Praising Pimping Pedagogues
Over at PrawfsBlawg, lawprof Eric Johnson faces an anonymous colleague who left a comment,
"I would appreciate it if Prawfs didn't invite guest commentators who use this blog to pimp their work."Dan Markel, proprietor of PrawfsBlawg, called the comment "snarky and craven," a rather tit for tat reaction. After all the comment makes a point, whether one is offended by the use of the word "pimp" because of delicate eyeballs or one only expects love and praise when a member of the Academy. That the comment was anonymous opened the attack to challenge as well, though the prawfs forget how unforgiving they are to anyone, even their own, who question the orthodoxy.
Johnson, however, decided to stare the challenge down, channeling the Leroy Brown of lawprofs.
First of all, let's pick a slightly more neutral term: Self-promotion. Am I guilty of that? Yes. I think it's fair to call what I was doing "engaging in a scholarly dialog," but if you want to call it self-promotion, I won't argue with that at all.
Short of a mea culpa, but a non-denial denial is better than nothing. Frankly, I thought he looked way cooler when seen as a pimp, but that's just me. I tend to prefer straight talk over sanitized language, but not everyone sees it that way.
So, I engage in self-promotion.
Some people, when they self-promote on PrawfsBlawg, toss in an embarrassed aside, such as "forgive the shameless self promotion." I've skipped those pleasantries. Perhaps that shows a lack of urbanity on my part. But I just see myself as a realist.
We live in a world of vigorous self-promotion. Tiger Woods wears a hat with a logo made out of his own initials. I mean, for crying out loud, if that's okay, how can I have done wrong by mentioning my new article and linking to it?
I have no clue how far Johnson can drive a small, white, dimpled ball, but I'm betting it's less than 300 yards, undermining his analogy from the start. On top of that, he's not in the business of selling hats, as if anyone would buy a golf hat with a stylized EJ on it.
That's not me. I say: Comment on, AnonProf. Dan called your anonymous comment "snarky and craven." I won't. But I would call it ironic. You see, in our online world, millions of people, like me, are putting themselves out there with their blogs, homepages, Twitter, Facebook, online CVs, bio pages, and the like. If that's a breakdown in civility, then, you'd have to admit, so too is the upwelling of anonymous potshots. Self-promotion and unsigned flaming are the ying-yang of the digital world. Now that I think about it, I suppose they bring one another into balance.
And then there's the Slackoisie defense: I may be a
pimp self-promoter, but anonymous attackers are ugly and dress funny. If "unsigned flaming" is horrible, does that make self-promotion less troubling?
Yet, Eric Johnson shouldn't have been so deeply wounded by the anonymous comment. Not for the reasons he states, which would have gotten his client convicted before lunch, but because he's just not a pimp. The foundation of the complaint is misguided.
When a lawprof finds a subject to which he commits an enormous amount of time and $100,000 of law students' tuition loans (the stuff they thought was being spent on their education), it's because he takes a sincere scholarly interest in the subject, and believes others will as well. Having done so, produced article and submitted it to a law review, the place where ideas go to die, there is a burning sensation in his head to engage his colleagues about his efforts. Guys, I have this really cool idea and did a whole bunch of work on it; whadda you think?
The lawprof isn't playing the five year old on the high diving board, screaming, Mommy, look at me. He's asking his friends if they want to come out and play. He's asking his friends if they think he dresses funny. He's asking the girl of his dreams whether she will give him a whirl on the dance floor. And, in a benign, sanitized way, the chick may tell him to take a hike.
Writing about the object of scholarly effort isn't self-promotion at all, even though some may choose to call it mean names. It's an invitation for peer review, both positive and negative, in this new-fangled medium that allows for real-time discussion or real-time ideas. If there's a flaw in the process at all, it's that lawprofs continue to push out scholarly work for law reviews rather than blawg posts at all, but tradition (and grasping at tenure) is hard to break.
In the comments to this post, Orin Kerr, snarky and craven aficionado that he is, makes a point:
This comment thread reminds me of a fantastic website that I urge you to visit.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | May 9, 2011 4:02:57 PM
Now that, dear lawprofs, is the way to pimp. And Kerr ought to know, as Orin's wheels show.
Many use blogs to flawg their self-importance, mostly devoid of substance and without a shred of shame. Self-promotion on the internet is rampant, hyping things unworthy of attention, manufacturing descriptions that exaggerate value and importance, deceiving.
Posting about one's scholarship on a blawg, on the other hand, is offering a subject of sincere interest by a writer to others for discussion, whether positive or negative. This is the highest and best use of the blawgosphere, to engage in thoughtful conversation with one's peers about things that matter, at least to the writer.
Doesn't interest any particular reader? That's always going to be the case. Not every reader is going to share the writer's interests. Not everybody likes chocolate either. That's cool. Nobody forces anyone to read stuff that bores them. But similarly, readers get no vote on what interests the writer, and the when the writer has the keys to the blogging kingdom, then it's his call as to what he finds sufficiently interesting to write about. The blawgosphere is not a democracy. It is, however, a place for peer review. And that's exactly how it should be.
Sorry, Eric Johnson, you are no pimp. Write on, brother.