Well. We made it. Week 13 of the Bad Semester.
As is consistent with all my DA’s, the development process was a hot mess–like a real shomozzle–but the final product is halfway ok. I think.
Let’s get into it.
I think the best way to approach this is to do a quick recap the first two iterations, before launching into a discussion of the final version. There I will explore the steps, thought processes, and research backing up the “final product”. For the sake of ease of assessment on your end I’ve included links to all the major elements of my DA–plus a few nice little samples–at the end of this presentation, any links that appear throughout are to prove “x thing I’m referencing exists”, be it things I’ve written, or research I’ve drawn upon.
Ok let’s get into it (for real this time).
This DA, if you care to recall, started out as a podcast. The core conceit–cute, footloose, fancy-free–was all about apocalypses. It was set to meditate on “ways the world could end”, focusing on a global future 30-40 years from now. This original idea was, unfortunately, de-railed by a global pandemic. Neither Allison nor I had the resources to adequately produce a podcast from home, and we also collaborate best in person, but struggle to do so online, which really took an axe to this overall concept (a pity, I would still love to work on this in a meaningful way some day).
With the beta, my DA–as Chris so aptly put–sort of became everything. This is a very fair assessment. It all came about after that one “Think Like a Futurist” activity where Chris has us go through a start to position ourselves within our desired field of work by applying a little bit of futurist thinking. After doing this activity I realised that “what I wanted to be doing” (becoming a cultural critic in some capacity, be it broadly speaking or focused in a specific area–probably film) and what my (stalled) DA was, were not inherently harmonious. They were not inherently dissonant either, but it is more a situation where the DA comes after establishing myself; the podcast should operate as a piece of creative praxis, using my own cultural outlook as the theoretical framework against which interpretation can be made, but I don’t have a framework yet, so (I’m going to touch on the research backing this claim in a moment, don’t worry).
So to that end, I gathered together all the writing, projects, and other bits and bobs I had accomplished to date, threw them together and said “It’s me trying to be a cultural critic!”
This is true, I was, and am. But there was a lack of real unity to the mess, timeframes were wonky as hell (was this for 1 year out? 5 years out 10 years out? My answer to that was: yes, and this was the problem) and certainly a lack of research backing it up (effort was lazy, even by my standards). This iteration, then, set out to fix those issues–unify disparate elements while applying theories, research, and observation of critics in the field to hone my DA.
the final product, the big boy
After reviewing my beta, Chris suggested we have a little tête-a-tête about it and how I might go about creating a sense of organisation. His advice was four-fold:
- Go practical. It was clear that I was not starved for creativity or things to presents, I had ideas shooting off every which way. Instead of trying to make more content, I should look at practical ways to bring it in.
- Look at professional cultural critics, see how they present themselves online, what they say, what they do, what attributes they accentuate, etc etc.
- Identify some key trends. What’re the people who I think of as the best-of-the-best doing, how do I do this myself?
- Combine all these elements to frame my project.
So. What I will spend the next however many words doing is addressing each of the suggestions, which mainly means showing the research I did to support my project, explaining how I linked them in to my actual content, before giving you those sweet sweet links to the content itself at the end. Neat? Neato!
1. go practical
Well this was by far the easiest step, but also the worst by like… a wide margin. To ‘go practical’ as a burgeoning cultural critic means to have two things above all else:
The first, is a portfolio website. This is a kind of landing pad for anyone I come across online–be they consumers of my content, colleagues in the field, or potential employers. Functionally, the website should contain a short summary about myself, a portfolio of any content that I wish to show off–in this case my many brands of writing–plus a CV if I have enough work experience to show off (I’m like, close but not quite there, so I’m holding off on it). Many of my contemporaries, who I identify as being of the same level as myself, have one–fellow staff writer at Film Daze Shea Vassar has one, so does Mary Beth McAndrews, and so does the absolute unit, Jenni Holtz. It’s a signifier that I am taking myself seriously. While there’s no hard and fast rule about how they look–a linktree is perfectly fine–the general rule of thumb is go for something that embodies yourself.
The second was one that Chris identified, a LinkedIn profile. If the portfolio website was a way of communicating to my peers in the field that I was taking myself seriously, than a LinkedIn does the same for employers. It crushed my soul to set one up, but I did. It’s not fully formed yet, at present I only have five (5) connections, and need to write a fuller bio and such, but it’s something I’m going to keep plugging away at for the foreseeable future. This fits more into the post-Univeristy part of my plan (more on timeframes later) so the onus is not on me to have it fully formed ASAP, but rather to make sure it is all put together by the time I do graduate.
The purpose of these two elements is straightforward, to create a convergent trajectory for anyone who interacts with my content. Any time I set up a writers profile on a new site I can include a link to my website–or at least to my Twitter, which has my website link in the bio–this means that anyone interacting with my content is funnelled into the same location and therefore to the same conclusion that I want everyone to reach: that I am taking this seriously, and I am a voice to watch.
