I was elated at first to have joined Blogcritics Magazine – “the community of readers and writers from around the globe.” And my first three articles, published as promptly as possible in spite of my problems with the interface, have only confirmed the experience. The response was phenomenal, the discussion most spirited and of the highest quality, as was a sense of commitment to issues and causes. Never before have I run into such an enthusiastic and high-minded audience on my own Weblog or elsewhere, and my hopes were soaring. Then I realized the grim reality of it all: most, if not all, of the feedback had come from fellow writers and bloggers like myself. Which brings me to my question — who and where are the readers?
Don’t get me wrong. There’s much to be said for the community of one’s peers, especially in arts and all creative endeavors, and I appreciate it immensely. I really do! We all need reinforcement from time to time, a form of sustenance, a reason to keep on going. Apart from friendships which get formed, there is also a sense in which all works of art are individual responses to another fellow artist: a poem is but a response to another poem. And it’s no different, I suppose, with fiction, visual arts or musical compositions: they all feed one upon the other, provide the artist with the raw material and data, stimulate his or her creative juices and, generally speaking, facilitate the process. In fact, that’s how traditions and schools of art are born, each evolving from one another. So on and so forth.
We all stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, and it’s a good thing. It provides for a sense of continuity and connection with the past which otherwise would have been lost as generations come and go. But having said all that, the question remains — where is the audience? For ultimately, each and everyone’s aim and aspiration — their sacred duty, in fact — is to reach out. In the absence of that, we're useless! A poet in the true sense of the word (and I’m speaking here loosely, including all art forms in the fold) is “a maker” — a maker of new worlds and vistas, a creator of sorts, a true visionary. This is why Plato had gone to inordinate efforts to banish all such, Homer included, from The Republic. It was a dangerous breed as far as he was concerned. A poet was the disruptor of peace, harmony, and the status quo. He or she threatened the stability of polis, the city-state.
I don't know what success you have had in attracting an audience to your own weblog, but if my experience is any indication the difficulties are formidable. We're facing a serious educational crisis in this country — I kid you not! — more serious, perhaps, than our economic ailments. The two go hand in hand of course. A system which prides itself on having perfected the concept of mass production couldn’t help but create its negative (self) image or counterpart as it were — a full-fledged mass consumption society (see George Katona, for one), in which “such former luxuries as homeownership, durable goods, travel, recreation, and entertainment are no longer restricted to a few. . . , [with the result that] the broad masses participate [now] in enjoying all these things and generate most of the demand for them.” However, the affordability and the naturally-declining quality of most consumer goods have a much wider implication by far, for in turning consumption into the be-all-and-end-all, the pinnacle as it were of our national culture or the individual's experience, they’re quickly succeeding in producing a nation of morons.
You should take a look sometimes at “Today’s Top Searches,” a regular feature of practically every homepage. It’ll give you a good feel for the pulse of the nation. The following were the results for Yahoo!, December 25:
1. Kate Winslet
2. Cate Blanchett
3. Christmas eCards
4. Traffic Reports
5. Gift Cards
6. Best Camera Phones
7. Hanukkah Recipes
8. Ugg Boots
9. Napkin Folding
Well, I didn’t care much for the order but at least one topic, I thought to myself, made the top ten: “Depression.” When I looked it up, however, I was quickly brought from the mountain top: it referred to “clinical depression,” not the economic conditions which, many fear, are slowly taking hold. Oddly enough, none of these items made the next day’s list. “After Christmas Sales” is the undisputed leader, with “Hallmark Ornaments” and “Pizza” as the distant ninth and tenth. Both are subsumable under the first, I suppose — the latter, because people are tired of leftovers or simply don’t want to bother; so there’s a pattern at least. Still, there is no satisfying American curiosity. Public taste is a fickle thing indeed.
Even more illuminating are comments on some of the topics. Shine, for one, is a popular Web site “for women focusing on fashion and beauty, healthy living, parenting, sex and love, career and money, food, and more.” Every year they publish a list of the best-dressed celebrities, and 2008 is no exception. Lest you think I’m talking here about some marginal, hole-in-the-wall Internet site, I’ve got news for you: the show is hosted by Sarah Bernard, “a contributing editor at New York Magazine where she covers fashion and pop culture trends and at Elle” and that’s just some of her credentials. Here is a sample:
“WHAT HAPPENED TO BLAKE LIVELY..SHE ROCKED THIS YEAR !!” writes one reader, code-name “mpier06,” and a would-be blogger, though when I checked it last there was an announcement: “this user hasn’t written any posts yet.” (I suppose the complaint was that a certain Blake Lively, whoever she is, had been slighted by a flagrant omission.)
“Hi bueatiful people,” writes another, named “lankomaryziggar” (This individual, too, has pretentions, but they haven’t embarked yet on the rigors of blogging: there is no post to their name.)
“huhu good work,” writes “ayman_89”
“funny how the richer they are the more they look like they climbed out of a gutter somewhere, take Rihanna, no really take her and show her how to dress, ewww !” writes “White Trash”
“danielleroberson17 its TAYLOR NOT TALER BUT ANYWAY WHY PIC A BEANPOLE, SHES BUTT UGLY.RIHANNA NEED A HAIR TRANSFUSION AND ALL THESE WOMEN ARE BUTT UGLY.WHERE IS AMANDA BYNES,KALEY CUOCO or ANYBODY WITH CLASS ! THESE OUTFITS ARE HIDEOUS !” seconds “Lolipop/Angelgirl”
“More Breast We need More BREAST,” adds “BUBBA”
I don’t know how much more of this I can take, but you get the picture. The “Comment” section, by the way, is open so there’s still time to be heard. There is an added benefit, besides: apparently, the Shine website offers you a blog-spot free of charge. It’s just that none of the commentators have availed themselves of the opportunity; perhaps they’re not aware of it yet.
Our prospects, of course, are not quite that bleak. I refuse to believe that the respondents to the Shine “questionnaire,” practically soliciting all visitors for comments, form a representative sample. I know that there are plenty of intelligent men and women out there – hardworking, true, and perhaps too wasted at the end of the day trying to make ends meet, but who are hungry nonetheless, hungry for fresh insights and knowledge, for meaningful dialogue, anything that’d make them understand and see their way about. They're groping! It is they, I submit — these forgotten women and men! — whom we must reach or our entire enterprise will have been in vain. To admit defeat here would be tantamount to saying that we only we get what we deserve.
Since this is an internal memo, I’m leaving it open-ended.
PS: The last I checked, “Today’s Top Searches” list for Dec 26 has remained unchanged.