to be a better age. The payoff will come much later. But even thinking of the reading and note-taking as productive is too limiting. Time I spend thinking about it while driving kids to lessons and practices and half-watching youth soccer games, while walking across campus or riding my bike to a coffee shop, or while telling friends about my work are also part of the process. And sometimes it’s more productive to take a nap or watch a baseball game or bake a cake and come back to work later.

Some of the most tedious labor of the summer was the work Elana and I did on proofs of our book Legitimating Television, which is supposed to be coming out in a couple of weeks. Some of our standard academic practices, like conforming to Chicago style, insisting on knowing the place of publication of books we cite (who needs to know?), determining the dates of film releases (you weren’t sure which North by Northwest I was talking about?), are actually counterproductive. They suck our time and energy and divert our attention from more worthwhile activities. But when you do them you’re “being productive.” The proofs required long and careful attention to small details, and this took effort and put other pursuits on hold. But we’re happy the book is coming out and eager for people to read it. It’s the product of years of “being productive” in the usual various ways, and our process in writing it will — I hope — be the toping of another blog post soon to come.

Other things I did on my summer vacation:

-Watched 2 seasons of The Good Wife, and a fair bit of thirtysomething and Parks and Rec.
-Read A Visit from the Goon Squad and House of Holes.
-Listened to Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest.
-Went to see Tree of Life at 2pm on a Thursday, and watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on DVD one sunny morning.
-Read Walter Everett, "The Learned vs. the Vernacular in the Songs of Billy Joel," Contemporary Music Review 18.4 (2000): 105-129.

photos from recent summer vacations are by .michael.newman. published under CC attribution, noncommercial, no derivative works license