2. look at professional cultural critics
For this point Chris encouraged my to identify ten cultural critics that I wish to emulate the success of, and examine their online persona’s, seeing how they present themselves and their content. These are the ten I picked and a brief overview:
Aside from another kickass portfolio website, what Fran has on lock is her Brand. If you asked me, or anyone in the cultural criticism scene, to sum up what Fran is about we could do it. Her deal, in no particular order, is: Chicago, the feature films Force Majeure and A Room With A View, being hot, being in Grad School, living in new Jersey, baking, and classical music. That makes her persona stand out that much more.
The key attribute of Emily’s that I would hope to emulate is diversity of output. She has a podcast called Nightcall (it’s Very Cool), used to write for Vulture, and now is a show-runner. Her strength is flexibility in her engagement with culture, and that is something that I want to emulate (I already am in a small way, writing prose fiction in addition to criticism, but there is clearly room to expand).
Like Emily, David has diversity of content–he writes for the Atlantic, he has a podcast, his twitter (linked above) is literally insane sometimes–but what he has that is unique is an ability to marry his tone to a professional context. This is something that I am still working on, the tone of “me” and the tone of “my writing” still exist in two seperate spheres that I’m trying to bridge.
Karen is another great example of building a brand–“Karen’s Boy” (unconventional looking, older character-actors that she has made crushes on) is shorthand on film twitter. Like David she marries her tone to her content, but what manages to do is use her content to genuinely influence. It’s a wildly acknowledged fact that her constant advocacy for Parasite helped push it across the line to its Best Picture win. What is telling about Parasite is that it fits her brand perfectly–weird, cool, asian, full of Karen’s Boys. While I Do Not Have Her Level Of Clout, what she demonstrates is how to stack elements of my brand into cultural movement, which is the ultimate goal of the cultural critic.
Roxane is one of two people on this list who does not deal directly with film in their criticism. What Roxane represents the long game–while my timeline (again, see further down) does not deal with anything resembling a 30-year goal, Roxane has is what I would want it to look like. A widely read column, a magazine, multiple books, an entire school of thought about dealing with people online (she is the queen of clapping back)–in essence a mode of cultural criticism where you become the emulated model.
Carl is the Editor-in-Chief in chief of Film Daze, and therefore my boss. I look up to him a lot. The qualities of his that I want to bring to my own work especially is a more overt political edge in my persona and content (I’ve been shy with my politics until now, although the ongoing riots have been a real “if not now, then when?” moment in terms of just expressing what I think online). Like everyone above, his opinions are central to his brand and appeal, but what he does is own his politics without self-consciousness, a quality I should very much like for myself.
Peyton is the creator of The Niche, the primary inspiration behind my own website, Manic Media. This is the quality of theirs I want most–to create a project that fully encapsulates their tone and concerns, an offshoot that adds a layer to their critical persona.
The last three critics on here are all video essayists. As Chris suggested, video essays might be something I wan to explore down the line, so I’ve included three here.
Lindsay best represents the kind of reach I would like my theoretical future video essays to have. her content best represents the way I might go about integrating my “brand” into analysis–she’s a noted Transformers fan and as such a series of videos that are “Film Analysis Through the Lens of Michael Bay’s Transformers“. She also has a video on getting a novel published (something that I would like to do, assuming I ever writing the damn thing), which is very helpful. I feel like “brand” is what I keep returning to here, and Lindsey, along with Fran, is one of the better encapsulations of brand–I could rattle of Lindsay’s key interests/personality attributes easily–but in her case it’s applied to a video format.
If Lindsay is branding of content, then Natalie is branding of aesthetic. Her video’s have a distinct visual point of view that I would want. In addition, her content is look at avenues beyond pop culture criticism that I might look into. A fact that I often overlook when projecting where I should take my content is that I literally have an International Relations degree. The ability for me to integrate politics, or even shift to political criticism entirely, is not something to be snuffed at (I’m particularly critical of the military industrial complex and could easily do a whole series on that right now).
The father, the son, the holy spirit. If Lindsay is content brand, and Natalie is aesthetic brand, then Jenny is tonal brand. Her sardonic attitude is one that is instantly recognisable. If I were to make video essays then humour would be a huge factor–as I’ve said before, my goal is to make criticism and academia fun–and her ability to seamlessly merge humour into her critiques is a trait I would want for my own videos.
So what am I taking away from all this…
You mean aside from proving that I did the bloody research, that I analysed these people?
In her article, Critical Rhetoric: Theory and Praxis, Raymie E. Mckerrow discusses eight “principles” of critical framework which help orient a critic in their criticism. The purposiveness of this framework is to illuminate the transformative nature of critical practice, how awareness of one’s “performed” and “casual” criticism build to form a body of work. By identifying both the structured and more persona based elements of these critics I can see how they fit together to form a full critical persona. Every element of a persona is constructed but awareness of these different levels of construction helps understand how I can create a fuller persona for myself.
3. identify some key trends
This one will be very quick. Key trends include:
- Writing around–not being afraid to write for publications other than one’s you are “associated with”.
- Picking key concerns–most cultural critics have 2 or 3 specialised areas that they write about frequently, while they can stray outside them, focusing on them builds a brand.
