Blogging Archaeology January – Most Popular Post (sort of).

Shhhhh! You'll get us chucked out.
Shhhhh! You'll get us chucked out.

Blogging Archaeology is an archaeological blogging carnival organised by the ruggedly named archaeologist, Doug Rocks-Macqueen. Each month a new subject is set for the participants to blog about, in the hope that momentum can be sustained until the 79th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeologists in Austin, Texas, after which we can stop.

The subject set for this month (actually last month), is an inquiry into the nature of the blogger’s favourite post. Or best post. Or most popular, talked about, longest, densest, lightest, divisive, widest, most or least Tweeted and Facebooked post.

Fortunately I can apply the vast majority of these categories to the one post. This isn’t to say I’ve only had one moment of blogging success. . . This isn’t. . . I’ve only had one moment of blogging succes. It wasn’t my best post, or even my favourite post – it wasn’t really about archaeology at all, and I’m not altogether proud of it. However an awful lot of people read it, an awful lot of people liked it, and an awful lot of people, on the strength of this one post, realised I was an idiot.

I don’t mind people realising that I’m an idiot – in fact the sense of discovery, the obvious realisation that they honestly believe that they were the first to have noticed, always brings a modicum of cheer. Who’s the idiot now? I ask myself while I sit here, alone, smiling in the pale wash of the monitor as it broadcasts my shortcomings to the globe.

Right. Well 12 minutes have passed since I asked that question, during which the smile generated by a hollow victory, a victory gained by publicly displaying my idiocy and having it widely recognised and confirmed, has slowly transformed into a frown aimed at a sheet of paper pinned to a corkboard, listing 9 things I failed to do today.

We’re not off to a flying start, are we? Amongst other things, this is supposed to be the January post, and January ended a little over a week ago. So for the sake of what esteem I have left, for the sake of having produced something instead of nothing, for the sake of creating the illusion of  having flown in the face of the relentless, unavoidable march of the heat death of the Universe, I’d better finish this.

The blog post in question was a review of the film Prometheus. I don’t normally write film reviews, however the reason that I thought I would get away with it this time was that two of the characters in the film were archaeologists. I had been looking forward to it for a while, and had been cruelly disappointed for a number of reasons. Some films were made to challenge your perception of the societal status quo (Terry Gilliam’s  Brazil for instance), others to provide poignancy and entertainment (Withnail and I), and others still to question the very nature of our species (whichever version of Bladerunner that wasn’t bloody awful). In short, they make you think or feel things that you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have felt or thought.

Prometheus had the opposite effect – I could feel ideas and feelings being drawn out of me, tumbling and fluttering to the cinema carpet, to be snared in the syrupy stickiness of ten-thousand spilled drinks, to disintegrate amongst the atolls of discarded popcorn which had formed around my firmly set feet, to be absorbed like flies trapped in a sun-dew plant which had somehow found itself included in a poorly thought out metaphor about an even more poorly thought out film.

I am a naturally a nocturnal creature, and it is in the obscurity of the night that I often do my best some work. But traversing the small hours with only Thomas the cat for company (a largely comatose, flatulent feline who, for all his input, may as well be a cushion to which the designers had, for some unfathomable reason, decided to attach a fully functioning bum-hole), can be an isolated business. In more animated company I would probably have gone over the most irksome points of the film and retired in search of rest. In lieu of this release, and taunted by visions of sleek space craft, gigantic bleached skinned progenitors, and scientists whose sense of curiosity had got off the bus seven stops before they did, I instead embarked on a fevered writing session, rattling at the keys until my tormentors had been expunged.

That was on Saturday night. Over the course of Sunday I thought, at best, it may draw the attention of a few dozen people in search of Prometheus related articles. People who, against the odds, had yet had their fill of crushing disappointment. I checked the stats at around eight in the evening, and, to my surprise, found that around 23 people had looked at it. Good enough I thought. When I checked again at around eleven, I was surprised to see that over 4,000 people had viewed it. By midnight, when the counter reset, it had been viewed 10,377 times. It transpired that I had been Boing-Boinged by the digital rights activist and prolific author, Cory Doctorow.

