Jennifer Howard, a contributing editor of Washington Post Book World, has a piece in the Post‘s “Outlook” section in which she complains about the chumminess of the blogosphere, citing by name a number of arts blogs and bloggers, present company included:
Part of blogs’ usefulness as a cultural barometer is that they don’t automatically buy what the establishment says about Vida or Eggers or any other overhyped phenomenon, literary or otherwise. Bloggers know what they like and what they don’t like, and they aren’t afraid to tell you why. And they get to use bad words that will never see print inside a family newspaper. But to get to the good stuff, you have to wade through more and more self-congratulation and mutual admiration. Call it blogrolling….
Maybe the back-scratching started as revolutionary solidarity. Now it’s a popularity contest in which the value of information is confused with the cool quotient of the person spreading it. Late-night TV has Jay and Dave and Conan; the blogosphere has TMFTML and Old Hag and Choire, only unlike the gods of late night, the gods of the blogosphere really, really like each other–and say so every chance they get.
They’re not so nice to the less popular kids, often establishment-media types who get flogged out of all proportion to their op-ed offenses. The last few months, it’s been all the rage to paste Laura Miller, a critic with regular gigs for Salon.com and the New York Times. One of the kinder comments, this one from Cup of Chicha: “From the way she writes about contemporary short stories, it feels obvious she doesn’t read them.” Even if you’re not a fan of Miller’s, the attacks can get so nasty it starts to feel like bloggers pick on her not because they think she’s a lousy critic but because she gets to sound off every other week in the New York Times….
If the ad hominem tactics made for a better read, I might not mind so much. Sure, it can be fun in a sick sort of way, like watching a bar fight while you nurse a beer in the corner. But more and more it gets in the way of what makes blogs useful to someone like me, and that’s information. After making my daily e-rounds, I feel more plugged into what’s going on–and ever more burned out on cronyism and negativity. Even if you rely on blogs for idiosyncratic takes on the news, even if you enjoy seeing sacred cows slaughtered, even if you believe, as I do, that the world needs the kind of Zorro-like cultural commentary they’re so good at, you start to wonder: Is this getting a little too personal?
Maybe that’s the point. In the blogosphere, everybody gets to be a critic.
Read the whole thing here.
Actually, Our Girl and I don’t do a lot of ad hominem brawling, but we do like to plug what’s going on elsewhere in the blogosphere, mainly because it’s still a very new invention about which more and more people are learning every day. That’s why we mention TMFTML
and Cup of Chicha
and Old Hag
and all the other interesting blogs that we read regularly–because we think they’re worth knowing about. “Coolness” and cronyism have nothing to do with it. We don’t party down nightly. I’ve met one of the aforementioned bloggers, once. Two of them I don’t even know by name.
In any case, the great thing about the blogosphere is that it’s an unusually pure example of an information market. People read “About Last Night” because they want to read it. If they don’t, they won’t. The same is true of all the other blogs. The ease with which you can visit a blog is part of what makes the blogosphere so competitive–and it’s not a zero-sum game, either. Anyone can play. It’s cheap and easy to set up a blog. To be a “popular kid,” all you have to do is jump in and be consistently interesting, and you’ll get noticed and mentioned and blogrolled very, very quickly. It doesn’t matter who you know or where you are. (Look what happened to Cup of Chicha.)
As for Laura Miller, I think maybe Ms. Howard is engaging in a teeny bit of snarkery herself when she suggests that “bloggers pick on her not because they think she’s a lousy critic but because she gets to sound off every other week in the New York Times.” I don’t have an opinion about Laura Miller–I don’t read her stuff–but if I felt the need to criticize her, it wouldn’t be because I resented the fact that she’s an “establishment-media type.” After all, so am I. Nor do I blog to be hip or cool or to kick sand in the faces of the “less popular kids,” whatever that means. I do it because I think blogging is an exciting and potentially significant development in arts journalism, and I want to be part of it. I’m excited by the immediacy and freshness and personal quality of blogs. I also like the bad words and knife fights, even if we don’t do that kind of stuff around here. I don’t own a shiv, and Our Girl is too sweet. (I don’t even think she knows some of those words TMFTML uses.)
Above all, blogging is fun. And that’s one thing I don’t get from Jennifer Howard’s eat-your-spinach account of life in the blogosphere: a sense of how much fun we’re all having out here. “We” meaning TMFTML and Maud and Cup of Chicha and Old Hag and Bookslut and the thousands of nice people who visit us every day. It’s not a private party. There’s no secret handshake. All you have to do is click on a link. Or not. But we hope you do.