Recently, I sat through a University lecture where an English and Film professor dismissed blogging as a legitimate and valuable form of expression. This short statement from my professor caused an unexpected and fairly strong emotional reaction from me, as hundreds of hours of my work were being discredited. In listening to the professor, speaking from her position of traditional authority, the divide between academic and public film discussion became clear.
Academics try to push the idea that while writing essays, students should not do so in a vacuum. They are joining an ongoing discussion–something the writer must be aware of. But while this is true, the digital age has opened that discussion up to the masses and if academics are not willing to accept and participate, they will be left behind.
Before I get too much further into this discussion, I want to make it clear that I am not dismissing academia or even raising questions of quality of writing and thought. My point is that if academics ignore the online discussion, they themselves are entering a vacuum.
Blogs and podcasts have opened the discussion up to anyone with an opinion and a drive to express it. This is, of course, a good and bad thing. Strict academic guidelines are no longer in place, and peer review takes on a new meaning. As the internet is flooded with different views, those with no authority or knowledge are bound to take part alongside those who do. However, peer review takes on its full meaning as it is the community that reviews and polices itself.
Writers who promote inaccuracies with their writing, plagiarize, or who have little original to say are caught and rejected almost instantly. As a whole, the online community keeps people honest, or at least exposes those who are not. If you choose not to play by the rules, you will simply not be read. Intelligent discussion, good writing, and knowledge are all rewarded online.
Rigid academics who see themselves more like Francois Truffaut or Pauline Kael, and refuse to accept the legitimacy of the online discussion are bound to fall behind. In a sense, they fall out of touch with the current conversations and are irrelevant to them.
Say for example, a film professor decides to write a paper discussing his theory on Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, and ignores the ongoing online discussion about the film. He will potentially be repeating theories already discussed, dissected, disproved, or simply that have become stale. Maybe even more importantly, if he ignores what is being discussed outside the academic world, he is depriving himself of interesting ideas and insights. It is impossible to stay relevant when an entire, ever-growing, community is ignored.
My point is not to dismiss academic writing as it is both important and has a place in film discussion as a whole. However, if writers are not willing to accept the validity of the entire discussion, whether it be online or within universities, then they will become redundant. We no longer live in the era of the Cahier Du Cinema. The discussion is no longer ruled by print journalists and academics, who claimed to hold the truth because of their position. Today’s discussion is much richer, more diverse and much more democratic. And for better or worse, when it comes to cinema, the online discussion has become the most important.