After a wonderful conference, I’m now sitting in a house on the Oregon coast looking out at an incredible expanse of ocean, waves, beach, and clouds. It’s quiet, and I’m quiet, and I’m thinking about the contrast between the two experiences and their genres/language/silence.
Much of the language I used at the conference came not from the formal genres that I wrote about last week as making the community. It came instead from the informal genres, the conversations before and after a presentation--chatting with a stranger sitting near me, greeting a slightly known colleague as we pass on the way to the next session, catching up warmly with a former student spotted outside a meeting room. And the longer conversations—a working breakfast with a co-author, lunch with old friends, drinks or dinner with colleagues and friends that range widely from sharing ideas heard in that day’s presentations to catching up with news of families to deeper reflections about careers and lives.
Those create community, too. Communities of colleagues in the field, networks of current and former students and alums of a program (shout-out to the incredible 33 KU folks who made our KU gathering so special), and families of friends who have known each other for twenty years or more.
And now I’m in a house with one other person, coming no closer to other people than the ones we can see walking on the beach. The separation from community is as intense as was the involvement in community. From 18 hours a day of presentations, discussions, and conversations to 15 hours a day of minimal talk and maximum watching or walking along the ocean (and, you may have noticed, many more hours of sleep).
There was some transition time. Driving to the coast, we listened to KU’s men’s basketball game in the NCAA tourney until we reached our town, where we stopped to watch the second half on TV with friendly locals in the perfect roadside tavern (thanks to the folks at Relief Pitcher). I chatted with the clerks in a grocery store and servers in a restaurant. And I sent a few early vacation photos to a few family members and friends.
But now we’re tucked in for a while for much needed rest and quiet. And I wonder—where did the genres go? Gone with the language? Oh, there were the formal genres to get us here—rental agreements and maps and such. But here, now, there’s quiet and non-busyness. Is a walk by the ocean a genre? Does reflection in my head count? Do tidal patterns make a genre if I don’t look them up to put a tidal chart to them?
I disrupt this non-languaged moment with this post—a reflection I found myself wanting to write in the moment instead of the vacation placeholder I had planned. But rather than intellectualize about it more or draw conclusions about language, genre, and community, I leave it as is. An observation. A contrast. A reflection.
Perhaps you’d like to continue this post for me, commenting with your own observations and reflections. (I'll add a photo later this week when I can work on my laptop. )
Until next week, may you enjoy both community and quiet in the proportions you most need.
I have colleagues I’ve never met. Friends I don’t know. Family I couldn’t pick out of a lineup. (Well, maybe I could. Both sides of my family have some pretty distinctive physical features.)
Colleagues, friends, families. All groups I’m a member of. All communities I’m a part of. I’m confident that you, too, share communities with people you’ve never met.
But how can we share a community if I haven’t met the colleagues, don’t know the friends, and wouldn’t recognize the family members?
One of the ways is discourse, genres, the shared ways we communicate.
I have family members I know only through the family stories told about them, and others I know are part of my family because of my cousin’s record of our family history on Ancestry. I know some family members only through a family Facebook page. But they’re all family.
I have friends I know only through social media. I know, I know, they aren’t truly “friends” in a BFF good friends for life way. Don’t count on Facebook friends to help load your moving truck or show up for your funeral. But there are people I know only through shared Facebook postings who I know friend-type stuff about, like their fondness for decorating cookies or bird-watching or skiing. And I feel friend-type feelings for them when they share successes or struggles. I don’t want to get into a debate about the declining nature of friendship (a cartoon: youngster says “I have hundreds of Facebook friends,” old man replies, “When I was young we called them imaginary friends.”). But I have a sense of community with friends on Facebook that comes only from our shared genre, Facebook posts.
And some of those Facebook friends I’ve never met are also colleagues I’ve never met.
I’ll be spending March 15-18 in Portland, Oregon, at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. I’m sure I’ll be seeing some of you there (say hi!). In fact, though, most of the people at this conference I don’t know, have never met, and will never meet. But they’re part of my community. That got me thinking about how communities are made. And of course that got me thinking about genre, because, well, because genre.
