Over at stuart-santiago she asks if the most recent broadside from the notorious benign0 was aimed at me (smoke having coined the complimentary term “noted blogger” to refer to me). It doesn’t matter. At the heart of it all is a basic compulsion to communicate, and as social creatures we will latch on to other people to prove or debunk the things we hold dear: if I believe everything is political, any political activity requires both issues and personalities for us to make sense of anything. Blogs are a subset of the online world and everything’s getting more and more inter-connected. See Beyond Blogs in BusinessWeek.
Abe Margallo offers up a reflection on the entry. What I do have are two basic comments benign0’s points.
1. His Road to Damascus moment’s a tad disingenuous:
What veteran bloggers have known for years is my epiphany for today - that one blogger’s citation of another blogger’s work serves the double purpose of also promoting the former’s own blog (at least if the latter sets their blog to allow trackbacks).
I say disingenuous, because as he claims an insight-
This eureka moment of mine suddenly makes the style of some bloggers suspect in my book - those who pepper their work with so many links to other blogs.
This is something he himself latched on to, and demonstrated with great single-mindedness of purpose, in his previous incarnation as a commenter in many blogs: the relentless self-promotion of his website, and his works, at getrealphilippines.com (with its informative banners, that serve as an appreciation of the value of endorsements/listings, etc.) and in other venues, too.
My point being that what makes bloggers suspect in his book, happens to be a book he himself has not only written, but so enthusiastically and consistently self-promoted. His eureka moment, then, lacks the insight that should come from recognizing how valid his point is, by his own instinctive appreciation -and utilization- of the very things causing him to cast himself (and confirm in his own mind) as an insightful skeptic.
As for his is other opinion,
I made the observation yonks ago about how the style of a noted blogger has evolved from making very sharp-edged, highly-focused entries to the ones we see today that have more of the stock-take-cum-shotgun approach of a content consolidator.
It can be filed in the de gustibus department.
2. His insistence on the superiority of Indie over mainstream films. Again, on the whole a question of taste and preference but this is stretching it a bit:
For Indy film producers, an audience is a bonus. For Studio movie producers, an audience is the whole point. The latter is driven by credentialism and the former by insight. We all know mass appeal brings home the bacon, whilst edginess and loyalty to vision attracts a far smaller subset - insightful minds.
If one’s reference are strictly the auteurs of the past decade, then perhaps he’s right. But why ignore the possibility, even probability, that in the heart of an independent director beats the ambition of a Cecil B. de Mille? Or that the difference between ground-breaking directors like Orson Welles and Quentin Tarantino isn’t necessarily vision, or even trail-blazing talent, or fighting the odds by starting off with very little resources compared to those enjoyed by the directors comfortably within the entertainment behemoths, but rather, the interesting question of whether one can more successfully make the transition from upstart to establishment while maintaining some sort of integrity?
And such a view ignores, as well, the ability of others to be original within the mainstream and how the daring can become the conventional which will be rebelled against in the future. Each subculture imposes its own limits: the Indie culture can end up extinguishing itself by alienating the audience.
Howard Goodall in his TV shows on music likes to make the interesting argument that Classical musicians in mid- to late- 20th Century, committed artistic suicide by alienating their audiences; that it took a return to an appreciation of Western musical conventions and the artistic heritage by trail-blazing pop musicians like The Beatles, to reunite artists and audiences, something a new generation of Classical musicians have taken to heart. His views on music can be applied -or are applicable- to all forms of expression:
In my forthcoming Channel 4 series, How Music Works, it has been my priority to demonstrate the techniques, tricks and rudiments of music through examples in every conceivable style of music. A rhythmic device might be heard in a rap by Twista, or an Invention by Bach. My hope is that musical complexity, cleverness and sophistication should henceforth never again be seen to ‘belong’ to western classical music, nor that uncomplicated, fun, easy listening should be seen to be the sole province of popular music. I do not believe there is, in fact, so mighty a gulf between the music of the classical masters and their modern successors in the popular field, but the gap in public perception of the two genres is canyon-like. And it is widening with every year.
