Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War!

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No comics today 😦

I figure that having comics every Wednesday for almost two years gets us a little leeway. I’m about to mouth off here, people. You can endure a monologue from me, or you can find yourself another blog to read. This is where we are.

So, first. We’ve not been posting as often as we would like to post lately.

Second, I haven’t been around to answer comments.

Third, this blog is absolutely not going away.

A year ago, more or less, I made this blog a political no-go zone. I am considering lifting that restriction and allowing contributors to speak their political minds on this blog.

Just so you know, this here pop culture blog is supported by a huge gaggle of feminists and other left-leaning people.

What if we decide to bring the politics back onto this blog? Slowly, carefully, and liberally? What about that?

Leave us a comment, if you have an opinion.

And have a video!

 

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The Truman Journey

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Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the star of the Truman Show. When Truman is a baby, Christof (Ed Harris) somehow buys him. He is placed in a fictional town, Seahaven, and surrounded with actors. Christof broadcasts every minute of Truman’s life. And Truman has no idea his friends and family are paid actors. So that’s terrifying.

Truman only begins to discover the truth when a lamp, labeled with the name of a star, falls from the artificial sky one day. After that he notices things, like everyone knows his name, he has never left Seahaven, and his wife will act like she’s in an infomercial and try to shill products. When the entire town turns against him, refusing to let him leave, Truman escapes the only way he can: by sailing across Seahaven’s body of water to the edge of the world. There he bumps into the horizon, finds an EXIT door, and escapes into the real world. It’s like Under the Dome, if Stephen King wasn’t a horror writer.

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Life celebrated a baby sold by its parent to television executives.

A couple things about this movie jump out at me.The audience has to be most of the planet, because the show’s overhead must be huge; Christof enclosed the entire town in an arcology dome, and has a weather control device (something most supervillains have to put on lay-a-way). The governments of the world must not exist, or are so corrupt that “money over everything” is official policy. And the cast, crew, and audience must absolutely believe that Truman has a good life, because it only takes one defector to ruin the show.

At the end of the movie, Christof tries to drown Truman, preferring a magnificent death to Truman’s escape. When Truman survives, Christof claims Truman brings people hope and inspiration. He even asks Truman to stay. Something Truman does provides the world with enough satisfaction to justify all this.

My first thought was nuclear apocalypse, because the world must be some twisted ruin for people to think Truman’s life is acceptable. It would also explain the dome; perhaps Christof has fenced off a healthy area of the planet and is selling dreams of what life used to be to a devastated population.

The audience doesn’t really fit the Mad Max marauder type, though. There are old people, fat security guards, and a nice bar. The world looks okay. But these people still watch Truman, each day, as he toils through life, despite the fact that they apparently have normal lives themselves. Reality television is a form of escapism too; most rely on a gimmick (The Biggest Loser) or the antics of people filmed in just the right way to make them seem terrible (literally any contest-style reality show). All Truman does is live a normal life.

Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which became Blade Runner, which became the reason Ridley Scott still has a career. In the story, humans live on a ruined earth. Most of the animals are dead, so people try to raise personal livestock, or if they can’t afford it, “electric” simulacra. The protagonist, Deckard, has an electric sheep, and fears people will find out (it’s a social no-no). He takes a job to hunt down androids capable of nearly perfectly simulating human beings. They lack empathy, however, and a complicated test can reveal them.

It’s left out of the movie, but the book also shows that people are capable of “dialing” their emotions. Deckard avoids a fight with his wife by choosing a more pleasant mood. He also regularly logs into a simulation of a tormented figure rolling a stone eternally up a hill. Living with near-human androids has degraded human perception of reality, so they have to engage in something “real” to maintain their empathy and humanity. But, they are still living a lie, in denial of what humanity actually means.

The Truman Show serves the same purpose. Truman is the suffering saint; his lack of reality, and the life he suffers, makes the pale lives of the audience seem bright and real in comparison. No matter what their day was like, the audience can dial into Truman and adjust their emotions according to his life.

Truman’s world might be very close to ours, but it’s suffered something that makes engaging in life through Truman more acceptable than really living – he’s both sheep and shepherd, cared for by the audience and leading them through what life ought to be. And at the same time, he’s contemptible, because they can watch him poop and he doesn’t know.

