A month ago, i, apparently, truly upset someone who found my film review of Zero Dark Thirty offensive and un-American. He or She then preceded to cyber-stalk me for a week. I watched this person flit on and off my site, poring over every post, through a tracking service. Unfortunately, i also contacted the police. I feel a bit unfair for that now as it seems that it may well be a 16 year old boy living at home in Pennsylvania. I’m not a fan of ruining youths lives for, what the English call ASBO. If any of my friends when i was 16 were caught and persecuted for the stunts they pulled then, they would be in some serious trouble today – as it is, most of them are wonderful parents with excellent careers – and clean records. (Admittedly, while my friends were trouble makers, i was a bit, shall we say, prim?)
One of the interesting aspects to me, as a bit of a feminist ethnographer, was the gendered response to the attacks (i found wonderful support from within my academic department, from the DreamHost team who worked tirelessly to help me bungle my way through the debacle, and from other concerned friends who pitched in to help me track this person down). Except for a single woman (who works in IT), there was, for the most part, a response of, “That sucks! I’m so sorry!” From the men, i received a surprising amount of laudatory congratulations, “You’ve arrived now!” “You must be doing something right if you pissed someone off enough to make them go to those lengths!” And maybe even a little disappointment when i didn’t hurry up and put my site back up the next day. The lone woman who defied the gendered response was among the few who nudged me to DOX him or her.
Admittedly, my sample size is small (i’m simply not that important), but it has been fascinating to follow responses.
On that note, this entire process has given me a lot of time to think about academia – particularly the seeming-upsurge in anti-academic sentiments. I’ve written about this before, but what i have been struck by is the pervasiveness of these sentiments – that they reach well beyond the confines of hunting down the truly “dangerous” critical thinkers – the ones that harbor the possibility for changing and radicalizing young minds against fascism, for instance. But rather, the slow, incipient strangling that is happening against people like me (seriously, i am the least offensive and least known of all Geography academics, and as my darling husband likes to remind me whenever i gush about how famous a favourite academic of mine is, he always says, “In Geography, anyway” as he chuckles and maybe roles his eyes a little). And when i say “people like me,” i mean PhCs and newly minted PhDs. I’ve written about this some as well, before.
Particularly frightening is that it is coming from all sides. I recently stumbled on this treasure, written by one of the crew members of the Burning Man non-profit, on why “the project of academia itself is kryptonite to the spirit of Burning Man.” On the one hand, having read some of the work from academics on the scene (i’ve written my own tirades of the closed-mindedness of academics researching alternative communities – just not published here), i get it. Admittedly, after a month, he did soften his tune somewhat, but still, the fodder was out there (the comments – as with any public forum – are, well, what you’d expect…only one wouldn’t expect that from a Burning Man forum – but maybe that was asking too much).
And if you wonder why this bothers me so much, i will openly admit, i have been to Burning Man. Most of our friends and people we consider to be “community” outside of academia (and some in) are all Burners. It matters.
I expect closed-mindedness from people who understand they are closed-minded. Anti-immigration, anti-muslim, anti-Obama, anti-women, anti-birth control, anti-anything, really – you know, full-well that you’re closed-minded, even if you prefer to call yourself “conservative” or “patriotic American.”
What it came down to in the end were a few questions:
1. Was my initial knee-jerk reaction to the DDoS attacks a battle of the will or an honest belief that i wanted to protect the First Amendment rights of anyone to dissent and disagree with the status popular media? My first inclination was one of the worth of the Amendment, that the true un-Americanness was denying me my right to express my opinion. A whole process which i found incredibly perplexing, really…
2. Was my conscious decision to leave my site down for a few weeks an act of compassion, hoping that this poor disgruntled, and evidently bored person who felt so vindictive might actually grow bored with the chase, come to his/her senses, or even think a bit about what had been done – or was it an act of weakness, an unwillingness to stand up for my beliefs, for myself, for academia (however armchair-ish it might sometimes be?)
3. Was my thought to move to a new website a way for us both to win (as i imagined?) – that s/he could get on with his/her life and i could continue to write and be published (to my whopping 75-person / month readership) or an act of cowardice?
4. How do i balance my impulse toward compassion, with my tendency to fall into teacher mode, with my earnest desire to work toward a better world through the work of re-imagination?
I suppose in the end, as my dear (and sometimes less-than-patient-with-my-sensitivities) husband put it, “Why bother writing at all if you’re not going to stand up for your beliefs?”
I realized he was right. I, without hesitation, freely admit that i can be, shall we say, sensitive (or as one of my colleagues put it, “delicate”)? Academia has been a very hard road on this end. This is not a career for the weak or the timid. I’ve been incredibly timid my entire life, but i won’t be weak. And when it comes down to it, this is hardly revolutionary stuff.