I can has cheezburger?: An example of female nerd culture

The kitteh that launched millions of lolcats

One of the most amazing items missing from the two recent books on nerd culture (American Nerd & Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them) was the difference of the nerd experience of girls and women compared with male nerds.

I was thinking about how easy it would have been to include examples of female nerd culture in these books — the differences in ways of discussing and experiencing pop culture, fanworks (fanfiction, fanvids, and slash), the difference in marketing to girl and women (shoujo /shojo versus shonen anime and manga, especially mahou shojo, the magical girl subgenre).

One other real-world example of the gendered difference in nerd culture is Icanhascheezburger.com, the home of lolcats. While there are male fans and non-nerd fans of lolcats, lolcats is a generally female nerd phenomenon. But why?

First, the gender issue — lolcats are based on cute pictures and it is socially more acceptable for women and girls to be involved with cute things. One such example is the Japanese penchant for all things cute, called kawaii, like Hello Kitty.

Secondly, the nerdyness — lolcats “talk” in their own form of English, based on leetspeek, used primarily by computer programmers.

Those two elements put together (and in my personal non-empirical experience) show the reason why many of the fans of lolcats are female nerds.

For example, look at the picture below — filled with cuteness, yet with oddly stated language. If this would only have the picture, it could be directed at anyone who likes cute or cats; if it only had lolcat speech, it would be directed at anyone interested in subculture speech patterns. But the combination of the two demonstrates that lolcats is directed at those in both groups — female nerds.

cat

The spread of lolcats is detailed in a history page, describing the process by which the cat speaking oddly picture became an internet meme and a website. There has even been detailed analysis, trying to describe what makes lolcats what they are.

Ican hascheezburger.com also has a significant economic role on the internetz — according to Business Week,

A week of ads on Cheezburger, via Blogads, starts at $500 and tops out at $5,400 for a premium position. … It recently ranked No. 26 on the most-linked-to blogs list on Technorati. [Ed: As of this blog post, it is the 13th most popular blog on Technorati.]

According to the Times (UK),

In March [2008], icanhascheezburger reached No 8 in a UK newspaper’s 50 Most Powerful Blogs list. [The week of October 12th], it was recording about 5.5 million hits every day.

The spread of lolcats and its staying power for an internet meme, specifically Icanhascheezburger is quite amazing. Time quotes the site’s creator

“The breadth of cultures [lolcats] has spread to is mind-boggling,” … “We think it has evolved beyond Internet subculture and is hitting the mainstream.”

Time magazine says

The striking thing about lolcats–besides its amazing fecundity and variety and the fact that, unlike a lot of Internet cat humor, it’s actually pretty funny–is how little else like it there is online right now. …

We may be witnessing a revolution in user-generated content, but the more mainstream the Web gets, the more it looks like the mainstream: homogenous, opportunistic and commercial. It’s no longer a subculture; it’s just the culture. And don’t we have enough of that already? Are we facing a future without a weird, vital, creative phenomenon like lolcats? Say it with me: “Do not want!”

Icanhascheezburger is now a book, I Can Has Cheezburger? A Lolcat Colleckshun, by Professor Happycat, “full of kittehs and win!”

cat

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Blogging is dead? Absolutely. And not at all.

An essay by Valleywag writer Paul Boutin is proclaiming the death of the blog. It’s become too professionalized, is his argument. Clearly, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, who needs a blog to get your ideas across, right?

Boutin says:

Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

I got a couple of e-mails this week from friend/colleagues concerned about my continued relevance: “so what do you think of this guy, blogging queen?”

Well, to be honest, Boutin is right to a point. Blogging as we once knew it, is absolutely dead. The personal blog, The blog-as-diary used to be akin to the photocopied-and-stapled ‘zine, an oasis of personal expression. Grammar, spelling and accuracy were sacrificed on the altar of authenticity; it was a place for non-media professionals to become the media and reach the masses (or at least the Internet masses) No more. Internet audiences are as fragmented as traditional media ones and no individual starting a personal blog these days should expect to find an audience bigger than their circle of friends.

And that’s OK. Because for the professional and semi-professional blog, the topical blog, the blog-as-online ‘zine (like Boutin’s own Valleywag) it’s a new Golden Age. And there is is still plenty of room for blogging as a way share ideas and hash out concepts, to comment on local news and world affairs.

Topical blogs like Brooklyn Vegan‘s indie music coverage or Pandagon‘s progressive political commentary, local blogs like Chicago’s Gapers Block or professional news blogs like Mashable, even corporate blogs like the official Google blog (yeah – I read it, I love it. What’s it to ya?) This is what blogging is now, blogging as news, blogging as taste making, blogging as media.

And I say hurray! Bring it on! Hurray for blogs with editors, original content and citeable sources! It’s good to see evolution. And unlike Boutin, I don’t think the evolution of blogging means that there’s no longer room at the table for people who just want to write. Far from it, I think if anything, many traditional media professionals are the ones scrambling to adopt a style “The Bloggers” have been doing like pros for years now.

