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National Post tries new strategy: banning advertising

Okay, not really. At least, not in their own paper. But they think it would be a good idea for bloggers, to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Saturday's National Post featured an article on those wretched blogs kept by every middle-class woman who has successfully passed on her genes: Mommy blogging is becoming more popular and marketers are looking to cash in.

Apparently, some of these blogs feature advertising! Did you know that advertising taints journalistic credibility? Never mind that their are no fewer than five ads on the National Post webpage featuring this scandalised article (no doubt there are at least that many in the print version too, but I'm not paying to find out). What shocks me more than the blatant hypocrisy is the idea that this is news. Anyone who has worked for five minutes in PR knows that the best way to ensure coverage of an event is to take out an ad. It won't guarantee you a good review, but it certainly ups your chances of being reviewed at all. Most respectable media pretend that isn't the case, but smaller community magazines will often say it outright: we can't afford to send a reporter unless you buy an ad. Similarly, anyone who has ever worked on the other side knows that free samples are one of the perks of the job. Sure, they're sent for "review purposes" as opposed to "personal use," but that's not where they end up. Swag is swag, and people - especially the lower-tier (i.e. lower-payed) writers are happy to get it. The higher-tier writers are even happier, as they get sent better goods.

Of course, the real issue here is why people read mommy bloggers at all. Sentences like this are the reason I never write about my kid here:

"Sometimes you don't know what turf you are in," [Canadian parenting expert Ann Douglas] said in an interview. "You could be reading someone's soulful portrayal of what it's like to have a kid who's colicky, but then right beside it, there's an ad for something ? And it's the embedded things that are the most dangerous."

Soulful? Soulful? Gah. A "soulful portrayal" of just about anything would make me want to puke. But a "soulful portrayal" of a screaming baby? Ecch.

If you actually do want to read about parenting, there is no need to subject yourself to bored navelgazers, when there are actual real writers out there who do a good job of covering the subject. I will confess to indulging in Dadsmacker and Neal Pollack regularly. Why? Because they make fun of people who consider colic "soulful." As well they should.

updated 17 may 2007. permalink

Growing up is hard to do.

So there was an article in the New York Times last week about "legacy" rap acts, and how they don't generate the same amount of cashflow as the dinosaurs of rock, the implication being that the cause is an undercurrent of racism.

They're missing the point, of course.

The article compared the pioneers of rap - including some obscure heros and some one-hit wonders - with the neverending record sales of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd.

Which, of course, is apples and oranges. The people who grew up with hiphop - my generation - aren't loaded with disposable cash and obsessed with their distant youth the way the baby boomer fans of dino-rock are. Most people I know, while they might drop $30 on some retro fun in a small club, don't have the interest or income to spend on overblown stadium nostalgia tours. We'd rather see something new - we listen to new music rather than constantly going on about how great the good old days were. We're more likely to be found side-by-side with 20-year-olds at the clubs.

Some see this fading of the pop music generation gap as a refusal to grow up, but that's not the case at all. We have jobs, mortgages (even if part of the appeal of owning instead of renting is, as a drummer I know put it, "I can make as much noise as I want, and no one can evict me"), kids, blah blah blah. Not true at all. Really, if any generation refused to grow up, it's the boomers who continue to shell out hundreds of dollars to worship at the altar of Mick and Keef (the most frighteningly wrinkled Peter Pans in all of history), not to mention the ginormous plastic surgery/anti-aging industry, not to mention the constant ridiculous proclamations along "60 is the new 20" lines.

The continuing interest of good ol' Generation X in contemporary culture is not an insistence on staying the same. It doesn't even make sense to me that it would be portrayed as such - okay, people who keep moving forward are "refusing to grow up," and people who keep doing the same things they did as teenagers are the mature ones? Makes no sense whatsoever.

Sure, we occasionally indulge in the silly nostalgia of "I Love the Eighties," but we recognize the past's main appeal is kitsch factor. We don't revere it and pretend that everything back then was better than it is now. It wasn't, that's obvious. Every era has its good and bad points, why not appreciate what's happening now instead of just wallowing in the past?

And a large part of our insistence on wearing jeans and listening to new music and refusing to be embarrassed about it is a direct consequence of growing up. When I was twenty, I was very concerned about what other people thought about my taste in clothes and music. Now, at 35, not so much. Maybe I should, according to the powers that be, be embarrassed about wearing my hair in ponytails and listening to music that some would consider pretentious or dorky, but I finally figured out that life's too short to care. I'm just glad that I figured that out in my thirties instead of waiting until my sixties.

I think a lot of the whining about Generation X is pure jealousy. My father hated the ties he was forced to wear to work every day. He believed that work was something you did for the money, not because you enjoyed it, and spent his life commuting, being miserable, and waiting for retirement so he wouldn't have to do the daily grind anymore. Surprise surprise, most people my age grew up watching our parents live their lives that way, and oddly enough, chose to do the opposite. We don't want to hate our day-to-day lives like the boomers did, we don't want to abandon the idealism of our youth to cynicism and greed, and we don't want our ideals to exist solely in our memories, to be ignored for the most part, indulged in once in a while on nostalgia tours.

Just because we didn't turn into our parents doesn't mean we haven't grown up. And I guess that's what bugs boomers most of all - the fact that they never found a way to grow up without becoming what they despised when they were younger. Can't begrudge them their envy, I guess.

updated 11 january 2007. permalink

Oh, fragile ego of the artist! Delicate flower which must be protected at all costs!

In the last 24 or so hours, I have just come across two articles by whiny writers complaining about bloggers. And even better, a blog post by a writer complaining about discussion forum posts. Ugh, ugh.

First rule of any artistic pursuit (writing, acting, whatever): don't try to respond to your critics. Whether or not your complaints are justified makes no difference; you will always come off as a petulant whinger.

Believe you me, no one is buying the fake magnanimity, or the pretense to objectivity, or the idea that Hal Niedzvecki, after complaining about the unfairness/unkindess for x number of column inches, is just happy to be noticed. Pleas to bloggers to "remind themselves that the person they're writing about is not only real, but perfectly capable of typing his name into a search engine" at the end of an article full of snide comments about said bloggers are hopelessly disingenuous. I mean, could it be that those bloggers are real people too? Nah, probably not. They're probably all just bots set up to recreate the hundred monkeys experiment, except before reaching the Hamlet goal, they've accidentally started slagging off little known writers.

The only interesting thing about this Niedzvecki's article is that it's a change of editorial pace for the Globe & Mail - instead of handing out assignments based on what was in the Sunday New York Times ("re-write this as Canadian, please"), they've started dredging the archives of Salon. Maybe a change isn't as good as a rest.

Worse is Steve Almond's bogus I-understand-and-forgive-you-for-I-too-have-been-jealous-of-my-betters schtick. Aside from the fact that his I'm-above-this-pettiness stance is completely undermined by the preceding five pages of pettiness, he's missing the point. Yes, everyone on the planet is, to some degree, envious of the success of others. But when confronted with successful people who have genuine talent, most people don't respond with vitriol. Most people are humbled, or admiring, or inspired to do better, work harder, yada yada. It's the encounters with over-hyped talentless boors that the disgust impulse kicks in.

Now, I will happily confess that I have no opinion of Almond's writing outside of this one article, because I had never heard of him previously. Maybe his fiction is actually good, who knows. But if the Salon article is indicative of his skills, I'm guessing not.

And, I have to report that from my experience working inside the arts, success does not equal talent at all. Certainly there are many talented people who are successful, but there are also great numbers of talented people who are not because they don't have the determination/willingness to fight through rejection/are painfully shy. There are also vast numbers of people who aren't above mediocre, but are so pushy and determined and insistent that they get farther than they should just because people get tired of saying no. It's demoralising to watch, but it happens. A lot. And of course there is the cohort of talentless gits with connections, who are given chance after chance despite the disappointing quality of their work. The whole talent = 10% inspiration + 90% perspiration should mention that that 90% doesn't refer to the hard work of creating, but the hard work of self-promotion.

Finally, we have fantasy writer Laurell K Hamilton, who writes, among other things:

There are books that don't make you think that hard. Books that don't push you past that comfortable envelope of the mundane. If you want to be comforted, don't read my books. They aren't comfortable books. They are books that push my character and me to the edge and beyond of our comfort zones. If that's not want you want, then stop reading. Put my books away with other things that frighten and confuse or just piss you off. I have my list of stuff like that.

Hmm. Very similar sentiments to words of the immortal Garth Marenghi:

People are always been afraid of the truth. I anticipate complaints about the contents of this show, I donÕt think IÕd be doing my job if there werenÕt complaints. This is heavy stuff. In the c17th I probably would have been burned as a witch for writing what I do.

or:

IÕm essentially a loner - out there pushing back the boundaries of the fantastique, trying to raise the level of human consciousness.

I can see where he gets his inspiration. Nuff said.

updated 4 january 2007. permalink

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