Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

I apologize that activity here has been slowing down more than the global economy. I'm actually racing in top gear towards an event horizon of fair significance, so real world responsibilities & preparations take precedence over any self-important pontificating around these parts.

I've also been feeling a li'l conflicted, funny, in a funk about the purpose this site serves. Recently, when I was trying to explain why I enjoyed something that would normally skirt the edges of my interest, a friend interrupted, "You know why you like it? 'Cuz you're a blogger." As though this meant something. As though this were some official title or legitimate vocation. Of course, it can be: Markos Moulitsas, Ariana Huffington, Ezra Klein, these are people whose primary allocation of time and source of income is blogging. But me? I'm not a fuckin' blogger.

As trite a folksy dictum it is that a man ought to be known for what he is, not what he thinks he is, it's pure egotism that leads a person to define themselves primarily by something other than what they spend most of their time doing. Without exception, every "writer" or "photographer" I met within the gaijin community in Tokyo paid their rent as a language teacher. Another acquaintance, who defines herself as a "self-employed visual artist," spends 8 hours a day, 5 days a week teaching disinterested teens how to make clay busts of their own puberty-despoilt faces. This is as delusional as any gas pump monkey who'd call themselves a "musician" because they play bass in a Black Sabbath cover band.

I'm not saying it's an exquisite thrill to define yourself by your work. True, there are those whose work is actually a pleasure, to whom I doff my hat & offer my envy. Were we all so beautifully fortunate, we wouldn't need antonyms like "play" or "fun."

However, to define a person lump-sum by whatever they devote the most time to is insufficient, as demonstrated by studying two odd species within the worker genus. What of those who spend less than half their waking life working and still bring home the bacon? Odds are you're either a pillage-via-paperwork "little Eichmann" & a right prick, or the most together motherfucker on the planet.

How about those who similarly spend the minority of their time actively employed, and yet their meager means & material wealth reflect this lack of remunerated labour? You know, those often referred to as dossers, derelicts, slackers, scumbags, bums, layabouts, losers, and welfare queens? Identifying them by their vocation (or, rather, lack thereof) necessarily labels them nobodies, mere gristle sizzling in sacrifice upon the altar of capitalism. It's dehumanising, unfair, and inaccurate besides.

Is it a matter of the import of one's activities? Then by what measure does one job matter over another? I, happily, spend most of my time instrument in hand and earmuffed by headphones during a mixdown, so it would seem fair to title myself a musician & audio engineer - but is it really, given that it's brought me as much renown as if I'd been mopping floors at Seven-Eleven? And what precisely is less noble about custodial work in a convenience store than writing stoner rock songs slagging off Australians?

But perhaps that's wandering too far afield from the topic of blogging. What makes blogging a unique medium is the power of the audience to dictate its form without the classic incentive of cash to bait the content provider(s). Obviously, commercial blogs exist, but whereas independent musicians or filmmakers can remain steadfastly oblivious to the whims of their public, a blog's content - or at the very least its tone - can be steered as much by the readers as the writer.

It's a double-blind date in which a blogger & their audience engage. As much as the blogger can shield, edit, or affect their online persona, the readers can remain even more anonymous or obscure; after all, they're not the ones in the spotlight. Further, a blogger is never as in control of their public image as they imagine: what if they're weaker on the page than in conversation? What if they make a bold statement on a subject one of their readers happens to know much more about? What if a merrily ironic aside, easily understood by the blogger's close acquaintances, is misread as an ill-informed opinion, a solid-as-Swiss-cheese straw man, or mordant anomie? It's always too late to take anything back once both the blogger & the reader have realized whether they're sitting across the table from Prince Charming or Ted Bundy.

So maybe blogging is less a blind date or fireside chat, than a blindfolded waltz across a fog-blanketed minefield. Sometimes it works out. The best blogs, with informed & lively exchanges between writer & reader, have the intellectual tone of salons or symposiums. The worst are a Stygian mire of thundering idiocy and petty hatred, all windmilling fists and flying spittle - a fate that can befall any of the better blogs too, should the tone of the comments thread deteriorate too severely.

Me? Well, I often feel like some bloviator glued to his favourite barstool, drawling on to no one in particular, who is occasionally dragged into "Yer so fulla shit"/"No, yer fulla of shit" ping-pong matches by some crank seated at the other end of the bar. (Hi, Andrew Stevens!) This is a useful forum for fleshing out half-formed ideas, talking myself towards a better understanding of my own views. But it's a bit discouraging, and reveals a lot about the going rate of online communication, when I (unintentionally, I'll add) kick-started the most thorough back-and-forth in the recent history of this blog by saying Republicans could "eat a bowl of dicks."

A statement by which I still stand, by the way. But when that is the jump-off, the landing won't be pretty.

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