(I’ve been dying to use that new expression I learned from students--"Because ______." I hope I used it right. No more needs to be said, just because ____. I learned the expression a year ago, so it’s probably old hat now. As is the expression “old hat,” I bet.)
Genre scholars pay a lot of attention to the ways genres help to make communities, so I won’t begin to capture all they know about the topic. And certainly there's more to communities than only their genres. But I can sketch this one example and a few of the ways I find it interesting.
The conference I'll be attending gathers around 3,500 scholars and teachers of writing, mostly working in colleges or universities of all kinds. But we don’t work in the same schools. We don’t teach the same students. We share a common professional interest—writing and the teaching of writing. That’s all.
And we share this conference. Through the sponsoring organization we also share a journal, College Composition and Communication. And a website. And social media pages. These days, any organization has to have a media “presence.” You probably are part of similar communities, if not this one—maybe an online group or one that sends out a newsletter or magazine, alumni associations, non-profit organizations. You may never see many of your fellow members, but you form a community through those shared genres.
For my professional organization, just looking at the conference itself, I can see the ways we form a genuine community of colleagues, even if we only interact with a very few of the community’s members. We form a community through sharing genres.
Let’s start with the official conference genres (it’s a long list, so feel free to skip to the end of the bullets once you get the idea):
These genres help to create a community. Through the Call for Proposals, we define ourselves with some shared words and perspectives. (This year, it’s Cultivating Capacity, Creating Change.) Through giving us name badges with big first names, the organization tries to create a chummy community, where “big names” mean first names, not important people. (But those tiny last names on the name badges drive me crazy, not because I’m stalking Andrea Lunsford or Asao Inoue or other superstars but because I can’t remember the last name of that person I met last year and how can I introduce her to the graduate student I’m with if I can’t read her tiny last name on the stupid name badge?)
But one of the things that’s interesting to me is that these genres don’t necessarily create a community through all of us participating in them. Many of us attend the Opening General Session and hear the Chair’s Address, but not all of us. Most of us attend presentations, roundtables, and workshops, but not all of us and not the same ones. Most of us browse the books in the book exhibit, but not all of us.
Still, there’s the sense that this is us—the books and the talks and the speeches and the awards and even the business meeting. What all those genres do is declare us a group, a community.
Even if we don’t attend the Chair’s Address, we hear echoes of it all through the conference rooms and hallways conversations—and it’s later printed in that journal I mentioned. We don’t hear the same presentations, but we hear some presentation (or I expect most of us do). We’re experiencing the same conference.
There’s some thought that the conference has gotten too big. It’s hard to keep that community feeling going among 3,500 people. Smaller groups emerge through participating in shared genres—through attending special interest group meetings or just attending presentations on the same topic (like genre, history of women’s rhetoric) or type of school (two-year colleges, independent writing programs).
But as I finish up this (late) post, many colleagues are sharing the news that their flights out of the Northeast have been canceled by Storm Stella and they won’t be able to make it to the conference at all this year. And I’m sad for these people I mostly don’t know. I feel my community diminished. They are colleagues who will be missed, even by those of us who don’t know them. Because we’re a community.
As I head off to Portland (airlines willing), I'll be participating in many other genres--the informal, unstructured ones I share with closer friends and colleagues. Greetings, conversations over breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks. Accounts of our last year. Jokes. And stories. And more.
But those closer relationships don't diminish the relationships of the larger community. In fact, they exist precisely because of the genres that enable the larger community to exist. Those friends and colleagues are ones I met through our shared profession, our shared school or interests. We began as part of a larger community, then became colleagues, then became friends. And that larger community exists, and shows itself, through its genres.
So if you're reading this blog and you make it to Portland, please do stop me and say hello. After all, we're colleagues in a shared community. And hey, you've read my blog!
