Monday, March 26, 2007

When the blogosphere turns exclusionary and elitist, will you have a place?

There has been much talk, recently, about the privilege bloggers must have to write blogs. This predicates the assumption that writing and access to time to write and time to post, as well as access to computers is a privilege.

I want to turn this concept on its ear for a minute (or thirty) because in all sincerity, from any particular point of view, almost anything can be viewed as a privilege, and since there is almost always someone one step (or more) up and one step (or more) down.

Note: If I was really cool, rather than lazy and pressed for time, I'd offer linky love to all those privilege thinkers such as Gwen, Mad Hatter and Her Bad Mother but first, I think anyone who reads me probably reads them first and second, they are all over there in my blogroll (pause, glance to right) and third, see first comma delineated phrase. Please, all of you who have written and/or commented on privilege, consider yourself loved.

I consider myself on the one hand privileged, and on the other hand not privileged. We live penny to penny, on a slight and tight budget. This is because we live on a single salary in a double-income world, and that single salary is Of The Arts God Help Us. We all know how desperately monetarily undervalued any artistic skill is.

Whenever we feel stressed or strained the first idea on the table is always send me back to a Real Job at an Office. At these times, I always make a loud sucking noise to indicate my soul once more being vacuumed from my body by The Man and The Machine. See, the idea isn't to send me back to the creative world.

No, the idea is for me to re-enter the tech world---pretty much my only option here. Hardware and software background with writing and communication skills. Whenever the job thing comes up (which it often does, and not of my volition) someone is always at the ready to remind me of How Much Money They Offer.

The price of a soul is not mean, it seems.

Setting aside how this is a problematic solution and merely indicative of a degree of desperation that tends to over-ride our lives due to the aforementioned slight tight budget, I'd like to re-visit the idea of the undervalued arts.

Long ago, the arts were for the masses. Theater, art, music...it was grass roots. And frequently, it came to you. During that dark yet intriguing time in humanity when people were regularly burned alive and all forms of anything pleasurable or fun was banned (must rid the world of the Roman/heathen/pagan/non-Catholic influence, after all), entertainment thrived anyway. The main entertainment---when the priest allowed it---were liturgical dramas and some morality plays (the only things considered "safe" for us poor, ignorant, easily-led-into-sin saps). Due to a lack of reading and writing skill, most stories were told through songs, rhymes, allegories, and so forth. Theater troupes of actors and performers, troubadors, jugglers, minstrels, musicians, mimes, and more traveled from town to town and put on shows in public, hoping for a donation of food, clothing or money. But there was no admittance fee, usually. Not at this level.

The performances took place in Inn yards, town squares, churches, open fields, anywhere people had free and easy access. Performers wanted, naturally, the maximum exposure.

Theater and performing arts were of the people, by the people and for the people.

Despite feudalism.

Then...we hit the Renaissance. And suddenly the nobility took notice of the entertainment industry. With an influx of money (and attention) from the wealthy and privileged, performances moved off the streets and into pay-to-enter theaters.

They also changed from representing the cultural life and times of the everyman to the iconic and laconic lives of the privileged---after all, people want to see what interests them, and the aristocracy were not interested in the plight of the downtrodden. Further, the classical religious message transitioned to the classical Greek and Roman message due to the epic battle between Catholics and Protestants.

The structure of plays became more fixed and complex, and the staging became more ornate. To finance and support fixed troupes stationed in a stable theater, performances became worth a price.

And slowly but surely, theater became a symbol of wealth and privilege, not only through its patrons, but also through its writers, directors, and performers, who gave up the loose, personal, unique oral tradition. They had to have the ability to read (scripts), write (scripts), be educated enough to understand content (in order to appropriately perform it and understand the often real characters depicted), and be able to use appropriate accents for their audience.

The theater people were usually not of the privileged class nor were they---outside the theater---welcomed by it but they had to have enough privileged class skills to offer what their audience wanted.

And today, both the arts and performing arts---while nominally available to all through museums and discount performances---are still for the privileged, in general.

I can't afford to go to the big city theaters except maybe once a year, on special occasions. The local theater is fun about as often; despite its lower cost, it is still cost prohibitive for us. Apply the same to area museums ($25 per ticket for one popular one, plus $15 for parking), ballet companies, and symphonies.