I see two arguments about what happens after the ending. Truman abandons Seahaven, sails to freedom after nearly drowning in Christof’s artificial storm, and finds his world is truly false when he bumps into the “sky.” He leaves with his usual greeting: “In case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”

Truman doesn’t curse or even seem to hate Christof. And the audience loves it. The ending is a montage of cheers and people flipping out. He’s provided their comfort for thirty years, and now Truman’s victory is the audience’s victory. As the chosen one, he led them through the hero’s journey to a heroic “ending.”

Truman is an artificially selected chosen one, however, not picked by fate. Christof had to know Truman would grow into a perfectly average (Jim Carrey-ish) adult, with no mental or physical problems, because anything else would have ruined his show. Truman’s revelations about his life, and by extension the audience’s lives, don’t have the same impact as a “real” chosen one. The audience watches him discover them, and they cheer like they’re watching football game.

The chosen one is an excuse for why “ONE MAN” can make a difference. Truman might not even be able to integrate into society, since he’s never actually lived in it, just in the television version. His life has as much to do with reality as Leave it to Beaver has to do with the actual 1950s.

We all wish (as the audience that watches Truman does) that we could be that one special person, chosen by destiny (or Ed Harris — close enough) to… do something. Other than be born, live as our birth and means dictate, then die. We need the chosen one myth, it keeps us from losing our minds in the vast, uncaring cosmos.

Truman shows that a chosen one is the avatar for the pointlessness of the audience’s lives, not a bringer of light and reason. Once he is gone, taking the inspiration and hope the audience relies on, we really only have two options: abandon the myth and try to find or make meaning in life, or, as the security guards say, “See what else is on.”

Blogwanking and Social Media Sunday and Long-Term Strategy, OH MY!

I’ve gotten out of sync with the quarterly stat sharing. I discussed April at the end of A to Z, but I never looked at the entire second quarter, and now we’re through July. I’m discussing the past three months today. Y’all can just deal with the fact that this is 2500 words and has very little art. Read it if you want to up your game. Learn something.

Quarterly Stats

Here’s where we are with Sourcerer.

stats_src_15_08_06After the April we had here, I knew we had to come back to earth in May. I would like to have remained above 3,400 total views for the month, but I’ll take 104 average views per day for this blog and be happy with it any month of the year if that’s all I can get. It was an improvement over last May, so good — one of the things I look at with the stats is same-month comparisons from year to year.

Then June hit us, and as you can see, it hit us pretty hard. It was the first month of the year we didn’t see an improvement over 2014. There are reasons for that, and the effect carried into July. I’m hoping we’ll at least be able to do better than we did last year in August, and that’s entirely possible since these screenshots were taken on the 6th and we already had almost 500 views for the month.

The downturn in June was entirely predictable. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be quite that bad, and that we could contain it to a single month. But oh, well. We’re bloggers. We deal. It started in May, really. Once we all had A to Z in the bag, many of the regular contributors here spent some of their blogging time in April and May stockpiling content to get Comparative Geeks through the arrival of Geek Baby. And this emphatically is not a complaint. I volunteered for it, actively encouraged it, and Diana and I pitched in some posts of our own. David and Holly are our friends, if you haven’t realized. We’d be pretty sad around here if CompGeeks went silent.

But this group of content-producers we’ve assembled only looks big from the outside. It’s a small group, and nearly everyone has their own blogs. I made a calculated decision to do as much as I could to ensure CompGeeks didn’t have to go dark for any significant period of time, no matter what it cost Sourcerer. That decision was worth it and I’d do it again, but it meant our planning for late summer suffered, and we all had less to offer Sourcerer in June because we gave a lot of our writing-ahead time to CG in April and May.

All this came to a head at the beginning of the worst single month I’ve had, offline-wise, in years. I relocated my family the first weekend of June and the move turned into a never-ending disaster. There was a car accident that had to be dealt with, and a death in my family the weekend of July 4. This meant I didn’t have the means to cover the blog myself, and I wasn’t good asking contributors to just run the blog while I was basically off the internet for several weeks, because they were in the middle of doing the same for another blog, and they had threads to mind at CompGeeks.

This translated into more missed days in late June and early July than we’ve had since we started. It meant I wasn’t around to chatter and work my WordPress reader to keep the blog on peoples’ radars. It also meant photo features had to be suspended. That is costing us two posts a week, every week. Those still aren’t back. I’m working on it, but they aren’t coming back until I can do them consistently, so, might be awhile yet. Irons in the fire and all that.

The thing about the photo features is this: They’re great for likes and getting into the feeds an extra time. They’re better than nothing, and sometimes good for generating conversations. But I am not actually sure they get us any page views. They are always the first thing I cut when times get tough, and the last thing I bring back when times are good. Afternoon photoblogging here means we’re feeling prosperous.

