A funny thing happened one day on the way to my blog.
I was in class with my undergraduates, and it was the day before course evaluations, the bubble sheets that boil down a semester’s worth of work into six questions, which are then used to determine everything from promotion to teaching awards. My students and I had shared a hard-earned rapport in the last few weeks. All semester long, they had been shy, terrified of being wrong, and bien callado, not quite Easter Island statues but close. I had tried to get the class to gel earlier in the semester, yet these things cannot be forced. Well, actually they can and the results are usually disastrous.
Looking back, I cannot recall how we landed on the subject of social media and blogs. Maybe it was something about rhetorical devices, platforms for the dissemination of ideologies, or Kanye. What I do remember is that students began talking about their own blogs or ones they followed and why. Pedagogically, I had reached nirvana. The students were speaking from a place of authority; the conversation was flowing freely, and they were being thoughtfully analytical about online media and their relationship to the various forms, particularly as it related to the text under consideration. I remember feeling the buzz, a sensation I get when I am in the zone and everything is coming together perfectly in the classroom. It starts in my head with a tingling sensation and then travels down into my stomach, making me feel light. In many ways, it is akin to the physical sensation of body surfing, when the water pulls you to the top of the swell, the simultaneous feeling of being lifted up and propelled forward at the same time. The zone is better than surfing because its 100% exhilaration and 0% sand up my nose. As I stood watching and listening to them directing, redirecting, challenging, countering, someone turned and asked, “Do you have a blog?” I was being called in from the sidelines to participate in their conversation. Time to grab my helmet and trot onto the field.
“I do,” was my reply.
“What’s it called?” asked an unfamiliar voice from the back of the classroom.
“elitistacademic.” My response produced a flutter of laughter through the class, lifting me just a touch higher. “It’s meant to be ironic but I have learned that irony requires both intelligence and thought. Most people aren’t interested in either.” More laughter, one verbal affirmation, and I had reached maximum buoyancy.
I walked over to the media console and pulled out the keyboard from the sliding tray beneath the desktop. When in the zone, fine motor skills are often hampered somewhat by the huge amounts of blood being redirected to the brain and lungs, so I can keep thinking and breathing. Months had passed since I last checked in on the elitistacademic, though I wasn’t thinking about that. While typing carefully, I was pondering which post to show them to best illustrate “yes, your professor is down with the interwebs.” After I finished typing the address and hit the “return” button, I fully expected to see, if memory served me correctly, Chris Hemsworth on The Red Dawn movie poster. Instead, I saw the familiar and unknown all at once, the title “elitistacademic,” a naked heterosexual coupling in the header, a side menu of various body parts and proclivities, as well as individual entries for sexual positions and toys. What I remember most is the collective gasp from the students accompanied by the feeling of being dropped from a great height. In my free fall, I should have prepared for impact. Not me, I doubled down, convinced that I had typed the address incorrectly. With the adrenaline coursing through my body, I pecked out the address one more time in search of redemption. When the page reloaded, the bodies in the header appeared to be engaged in some naked gymnastic yoga that was even more naked and sexual than the previous image. The gasping in the classroom had turned to laughter. I muttered almost indistinguishably, “My website has been hijacked.” SPLAT. Wave over. Zone deleted. Mouthful of concrete. Don’t forget your #2 pencils for evaluations. Have a good day!
The pedagogical gods had mercy on me in my humiliation and the bell rang, signaling the end of class. (Yes, we have old school bells in some buildings on campus.) I stood transfixed, staring at the screen, thinking, “I’ve just logged on to a porn site that has an email address, Facebook, and Twitter account linked to me from a university computer in a classroom in front of 22 undergraduates the day before evaluations.”
Sit with that minute. I’ve sat with it for well over a year.
I was horrified, disheartened, humiliated, and scared. I thought: I could lose my job, be reprimanded by my chair, forever become the punchline of thousand different jokes, or face the University information technology team and relive the experience all over again. I still haven’t read the comments from last year’s class, though I confess to reading the scores, which were not some of my best.
From time to time, my handful of supportive friends/readers asked me about the blog. I finally posted a message about it on Facebook letting them know about the porn hijacking, at which point, I began the process of letting go, though I wish I could have done it with Elsa’s style.
A friend of mine, let’s call him SB, said to me one day, “Why don’t you start blogging again? We don’t know what to watch or what’s current. It’s all your fault. We depended on you and then nothing.” There was no malice in his comments; he was being both supportive and encouraging, and I was having none of it.
“Need I remind you I was hijacked. The elitistacademic is no more.” By my reaction, you would think I had 1 million followers and my site crashed regularly from all the traffic. The truth is not even close. Regardless, elitistacademic was my little corner of the virtual world, a haven to which I could escape that had been taken from me. “Besides,” I added in full self-deprecation mode, “hardly anyone read it and those who didn’t know me never got my sarcasm, which I suppose is not entirely their fault.”
“Sarcasm is hard for people in general, but that’s not the point. Maybe you need to start over. You were the elitistacademic and that’s done. So maybe now you need to be . . . I don’t know, something like the liberalacademic,” he offered thoughtfully.
“I’d rather have the porn site than the cliché.”
“Ouch, though fair enough, so what about . . . what about the populistacademic?”
“I’ll think about it.” So for eight months, I thought about it, not non-stop (because I am not a complete narcissist) but from time-to-time, especially when I wanted to weigh in on an issue or try out an idea. Finally, a few weeks ago, I logged onto to the old site to look at the archives. Reading back through the posts, I was surprised to discover that I was funny, quick-witted, and occasionally mean, though I always spoke my mind. I also learned that the porn hub, for that’s what my old address was in actuality, was no more. With a little more digging, I found out that in a few weeks, my old elitistacademic address would be available, and I could reclaim my space on web. Truth is, I didn’t want it back. The old site had been ruined and corrupted, not in the Puritanical sense because of the explicit content, but because my small little site was successful in some small way that warranted a hostile takeover and that sucked.
Never one to be permanently sidelined, in a terrible mixing of metaphors, I have decided to saddle the horse and climb back on. I am pleased to return as the populistacademic, offering full popular culture flavor without the ironic aftertaste. I hope you will join me.