Sometimes we are creative and do something such as volunteer as employees in exchange for tickets, however, that hasn't happened since we had children.

Even movies are too expensive these days.

And so, instead, we watch TV for entertainment. And wait until movies go on the $1.99 special on DirectTV.

At least we still have affordable access to words and concepts through the world of books (at the library), public radio, television, and...the Internet.

I used to be a regular Salon reader. When it became subscription based, I mourned, but moved on. I value the writing there, but not enough to pay for it. I can find similar levels of articles and free-thinking elsewhere that is still free. I might sometimes have to click past an ad here or there, or subscribe so my name and information act as my admittance fee (those being a commodity these days), but I'm generally willing to do that in exchange. I don't even keep stamps on hand much now since email is basically immediate and free.

I realize this is the very problematic mentality that leaves most writers such as me plying my craft for no financial compensation. However, if there is a penny to be pinched, I have to do it. Each time I opt for a purchase, I have to do so consciously. We have no frivolous money, not really.

Fortunately the Internet---and the wealth of infotainment, entertainment, and information it offers---is still basically affordable even for people like me. It's frequently considered necessary as an expense, so that even a few families I know on public assistance set aside the $12 a month for it. If that is still out of reach, although it is less than ideal, schools and libraries offer free access.

I don't really believe that access to the Internet is, today, the socioeconomic issue it once was. A NATION ONLINE: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet, Washington, D.C. (February 2002) seems to indicate I'm not completely in error about this. In short, this report claims that computer ownership and Internet use are rapidly becoming more equally distributed across households in the United States.





Outside of some online publications and eZines, once you do have access to the Internet, almost everything you find there---much of which is, in my opinion, priceless---is free.

Such as blogs.

When Mad Hatter wrote:

I'll say it right out: I reject the career model of mommy blogging. It's not that I don't think our work is worth something. I do. It's just that the discourse of parenting, of the minutiae of day-to-day life is not valued by society as a whole. The only people who would want to pay for what we have to say are, well, us--the very people who deserve recompense for our work. It's a catch 22.

...

Think about the A-listers...I think of them in terms of reality TV. These lucky few are our Idols. They rose to the top of an extremely talented pool through charm, charisma, popularity and corporate mechinations. I have watched a lot of Idol shows in my day. I know how they work. As a model for ratings, advertising and popular entertainment, they are a phenomenon. As a model for the arts, they suck. As a model for innovation, they suck. As a model for building meaningful, long-term careers they really suck. Not only that but they promote a cult of celebrity that all of us in the West would be better off without.


I agreed. Lengthily. Completely. Especially about innovation.

Once you are writing commercially---especially for a topical publication---you are writing within a prefabricated structure designed to draw the most interest and largest number of people through a particular hook.

The wonderful thing about the Internet as it is now is that it is egalitarian. There is no screening process for who gets to start and write in a blog. In fact, you can start a blog at no cost. On the whole, the competition evolves naturally through reader interest rather than through a rigid, artificially constructed system of pitting writers against one another to win one top spot. Currently, if you have the dream and the desire, the reality of blogging is immediately accessible for you, and you are immediately accessible to any who are interested in what you have to say. Of course, because it's not a job (usually) there is no pay.

But don't we, as Mad allows, deserve compensation for this that we do? And isn't that expectation emboldened when we see bloggers such as Dooce allegedly live fatly off the bloggy land? Why shouldn't that be my largesse, too?

It depends upon how you define compensation. As Mad elaborated in her comments:

Are you willing to pay to read what I write? Am I willing to pay to read what you write? The answer is "no" but only if you look at this equation in terms of monetary funds. We "pay" each other by giving back to this affiliative, collective system: by writing, by reading, by commenting and by linking. The way that the parenting blogosphere currently works is sort of like a sophisticated system of barter and exchange.


Absolutely. By giving back to the affiliative, collective system what we've created and are maintaining through our unpaid blogging is a major source of innovative entertainment---and community---in the yard at the public inn.

You don't have to be any particular type of person, wearing any particular kind of outfit, driving any sort of car, or accessing any type of major socioeconomic privilege.

