I spent several rather confusing hours on Wednesday at a series of seminars around the topic "is the Underground dead?". That question was quite definitively answered in the affirmative by practically everyone there, but what confused me was precisely what the point of it all was.
The program referred to the wikipedia definition of the underground, so perhaps that is the place to start.
The idea of something which is "outside of the public consciousness", or related to a "subculture"is the version of the definition relevant to this discussion. Following the link to Underground Culture revealed that there is a connection to resistance movements, and hence, political resistance. Now that to me makes sense. If there is something wrong with a political system, you change it, and you probably have to go underground, outside of the space in which your actions are likely to be detected, to do it. I have always felt that the most effective form of resistance is covert, resistance from the inside that is invisible from the inside. If the body politic doesn't feel threatened by confrontation, they are less likely to resist change. So the concept of going underground makes sense.
But the practice of underground culture doesn't. At least, what I saw on Wednesday doesn't. The type of underground that was represented there was the type of in-your-face cultural inversion and resistance that makes the main stream run away. It makes people wonder what went wrong, not necessarily with the system, but quite frequently with the artists staging resistance. It encourages people to disregard what it is saying. It begs not to be taken seriously. Someone said at some point in the conference that surely the point was to get "above ground", that underground wasn't a choice, but a state of being before you hit mainstream, and that the purpose was to become mainstream in order to be heard. Now I understand that that may sound like a sell-out in the making. The easiest way to become mainstream is, after all, to imitate what is already in the mainstream, and in terms of changing things, that doesn't achieve much. The problem is that so much of what I heard on Wednesday was about finding a way to be different, not necessarily for a purpose, and then being angry about it. It was as though the artists in question were seeking marginalization in order to have something to be angry about. And the point is?
If something is wrong, it needs to be fixed by winning minds. Education, not alienation.
The reason I attended the conference in the first place was that there was supposed to be something about blogging in the program. In the end the person who was supposed to present on this topic didn't show up, but I was nonetheless still interested in the idea that blogging is "underground". It made me wonder about the way in which my activities on this blog are viewed. Certainly I am aiming to change certain perceptions in the academy from the inside out. I am frustrated by what I perceive to be a narrow-minded approach to information sharing, and the nature of our vocation as academics. I didn't start this blog for that purpose, though. It grew up organically as a purpose after I encountered difficulties accessing information, and discovered people's unwillingness to participate in this process from within the academy. This blog started as a convenient way of organizing and accessing information.
So is it "underground"? If being so means I am going to spend my time searching for things to complain about, I hope not. Thing is, looking at the past few months of posting on this blog, I am starting to wonder.... What happened to the Choirgirl who was excited about every piece of information found, and every bit of knowledge gained?