I spend too much time thinking about chairs. They’re very artistic in their own way, aren’t they? In fact, I find them to have enough merit that I had to cite a chair in an article once. That’s ridiculous, I know, but the physicality of the Iron Throne was essential to my argument.
Okay, so I’ve never actually seen the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones in person or needed to cite a chair (shocking, I know), but now I can (with confidence) because of the updated MLA style guide. Because of the strict rules in previous guides, citing some obscure form would have been nothing more than a guess. Definitions limit flexibility, and in this delightfully fast-paced, increasingly digital world, flexibility is necessary.
For example: In 2006, Twitter was created by four guys. In just six years, the website had grown to the point where there were 340 million tweets posted per day. Information was being spread rapidly, and news was breaking first on Twitter. Momentous events like the Arab Spring or the raid in Pakistan that ended in Osama bin Laden’s death were reported by the people who were witnesses. These are events that scholars would and should want to write about.
Yet, in MLA style, they could not – at least not necessarily correctly. It was not until 2012 that the Modern Language Association released the official format for citing a tweet, and by that point so much information, about a billion tweets every three days, had passed through Twitter that finding and fixing any incorrect citations could have been impossible.
So flexibility is necessary. Scholars should not have to wait to write about art or information merely because it is in a new format. We should be able to write immediately and not be forced to wait six years for the judges to get around to it. MLA 8 seems to be putting the control in the hands of the author rather than the establishment.
I’ve read some backlash against the 8th edition that says it doesn’t trust its readers. I reject that, telling people that defining things by what they are not provides only a partial picture. I say the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook trusts the author to make the right decision about format, which is what academics is all about: creating independent authors who can exercise their own best judgment.