Although the majority of my blogroll links are middle-class level white people in North America who are mainly women, this is simply representative of my own self-obsession. Do not mistake this group simply as the privileged elite. The wealth in that list is in unquantfiable elements such as talent and experiential diversity. I typically have no idea as to the socioeconomic situation of any of the bloggers I like.

What I do know is that they are free.

Were we all to aim towards receiving monetary compensation at a professional or even minimum-wage level, were we to solidify into a quorum, creating minimum standards...building a theater (an online ezine available through subscription) and pandering for wealthy supportive patrons (marketing organizations and profit business) then eventually much of the innovation---the everyman experience---would melt away into the most marketable points of view about a single angle of a focused niche topic, as is already happening with so many of the targeted parenting blogger polished pulication sites. The motivation has altered from sharing to profiting. Those for profit sites tend to gather the like, the likeminded, and those most likely to generate traffic. The contributors are intended to keep representing that same voice, that same point of view. Eventually, it's like being hit with the same marketing message over and over, such as, "Have a coke and a smile."

It cements us into groups, divvies us up into categories, panders to a hierarchy and competition.

But more than that, it truly stifles innovation. Regardless of intention on the part of the contributors, it sets up an ideal, a model, that we ought to follow. After a time, it becomes the online equivalent of the rack magazine: full of canned points, attention-grabbing and promising headlines, loaded with how-tos for the way you ought to be. In short, it steers us into how we should think and be rather than stimulating unique discussion and reflecting evolving thought.

I don't deny that there are pros to counter my cons. There is benefit to communing with similarly-minded.

My concern emanates from my belief that similarly-minded communing so frequently evolves into Us. And Us is clearly not Them. (Consider the recent "hip" versus "unhip" parent battle.)

When formally collected, the free and innovative can quickly become exclusionary and elitist. Those within, have. Those without, have not. Have so easily morphs into Are. Are. Are not.

Right now, I don't consider that I blog for free. Not by a long-shot. I pay in time, thought, and lost sleep. I am paid in thought, mind-expansion, and entertainment. I appreciate the the lack of scripted lines recited over and over in the same way time and again. I like sitting on the edge of the trough, keeping out of the drizzle by a slight overhang of the roof of the public inn. I like never knowing exactly what today's minstrel, troubador, juggler, or actor will put before my mind.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert


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24 comments:

Bones said...

Several ago, a creative group that I work with brought a team of Hollywood types to Washington, DC for some political cross-pollination. The Hollywood folks were mostly actors and writers; most notably the lead writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and That 70’s Show and a husband and wife team that wrote the scripts for all the Batman films.

This was in the early days of web 2.0. Blogging was not yet mainstream, but every one of these actors, writers and editors blogged, and relied heavily on their blog for feedback. The writer for Buffy admitted that reader comments on his blog absolutely affected the course of the show. They were just like we are- getting up early to rush to the computer and read the comments and get the feedback that all bloggers crave.

Web 2.0 is a great equalizer, and anyone from successful script writers to unemployed bricklayers can write a great blog.

As one of the few non-mommy bloggers that reads your site (or, frankly, that reads my site) I’m happy to say that I don’t find it stale. Not one bit. I regularly find good discourse and thought-provoking ideas, both from the author and the readers. Many of the perspectives may be the same (lots of moms) but the points of view are varied and diverse. The only difference between you and Dooce is she got lucky (or unlucky?) enough to get paid for it. If there is any difference between calibers of content, yours is, well, better.

Mama Drama Jenny said...

Wow. That was the longest post ever...but totally worth it. Well said, my friend.

Mad Hatter said...

Julie,
I think you should go to a Fringe Theatre Festival someday. They really are like the blogosphere of contemporary theatre.

Your history of theatre is interesting although I might argue that theatre hit one of its highest moments at the time of cross-over. Shakespeare and the like, I believe, are still great precisely because they had to please the aristocracy and the penny ticket holders who stood for three hours straight to see a play--and who could bring whatever they wanted into the theatre to pelt at the actors. You've got to be good to please that crowd.

There has always been theatre for commoners--although notions of high and pop culture have come into play over the centuries. To me, what has all but killed theatre--except for mega-musical spectacle theatre--is film and the notion of mass distribution. Sure, great theatre still exists in major urban centres where there is a population density to provide an audience (if perhaps not pay the bills). Here in the boonies, theatre is all but dead...and this kills regional culture right along with it.

