Smile Politely

Finding his niche

What sort of blog would you expect a group of young, over-educated, under-employed urbanites to produce? If you guessed a hyper-literate NBA site with a name riffing on the title of an obscure book of philosophy by Theodor Adorno (and a masthead featuring a ‘shopped photo of Adorno wearing Rajon Rondo’s headband [right]), you couldn’t be more correct.

If just reading that last sentence exhausted you, fear not: the content on Negative Dunkalectics is engaging while still proudly employing “subculture pop-culture jokes that aim for a certain Venn diagram intersection,” according to site founder and curator Kelly Innes (a former SP contributor).

Speaking to me from his newly-adopted home of Pittsburgh on Super Bowl Sunday, Innes explained that several months of “funemployment” since being laid off last fall from his adjunct teaching position at the U of I left him with plenty of time on his hands.

“You’re rewarded in time with what you’re not paid in cash, which I guess would be the trade-off, wouldn’t it, when one is employed?” he noted.

While he enjoyed catching up on his reading (he recently finished Comets by Carl Sagan, among several other titles) in between firing off resumes, Innes decided that the world needed “a basketball blog that would make jokes about lit theory.” And, together with similarly-minded friends from an NBA forum that he reads, Negative Dunkalectics was born a couple of months ago. 

“The contributors have taken the time to write really good stuff,” Innes reports. One of the offbeat entries was entitled, “Which mumblecore movie is your NBA team? It’s for a micro-targeted audience — which may be just me and ten other people in the world.” Innes also recently produced the concisely-titled “How Tree Records Post Marked Stamps Singles Explain The Rookie-Sophomore Game Starters!” which was itself a takeoff on a similar site called FreeDarko’s comparison between NBA players and songs from Joy Division’s Transmission.

Innes has also been schooling himself on the vagaries of search engine optimization, and is proud to report that Negative Dunkalectics is a first-page google result for such common searches as “mumblecore nba” and “earl motherfucking boykins.”

Innes pointed out that “if any Champaign-Urbana businesses would like to advertise with the site that has the seventh-highest hit for ‘Earl MFing Boykins,’ they should email me.”

Since our conversation took place on the eve of the announcement that AOL had purchased the Huffington Post, it was only natural that talk would turn to the difficult task of paying the bills by writing online. “It seems like the Examiner and that other company, Demand Media, are explicitly about churning out articles that are well-written for search engine purposes,” Innes stated. “And [they] are basically useless as far as any human being reading them and getting worthwhile information out of them, or even enjoyment. Something about that kind of writing just doesn’t appeal to me. It’s not about providing good content.”

On the other hand, he added, “From a reader’s perspective, it’s really easy to find really great, and — maybe sadly — free content right now.” Innes holds out hope that “the fact that that sort of writing is perpetually in crisis will lead to some sort of business model where people actually can earn money for the work that they do.” 

In the meantime, Negative Dunkalectics will proceed with their tongue-in-cheek business model. “When we move to that point of explaining niche sports with niche subculture,” Innes continued, “we’re going to find the eight people that that speaks to, and we’re going to monetize them. It’s possibly a left-leaning demographic with disposable income who could be buying products or donating to political campaigns if nudged properly to do it. In that way I feel like we’re riding the crest of a wave that you can’t even see yet. And when it does crest, it’s going to be a micro-targeted tsunami.”

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