Any survey of classical music’s place in contemporary culture is hampered by an endless supply of myths surrounding the subject. One such piece of hokum is the notion that ‘youngsters these days don’t like, understand or appreciate classical music’. First of all, there was never a time when all young people were into the music beloved of their parents, grandparents or distant ancestors. It is part of the point of being young to find your own music, preferably distinct from and definitely louder than that enjoyed by the previous generation. This was as true for Beethoven and his contemporaries as it is today. Still commentators bemoan the lack of classical music in the daily diet of contemporary youth. This is odd, since roughly ten times more young people take GCSE, AS and A level Music than they did 40 years ago and a fairly hefty slice of the syllabus is devoted to listening skills associated with western classical music. More young people play in orchestras, bands and other ensembles than ever in our history – by a long chalk – and much if not most of what they play is classical music. In 1960 the UK had one specialist school for music. Now there are over thirty, as well as roughly 300 performing arts colleges and academies. I would go as far as saying the current generation of young people are probably the most musical who ever lived. That they like music from every genre is to their very great credit. Whilst classical music enjoys – overwhelmingly – the lion’s share of public subsidy to music, it is but one branch of the musical family and modern youngsters are right to see it as such. Given that the tax payers’ millions are mostly soaked up by preserving this, the heritage department of the music world, it is hardly surprising that young musicians are attracted to the grungier, more spontaneous parts of the contemporary live music scene. Just because a teenager doesn’t like Jane Eyre doesn’t mean she doesn’t like reading; Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman or Tolkein will do fine. Bronte’s always there for later in life. So is Mozart.
This brings me on to my second myth, that the public at large have ‘gone off’ classical music. In the 1960s, between 300 and 600 thousand listeners might on average tune into the BBC Third Programme to hear a classical concert. Nowadays the loyal weekly audience for Radio 3 and Classic FM combined is in excess of 8 million. The idea, then, that fewer people listen to classical music these days is quite a big, absurd, out-of-all-proportion myth. Never mind that a third of the population hear Carl Orff providing climactic moments for the X-Factor week-in, week-out. Orchestral managers worry that the average age of audience members at classical concerts is either dwindling, or aging, or both. But they dare not confront one of the reasons for this.
To put it bluntly, in the 1950s going to an orchestral concert was one of only a few things you could do of an evening, so people who wanted a night out, who liked music but didn’t enjoy scratchy records, tinny gramophones or their claustrophobic sitting rooms, trooped off to the Town Hall to get a fix. Now there are loads of things to do with your evenings, thank God. But here’s the rub. There are more orchestras now than then, playing the same pieces to the same constituency, vying for the same celebrity soloists, competing with high-quality sound systems in every home. London has 5 professional symphony orchestras. Five. It is a myth that only old people like classical concerts, anyway, as you will find at any Steve Reich, John Adams or Philip Glass performance. Younger audiences prefer younger music, that’s all.
There has been a trend in recent years to think of a new name for classical music, because advocates for it sense that the label sounds old-fashioned and frumpy. Alternatives such as ‘concert’ or ‘art’ music have been put forward from time to time, but one current favourite is ‘serious’ music. This is the third myth and it is a dangerous one. There is a streak of snobbery running through much discourse on classical music, a snobbery that looks down its nose at the whole paraphenalia of popular culture – its mp3s, downloads, walkmans, samples – as well as the kind of folk who enjoy it, and it is this snobbery that has tried to claim that classical music is more ‘serious’ than all those other frivolous forms – jazz, hip-hop, pop, world, musicals and so on. It is an insult to the brilliantly skilled and committed musicians in all these other genres but it is an insult that most of all damages classical music’s own reputation, since it confirms the prejudices of many – that classical music is an exclusive, lah-di-dah, Members Only club. A club that apparently decides what is musically serious and what is not. It saddens me that the beautiful, thrilling works of, say, Gustav Mahler, Gabriel Faure or Igor Stravinsky are tarred with this hoity-toity attitude. They are quite capable of standing on their own two feet; they do not need to be granted some badge of seriousness by anyone else.
People are afraid of the ‘insider knowledge’ that seems to be attached to the classical repertoire. I have done my best to chip away at this misconception in my TV programmes over the past decade or so, but it is an illuminating and refreshing experience watching, at the Schools Proms every year (Monday to Wednesday of this coming week* at the Royal Albert Hall) hundreds of young musicians playing and hearing pieces of dizzying variety, back to back, devoid of historical or intellectual ‘context’. They experience the music without its programme-notey baggage: its opus numbers, its ‘schools of’ and its isms. Because the concerts are a deliberate mish-mash of classical and non-classical, the boundaries between styles lose their meaning. For a composer like myself it is a liberating reminder of what music at its best can be – abstract, emotional, free and endlessly surprising.
And so, the mass-oriented movie factories can end up producing schmaltz and crap; but to hail one to the exclusion of the other considering both can produce works of genius and works that are utter drivel is only a case of comforting one’s failure to connect by proclaiming the idiocy of the herd. You never know where something interesting, inspiring, potentially revolutionary, will arise: but if you cast a wide net, chances are you will spot it, enjoy it, help it.