And if you're not part of this community, you're part of many others, and I bet some of them are communities whose members you don't know but whose genres you share--fellow gardeners, baseball fans, or caregivers. We may not know all the individual members of our communities, but we know something about them. They're us.
POTUS tweets. Or does he?
The President of the United States has again caused a ruckus with his tweeting. On Saturday morning, March 4, at 5:35 AM, he tweeted that former President Obama had tapped his phones before the election.
But notice something about this tweet—and in fact I think all the tweets that have been most controversial
The President of the United States did not tweet it. Donald Trump did. Two different Twitter handles (the identity or address a tweet is sent from)--@POTUS and @realDonaldTrump.
Two different sets of messages, and two different personas, two different images of the person tweeting. On Twitter, he seems to have separated into the two characters he’s playing—one the man in the office of US President, the other the guy who campaigned for the office.
Check out these differences I could trace between the two versions of the man on Twitter.
@realDonaldTrump tweets unsupported inflammatory accusations, like Obama tapping his phones, based sometimes on TV and radio shows (apparently Rush Limbaugh made the wire tapping claim on a radio show Friday, and his statements about terrorism in Sweden he said came from Fox News). And he tweets a string of them. The Obama wiretapping accusation continued across four tweets before he shifted to a tweet about Arnold Schwarzenegger leaving the Apprentice. It’s @realDonaldTrump who tweeted often about security leaks that the FBI couldn’t stop, a mess in the White House he inherited, and fake news media making up stories.
@realDonalTrump does sometimes tweet reminders of upcoming talks and rallies, photos of his presidential activities (like greeting the Israeli Prime Minister or signing an executive order), and congratulations to confirmed cabinet secretaries. Those tweets represent him as much more typically presidential, though not as consistently presidential as he will appear as @POTUS.
But those more presidential tweets are nowhere near as common, and they may not even be written by the real Donald Trump. A data analyst David Robinson compared the messages from the @realDonaldTrump account that came from an Android, Trump's phone, with those that came from an iPhone. His data confirmed speculation that only the Android tweets were posted by Donald Trump. The others were likely posted by his staff. The Android tweets “were for the most part angrier and more negative than his staff’s iPhone messages, which generally featured benign announcements and images.” Salon reported, “Robinson found that Trump himself uses nearly double the number of words related to disgust, sadness, fear, anger and other negative sentiments than tweets posted to his feed via iPhone.”
So the less common, more presidential tweets from @realDonaldTrump probably come from Trump’s staff (who may also write the strongly presidential tweets from @POTUS), where the more emotional and inflammatory ones probably come from the man himself.
His staff may know what seems more presidential, but the man himself knows what people like.
Take a look at a day's tweets from @realDonaldTrump that included some more presidential and some more emotional tweets, March 3. (I'm not using March 4 because all 7 tweets from @realDonaldTrump were the emotional kind, making claims about wire tapping and Jeff Sessions' contact with Russians.) On March 3, his 7 tweets had more of a mix and included (from more presidential to less) a link to his weekly address, a photo of his visit to a school with a statement that we must fix our educational system, a link to a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” video, a recommendation of a book about immigration featured on @foxandfriends, and three complaints about Democrats, including two demanding an investigation and one calling Senator Schumer “a total hypocrite.”
Guess which tweets got the most likes and retweets? Glad you asked. Here are the numbers, ordered again by my judgment of more or less presidential (these were the numbers as of 12:30 PM, March 5):
The three tweets complaining about Democrats received well more than twice the likes of the presidential weekly address. The weekly address, school visit, and book recommendation combined received a total of 37.6 thousand retweets (a sign of what people thought worth sharing with others)—fewer retweets for the three combined than for just one of the demands for an investigation. And highest of all? The tweet calling a US senator “a total hypocrite.” The numbers make me rethink my placement of the Make American Great Again video. Even though it shows video of presidential acts, especially surrounding his address to Congress, the voiceover sounds like any other campaign ad. Still, that video received fewer likes and fewer retweets than either of the demands for investigations.