As for the bloggy bit of this post. Did you see my second to last comment over at my place where I describe a future bloggy dystopia. I think it fits well with what you've said here.

Thailand Gal said...

Eek.My comment got too long so I posted it as an entry on my site.

Wanted to comment on this directly:

It cements us into groups, divvies us up into categories, panders to a hierarchy and competition.

Exactly.


Peace,


~Chani

Julie Pippert said...

Bones, I will get back to you shortly! Lots to say!

Jenny, LOL...I'm not very good at implementing brevity as the soul of wit. But thanks for hanging in! (And I might have to check to see if I have longer posts...seems like. LOL)

Julie Pippert said...

Mad, omgosh THANK YOU! I was worried I'd have to bring it up myself or miss this altogether. I had an entire section I cut (due to length and side point relevance) about the gains made to the arts during the Renaissance and beyond.

yes yes yes! Many wonderful things came to theaters and the arts due to wealthy patrons. First, truly talented people were able to learn, hone, and perfect their craft, and second, the artist were then able to create and share.

Not to mention the talent was preserved, versus most being lost in prior times.

The music we still listen to, the plays we still read, the art we still travel to see...I absolutely believe the arts hit some high points during the revival.

The point I meant to hit was not that quality suffers but that free access and everyman voice representation suffers...that open innovation is stifled.

What we have right now in the blogosphere is an amazing spanning of the everyman element of medieval times and the quality element of the revival.

Bring me Shakespeare, Moliere and more. I'll cut myself off before I get long-winded about artists and musicians. And don't even get me anywhere near dance. ;)

Another "flaw" to my theater discussion is the British/Western Europe-centric focus. In fact, as time evolved and republican ideas began germinating, theater did begin to throw in sly mockeries, even of its own patrons. Not quit biting the hand that feeds it per se, but often showing some humor to it.

I can go on and on. I concede the argument isn't perfect but hopefully it illustrates my point.

I saw a long comment from you on your site, maybe just above my notice about this post, but I didn't have time to read. It was next on my list. I'll pop over.

Julie Pippert said...

One more point I felt didn't have space in the post:

Originals are original. Even some secondary imitations are still original and worthy.

But the formula does take over, and eventually the idea is exhausted and canned (and frequently decreasing in quality) although still being generated and plied to a market as long as it can.

Thailand Gal said...

Julie, can you direct me to your "popularity" post? I recall you mentioning it a few times and have wanted to read it but keep forgetting to ask. :)


Peace,

~Chani

Julie Pippert said...

Chani, I believe this is th eone we both mean:

http://theartfulflower.blogspot.com/2007/02/friendly-competition-voting-friendship.html

Mary-LUE said...

I've been pondering all the talk about privilege in so many posts the last couple of weeks. I will say that I haven't read them all. If one came up on one of my regular reads, I read it, but I haven't clicked on all the links to get a broad picture of what was being said.

It did bring to mind, however, some of the best advice I ever received in a college class: define your terms. I think a lot of the back and forth has stemmed from a reader's perception of that word evoking a response when the writer had a different definition in mind. This principle had never failed me, in life or in education.

I think this is a great post, Julie. First, I love the long, complex sentences. I feel brainy when I read them! ;) But let's not ignore the content. I think what you say has much merit and that it is said well. I agree that internet access alone does not constitute what I consider privilege and your ideas on the nature of blogging where compensation is involved, etc., resonate greatly with me.

As much as I support any blogger's decision to pursue a financial recompense for their writing, I am so happy in my little troupe of "common" artists, each with their own talents and skills. This is home to me and I have no interest in heading out to the big city to find my fortune.

kim said...

OMG! I wrote about this very topic as a segue into a "Thinking bloggers" meme, but after reading this I realize that my post would seem very pedestrian in comparison. Everyday you set the bar high and challenge me to greater depths in my own writing.

Just incredible.

jen said...

It's the desire to analyze, to continue to create and push and probe that perhaps will save us.

brillant discourse.

Julie Pippert said...

Bones, interesting. That really solidifies the idea that blogging can affect a course, or effect change. And yes, absolutely it is one of the most egalitarian avenues available.

As for the mommy blogger thing, I don't think I actually, at the end of the day, qualify as a mommy blogger.