But even if strictly a matter of non-debatable personal taste, the sneaking suspicion stuart-santiago has makes possible an explanation of my (mish-mash) approach to blogging.
I. First of all, this blog is about me
The writer has a compulsion to communicate, whether people will listen or not; though writers endlessly try to figure out how to communicate better, so as to gain an audience: even failed novelists, besides being driven by a compulsion to create, also nurture the dream of achieving either critical acclaim or some sort of commercial success. Some have the good fortune of achieving both.
You will, eventually, hit a ceiling imposed by your style/subject matter but you owe it to yourself and your readers to maximize your share of the audience. This is particularly important (and more difficult) when it comes to history and politics because the audiences will always be smaller than those interested in other facets of life.
Because I almost totally earn a living from writing, the question becomes how does one nourish one’s body and soul at the same time? One’s choice of a particular vocation (which feeds your soul) also requires making choices unique to one’s profession (which makes it possible to feed yourself).
In a country where the number of newspaper subscribers hasn’t changed from the 1960s to the present (the Inquirer, which claims to be the No. 1 broadsheet in terms of circulation basically claims to have the same circulation that the Manila Times did during its heyday prior to Martial Law, but our population has increased from 35 million to 90 million), relying only on a newspaper audience is not enough, either for economic security or impact. You have to pursue other audiences in other venues, with different, though at times overlapping demographics, or face a dead-end job: the average Inquirer reader is supposedly 50 years old; in 20 years, one would face the extinction of one’s reader base if you relied only on broadsheet readers, at a time when, in 20 years, there are pretty sobering predictions the traditional newspaper will be dead, too.
This blog serves, of course, as a platform for me to get my views across. But considering that I write in other venues, it also serves several practical purposes for me:
1. The process of going through the online papers and magazines, and then the blogs, is a necessary ritual -gathering news and views. It helps focus my mind for the task(s) at hand for the day or week.
2. This blog is my scrapbook: it helps me keep track of what I’ve written, what others have written, the things I find remarkable/interesting/useful and keeping them in one place so I can refer to them later or right now as the case may be. It’s more efficient than keeping a bloating list of bookmarks or a perpetually open series of pages and tabs.
3. It helps me work out themes and ideas I find important, and which I’d like to communicate to others. I can test out an idea, an interpretation, I can work it out and return to it when something requires further gestation (research, thinking through, etc.).
4. it helps me amplify and elaborate on things I’ve already brought forward (further readings, links to pieces that inspired those ideas, etc.).
5. It enables me to say things I can’t say because of time, space, or editorial limitations in other places. This is about maximizing my freedom(s) too.
II. And then, this blog is about you, in singular and plural terms
The limitation of the traditional column are as follows: available only to those who pay for it; reacted to, often, only by those who will spend to have their reactions known (a stamp on a letter, plus time and effort to put pen to paper, the reactions subject to space limitations and editing by the editors of the paper) and not in real-time. This is a disincentive to sharing opinions and from writer and reader learning from each other: and this is what makes human interaction so satisfying. Some of us are better at face-to-face, some of us, when done when alone and facing a monitor; surely if we can’t enjoy both then doing so in one way is as fruitful as the other (or can be).
1. These are the things I find interesting; I’m suggesting you might find them interesting, too. Agree? Disagree? Don’t Care? That’s the interesting part, to us all.
2. These are things some readers like; other readers have other preferences; if you can kill two birds with one stone (fulfilling your own needs/desires and those of readers) then hoorah! There were some readers who liked the daily roundup of headlines very much; I only stopped doing it religiously when it proved too time-consuming in relation to my other duties and deadlines. But I still try to do it when I can, because it’s useful for myself and apparently, some readers. Others prefer essays and since my view of the blogosphere is that it’s a place for pamphleteering, this is ultimately the reason for being of this blog: but you cannot do it always and not every event or trend requires an essay. On some days, there is ample time and opportunity to do both. You cannot please everyone, but that’s not the point, only the limiting reality.
3. By exposing your readers to the opinions of others, in the case of opinions you share or like, it helps spread them; in the case of those you disagree with, it serves to put them on parity with your own. Your reader will judge which is more in keeping with their own views; they might discover, to their delight, that they are not alone. In the end, it gives everyone a wider view of the landscape and may also identify places your readers will prefer to where they were, previously, which was your blog. Nothing lasts for ever and if you welcome people to your corner you shouldn’t have a problem with their finding somewhere else more to their liking. It was fun while it lasted.
In the purest sense you could forbid comments, refrain from linking to anything, studiously refrain from even acknowledging rankings, etc: you could exist in splendid isolation. But if that’s what you wanted to do, you might as well scribble in a notebook and hide it in a safe.