When I was still a scholar, I used to plan my work based on fairly logical assumptions. I tried to see where the academic world was, what was the focus of most culture studies scholarship, and I used this information to try and find myself a niche, some place where I could do what was most needed, do work which both filled a gap and precipitated curves in the scholarly world. I thought my work would come out right as a new big trend came, I would ride the crest of this new scholarly wave, and that I would come off as a leader, a pioneer.
I was, however, pretty much universally wrong in my predictions.
When I started doctoral work, I noticed how everyone in culture studies seemingly was obsessed by the race/class/gender triad. Surely, I thought, identity has to be more than just these three...so I avoided doing race, class, or gender. The scholarly world, however, still really loves race, class or gender...and shows no sign of changing. Moreover, my idea that our concept of "mainstream" is both under-formulated yet still drastically important seems to only draw the wrath of most academics. Strike one.
When searching for a dissertation topic, I noticed that no one was doing 1980s studies. In general, I realized, people think of history as something that only starts fifty years in the past. So you are either current, historical, or in some kind of limbo. However, the eighties seemed to be an especially important decade, one where a lot of current trends and crises have their roots...the credit crunch and real estate bust, for instance, must be connected in some way to the Reagan "deficits? who cares about deficits?" angle. And time and time again, the eighties seemed increasingly relevant and ready to break as a new subject of analysis. So I started doing eighties studies in hopes of being at the front of that scholarly wave. However, in spite of multiple possible Eighties Studies-launching event after event (reinvading Iraq, the Reagan legacy project, Reagan being mentioned again and again in every presidential election (by both sides in 2008)), academics never started caring about the eighties. No one wanted to hire an Eighties scholar. Where did that leave me, who wrote a dissertation on the intersection of 1980s politics and popular culture? Facing strike two.
My job market failures made me realize I had to reinvent myself. There were, I noticed, tons of film studies jobs...but in order to land one, one had to hold a film studies degree. Television, I reasoned, was a different land...one with more possibilities. Hell, TV, with the likes of Deadwood, The Sopranos, The Shield, The Wire, and tons of other great programs had become the creatively dominant medium. So why not refocus myself as a television scholar? This is what I did. I wrote several great articles on television, with the highlight being a publication in Television & New Media. I gained some level of prestige (or at least a minimal presence in the field). However, 97% of every television-oriented job I've seen requires production skills. I have none. My refocus as a television scholar leaves me still unemployable. Strike three.
Planning has gotten me nowhere...except out.
Lest you think all my moves (to paraphrase Clouseau) are carefully planned, I have also experimented with just letting my muse direct my writing. A few years back, I was watching the first post-Katrina New Orleans Saints home game. The broadcast, in spite of covering post-Katrina quite thoroughly as a matter of design, meticulously avoided mentioning race. It was a paper I just had to write. I still can't place it. Later, at the beginning of one of my summers, I found myself unable to sleep at night because my mind was deconstructing the traditional notions of political economy in relation to television production. My mind immediately started thinking of the then-still-in-production show Dollhouse, and, as a result, I ditched the two articles and book revision I had planned and focused on this new, "I can't get it out of my head" paper. It took me seven weeks to write. It was good, thorough, a massive leap forward in terms of both theory and writing. I still can't place it.
Following my heart didn't work out any better than following my head. This is one of the reasons I've pretty much abandoned scholarship and thinking of myself as an academic. Now, I'm trying very hard to look for nothing out of my popular culture experiences other than just killing time and occupying maybe 3% of my mind.
Today, while watching Bones (my new television addiction), I figured out a way to tie in the research from my abandoned CSI: paper with my understanding of both NCIS and Bones. It would be very doable. It would even incorporate much of my research on hierarchical authority structures, and of nerds. I even have a thesis statement in mind: "the concept of liberalism within contemporary media and society is dependent on the social positioning of geeks, nerds, and experts."
It would, in short, be good. However, it would also, if past experience is any indication, be completely pointless. No one would care. And even if a few readers liked it, cited it, used it in classes (as has happened with my scholarship in the past), it would do utterly nothing to add to my infinitesimal chances of ever finding a tenure-track job. Moreover, I don't have any time whatsoever to immerse myself in the necessary research, let alone chain myself to the computer's word processor to write the damn thing.
So why won't this idea just go away? Why did it come into my mind to begin with? Why can't I quit thinking, accept where I am, and just be?