So, June/July was entirely predictable — partially the result of conscious decisions about where to focus contributors’ content. Partly about me not being able to be present here due to unforseen circumstances. It’s not a concern, and we’re still on track to do better than we did in 2014. If we can end the year north of 100 average daily views, I’ll be happy with our progress in 2015.

Far as referrals go. The quarterly summaries are rolling averages and I didn’t pull them at the end of July. But in general, the traffic’s coming from the same places it always has: Search engines, the WordPress reader, Twitter, and Facebook. In that order. Search engines are by far the largest source — the only source that’s gotten us a four-digit number over the last 90 days. Our referrals from the reader and Twitter are way down, because I’ve not had time to spend on other WordPress blogs, nor to tweet properly, for most of the summer.

Our most popular posts in the last 90 days, aside from two or three Batman and Penny Dreadful posts that account for 85 percent of our search traffic, are the Geek and Greet blog party post; Rebecca Bradley’s Disclaimer review, which got Google traffic on the official release day; one of Hannah’s Ms. Marvel posts; one of Rose’s She-Ra posts; and my recent interview with Gretchen Kelly.

Now take a look at the recently-redesigned and better-than-ever Part Time Monster.

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I’m proud of the progress Diana is making with this blog. It just keeps getting better. The decrease from April to May is entirely the post-A to Z effect, I think. June was comparable to last June, and I don’t know what happened over there in July, because I was too busy to be paying attention. But I will say. A lot of people seem to have had down months in July. Since she’s on track to have a good August, I’m not concerned about July and I’m looking at it as an outlier.

If you compare our total page views for the year, you’ll see that PTM is about 4K ahead of Sourcerer. You’ll recall that for most of the time we’ve been doing this, our two blogs have run neck-in-neck. I’ve thought many times that PTM was going to surpass us here for well and good, but we’ve generally stayed within 1K of one another. Those days are over now, I think.

The Monster is in a position to consistently generate at least 500 more views than Sourcerer every month from the #WeekendCoffeeShare linkup alone. Monster Mondays, a feature Diana developed from her A to Z theme, have been well-received, too, and those posts tend to be uber-shareable. Throw in the Top Ten Tuesday traffic, and the Monster’s just better for attracting a consistent number of readers week-in and week-out.

None of this is a complaint, and it’s got nothing to do with the quality of the posts we publish here at Sourcerer. Our contributors are a collection of some of the best bloggers WordPress has to offer. We set this whole thing up with the idea that if these blogs were going to break out, the Monster would be the one to break out first. So, our evil schemes are going as planned, and I’m getting a LOT of satisfaction out of having been the chief architect of the whole thing.Even_More_Evil_Plotting_Raccoon_Quickmeme_by_GeneO

The Monster’s top referrers for the quarter are the same as Sourcerer’s. It’s getting a little less search traffic, but more from the reader, a comparable number from Twitter, and more from Facebook. The Monster’s always gotten more from Facebook. Both blogs are seeing a slight uptick in referrals from other blogs — we’re talking about maybe 25 or 30 per quarter each from a handful of blogs. But the handful is growing, and in January, those 25s and 30s were more like 10s and 15s. That’s a good sign — it’s an indicator that we’ve made the right call by prioritizing network depth and engagement over traffic.

Part Time Monster’s four most popular posts are the Princess Bride and Giving Tree reviews, one of Jeremy’s Tough Ladies posts, and the Evil Queen from A to Z. Aside from a post about sexual violence in television, PTM’s most popular posts list is otherwise dominated by Weekend Coffee Share linkups. Search engines and the linkup are driving Diana’s traffic, because all the most popular posts other than the coffee posts were written weeks or months ago.

What It All Means

First, Diana and I aren’t running a race against each other with these blogs. The very idea of that would just get a “WTF?” from us. We don’t compete, ever. Not even in half-serious ways just to draw a crowd.

We cooperate. We’re trying to help one another find readers and make friends, and we’re trying to get better at this. That’s what the sharing of these stats is about. So, here are a few thoughts on what we might learn from this latest phase of the PTM-Sourcerer blogging enterprise.

First, WordPress is more a social media network than a publishing platform. A post on a wordpress.com blog is basically a longer, prettier status update with outgoing links. This is important to note. Because one rule of social media networking that seems to be ironclad is if you aren’t interacting on a network consistently, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, you aren’t on that network.

