Sunday, December 19, 2004

Don't insult us
Many in the Blogistans (both Right and Left) despise the professional news media pundits. We call them whores and sneer at columns that too easily fit established formulae. Like many political bloggers, I'm a media watcher. I, too, have read bad columns and had the feeling of, "I can do that." But I recognize that I'm not doing that, and they are.

I say that because I think Kos writer, Hunter, is going too far when he or she offers a write-alike semi-contest.
One of the most important qualifications for being a big-time media pundit is the use of metaphor and her cheaper, whorish cousin, simile. No matter how stale, muleheaded, or just plain wrong your opinion is, you too can get a syndicated column in a major paper or pen for a top-notch weekly rag, if you are able to master the art of couching your baseless hypotheses with some halfway decent imagery. First, it allows you to describe your implausible notions in a friendlier, easy-to-digest way. Second, it allows you to pad your stuff out in order to make the word count. Editors are sticklers for that sort of thing.

Yes, you too can be a Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, or, provided you have sold your soul to Satan in exchange for him helping you move an old couch, Ann Coulter. Use this space to practice your own clever political imagery. Especially good contributions will receive accolades, mojo, and possibly a spot on the New York Times editorial page -- we hear there's an opening.

This is exactly the same snobbery that is expressed by bourgeois (usually conservative) viewers of modern expressionist and abstract art, "my kid could do that." In art, the logical response is that "your kid didn't do it on a canvas, and you didn't respect your kid's talent until someone else was making vast amounts of money at the same thing."

And so it is with writing. How many of us can produce a concise, if unoriginal, 750 to 900 word essay, twice a week, without fail, 52 weeks out of the year? Okay, how many of us can convince someone of our ability and sell those essays in advance? That last clause is the key.

When you make it sound easy, when you say "we could all be successes, if we wanted," you flatter our egos while insulting our real-life experiences. I'm a smart guy who graduated from college over a quarter century ago. I'm a pretty good writer. I'm also a crappy self-promoter and salesman. I mean that. I'm really awful at it.

In the mid-eighties, I had a minimum-wage retail job in a book store in Alaska. One of my drinking buddies was an oil company executive. Quite often, when we were well into our cups, on his tab, he would proclaim his admiration for my integrity and fortitude in not having sold out. My frustrated response was that no one ever offered to buy me. He got a good laugh out of that; I got a few free drinks on his tab. At the end of the night, he went back to his six-figure job at the oil company and I went back to my minimum-wage job punching a cash register at the book store.

If I had been offered his job and turned it down for the book store job, I might have had the right to accept his respect. I knew that I did not, and so I do not respect those years in my life. My crappy job was the best I could do. Now I have a blog. My writing might be as good as that of a syndicated six-figure columnist, but they have the job and I don't. Writing is the same as any other job. The skill to do the job is a very small part of the business. The skill to get the job is the key. Is it fair? No. Is it real? Yes.

Reach into Blogistan and try to find who has the best chance of getting a paying gig as a printed commenter, or even commentator, despite the fact that commentator isn't even a real word. Is it the best writer? Is it the writer with the best exposure? Does Hunter have a better chance of an op-ed gig at Kos or on his or her own? Do I?

My point is not that the paid commentariat are that great, it's that they are the best we have that can meet all of the qualifications of the job. The qualifications are that the writer be able to write and sell his or her self as a writer. I admit that I only have one of those skills. I resent anyone who suggests that doing more--getting the actual big paying jobs--is a simple thing, that any fool could do it.

It's enough to say that I'm a failure within my realm. To draw a bigger realm and say that I'm a failure within that too, that's too much. We might not like what the professional commenting class say, but don't compare our limited amateur space to their larger professional space. When you despise them, what are you saying about those of us who have failed to be them? For god's sake, allow us some dignity in our small space.

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