If the criteria for a successful tweet is the attention it gets, certainly the evidence for @realDonaldTrump is clear. Keep the controversy going. That’s what grabs your followers.
It’s also what grabs the media’s attention, and that’s what I’d argue should stop. Since when did the news media become retweeters of social media? Who should matter to them—the realDonaldTrump? Or the President of the United States?
Because the President of the United States has a quite different image on Twitter and is much more likely to tweet news events. Not completely presidential, but moreso.
On January 20, inauguration day, the Twitter handle @POTUS became the handle for the 45th president and no longer the handle for the 44th President, Barack Obama. (You can find a historical archive of President Obama’s tweets as @POTUS on Twitter @POTUS44.) The first tweet that day, from “President Trump,” was a photo and link to his inaugural speech—very presidential and noncontroversial.
From January 20-February 6, @POTUS (or his staff) tweets 48 times with nothing more controversial than one campaign-style video and a congratulations to the Super Bowl winners. On February 7, he tweets about DeVos and the Democrats’ “protest to keep the failed status quo.” Then he returns to a series of 29 informative and congratulatory tweets about his meetings, nominations and confirmations, and speeches and addresses, in relatively staid tones of links, invitations, and congratulations. No insults, claims without evidence, or Democrat bashing. February 24 @POTUS complains about the FBI not stopping leaks, followed by strong statements from his address to the American Conservative Union PAC. And February 28 is full of tweets from his address to Congress. But then it’s back to some congratulatory tweets about his cabinet appointments.
On March 3, @POTUS linked not only to his weekly address but also to a photo of the president on the USS Gerald R Ford. But he messes up my easy conclusions about two distinct personas by also tweeting the same @realDonaldTrump tweets of the Make America Great Again campaign video and the demand for an investigation of Pelosi. But unlike @realDonaldTrump, @POTUS did not call Senator Schumer a hypocrite nor cite Fox and Friends. And so far @POTUS has tweeted no accusations of a former president being part of a wiretapping conspiracy.
Overall, since his taking over as @POTUS, he has issued a long stretch of presidential tweets creating a presidential persona, with just a few outbursts more befitting the @realDonaldTrump persona.
Perhaps not surprisingly, @POTUS is not as popular on social media as @realDonaldTrump is. His Make American Great video gets only 46K likes and 13K retweets coming from @POTUS, and even his call for an investigation into Pelosi gets @POTUS only 40K likes and 12K retweets, compared to the same tweet’s 114K likes and 38K retweets coming from @realDonaldTrump. Still, those two controversial tweets get @POTUS more response than any of his presidential tweets. You have to go to the February 28 address to Congress to find more popular tweets from @POTUS.
So what Trump's followers on Twitter appear to like and want are tweets with strong, controversial, even unfounded claims. The less traditionally presidential the better.
But people in the Twittersphere do not make the news unless the news media turn them into news. Entertainment reporters certainly report on what actors, recording stars, athletes, and other celebrities post on Twitter, whether Chris Brown or Lebron James or Amanda Bynes or Donald Trump.
And news reporters certainly report on the actions of the president. Maybe today those actions include actions on social media. Since Obama created the official @POTUS account and tweeted the first presidential tweet on May 18, 2015, Twitter has become a platform for the president and might at times be newsworthy. But that goes for tweets from the President of the United States, not from the celebrity Donald Trump.
Since the man himself is aware of the difference, the news media should be, too. What @POTUS says or does might be news. What @realDonaldTrump says or does is entertainment. Let the entertainment reporters report on the celebrity gossip, if they want to. But let the news media stick to the news about @POTUS when it’s worth reporting.
What do you think? Is such a distinction for the news desirable, or even possible? Or has the line between news and entertainment blurred past repair?
When is an acceptance speech not an acceptance speech?
When the speaker didn’t win the award!
Hard to imagine that would ever be the rhetorical situation, but it happened last night at the Academy Awards—as you’ve surely heard, even if you don’t follow entertainment news and didn’t watch or didn’t stick around to the end of the show. (I did; I love movies, and I love the Oscars.)
Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the winner of Best Picture, and the producers, director, cast, and crew rushed to the stage and started giving acceptance speeches. Three producers had given speeches and they seemed to be nearing the end when the stage manager and others came on stage and asked to see the envelope. It said:
Best Female Actor in a Lead Role: Emma Stone in La La Land.
Beatty and Dunaway had been given the wrong envelope, and Dunaway read the name of the wrong movie for the wrong category.
The real winner was the film Moonlight.
That changed everything—including the acceptance speeches.
What a difference one change in the situation can make to the entire event.
Yes, the producers of Moonlight still gave their own acceptance speeches, and they really did win the award. But they didn’t receive the award from the Academy or even from Faye Dunaway. They received it from Jordan Horowitz, a producer of La La Land. He’s the one who announced into the microphone, “There’s a mistake — ‘Moonlight,’ you guys won best picture.”
Mr. Horowitz earned a lot of attention for how graciously he handled the mistake and handed over the award, including the trophy. But that mistake seriously changed the situation for the producers, director, cast, and crew of Moonlight. Mr. Horowitz captured it:
“I got to give a speech and then give you an award,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Instead of the usual buildup of suspense relieved by the act of awarding an Oscar, the moment for excited acceptance speeches was dulled by waiting until after an explanation from co-presenter Warren Beatty and more talk and even a joke from the host, Jimmy Kimmel.
Instead of that winning moment focusing all attention on the makers of Moonlight, their win was overshadowed by a more immediate exigence, a more pressing need to hear: How did such a terrible mistake happen?
Instead of an audience celebrating riotously Moonlight’s big upset, the audience was largely confused and shocked into relative silence.
Instead of getting an Academy Award from the Academy, they got a trophy from a rival producer.
No wonder the makers of Moonlight were slow to come to the stage and slow to give their acceptance speeches. Mahershala Ali, an actor from the film who won Best Supporting Actor earlier, also caught the moment well:
“I just didn’t want to go up there and take anything from somebody, you know?” Mahershala Ali
They weren’t getting an award; they were taking it away from someone else.
Wow. They were ripped off.
And I have to note what some news media are ignoring in their reporting of the event, the unfortunate identities of the two films—this screw-up led to a white producer of an expensive frothy musical about LA and the history of jazz with no starring black actors magnanimously bestowing the Oscar on an African-American producer, director and screenwriter, and cast of a low-budget film about a gay African-American boy growing up in poverty (and, not to generate fake news, also some white producers). Instead of a revolutionary upset from below, a gracious gift from above.
Wow. They were ripped off, at least in that moment.
But everybody was doing the best they could in the surprise situation. The producers of Moonlight valiantly powered through, giving their own acceptance speeches, and they did receive applause and joy in the end. And they did win the Academy Award for Best Picture. A stunning upset made even more stunning, perhaps, by the circumstances.
Hey, mistakes happen. Or as Price Waterhouse Cooper so dodgingly tweeted, in full passive voice,
The apology starts well, but the "error that was made" and "mistakenly had been given" hardly accepts full responsibility (and once again the qualities of a good or bad apology make a difference in my blog).
I had been ready to write this morning about acceptance speeches and how politics was changing some of the nature of that genre. Some of last night’s speeches referenced current politics directly or obliquely—one of the best versions, I think, was winners and presenters from other countries calling themselves “migrant workers.” Winners thanked the usual family members, with some emphasis on Mom this year. I noted especially that winners thanked their teachers more often than I remember from the past.
I doubt anyone remembers much about the acceptance speeches for Moonlight. Instead, I imagine history will remember the two upsets—one that comes from the small picture beating out the big production; the other that comes from the biggest screw-up in Academy Award history.
In fact, I couldn't find any publicly viewable video of Barry Jenkins' acceptance speech for Moonlight. So let's end with appreciation for the incredible actual Best Picture of 2017.