Aside from the missed days and lack of photo features, the biggest reason Sourcerer suffered in June and July is because I’ve not been liking and commenting on other WordPress blogs for weeks, and I’m the one whose likes/comments point to this blog. In fact, I suspect my lack of engagement has hurt us more than the missed posts. Whatever else I do, long-term planning wise, I’ve got to prioritize engagement on WordPress to get the activity level back up here.

Second, Part Time Monster’s gearing up to be more successful than Sourcerer in the short term because Diana has advantages with her blog we don’t have here. We have advantages, too, but they’re different — the entire styles of these blogs and the way they’re run are different. They’re designed to compliment one another, assuredly and intentionally. But they are not cast from the same mold.

I don’t consider Part Time Monster to be a niche blog, but it has a more specific content focus than Sourcerer. PTM is about “books, girls, and monsters.” Our motto around here is “all pop culture, all the time,” with a little social media thrown in and as much smartassery as we think our readers will put up with. That’s a much broader focus, which means it’s more difficult to know what to expect from Sourcerer. This blog will surprise you on occasion, but aside from a Wednesday comics post and occasional Social Media Sundays, you just never know what you’re gonna get here — especially during periods where most of our contributors are wrapping up runs and either planning the next one or working on their own projects.

Another advantage the Monster has is the regular content tends to be more consistent. Because Sourcerer runs on contributions, and bloggers have to be able to come and go as they please, we tend to do short-ish runs and one-off posts: Movie reviews, tv series blogthroughs, things like that. Those are fun to write and do well when we have them, but they don’t provide much long-term stability or focus.

Then there’s the fact that Part Time Monster is set up as a personal blog that accepts contributions. Sourcerer, whatever it is, isn’t a personal blog. It’s set up for one purpose, and one purpose only: to publish contributed content as a way of encouraging a community to form around our blogs and help bloggers form lasting relationships. I provide as much as I can, but fundamentally, Sourcerer will live or die based on my ability to maintain a contributor base and keep other bloggers interested in publishing here. Not on my ability to produce five or six posts per week myself. If I ever reach the point that maintaining active contributors is untenable, I’ll shut it down, give all my content to PTM, CompGeeks, and a handful of friends, and point my WordPress account to the Monster to give Diana the benefit of my WordPress engagement.

Sourcerer’s advantage in all this is that we have more latitude to experiment here, the potential to attract a larger number of contributors, and the ability to generate impressive traffic spikes on occasion. But it sets us up for boom/bust cycles with content (and therefore with readers) until we attract a a few more bloggers to join the crew. There just aren’t quite enough of us here yet.

I’m nowhere near ready to call it a day at this point. We’re doing well. We’ll get through the year and have another awesome spring if things keep going the way they are. So no worries. Slow and steady wins the race.

What’s Next For Sourcerer?

I’ve already written one post that specifically outlines where I’d like to take this blog over the next year, and given the length of this one already, I’m not going to rehash it all here. But basically, we need a few regular things — things people can count on seeing at specific times of the week or month, and we need to do that in a way that allows room for contributors to join in when they feel like it.

I think moving the #WeekendCoffeeShare posts here will help. I’m also liking the Sci-Fi Saturdays. Those started as Star Wars Saturdays, but I think I like “Sci-Fi” better, because it allows us to write about more than one franchise on Saturdays. Other than that, I want to keep the interviews going and eventually do more than one a month, and I want to do more collabroative posting like Hannah’s and Melissa’s Age of Ultron review.

Aside from those things, I’ve got to bring the photos back, engage more with other bloggers on their blogs, and get back to Twitter. I’ve somewhat prioritized Facebook since last fall, and that’s paid off, but it’s come at the cost of WordPress and Twitter growth. I’ve done what I can on Facebook by spending large amounts of time there. I’m friends with enough bloggers now to be happy where I am, and I’m content with slow-and-steady progress driven by genuine interaction.

So, once we move into the fall, you’ll see less of me over there, but more of me in the blogosphere and on Twitter. Once I get back where I need to be with those two networks, my next big project — probably my big social media project for 2016, has to be cracking either Reddit or StumbleUpon. We’ve proven we can do engagement, and what we need at this point is big traffic. We’re getting all we can get by working for views in ones and twos. We need to figure out how to attract readers by the hundred through a single link, and one of those two networks is likely the shortest route to that.

This is quite enough for today. I hope at least a few of you find this helpful.