Sunday, April 15, 2007

Head Strong and the Angry Inches

Just as we blog rats are finally having a little fun, some tedious prat of an adult comes along and tries to rain on our tirade. I refer of course to the ludicrous attempt by Messrs Wales and O’Reilly of the Made a Fortune off the Internet and Now Believe We Have the Blog-Given Right to Dictate to the Monsters of Our Own Creation Club to impose a Code of Conduct on the blogosphere. In their esteemed view, we are all being far too rude to each other. I have two words – as fucking if. I know that’s technically three words but the qualifier is not active so I presume, and I certainly hope we can all agree, it’s really two words.

Anyway, as reported in one’s beloved Guardian today by blogger-styled ‘second worst broadsheet journalist in Britain’ Tim Dowling, the internet pioneers and self-appointed parents of the web have decided to call their naughty offspring in for a spot of Emily Post. (She was a manners guru, google-heads). My personal two-fingered take on this is that if my etiquette needs a makeover I’ll join fucking Toastmasters. You are not the boss of me Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales.

Sorry, did I just go off on one? Well yes, actually. It’s my blog and I’ll be wry if I want to. Ha! Here’s the thing – pphhooooouuuuu – sorry (again), that was a virtual raspberry for you Tim O’Reilly – much respect to ya Pops – who is the author of this Code of Conduct. As I understand it you look like Hawkeye Pierce outa M*A*S*H* and you fucking expect us to take ya serious? Get an afterlife sucker ‘cos you sound like a religious prat. Golly me, sorry, I must have been possessed by some cyber-ego. Any more of this insolence and I’ll have to give myself an e-ASBO.

The gospel according to Saints Timothy and James is charmingly introduced thus,

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

Gawd love a duck – sounds just like Tony ‘Blah Blah’ Blair speak. You guys got Alistair Campbell scripting for ya? The ache of lofty hurt feelings is palpable. The agony these guys must be going through when you consider the heart and soul investment they have made in creating these personal platforms so that the general public can engage in ‘constructive conversation’ only to find their lovingly set table upturned and their pretty doilies torn to shreds. A parent should never know such heartache. Why it makes Gremlins look like The Water-babies.

The Code of Conduct mainly consists of statements of the blindingly obvious that, unless you run your blog for no other purpose than to spread malicious spite, you probably adhere to anyway. Most of us don’t brook aimless invective. What would be the point of that? Your blog may be the one arena in your life where you exert absolute domination. Why would you yield that to some nutter with a can of Tennants Extra in one hand and a slim grasp of reality in the other? But there is one howler that undermines any credibility these guys might have had,

We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

The most positive thing you can say about this limp piety is that it comes from the do as I say and not as I do school of philosophical thought and can only be the product of someone whose grey matter has been colonised by tapioca. That it’s a technical nonsense, seems to have been lost on the super brains that authored it. There is no such thing as ‘in person’ in the blogosphere. You are not communicating with actual people – you are communicating with a version of humanity that someone on the end of a keyboard chooses to present. You might just as well demand that characters in a Pinter play be civil to each other. Your correspondent could just as easily be the Face of Boe as caring, sensitive Melissa Melontoes from Friern Barnet. Everyone is the same size and weight with the same capacity to inflict a bloody nose. And if you get biffed yourself, it doesn’t actually hurt. Sticks and stones people, sticks and stones.

Dowling asks possibly the most laughably redundant question of the twenty-first century,

What is blogging for?

Here’s the thing Tim. The world is wrong and every blogger knows that the existence of their blog, goes some way to redressing that wrongness. In our mainstream culture, opinion tends to be legitimised by its monetary value and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the people with the best formed and most eloquently expressed views are the ones that end up in the newspaper. In this respect the blogosphere is egalitarian – everyone has the same chance of putting their thoughts into the public domain. The value judgment is entirely a construct of professional writers. Andrew Keen, author of the forthcoming book, The Cult of the Amateur : How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, says, ‘if you’ve got something good, why would you give it away for free?’ Same reason you don’t flog your newborn baby on eBay I guess Andy old chap.

The parallel universe inhabited by Messrs Dowling, O’Reilly, Wales, Keen et al in which Chip’n’Dale pour each other cups of Darjeeling and pepper their conversations with words like indubitably, is also home to Prime Ministerial pretender Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown. It’s going to take more than a book about courage and perseverance and a couple of stilted, mawkish conversations with kiddies baffled by such terms as ‘a raft of measures’ to recover the reputation of this risible duck. Speaking to one’s Guardian yesterday Scrooge revealed,

‘I think we’re moving away from this period when celebrity matters, when people have become famous for being famous.’

Mmm. That would be on the same day as the one when, in our world at least, the only news story was Kate Middleton and her broken romance. Let me see now that would be the Kate Middleton who is famous for being the girlfriend of someone who is famous for being born into a preposterous anachronism of a privileged family with no defensible place in a modern, democratic society. Undeterred by not only being on the wrong page but in a musty library in a galaxy far, far away, Scrooge lumbered on,

‘But I’ve somehow got more faith in the essential decency of the British people – that they want to talk about the big and important issues in a way that does justice to them.’