The personal stars of the blog world, the Heather Armstrongs of the world, have been found. Blogging has evolved as a medium, as all media do. I don’t think this evolution will affect the old workhorses of the so-called “blogosphere,” the ones who started blogs back in 2002 or earlier, who now blog out of habit, or because they have something new and creative to share, or they have an audience of friends and acquaintances and random people who read regularly.

This shift is giving an opportunity for some of the under-employed media professionals who have long toiled in the blog world to get a pay upgrade to, like, actual money. And it’s still a lot more accessible to newcomers who want an audience than the old-boys club of mainstream media. It’s still a medium where if you’ve got something to say, and you’re good at saying it, there’s a place for you here.

Old-school blogging is not what it was. Good. It’s a brave new blogging world! So, yeah, I’ll cu on Facebook. Just as soon as I’m done reading HuffPo.

Edit: Comments on this post have been turned off due to spam.

On the internet no one can hear you turning off your blog: the impact of trolling

Recently, the New York Times had an article about trolls and how their actions affect others online. Online trolling has often, though not always, been specifically targeted at women and girls, with threats against Kathy Sierra and the AutoAdmit trolling and subsequent lawsuit.

However, trolling‘s impact is broad, impacting not only those with personal blogs or those in “safe space” online communities, but also professional blogging. The issue of trolling needs to be addressed by all blogs because all blogs will likely have some level of trolling, especially if one’s definition of trolling includes all time-wasting comment management (spam, I’m talking to you!). I’ve heard corporate lawyers state that due to their concerns about the copyright of those who post comments they strongly discourage disemvoweling or editing of comments, instead preferring to suggest complete elimination of unwanted comments. Of course there are ways of making space only available to those you specifically allow entry, such as livejournal’s “friends only” status, but that significantly limits discourse.

Recently William Patry has closed down his well-regarded copyright blog, at first deleting the entire archive and only leaving a goodbye post (archives subsequently restored). Keep in mind when reading the quote below that this is someone who is one of the most well-known and regarded specialists in his field, who has been in professional practice for over twenty-five years.

In order to encourage open discussion [on my blog] I permitted not only comments but anonymous and pseudonymous comments. I did that because I wanted to encourage the largest number of people to participate, and after four years I believe that was the right decision. But it is also the right decision to end the blog. …. I cannot see what more I could have done to make what was a personal blog more separate from my employer….

On top of this there are the crazies, whom it is impossible to reason with, who do not have a life of their own and so insist on ruining the lives of others, and preferably as many as possible. I asked myself last week after having to deal with the craziest of the crazies yet, “why subject yourself to this?” I could come up with no reason why I should: My grandfather chose to be a psychiatrist, but I chose a different professional path, one that doesn’t obligate me to put up with such nonsense.

In the end, I concluded that it is no longer possible for me to have a blog that will be respected for what it is, a personal blog.

Even the University of Chicago Law Faculty Blog has implemented a comments policy:

The Law School therefore encourages readers of the Faculty Blog to engage in respectful conversation – as one would at a conference or in a classroom – with faculty posters and other readers through use of the Blog’s “Comments” feature.

.. all comments will be subject to approval by a Law School moderator [and] may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements (“spam”),
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments,
    or
  • contain ad hominem attacks or abusive or gratuitously offensive language.

Comments policy do play a role in limiting trolling because they help shape what is acceptable discourse. But trolls will still troll and someone (a real live person) still needs to read comments to limit trolling.

The problems of the Internet are not new to humanity, instead there is a new distribution means of various acts, ranging from being mean, to committing cruel acts, to crimes. However, the internet allows for a new form of the heckler’s veto, where those that “yell” the loudest or the most often (as in a denial-of-service attack) can limit the speech of those that created that specific space on the internet. And if the heckler threatens enough, speech by the original speaker or others that agree can be severely curtailed. The cost to those who do not agree with the troll — from the blog host to the other readers can be great — and the troll is only limited by how much time he is willing to spend.

Some have and will likely say — toughen up! or First Amendment with no limits, yay! But that doesn’t solve the underlying social problem of some speakers limiting speech through speaking rudely, cruelly, or threateningly (“but I didn’t mean it! You [any group here] are humourless). If William Patry and the University of Chicago Law faculty find this a difficult issue to address, it is no wonder why the rest of the blogging community finds trolling so problematic.

One More Tardy Guest To The Online Music Party?

Mashable is reporting (via NY Post) that Facebook is planning to get into the online music game

:

The long-standing rumor that Facebook will launch its own digital music service is back in the news today. According to The New York Post, the social network is in talks with a number of existing players in the online music space regarding what the paper calls an “outsourcing deal.” As opposed to MySpace, who forged a deal with the four major record labels to launch its own digital music venture last month, Facebook already plays hosts to a number of popular music apps on its site. With more than 5 million active users, iLike is by far the most popular, with other apps like imeem, Pandora, and My Music (by Qloud) with user counts in the low six-figures.

