"Personal Posturings: Yahoos as Bloggers" by Mathias B. Freese
|Freese is the author of The i Tetralogy and Down to a Sunless Sea. Visit his site.|
© 2009 Mathias B. Freese
Before I begin this howl, I'll define Yahoo as a lout, brute and very coarse human being, the term itself derived from Swift's Gulliver's Travels. I vaguely recall reading this fabulous book in the early years of college, the class being disabused by the professor that it was a children's book. It is a savage indictment of the species, Hobbesian. For the past year I marketed Down to a Sunless Sea, a short story collection, by going to "literary" blogs. Reading up on the blogger, scanning some of the books reviewed in order to get a sense of the blogspot as a reasonable market for my book, I have seen hundreds of blogs, sending my book out at least 137 times. And I have read the reviews, of varying quality, and now I have an admittedly biased perspective on bloggers and blogging. I write now in hyperbole, adjust accordingly.
One social phenomenon on blogs is "the challenge," in essence TBR, an acronym for books slated to be read by the blogger. With "the challenge" the blogger sets a pre-determined amount of books to read in a year; or the blogger decides to read at least 25 books on Nazi Germany. The blogger invites suggestions from other bloggers about books on a particular topic, compiles a list, puts it up on the site and merrily goes on to read these books. Assuming the books are "read" from cover to cover, some bloggers boast that they have read as many as 100 books in a year, having accomplished the challenge as described. Other bloggers laud them, often fawning at the ability to read so much. Inherent in all this is the manifest belief that the number of books read increases the blogger's brainpan or does something empowering to the reader.
When I was taking a graduate course in English I recall the professor saying that when he prepared for his course on Henry James, he was lucky if he got through 8 pages per hour, given the notes he wrote in the margins. The profound symbolism James employed demanded that he reflect and reconsider. The point has always been that the careful reading of great books demands great readers and how many books read is not the measure of the experience. One does not gather and collect books, how retro of me. One engages books. One examines, one gleans, one struggles with an idea or rolls about with a truth in the bedroom of one's mind, making love. Not bloggers. It is consumerism at its worst: "I have a library in my home (often the site has pictures of books reproducing in rooms).You can hear the books groaning with the weight of wisdom if you attend. I love books and books love me. Aren't I wise and well-rounded?"
An aside: being a reader of Krishnamurti who makes the telling observation that all books are dead matter, the consequence of authority and other people's smarts, I tend to bridle over allowing them to determine my choices. For me the well-read person is the one who takes experience, moment to moment, and observes what is.
Bloggers who set challenges remind me unremittingly of Don Quixote, who demented himself by reading tales of knight errantry, only one of Cervantes satirical barbs. I will not explore here the difference between illusion and reality in that book for that is not for the book challenged. Consequently the "challenge" is yahooism of an "intellectual" kind.
Another aspect of blogging reflects the ignorance of the blogger, call it being uneducated or unaware of the field. I offer a book of short stories to be reviewed. Some of the complaints voiced reflect little knowledge about short stories. I can live with that, we are not a nation of literary scholars. Demands are made for plot especially when a story is different or persnickety. Discontent runs rampant if the subject matter contains "dark matter" (think Poe) or is uncomfortable, which for some bloggers is distasteful. I have had bloggers shy away or refuse to read the book because other bloggers speak of its darkness, desperate atmosphere, difficulty or vocabulary. In short, do not disturb my world.
Books are read as comfort food, for many bloggers, apparently, readily dismiss books without a second read or perhaps the first read is superficial -- or lacking introspection. In short, Mr. Freese stop being serious, write fluff, and join the rest of us. Worst of all, don't make me work at it! Books must please and not discomfort. I get birdbrain observations about how long the story should be, or how short. I hear shallow thoughts about why the novel is superior to the short story because there is more to read! It is to say that I look only at oils and I dismiss etchings -- there goes Rembrandt. A narrowness prevails in the world of bloggers, revealing a shabby background in the very subject they presume to evaluate, for it is an oddly acquisitive entitlement of the blogger to read whatever he or she chooses. Sadly, short stories are often dismissed as lacking nutrients. Poor Nick Adams.
Bloggers are not critics, nor readers, nor reasonable evaluators; rather, they are Costco customers rummaging through jeans or sneakers. The pretense at being educated and well-read is flamboyantly pronounced and in hilarious poor taste. The personal posturing they assume is worthy of a Swiftian barb, for they are cultural boors.
When I am personally displeased with another human being, when I encounter insensitivity or boorishness, when I meet up with shallow hypocrisy I often say to that person: "You are not a serious human being." Many bloggers are proto-human beings blaring forth how culturally and critically wise they are. Intellectual yahooism of the first order, it gives dilettantism a bad name.