- Having some kind of personal publication or outlet–a column, a blog, a podcast, a newsletter, their own fully funded magazine, whatever–they all have one.
4. combine all these elements
So how do these all fit together. Well.
Essentially I’m building on Mckerrow’s framework, using the two persona system–while creating a third, higher persona, based on Wendell Bell’s notion that future thinking should “raise the level of human understanding and consciousness about the interrelatedness of all people to each other.” There’s a casual layer, the performed, and the overriding.
I’ll give an example that encapsulates this idea AND also the general thesis/ideology/goal of my project.
This layer is how I present on social media–Twitter, Instagram, Letterboxd. These are places where key elements of my personality, my interests, concerns, aesthetics, so on, get dropped in an informal way, creating a kind of humanistic level. For example, on Twitter that I have introduced “Josh’s Good boy Club“. What started out a meme (I would cite that many of my favourite cinematic character’s were “good boys”) has accidentally become the basis for my casual persona. Josh’s good boy club has become shorthand for the kind of cinema that I enjoy and want to give more critical bandwidth: movies and television featuring kindness. Media featuring these kinds of characters tend to fall within the same set of genres: animation, children’s, drama, and action featuring a protagonist with a “no trading lives” philosophy–Sosuke from Ponyo is a good boy, but so is Ethan Hunt from the Mission Impossible franchise.
This is, of course, the published layer. I take the “good boy club” notion and build it into the kind of criticism I write. Most of my reviews and features focus on children’s, animation, and action. I build upon the notion of “niceness” and add in broader concepts of kindness. In my case, I tend to write about queerness on screen, and kindness is interpreted and as finding room for diverse voices–kindness as representation.
This ingrates into the overriding, Wendell Bell, layer of my persona. Kindness and niceness evolves again into my overall goal with all my criticism of making academia and analysis fun and humane. The concept of kindness then flows back through, as kindness is key to fun, it’s the willingness to engage with people and media on an emotive level. It’s a little bit of a whack example, but also it’s very much an organic emergence of the kind of overarching idea that I’m trying to bring to this project.
The best way of encapsulating what this is exactly, and how it applies to every aspect of the project, is that one Eleonora Barbieri Masini quote where she says: “Future’s thinking… must be linked to social responsibility and ethical values that are clearly expressed and defined, …and it should be continuous learning process”. So here we have an example of how the three tier process is applied, and then also how it links into my broader concerns of 1) making criticism/academia fun and 2) advocating diversity/kindness/niceness. I want to be the Paddington of criticism. Ya’know?
project timeline/addressing the future
So I guess I should address the timelines here, because that’s a key element of this project. There are three parts to my timeline:
Get to the end of my University undergraduate course (with honours, hopefully). During this time I would like to:
Build my portfolio at Film Daze (and other publications) further.
Build Manic Media out further.
Perhaps create another new project, a podcast as a part of Manic Media feels most appropriate.
Create more in depth criticism, across new platforms, while pursuing higher education. A key part of this is step is that I will, almost certainly, have to leave Australia. To explain I’m going to do a quick analysis
- What can or could be: I could be a cultural critic–engaging in new and contemporary culture across new, generative media platforms.
- What is likely to be: the centre of that culture is likely, for the foreseeable future, to remain localised to these following cities: New York, LA, Seattle, Chiacgo, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Toronto.
- What ought to be: What ought to be is that criticism will become more global in scope. However, to do that I have to make changes from within the system. For example, going to the US, and then advocating for Australian films from US publications.
So with that in mind, my goals for this step are:
Move from Film Daze to a more established publication. Or, depending on the size and repute of Film Daze, stay on ride that momentum.
Continue building my own projects. This can include Manic Media–setting up a patreon, becoming a paying publication by this stage seems reasonable– but I would also like it to include video essays (for what can support my long winded, tangent friendly, sardonic style more than a 45-minute deep dive?)
Pursue higher education. At this point I am looking primarily at MFA programs in New York and LA, however, I’m open to other options, and am going to watch the post-covid culture scene to see if the action migrates.
This step is by far the least defined, if only because cultural writing is a flaky profession, and you’ve gotta stay flexible, go where the wind wants to take you. That being said, some goals for this step:
Super smarty pants educations. Maybe a doctorate? Potentially lecturing/tutoring/academic work in some capacity.
Push my personal projects further. If it’s video essays, have a substantial audience. If it’s Manic Media, having steady staff and good rates. If it’s something else… who knows!
If neither of these than a staff writing job at a publication. My absolute number one with a bullet would be Vulture, but really any kind of snooty coastal elite outlet would do.
Publish a book! Feels insane to think about but this is doable. At this point I am just exploring my interest areas, early ideas of things I could write about include–neo-Dickensian literature, queer monster cinema, analysis of the immigrant narrative (yes, this is a trojan horse campaign to write about Paddington), or the techno-oriential relationship between western animation and anime.
the da. component parts.
some actual criticism i wrote during this sem:
Film Daze Magazine, Issue 1: Vampires, Queer Coding in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (paywalled, sorry)
Manic Media, The Circles of Hell: RANKED