Writing. We're reading a lot of it. We're writing a lot of it. The amount of words and thoughts ingested and composed on a daily basis is staggering, possibly psychologically damaging, and completely unprecedented. And that deserves a look. So what better time than now to do so, when over the past few weeks (especially the last two days) we've seen a deluge of dialogue on the subject?
On Tuesday, a pissing match between two well-known music writers took place on the medium best-designed for it: Twitter. Chris Weingarten, writer for the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Decibel and others, tiffed with Gorilla vs. Bear, a highly popular indie music blog over...something. The two traded barbs about their cred, style, and taste, and the whole thing devolved rather quickly into a "step the fuck off" contest (you can read a recap here). It was widely commented on by critics from every corner, most picking a side and lol-dissing the opposing.
While the argument itself may have been trite, the kernel here isn't the substance of their argument but the attention it garnered: people care about this stuff, and they are partisan. We should expect the same from our writers. Matt Diehl, writer for the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, and editor at the Daily Swarm(full disclosure: I also work as an editor at the Daily Swarm) put it this way: "The fact that people are passionate about it, that's the thing that's been demonstrated. People actually pay attention to this shit."
Rob Hoeke, "When People Talk"
It's a point borne out by the commentary currently simmering on a post that musician John Roderick wrote for City Pages' sister paper, the Seattle Weekly. His piece uses broad strokes to blow the Ricola horn in support of a higher-quality music journalism and criticism, saying "readers should demand better" than shitty interview questions and a disengaged, disinterested critical perspective.
What his piece lacks in mettle -- eloquently pointed out by critic Maura Johnston: "The piece made zero distinctions. Name names!" -- it makes up for with intention, demanding nothing more than writers who actually care about what their writing about. That much should be expected, as a matter of course.
Andrea Swensson, Music Editor at this paper, put it just so: "I think there's a whole sect of critics who think the only useful criticism is vicious and without feeling. Like critics are the pit bulls stationed outside the compound." Being innately contrarian does no one any good, unless you're in a sitcom. It's important to note the difference between being critical and being a muckraking dick -- it's not a writer's fault if something is horrible. It's their fault if they can't make it interesting. Fine, yes.
Micachu & The Shapes, "Calculator"
But the harder concept for people outside the building of criticism to gauge is the modern writer's daily routine. Again, Swensson: "When I started this job I was writing one column a week...now it's more like 15." That's not an abnormal workload for a full-time, fully-modern writer, whatever their beat. The light-speed pace of our frenetic culture requires the people creating its content to listen/read/watch, judge, and turn out beautiful copy consistently, several times a day. That's just how the cookie is crumbling. It's something Roderick mentions in his piece as well: "The problem is that new journalistic content is required constantly, and exciting stuff happens somewhat infrequently."
What the fuck does he think is amazing? What do you? If inarguably amazing stuff was created and/or happened by/to everyone all the time, the bar for amazing would just be raised. And that's exactly what's happened. From mining and digitizing long-lost ephemera to current works informed by that kaleidoscopic pool, there is just too much stuff. Too much awesome, awesome stuff. Woe is us. We're (writers, readers) left with little choice, really. Adapt, love, think, read, and don't settle. If possible. Above all, don't patronize.
Canibus & DJ Premier, "Golden Terra of Rap (Redux)"
We deserve considered, intelligent opinion. We deserve quality in culture. Right now. But amongst the meta-critiques, we owe ourselves and everyone else to remember one thing: we're pretty goddamn lucky.