It's not through failed intention or by design. I just had no idea about mommybloggers or knew anything about the blogging world at all. I didn't even know what a blog was.

My husband did. He set this up for me and made me do it LOL. In fact he did the very first post for me.

The original intent of this blog (by him) was to put out my art, and talk a little about that. The art has fallen to the wayside.

For one, it's very expensive for me to make (and time-consuming) and I do actually work to sell it. Too often my images were being co-opted, without my permission even. So now I don't post my work. I haven't taken any of it down, but I quit posting it.

For two, my web designer stole my money and ran to another state. Bastard. Left my bank account pretty empty and my web site a shambles.

As I reconsidered the purpose of the blog and started to find it a good avenue to release the unceasing thoughts plaguing my head. So, although initially I thought of myself as an art blogger, I morphed into a multi-topic blogger.

Katrina and Rita really lit a fire under me, social justice wise, after my experience with those storms and the after-effects.

My fifteen seconds of fame was my rear end being filmed for---literally---fifteen seconds as some newscaster droned melodramatically about area residents rushing to the "rescue" of Katrina "victims."

(She'll never say...but I have to toot Josette at Halushki's horn here. That woman single-handedly coordinated her state to send several tons, and I mean that, of needed supplies. I'd call her with wish lists and she'd have it to me within a week. She even rallied the media and got word out that way. She's talented and hilarious on her blog, but that woman has a heart bigger than Alaska, and an intelligence, nerve and motivation to match it.)

Anyway, the relief work was...well, a life changing event.

Additionally the original group of people I blogged with were all political oriented people, and we discussed political issues frequently amongst ourselves.

I go through diferent phases and focuses of topics---here a child-centric spurt, there a social justice one, politics here, humor there, etc. It's all about the pressing thing on my mind, I guess.

There's been a lot of conversation between me and my husband (and he is, FWIW, reading this, LOL) about blogging for fun versus for profit.

He once (yes! he actually commented on a post once!) talked a little about it. In fact, our entire exchange is available on the popularity post I linked to above for Chani. That should illustrate the point better than a recap by me.

At the end of the day, I don't center my blog around my life as a mom. That's not any sort of statement other than simply what it seems. If you view the content, the title, etc. of my blog, it's pretty all over the map, as someone I know and love is fond of saying LOL.

And yes, I often find the comments the most interesting bits. The dialogue and exchnges, feedback, etc. is a big reason I like this.

As for your last paragraph, I refer you to the church sign just a little below this post. ;)

Many thanks.

Julie Pippert said...

Mary-LUE, define your terms, of course! You know, that occured to me (I might have said semantic debate) on HBM's blog when the privilege issue first came up. Great point!

Kim, ack! You are a great writer, can't imagine it being pedestrian. You have a unique style just as I do. I can't wait to read what you come up with.

Jen, honest question: do believe all people have the desire to analyze, to deconstruct? I don't. I think we all have different gifts, and for some of us who are into the probing (childbirth and sci fi channel has SO ruined me...that is simply not a dirty word, and yet...) we can point out, "Hey, look, an opportunity to question!"

But as Julie at mothergoosemouse recently brought up, and from the many replies, I wonder if people really want to hear that point about questioning, sometimes.

Still, I DO agree with you. I DO think that mindful living, conscious living, will perhaps be what saves us.

Now we just have to get Some People who get to make decisions on our behalf to follow suit. ;)

Mayberry said...

It was fascinating reading your take on this because as someone who also writes professionally, I do sometimes struggle with "Hey, why I am I giving this away for free [on my blog]." And my husband struggles with it more than I do, if you know what I mean, and it's clear you do! So I'm glad to think about it your way, now, in terms of more intangible costs and benefits.

Alice said...

You amaze me with your ability to tie in so many complex ideas. btw, I like sitting on the edge of the trough, too. Might not be a better view but it is far more interesting. And our society has always devalued that which cannot be monetized. I have become immensely wealthy through my blogging...I just can't put a dollar figure to it.

The Occasional Athlete said...

Julie,

Your thoughts are well written and paint a picture that lends nuance and subtle shading to a concern I've been lingering on. That of internet ownership, or more importantly, control of the internet.

