Intellectual jackassery

Jane McGonigal has devised a yet another way people can make jackasses of themselves. Like there aren’t enough ways already. Her method consists in visiting a local bookstore, locating the copies of Orwell’s 1984 and reshelving them into “Current Events”, “Politics”, etc. Yeah, yeah, she leaves a card mentioning the new location where the books used to be but I still think that’s jackassery.

It seems McGonigal’s goal is to make a political point: 1984 is not fiction; we’re living it, etc… I think that is her message. While absolutely equating the current US administration with Big Brother is an exaggeration, I agree with the general idea that the US government has become remarkably more oppressive towards non-citizens and citizens alike since Bush took power. By all means this opinion should be voiced. However, I do not support obnoxious methods of voicing that opinion.

There there is the matter of efficacy. I think this is a rather poor method for propagating a political opinion. Creative? Yes. Effective? No. Heck, I’m sure McGonigal’s blog has done much more to propagate her views than any reshelving has done. For the reshelving to have any effect, people would have happen to walk into a location where the reshelving was done. They’d have to be looking for 1984 or stumble upon the reshelving notice or reshelved copies by happenstance. They’d have to understand the message. That is, they’d have to know what 1984 is all about and how the reshelving is making a statement regarding the current administration. They’d have to not have previously thought about 1984 in relation to the current political climate (otherwise, McGonigal’s message is redundant). All in all, I think the effect is minimal. In fact, attempts to maximize the effect would in all likelihood maximize the jackassedness of the method for it would most likely involve more reshelving.

People reading this blog entry may be wondering why I’m annoyed by McGonigal’s reshelving operation. As a scholar-in-training in the field of Religious Studies (Buddhism and Hinduism, mainly), I need to be able to find books easily and quickly. Reshelving qua “political message” is an impediment towards this goal. Anybody who’s been in a doctoral program knows that the last thing a Ph.D. candidate needs is more impediments.

And proving that jackassery is not the province of any specific ethnic group Tristan Mendès-France adopted the idea.

The whole thing via La Feuille.

Edited 2006/03/04: Corrected “Tristan Mendès” to “Tristan Mendès-France”.

5 thoughts on “Intellectual jackassery

  1. Tristan MF

    First of all, sorry for my english. 🙂 My full name is actually "Tristan Mendes-France" (I know its strange, but "France" is part of my name). I understand your position. I just wanted to be specific about my initiative. My idea is strictly potilical and is related to french election planned next year. I am in contact with some libraries in France, and wrote on my post that if a libririan was to be unhappy with this I would stop (I dont want to bother them).
    To be honnest I dought it will be a problem. We would have to me thousands in France to become problematic.
    The idea, as usual in a political activism, is to be symbolically present in the french political debate. Nothing more. 🙂
    I dont know how the NYer experience went.
    Sorry you didnt appreciate this social/net experience, that I find very interesting. As for us frogs ;), our net/blog activities are far behind the anglo-americans ones… So please, dont be to harsch with us. 😉

  2. Louis-Dominique

    Nous pouvons continuer cette discussion en français. Tant pis pour ceux qui ne le lisent pas. Ils peuvent toujours utiliser les fonctions de traduction de Google.

    Je suis profondément désolé d’avoir confondu votre nom. J’ai édité le billet pour corriger mon erreur.

    C’est très bien de collaborer avec les libraires et de respecter leurs souhaits. Sur ce point, bravo! Cependant, les gens qui visitent la librairie, eux, ne peuvent pas a priori donner leur opinion. C’est principalement du point de vue d’un visiteur que je m’insurge contre l’idée de déplacer les livres d’un rayon à l’autre. Si ma visite est motivée par la plaisance, avoir à me balader d’un bout à l’autre de la librairie parce qu’un finfin a décidé de déplacer ce que je cherche n’est pas particulièrement plaisant. (Les librairies américaines sont devenues très grandes durant les années 90.) Si ma visite est motivée par le travail (et c’est souvent mon cas), alors c’est encore pire parce que je veux rapidement trouver ce que je cherche pour pouvoir entamer ma lecture au plus vite afin de produire ce rapport, cet article, ce chapitre de thèse avant l’échéance qui s’en vient et me pèse sur la tête.

    Si le but de déplacer les livres est de faire réfléchir les gens et peut-être de changer les opinions, alors pourquoi ne pas simplement discuter face à face, de personne à personne? Si le but est simplement de faire entendre son opinion, alors pourquoi ne pas utiliser une méthode moins agaçante? Par exemple, je n’aurais aucune objection contre le simple fait d’insérer une carte ou un billet dans le livre visé qui dirait “ce livre sera bientôt disponible dans le rayon ‘France médiévale'” ou bien “ce livre est récipiendaire du prix Faillot-Wolferson, catégorie ‘France médiévale'”, mais sans déplacer le livre. Il me semble que ça serait assez pour transmettre le message sans agacer.

    Je me dois aussi de préciser que ma remarque vers la fin de mon billet sur le fait que l’emmerdement n’est l’apanage d’aucun groupe ethnique est simplement une façon de souligner ma philosophie anti-ethnocentrique. Certains américains se croient meilleurs du fait de leur ethnie. De même, certains français se croient meilleurs du fait de leur ethnie. Tout cela me répugne au plus haut point. Le fait que cette idée de déplacer les livres ait traversé les frontières ethniques est à mon avis un exemple que les mauvaises idée (de même que les bonnes) n’appartiennent à aucun groupe.

  3. Tristan MF

    Merci pour le français, c’est plus simple pour moi . Aucun problème pour mon nom, ça m’arrive assez souvent. Je note avec intérêt votre idée de déposer des petits mots dans les ouvrages. 🙂 Enfin j’avais bien compris votre passage "éthnique", sans y voir de malice. 🙂

  4. Jane McG

    Actually, the point was to explore the power of folksonomy in real world spaces. Social bookmarks– only real. Classification of books into categories is actually a bit of a political issue, you know. For instance, have you seen this AP story? Conservatives in the U.S. have required libraries to move a children’s fiction book to the nonfiction section because of perceived homosexual undertones to two male penguins’ friendships. Anyway, I’m glad to have the opportunity to explain the "point" of the project a little better. Also, you may want to read my later blog post on it to get a fuller picture.… Anyway, finally, I don’t really think of people who participate in play and games I design as jackasses, and I really really don’t think this particular project asked them to make jackasses out of themselves. It was actually a pretty thoughtful endeavor, maybe moreso than you have given it credit for.

  5. Tristan MF

    Jane, I tried to email you a few month ago, to tell you how much I loved your experience and all the things you do. I wanted to get in touch with you simply to inform you that i started in Paris something, inspired by you. 🙂 Hope to find a way to you one day, my email tristanemail(at)


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