Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Defending Culture vs. Defending Your Job

I thought I'd riff off of some other bloggers, chiefly Prairie Mary (here and here) and Michael Blowhard (here). It's curious, I think, to note where the dividing line has been drawn in the supposed conflict between arts-talk on blogs vs. arts-talk in newspapers and magazines. Lately the chattering classes have devoted their verbiage to resuscitating the dying "Book Reviews" of various large-distribution newspapers. The tactic of choice, it seems, is to denigrate bloggers as merely "opinionated" while upholding critics as "learned" (would-be generals in this "fight" include Richard Schickel and Lindsay Waters).

My question is, who, exactly, are these arguments directed toward? Perhaps Schickel wrote in the hope he might spur the declining readership of the LA Times to champion the restoration of its Book Review. If that was indeed the case, I'd suggest his supercilious tone was a grievous misstep: anyone who could be bothered to read his jeremiad was likely a) a literate blogger and/or b) an employee of the publishing industry. Schickel and his fellow culture vultures would do well to attend Sunday morning church or Shabbat synagogue. In our circles it's common knowledge that a pastor/rabbi can only do so much finger-wagging at the congregation before attendance — and the offering envelope — take a hit.

It's also disingenuous to attack people who consider, promote or flame particular aspects of "arts culture" in their spare time for free (especially after praising Orwell for writing on the cheap). Culture is not what's being defended, here. Culture is simply humanity-dependent, and ebbs and flows in whatever direction humanity is pointed. Take what comfort you can from that observation and move on.

I'm guessing Schickel's target audience was his boss. If that's the case, his strategy was, on the face of it, quite brilliant. By now the number of people linking to his piece probably exceeds the number of people who subscribe to the Times. "Hey Boss, dig this: two months later and people are still linking to me! Now, uhm, could we talk about my contract?" It's a clever gimmick, but its novelty dooms it (and possibly RS) to the status of one-hit wonder. How does public consumption of this piece rate next to, say, any of his glowing reviews of Clint Eastwood?

Critics are right to be concerned — whenever my job is on the line I do some hustling, too. But if, as is commonly claimed, the web is killing the newspaper (and publishing, and music, etc.) is it really such a good idea to berate its most active participants?

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