As I blogged about earlier, at this point the field is getting quite crowded with digital music services, and when MySpace (a former music industry game changer that helped to launch careers) is no longer bringing anything new to the table, what the heck can Facebook do? But Mashable’s right, there is too much potential revenue in this for Facebook to ignore and the joint venture aspect of Facebook’s approach is something that would actually bring something of value to both the consumer and to the start-ups. As a Facebook user, I am very much looking froward to what this might offer. Honestly, though, I do wonder why so many of these start-ups and large online companies are focusing on the consumer so much, when there is so much opportunity found among the ashes of the music industry. I think an application like Bandcamp (making it possible for musicians to distribute and market their own stuff) is the realm social media start-ups can really innovate can create something brand new. At least that’s what I’d do if I had a few million dollars to throw at a start-up.

Edit: Due to this post being hit with lots of spam, we’ve turned off commenting for this and a couple of other posts.

More on Barracuda, copyright, and politics from Siva Vaidhyanathan and Foo Fighters

As I previously wrote about in my post, Heart’s Barricuda: A lesson in licensing, ownership, politics, and moral rights, politics and artists have clashed regarding political theme songs.

Christopher Sprigman and Siva Vaidhyanathan have an editorial in the Washington Post on this issue (thanks to Madisonian/Ann Bartow for the headsup):

Artists should speak up, loudly, when they feel the use of their songs misrepresents their views, particularly if such use could create the public impression of an endorsement.

If artists start trying to pick and choose who is eligible for a blanket license, the efficiency of the system would be destroyed. The McCain campaign has continued to play “Barracuda” since the Republican convention precisely because it cleared the license for such use with ASCAP. The campaign paid for the use of “My Hero” as well.

The second reason is more fundamental. Politicians use songs as a way to tell people what they stand for — or at least what they want us to believe they stand for. Using a song to communicate a political message is just the kind of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect.

Recently, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl has also stated his objection to the use of “My Hero” at McCain campaign rallies:

“The saddest thing about this is that `My Hero’ was written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential,” the Foo Fighters said in a statement. “To have it appropriated without our knowledge and used in a manner that perverts the original sentiment of the lyric just tarnishes the song.”

Artists are paid when their songs are used in adverts by their own choice. Plenty of artists consider their works to be part of an artistic vision. In addition, when they do not live up to what fans want from them, they are frequently viewed as “sell-outs”. I’m not sure how to solve this problem; as Sprigman and Vaidhyanathan mention the present system does allow for more expression and is economically more viable then an opt-out model.

Perhaps what is needed is a musical version of the McCain-Feingold campaign ad message, “I am X candidate and I support this message” to a “Y artist does/does not support this candidate”. At least that will prevent confusion about endorsements while not dealing with the hurt feelings/moral rights of the artists.

Book Review: American nerd : the story of my people

Summary: Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd is a worthwhile but deeply flawed book. The first section creating a social history of nerddom is unique and interesting, discussing the creation of the nerd in literature and popular culture — and the racial/ethnic elements in the creation of the “nerd”. The second section veers into vignettes about nerds that aren’t very edifying.

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Despite the rest of this review, I really enjoyed reading the first half of the book, where Nugent theorizes the beginning of nerd. He starts with Mary in Pride and Prejudice, moves on to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and then discusses how those that are now called nerds got place there. Nugent defines nerds in two groupings:

1) mostly male and intellectual and socially awkward “in ways that strike people as machinelike”

2) gender equal and nerd status “by sheer force of social exclusion”

American Nerd‘s true strength is the section explaining how Jewish-Americans and Asian-Americans became the exemplar of nerddom, in contrast to racialized all-American athleticism.

One element about the book that I wasn’t sure I was going to touch on directly was the author’s blase attidude to blatant sexism. One chapter starts with a long section about the nerd slang meaning of this word (usually as a verb, similar to pwnage, exemplifying complete domination of a gaming opponent). Nary a mention of the implications for female gamers or for others appears.

This lack of understanding of sexism and male privilege in discussing nerddom is especially disappointing in light of the extensive historical discussions of the intersection between the need to define nerddom to encompass stereotypes about Jewish-Americans and Asian-Americans. According to Nugent, WASPy athletic America needed “the nerd” as a Dorian Grey-like mirror to define what men should not to be.

So where does that leave the female nerd?

The book does mention girl nerddom in passing — including two bizarre mentions of Naomi Novik’s series sans names. Also, within the nerds-dig-Japanese culture section, Nugent creates a two-page amalgam of yaoi and slash into all things fangirl. And it is done with that “girls are so weird!” tone.

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An element missing from all of the books I’ve read about nerds, gifted kids, and the autism/Asperger spectrum is the issue of difference within difference. What is it like to be a black or latina/o nerd, accused of “acting white”? What is different about the experiences of immigrant versus born-here nerds? First-generation nerds versus family ‘o nerd? And I’m still waiting for a full discussion of gender and sexuality in nerddom.

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One last problem with the book — no index and no bibliography!

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This book is available in many libraries and its ISBNs are 9780743288019 0743288017

Tulane Works in Progress Intellectual Property Conference: My Presentation on Political Economy and Intellectual Property of User-Created Content

I was going to post information about my presentation at WIPIP, but Rebecca Tushnet’s liveblogging summary has beat me to it. So read her summary, and thanks to her and others for their useful comments.