Funny. I checked the letterbox and there was no invitation to join my local debating society in there. Just as well really because whenever I’ve been to local discussion groups they always make you agree a set of ‘ground rules’ which involve making pledges of mutual respect and agreeing to the absurd notion that everyone’s opinion matters. Clearly, in the narrow context in which this given applies, it’s almost always self-defeating and exposes rather than protects the people for whom it is artificially imposed. This is how you find yourself politely talking about someone’s overflow when you’re supposed to be deciding whether your local failing school should turn into an academy to make it sound more attractive to parents.

The essential flaw in Tim Dowling’s argument is that it is based on a misconception just as crude. What he’s saying is that only a select few are authorised to express an opinion and that selection is made by newspaper editors using quality criteria that suits their particular purpose. The blogosphere is the diametric opposite. Everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and their legitimacy hinges on their ability to hold the interest of their readers. In other words it’s earned rather than bestowed.

On the bright side, there is a reason to live embedded in this facile article and that is that it provides an opportunity to snigger and sneer at these fusty old adults and their vacuous attempts to paint the world magnolia. We can go on being as rude to each other as we like because the olds don’t have any jurisdiction in cyberspace. Let our motto be Roolz is for Foolz. If you think you’re hard enough, meet me in the comments box and be prepared to fight to the death, or until it’s time for my tea, whichever one comes first…

Irreverently doctored Rokeby Venus by Velasquez. I've got no shame, me.


Sue George said...

Interesting that so many journalists slag off blogs but then feel compelled to write one themselves.
The heading at the top of my blog says "what I want to write, when I want to write it". As a journalist (which I am) you rarely write what you want to write, and certainly never when you want to write it. The sort of things I think are important aren't part of mainstream news/feature values, and I have long given up hope of getting paid (much) for writing about them. But I think they are so important that I am (almost) happy to write about them anyway.

Reading the Signs said...

what, no-one taken you on yet?

Well first off - yeeeeah, fuckin right, Ms Pants and bloody lovely post.

But what I mean to say is that no blogger code of conduct is going to stop the people that really want to do the nasty, is it? Don't they know that?

It's just like what happens in the playground when head teacher turns a blind eye to the thugs that are beating the daylights out of someone and grabs the one whose uniform is wrong and bangs on about that instead.

Something like that anyway.

That's so pants said...

Hi Sue

Absolutely. Many professional journalists can't see that there is a distinction between their work, which they present as a commercial product, and other types of writing for which authors might have any number of alternative motivations. They are buying into the 'it's only worth what someone will pay for it' ethic and not everything in the world can be judged solely on its monetary value.

I am not interested in whether what I write is considered 'good' or 'bad' by some external criteria that has nothing to do with me. Editorial imperatives obviously drive what ends up in print but the question is - are we really more interested in Prince William's love life than anything else in the world or do we swallow it because that's all we're given?

Hi Signs - I know! I'm either really scary or a complete joke. I just can't decide which.

Of course - the bully analogy is bang on the money. Obviously the only people who are going to sign up to this flummery are the ones that comply anyway. So the question as to the motivation of these idiots is this - are they really THAT STOOPID that they hadn't worked that one out or is it a hollow gesture to absolve themselves of the parental guilt which they condescendingly and ever so pointlessly feel?

Stray said...

Bravo Ms Pants.

I find the whole thing rather alarming!

I just can't quite imagine the scenario in which a blogger thinks - "Oh! And there I was about to call you an arse and wish death on all your kin, but no, I have remembered that funny little icon on my blog and I cannot betray my blogger code of conduct!"

Such a load of crap. These people clearly never got to be prefects, and have been looking for the opportunity to live out that fantasy role they always craved ...

And yes, the whole 'real writing' / 'not real writing' thing ... such wank. I guess old Vincent wasn't a real painter then, as his work wasn't really bought until after his death. It was just a hobby, not like the important jobbing portrait painters of the day!


That's so pants said...

Hey Stray - I don't get it. We all seem to agree on everything. I find no incentive at all to threaten the livelihood or family of any of my correspondents. These guys must be in a different blogosphere in an a galaxspehere far, far awayoshere.

Anonymous said...

You don't know what you're talking about. I am posting this anonymously because I had to shut my blog down. I was stalked and harassed and my family were threatened by people who disagreed with my moderate views. You could be a target because you say much more controversial things than I ever did. I hope it doesn't happen to you but you should beware because it is horrible to be threatened by stalkers they way that I was.

That's so pants said...

Dear Anonymous. I'm so sorry that you had such an awful experience. You may have got the impression from my post that I disputed that bad behaviour exists on the blogosphere. That's not the case. I think we all know that there are attacks on bloggers - very often without foundation, as is so often the case with bullying.

