(The LGM powers-that-be asked me to adapt something that I wrote on Facebook about Scott.)
I only knew Scott via social media and email, and not terribly well. Like everyone else here, I admired his wit and humor; I looked forward to everything that he wrote. But his writings on visual rhetoric were particularly important to me. I assigned them to students in my ‘science fiction and politics class.’
After I found out how sick he was, the first thing that I did was to donate to his medical fund (which is still in need of support). The second thing that I did, however, involved downloading a large chunk of his visual rhetoric posts. I’m a bit embarrassed about this. It feels mercenary. But I wanted to make sure I could still assign them if his sites went dark.
They really are that good. Not only did I learn an enormous amount from them, but I’ve found them extremely useful for getting college students to think more analyticaly about comics, television, and film.
In my view, there’s an important lesson here. An untimely death wasn’t the only thing that robbed an emerging area of study of someone who should have been—in the homo academicus sense—a leader in his scholarly field.
Scott never accumulated traditional academic capital. He never published a major university press book. He was one of a veritable army of brilliant PhDs diverted into the contingent-labor pool. Indeed, Scott’s career was one marked by consistent job insecurity. As readers here know, he eventually shifted into writing for places like Salon and Raw Story. In fact, Scott was unusual when compared to many other PhDs exploited by the low wages and benefits of the academic contingent-labor ‘market’: his scholarly writings and ideas—mostly in the form of blog posts—reached a wide audience. They influenced non-academics and academics alike.
But I can’t help think that Scott got a raw deal—in his lack of stable and quality health insurance, at the very least. In turn, scholarship lost out. Scott had the particular flair, and skillset, to leave his mark as a public intellectual. But he deserved to be both that public intellectual and the producer of respected academic books and articles. He certainly deserved the tenured position to match.
But the professoriate, our cost-cutting administrators—at least when it comes to things other than shiny dorms and athletic facilities—and our state legislators all let Scott down. And, by extension, the archive of scholarly knowledge.
Scott was, as I noted above, unusually gifted at public communication. He also came along during a brief moment when the blogosphere was a great, intellectually vibrant leveler for those who not only had access to it, but also the time to invest in it.
It may seem odd to say this in the aftermath of Scott’s painful and premature death: most academics shunted into the contingent labor stream are not as lucky as Scott was. Part of honoring Scott’s memory is ensuring that his ideas and insights remain in circulation. But another part, I contend, is to set our sights on changing the system that failed him… and fails so many others.