I had pointed him in the  direction of the post earlier in the day, and had at best been hoping for a Tweet. Instead he had generously blogged about the it at the wildly popular website he runs with a select group of fellow geeks. By the close of the following day a number of other prominent websites had picked up on it and when midnight struck again a further 26,074 people had read the review. 10,133 looked at it on Tuesday, 5,682 on the Wednesday, and so the numbers dwindled day by day. But even on the most dwindliest days of that week, the review was still drawing more views than any other post I’d written. By the end of June, when the buzz of the film had been largely spent, a total of 79,387 people had read it. Or at least looked at it by accident.

The comments, which now number in their hundreds, were a mixed bag of praise and remonstration. A not uncommon theme was that as I was an archaeologist, and not a film-maker, I had no right to criticise the fruits of a metier of which I had no experience. I have some sympathies with this perspective, but also harbour the sneaking suspicion that if push came to shove, the same critics would not accept a rough sack with a couple of holes cut out of the bottom on the understanding that as they had no experience of making underpants, they therefore had no right to express anything but praise for what they’d been unexpectedly handed. And anyway, fuck them.

One of the comments that made the experience completely worthwhile, was the following:

Thank you so much for this marvellous writing. My wife and I were laughing so hard, we woke our kids whilst reading it last evening. We had so looked forward to this film. We arranged a sitter months in advance, purchased advanced tickets for opening night, and were ready for something really amazing. This review is an absolute bullseye. Most acting was decent (Fassbender better than that). Cinematography and effects, not bad. Plot: worse than an amateur’s first draft. Character development: absent. Thought-provoking big idea about our origins: absent. “We are the creators of our own ultimate doom” may have been fresh and new in the early 1950s, but it’s pretty tired now. Also, after being bludgeoned throughout the movie by myriad inanities, the “exclamation point” at the very end was about as predictable, unnecessary, and pointless as a Jeremy Clarkson essay critical of bicycles.
However, all that said, we could not have attained the cathartic joy we did in reading this piece had we not seen this modern day Shark Sandwich.
Cheers, and thank you!

It wasn’t the praise that I enjoyed – it was the thought that a twist of Newton’s Third Law had generated a situation where-by my expression of disappointment had caused an equal and opposite reaction of cheer.

On the back of this success I tried another review, this time about the Bond film Skyfall, and although there are a few good bits, my heart wasn’t completely in it, and it only pulled in a paltry 6,000 or so visitors. Some of them really hated that review:

You need a new hobby, because “reviewing” movies just isn’t for you. Between this and your Prometheus ‘takedown’, I’m wondering if you’ve ever seen a movie that you didn’t completely misread and misunderstand. Seriously. Find something better to do with your time, because that’s what I’ll be doing while I never return to your stupid excuse for a website.

The most important lesson it taught me was that a deliberate attempt to capture lighting in a bottle is an almost impossible trick to pull off, and can also lead to unintended consequences. Due to my laissez-faire attitude to labelling, I later unscrewed the top of the bottle whilst making some salad dressing, and the resulting blast ruined an otherwise perfectly good haircut.

The only other post that competes with Prometheus in terms of sheer visitor numbers is Dances with Sea Monkeys: The Highly Unlikely Life and Times of Harold Von Braunhut. Possibly the most satisfying fact about this piece is that more people arrive at Digital Digging via the search term ‘Sea Monkeys’ than any other route. And like all the best facts, there is pretty much bugger all you can do with it.

Post Script.

Prometheus: An Archaeological Perspective (sort of) still attracts around 10 visitors a day, over a year and a half after it was published. And like the above fact about Sea Monkeys, there is also pretty much bugger all you can do with it.

Image Credits:

Queen Alien courtesy of Ewan and Donabel.

Boston Library interior courtesy of Hannah Swithinbank.

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1 Response

  1. What I find fascinating is that you were deeply disappointed by exactly the same two movies that most deeply disappointed me in the same time period. Maybe I’m a repressed archaeologist at heart.

    You SHOULD be altogether proud of your Prometheus post, because it was fucking awesome, both as humour and as acute critical analysis (and you don’t often get to see those two combined). Don’t know about the Skyfall post (I’m going there now), but the fact you got a couple of sore reflex-fans barking at you shouldn’t put you off your stride at all.

    More power to you.

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