July 8th, 2015
5 years, 400 posts, exactly what I had in mind. Now it’s time to move on.
THE BENSHI: In film school they taught us about the man who stood beside the screen in early Japanese silent movies and explained the movie to the audience. He was called, “the benshi.” Hopefully I’ve explained a few things about film to science and environmental folks over the past 5 years. My sincere thanks to the editors over the years: Ryan Mitchell, Josh Forgy, Steph Yin and Jackie Yeary.
THE BENSHI: MORE OF A JOURNAL THAN A BLOG
On January 4, 2010, with the help of my long time assistant and buddy Ryan Mitchell, I opened up The Benshi with a first post. I called it more of an “online journal” than a blog since it has no place for comments and hasn’t sought to be all that interactive with other people on the internet. It was a decision that I knew would result in limited readership, which has been just fine — I’m more of a filmmaker and book writer than blogger — it’s hard to do well with both.
Over the previous 8 years I ran two blogs. The first was really fun and rewarding. It was part of my Shifting Baselines Ocean Media project and was one of only about three ocean blogs total that we knew of for the entire internet (Oceana and Surfrider being the other two). It was 2003, the entire idea of a blog was an alien concept to most, and we were breaking new ground. That blog was fun — everyone who commented was into the spirit of it, everything was positive and good natured, everything was friendly.
Much less fun was what followed. In 2005 I ended that first blog just as Seed Magazine was creating Science Blogs, their conglomeration of 100 science-related blogs. My good friend Jennifer Jacquet and I co-founded a blog, Shifting Baselines, that became one of the Science Blogs group, but by 2008 I was so put off by the entire crowd of science bloggers and commenters I decided I wanted nothing to do with the entire mess of blogging.
I still feel nauseous when I think of the worst of the Science Blogs crowd — a pack of malcontents venting their spleens in public. I said my piece about them in my first book. I did an entire career in science and never encountered such an unhappy, miserable cacophony of self-hating wretches.
By the end of 2009 the hate-filled dynamic of blogging was sort of at its peak — not just in Science Blogs but with the largest general blogs as well. That fall I read a great short article in Esquire by a writer who said he spent an entire year preparing to open his first blog, finally made his first post, then waited for his first comment to appear. Within an hour it showed up. Someone wrote, “You’re a fag.”
THE NO COMMENTS DECISION
That captured it all for me. I chose to not have comments on the Benshi. My buddy Andy Revkin (who has managed to keep a more tolerant “take the bad with the good” attitude with his blog Dot Earth — yet only a couple weeks ago was once again attacked by two fellow bloggers — sheesh) and I traded a number of emails about my decision. But now, nearly 5 years later, I’m 100% thankful I went that direction.
The Benshi turned out to be exactly what I had wanted — a place to stockpile essays that are easily accessed through the Table of Contents and numbers. I’m constantly using them as a resource to answer inquiries and questions, and more importantly, it ended up being one of my work resources during the development of my second and third books.
In fact, I just looked at the initial statement of “Concept,” which I probably haven’t read since the start (it’s posted below). Lo and behold, the mission plan for my past 5 years was to dig deeper into storytelling in relation to science. Guess what the subtitle of the new book is — “Why Science Needs Story.” Looks like it worked.
MY CONCEPT STATEMENT FOR THE BENSHI SINCE THE START, JANUARY, 2010: