A Real Live Webpage from 1996, Preserved In Its Natural Habitat; Fiction as Public Engagement

Christopher Cocca

No, not the official Berkshire Hathaway page. I’m talking about the Periodic Table of Comic Books! If you’ve been trying to cross reference an element with its appearances in various comics over the last few decades, I’ve just given you the last resource you should ever need.

If you’re trying to explain the internet of the 90s to your kids between Legends of the Hidden Temple reruns on TeenNick, this will also come in handy. See if they can find the rotating “under construction” graphic before you do.

It’s funny: in some ways, the web has always been about the compilation of trivia (personal or otherwise) and the cataloging of human interests. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook enhance and also undermine that instinct: instead of Angelfire web sites and Tripod accounts with spinning pictures and MIDI music, we give our strange fascinations over to a few centralized social networks who keep meticulous, obsessive track of everything we say we love. While these services have been used powerfully for activism, there’s an argument to made about the ways we’ve regressed as owners of our ephemera. It’s easier, I suppose, to curate our interests with posts and tweets and likes and shares than to build the online shrines that once defined the consumer internet. But those repositories had what Mike Schmidt might call a certain charm that social media doesn’t capture. Maybe I’m remembering the world that seemed possible before we got the world that came. I don’t mean that cynically. Commitment to social action X over social action Y might mean no flying cars or jetpacks, but we have no way of knowing, really, in the short term.

More knowable, it seems, are the outcomes of politics devoid of concern for environmental regulations, economic justice, the sanctity of life, and the generative renewal of our communities. If you thought I wasn’t going to get from the Periodic Table of Comic Books to public ethics in a few short steps, you might not know that The New School (MFA ’11) just announced organizational changes to some of their graduate programs. The writing program, of which I am a proud graduate, is now part of the newly-named School of Public Engagement. TNS is making a bold cultural and political statement here: poets, fiction writers, and essayists trade in public engagement as a matter of vocation and as a matter of fact. It’s probably no coincidence that former TNS president Bob Kerrey shared similar sentiments with my entire class on the first night of our program.

Bloggers, artists, writers, musicians, comic book creators, coders, scientists, actors, preachers…the list goes on and on. We are enlisted in the craft, and it is a craft, of public engagement. The evolution of the social web from siloed shrines of quirky interest to the integrated platforms of curation, criticism, and creation shows just how powerful our drive to contribute something back to the avalanche of corporate politics, media, and culture-making really is.

It’s ironic and subversive that we do it on the corporate platforms of companies that make millions delivering targeted ads based on the content we create and share in resistance to the monolithic messages of people with vested interests in framing these conversations in very specific ways. That’s the world we live in, for better and for worse.

Let’s keep making it for the better.  And when you need a break, check out the Periodic Table of Comic Books.  And don’t forget to sleep.

Advertisements
Categories: Tags: , , , ,

Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s