I’m entering a crisis. I’ve been blogging for over 6 years on this WordPress site and I’ve been struck by the growing realisation I’m doing this social media academic engagement thing all wrong.
Let me be specific. I realise it’s futile to write on blog-posts about places I visit including public art and memorials, funerary landscapes, mortuary architectures and material cultures, supplying lots of photographs and contextual information. I’m also dithering and time-wasting by presenting image-rich posts of my explorations of churches, churchyards, cemeteries, crematoria, museums and heritage sites from my particular archaeological perspective and making links to academic literature and current academic debates where appropriate. I’m wearying everyone with my attempts at witty takes and incisive critique of death in popular culture and the media. I’m boring people with updates of my latest research projects, publications, public talks and other activities linking death and society. I’m really just exhausting readers with my discussions of my academic teaching initiatives and field trips involving death and the dead, past and present. None of this is what social media public wants from today’s public-facing academic mortuary archaeologist, so I need to stop. Nobody cares, nobody is learning, no one is interested!
So what do people want from me instead? Perhaps nothing, and maybe that’s just as well.
But if I do continue, I guess people really need me to articulate more outrage at injustices disconnected from my actual expertise and knowledge-base. A campaign to right a wrong in the heritage industry or in academic behaviours right here and right now. I could undermine conference organisers in their hard work, or perhaps just insult people and spout random expletives on social media. Maybe I should just repeatedly ridicule ex-colleagues and ex-partners. I should articulate thinly veiled denouncements of entire groups of researchers for being complicit in global crimes and collective bigotry. Psuedoarchaeologists are all evil forgers, so I should denounce every single one of them, personally and they should be grateful. Journalists are always wrong. I should be exposing some evil no one else has identified with a universal solution no more complicated than we must ‘all try harder’, and as long as these people aren’t me. Or maybe I just need to post insane numbers of photographs of my entire life including images of every single memorial I visit. All I need are sycophantic followers with common enemies to wage war with across the digital wastelands.
That’s what everyone wants from today’s mortuary-minded academics, right? No? Ok! In 2019 that’s not enough? Everyone’s doing that Howard, you say?! That’s not specific enough!? What of outrage and unlimited exposure regarding the archaeology of death and memory specifically? Ok, there must be more I can do! Let me think…
I suspect people don’t just want information and ideas about deathscapes past and present, they want more real death and discovery. They want me to get out there and dig up some stiffs, no matter how fresh! They want death-porn, death-horrors, death-shockers. I’ve got to break down those taboos! That’s what the big-hitters on social media do right? So perhaps I should do the same? Photos of the dead before I dig them, as I dig them and after I dig them. I should add cartoons and animation to the photos without restraint. I should post series of photos with text outlining the tragic demise of those whose names are written on gravestones without any consideration as to whether this is intrusive or problematic. I guess they want me posting historic photographs of naked corpses under a surgeon’s knife. Perhaps they crave death masks and heads in jars with noses eaten away by disease. What about de-contextualised images of half-rotten soldiers’ corpses from the Western Front? War crime footage. Those medieval crypts with lines of skulls just staring out at the viewer for no good reason other than it looks a bit Gothic. Photographs of flesh-eating diseased living naked bodies being eaten alive. Soon-to-be-dead victims of war crimes with rifles pointed at their faces or terrified children being pushed towards open-air pyres at concentration camps. Inmates of mental asylums looking traumatised as they struggle towards an early grave. Close-up photographs of Peruvian mummies and Egyptian pharaohs that look like they are still screaming many centuries after their deaths. Photographs of skulls with huge bony growths and sharp-force trauma. Intestinal parasites. DNA results proving archaeologists ‘got it wrong’ all along. Maps with garish colours showing distributions of tombs. Sunset images of prehistoric monuments. Vampire graves. Zombie graves. Witch graves. Voodoo charms. Magic and sorcery. Graves of those buried alive. Skeletonised infants that look like aliens. Skeletonised aliens that look like infants. Skull deformation. Trepanation. Rib-cages crushed by restrictive clothing worn over a lifetime. Bound feet. Volcano victims crushed by fallen masonry. And of course, prosthetic limbs! Lots of prosthetics. And lots of links between death and sex. Sexually transmitted diseases, sex organs, artefacts showing sex. Death from sex and death during sex, and prosthetic sex in the past! The archaeology can fit around the sex.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: that’s all still blasé for 2019 Professor Williams, you must do better or the public won’t like it! Freakshow images of memorials with humorous and tragic circumstances of death as well as photos of skeletons and corpses are all’sexy’, but so 2018, especially those with brief textual explanations as decoys to try and conceal the gratuitous voyeurism and ghoulism taste for dead bodies and bones. Sure, these will get you so far if shared across multiple social media platforms as clickbait, but for 2019 that is simply not enough!
What else can I do? Oh yes, all the above is too ‘subject orientated’. It lacks ME! The world of social media wants to see me doing the exploring, doing the detecting, doing the analysis, but most of all they want me to pose with my material subjects! And no, they don’t care about my occasional happy grinning shots of me at ruined churches or photos of me perched on the odd megalithic tomb. They want to see me holding human and animal bones. They want me draping my body over monuments, implying some kind of necrophilic sex-act might be just about to happen. They want me looking sad to my very soul as I look at the memorials of young babies. They want me grinning evilly as if I was responsible for a crime while holding a jar containing a body-part. They want my greasy paws interacting with bones and skulls especially. They want me dressed up in black and vaguely misanthropic, or else in a face-mask, gloves and a lab coat.
Will that be enough do you think? Will that make me win the mortuary Internet? I’m still not sure… Maybe I should start by breaking taboos that no one even knows are taboos? I could drink from human skulls (or plastic versions thereof). I could pretend to talk with the dead? Should I just give the impression I actually believe various non-Western religious and cultural attitudes and beliefs towards death, the dead and dying, feigning respect but actually disrespecting and mocking them in my myopic bid for social media attention? I could pretend I’m a cannibal…. or a psychic… communing with the ancestors…
From there? YouTube channels, chat-shows, podcasts, popular novels with blood dripping off the letters on the cover. I could set up my own museum of relics of dead serial killers and ghastly torture devices. Maybe I’ll get my own TV show with a budget to plunder tombs in some war zone. A Broadway musical! Maybe I could then film my own funeral, just for laughs. I could decapitate and boil my own head on live TV and donate it to the Pitt Rivers for clicks.
Or perhaps (to paraphrase Galadriel), I will pass the test. I will diminish. and go into the West. In so doing, I could (to paraphrase Brass Eye) retain some self-re-cocking-spect as an academic.