The freedom of the internet that you and I now know is being assailed by mainstream media and dominant telecommunications companies.

If they are to have their way there will be a two-tiered system, again with the "haves and have-nots".

You can be sure that if a large media company like NBC or Viacom controls internet flow, your video and audio download capabilities will be of an inconvenient nature in the absence of premium service subscription.

I can only imagine the bandwidth that will be allotted to the everday user, and in Mad Hatter's dystopian bloggy world there will be the unavoidable monitoring of thought!

Remember that radio was once free and today that is hardly the case. The airwaves have been more or less monetized. If you want radio without commercial interruption (including NPR) you have to subscribe to Sirius or XM.

As bones points out "Web 2.0 is a great equalizer", but if we let commercial interests rule the internet the way they've come to rule the airwaves, we are sure to be on the losing side of yet another equation that just doesn't add up.

If you're interested, read more at Save The Internet, and make sure your political representatives know how you feel.

Sorry about the rant.

Best regards,

John

Julie Pippert said...

Mayberry, You bet the "giving away the milk for free" discussion has come up more than once between me and my husband, LOL. He knows what I can earn. But I also am more aware than he is of the difference between what and how I write now versus when I do it for someone else. (Besides which I've been more frequently paid as an editor.) That's a big reason I have the perspective on this that I do.

It is hard at times, you know, when I see other bloggers getting paid---something, anything---and think how a little extra could really benefit the family.

But I weigh monetary compensation against the intagible benefit compensation I have now and then consider the cost of each. I do think the intagibles are incredibly valuable, and as Alice said, it's frustrating to me how devalued anything besides money is.

In fact, at our class this morning we discussed financial compensation as a feminist issue. It was fascinating.

Julie Pippert said...

Alice, thanks! I can't agree more about the distinction between what is valued and what is valuable. This is a concept that keeps coming back to me in many ways. As I mentioned to mayberry, at class today we discussed compensation (financial and other) as a feminist issue. One thing that has been on my mind since reading another blog yesterday is the concept of SAHM time being a "work gap" and somehow setting you back salary-wise. I sense a new blog post...

LOL

John, come sit by me a sec. :)

Rants and raves are welcome here, esepcially informative, intelligent, and insightful ones like yours.

In fact they are so welcome, I incorporated them into the name of my blog. So never apologize about that.

Also, there are NO limits on length. :)

You make an excellent point,a nd illuminate a real concern I have: wondering how long the freedom and the free will remain on the Internet. I will check out that link.

As for my local politicians...you mistake me for someone who lives in a place that has politicians who give a rat's ass about anything important to me. LOL :) It doesn't mean I leave them alone, of course, LOL.

Kyla said...

Your mind is impressive, Julie. Wow. Excellent points.

Catherine said...

Wow - this is one well thought out and researched post! I so felt what you said at the beginning where you were being sent back to the Tech ($) world instead of the art world. My husband is a social worker, kind of, and makes Very Little Money and we live in a Very Expensive Area. Which means that I work in a profession that, while good at it, I care about not at all. Meanwhile wondering if I could leave it behind and follow the (much less paying) field of my actual passions and interests.

But then I see the movie "Pursuit of Happiness" and see the mother who supports her family by working double shifts as a clothes washer and I just feel grateful for the opportunity to earn money so easily, and to be with my baby 80% of the time, which is what I care most about anyway.

But maybe someday...

Sparky Duck said...

I am glad that not everyone mommy blogs or makes mommy blogs pay per read, since I am not a mommy.

and I hear you on the need to make sure our arts, whatever some people think they are, are still free.

Sparky Duck said...

and yes, you sound just like the fringe theater festivals perfect customer

gingajoy said...

hmmm. lots to think about here. (as one unpaid blogger to another).

my initial thoughts. first, i am not entirely sure that readership for a blog grows "naturally." there are actually some formal conventions and rules we seem to follow in order to aquire readership and commenters (our personal form of "capital"?)
With or without ads, this takes place and what we/you might perceive as community, another might perceive as a "place where I don't belong."

Also--are all commercial blogging ventures created equal? Is it fair to compare Cool Mom Picks or Parents Bloggers Network (for instance) to Good Housekeeping?

The answer is probably not clear, but I am seriously on the fence on this one. Excellent post!