Blogging reeks of a mutual admiration social club, stroking one another's reviewing skills, commenting on how interesting the blogger's life is; citing such fanciful things as a blogger's upcoming birthday party, pictures of his or her spouse, pictures of pets, of recipes mixed in with reviewing books. I have seen trees, mountains, lakes, the natural world all on a blogspot devoted to reviewing books. The blogspots call out: ME...ME...ME. The saturated fats of these blogspots require heavy doses of Lipitor. And amid all this sound and fury signifying self-importance is a peculiar underclass
perception that reviewing books may give the appearance of intellect and social consciousness.
A need to be important, cultured, to interact - at whatever cost, a need to posture and pose like putting your foot forward in a Michael Kors shoe is the abundant blogosphere I have encountered this past year. Marketers argue that to become noticed as a writer on the web is to leave comments at the site, "to interact." At first I did so, often educating about the short story or to thank the blogger for a review well done. I was not motivated by selling my book, I was into sharing, but sometimes I was an advocate of my work. However, as I scanned comments beneath the review it was like bathing in a KFC stainless tub of chicken fat, gelatinous self-congratulatory ooze. In a recent personal note David Herrle, editor of SubtleTea, called them "obsequious."
I engaged one reviewer and asked what he made of the mother in my story. He slapped back abruptly with the short sentence that he reviews what he reads, no more, no less. What was that about? How open and thoughtful you are, how accessible to hear another point of view, gently tendered at that. I wrote that story, friend, and you overlooked a major aspect of it. Apparently a dead human being, his reply was so lacking in social skills, so loutish that this too is another one of my findings -- the boors are in charge. Our culture consumes the web with its values. I am so glad that through hard-work, years of treatment, more years working on myself, on deconditioning my self I have arrived at a personal place where my crap detector senses shit all about. I said a few paragraphs back that I am writing now using hyperbole; that is so. It also is not far from the fact of the matter.
Savage pretentiousness and cruel maliciousness is revealed here in this personally horrific incident with a blogger. I queried one blogger with my usual query letter. I received an e-mail in which she tweezed out all the so-called grammatical errors I had made. She "observed" that my query was amateurish and wondered how I managed to get any responses, In short, literarily shape up. It was all in an insufferable, pampered tone. Ruder comments were made. I was, in fact, stunned. She could have answered and said at this time she'll not review my work, for whatever reasons. We call this politeness, professionalism, or having the requisite social skills. The note was bereft of civility. Reminding me of those English teachers who on subliminal levels savage a student's paper down to the kind of ink he or she uses, her e-mail was a vicious attack, uncalled for, unnecessary and plain awful. I did not kill her dog.
I thought about it and then decided to respond. In short, I labeled how she presented herself -- a prig; I labeled her criticisms -- anal-retentive; and I labeled assuredly what I believe to be her essential character disorder -- narcissitic. She did not reply back. I never forwarded a book to her, let that be clear! Six months later while googling for reviews of my book her blog came up. (Imagine if you will her purchasing or borrowing of my book, the waiting game, the malignant thinking processes.) The book was not only dismissed, Hannibal Lecter went at it. The book was raped; wait a minute, not the book, but me. She reviewed me, having harbored this revengeful malice for some time. It was a cruel experience and I never responded. People like this need to fall off the ends of the earth.
What was appalling is that her conclave of fellow reviewers, her posse, joined in as she uploaded my response to her without including her initial e-mail to me. In any case a slew of followers agreed with her assessment and launched an attack upon me, not the book. When I shared this incident later on with Sabrina Williams of breenibooks.com who had reviewed my two books with intelligence, she read the review, writing back: "Holy cow." I do not exaggerate that this was a scene reminiscent of "The Lottery." The blogger identified herself as an "English major," that she had been recently married (poor dumb bastard!) and her "profile" revealed no record of having publishing anything other than pictures of her feet (I am not kidding) and herself frolicking on the beach at her wedding to the poor dumb bastard.
All this was appalling. What is salient with this child-woman was her image of herself as a literary grande dame, of being Maxwell Perkins in a tutu, of editing all those syntactical errors that mortal writers send to her known as books. The grandiosity is monumental. The sheer madness of it all is disturbing. Not one of her several camp followers, other bloggers, dissented, not knowing me at all. The human herd response in all its panoply was clearly represented. Granted this is an egregious blogger, a malformed human being, but a consequence of a blogosphere that reflects inordinate self-importance, moral flatulence, the undereducated literary inmates pompously in charge.
The howl ends. I have no sweeping generalizations to make except that blogs simply are Veblen's worst nightmare, peacock-strutting human beings, conspicuously consuming pixels to display their "literary" feathers.
All work is copyrighted property of Mathias B. Freese.
© 2009 SubtleTea Productions All Rights Reserved