I can't imagine what it must have been like for you being stalked and harassed, and especially having your family threatened. I'm sorry if what I am going to say is crass but are the threats directly related to something that you have revealed through your blog or do you truly believe that whoever is stalking you is aware of your real identity and where you live?

Looking at my stats, I've established that you are posting from within the UK. I hope you've already done this but if not, please contact the police immediately because you are protected by law.

My post was primarily about the absurdity of self-appointed web grandees like O'Reilly and Wales presuming to retrospectively impose an etiquette on something that they had deliberately colluded in making regulation-free.

I know there is a dark side and it's not difficult to wander there. When I posted recently on my stay in Homerton Hospital, I attracted several comments from people claiming to be staff there. A couple of these comments were gob-smackingly abusive. I rejected them on the grounds that I couldn't verify that these people were actually on staff at the hospital but also because a lot of my readers are Hackney residents and I didn't want them thinking that the the A&E staff were all axe murderers.

I published critical but reasonable comments from someone claiming to be a doctor and one claiming to be a nurse at the Homerton, even though I couldn't verify either - you just can't. It actually didn't matter if these people were genuine or not because what they said contributed to a discussion. To be honest, I'm not verifiable either.

As a blogger you have control over comments but I know that it's possible to hack into blogs and take them over. Maybe that's what happened to you.

Ros Barber said...

Earned, rather than bestowed, indeed. Your writing's tightest when you're spoiling for a fight. Can't offer you one, but am hopeful that our self-appointed protectors will continue to rile you.

As to the abuse of anonymous, I was reading in Friday's G2 of the serious threats received by some women bloggers - particularly those who bill themselves as feminists. Your incisive take on Faye Turney / Life on Mars marks you out as a potential target - but I would hope, should the bullies come for you, that wouldn't stop you from fighting back and speaking out.

The internet, like Gene Hunt's 1973, allows free rein to those who prefer women not to participate in public life. And as you so elegantly and vituperatively point out, it's nonsense to imagine that any kind of "behaviour code" is going to protect those, like anonymous, who are being driven back into silence.

That's so pants said...

Hey Ros

'Earned rather than bestowed' -

It's misleading on my part (poor writing!) as I didn't mean to suggest that journalists haven't earned their readers. I should have made it clearer. I meant that they automatically have access to large numbers of readers who will buy their publication regardless. Whether or not their individual work grabs the interest of those readers is the part of the process over which they have influence.

Interestingly, I do understand why some people are appealing for 'quality control', I just think it's irrelevant in this context. Yes, it may be irritating for intelligent people to have to come to terms with the fact that vast numbers of idiots are publishing the contents of their empty heads but is Faber & Faber irritated by the existence of Mills & Boon?

We are capable of finding the blogs that meet our expectations without parental guidance. I'm with Signs on this one. The attempt to universalise a series of quite separate problems of varying degrees of importance that afflict the blogosphere is simply masking an inability by international authorities to deal with a small amount of serious criminal behaviour. There is a big difference between inarticulate rudeness and threatening attrition. I suspect these guys are going for the soft option to make it look like they are doing something, although, for the life of me, I do not get WHY they feel responsible.

Ros Barber said...

You didn't need to explain "earned rather than bestowed"; I understood what you meant. I was, rather, complimenting you in perhaps too compact a way! Your audience is well-earned; and if the world were just, it would grow inexorably larger. I'd love to see your work in regular printer's ink; you're a darn sight better writer than the majority of the baby-faced hacks salaried by broadsheet paymasters. But you're only so good because you're unmuzzled. I'm with signs too, and with you. Coincidentally, last summer I presented a paper at a conference about writers and the internet called "Bypassing the gatekeepers: why the internet is the best thing that ever happened to writers". So Wales & O'Reilly can fuck off.

That's so pants said...

Hey Ros

Thanks - you're very kind. I'd love to read your paper. Is it available on the internet?

nmj said...

hey pants, i have often thought i would rather read you than some of the (paid) sunday columnists ... but ros is probably right, maybe there is something about being unshackled that makes for better writing - not that you wouldn't be good anyway.

That's so pants said...

Hi NMJ - thank you! But, I'm not entirely sure that I agree with where this thread is going. I don't think that people who are paid to write are necessarily inhibited by virtue of accepting payment. I'd take some convincing that Julie Burchill to name just one has ever been muzzled. Much more likely to have bitten the handler.

I think we are very lucky in Britain that we have both journalists and publications (hello you - Private Eye) that not only aren't afraid, but positively delight in launching their thorn-shaped selves into the intellectual flabbly sides of the ruling mediocracy.

Certainly, bloggers have the advantage of not necessarily being tied to a particular agenda but that doesn't mean that they don't represent one by choice. Journalists are obliged to report fairly and with verifiable evidence. But then there's the comic columnists who aren't expected to represent the truth but merely obliged to entertain - and they appear in newspapers.

Have we more in common than we care to admit?