Expert’s Seal of Approval

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Today I had lunch with Miriam, an old college friend from my undergrad days at Columbia. She now has a PhD in Art History and is a curator at a major New York museum. She’s a great person, but she can also be a little snooty. But that’s OK. I like snooty. We haven’t seen each other in a few years, so we spent the meal catching up with each other.

Towards the middle of the meal, I suddenly blurted out, “Oh, I almost forgot one of the most interesting things going on in my life. I started a blog last year! And now I have all these people who come and read it every day!”

Her response was, “Why in the world would anyone want to read YOU?”

Now I know this sounds insulting. But I didn’t take it like that at all.  I knew exactly where she was coming from — academia. She has been taught the importance of cultural standards — the “great books” and the “great works of art.” In her world, only someone canonized by an authority is worthy of someone’s time. That’s why the paintings of August Renoir are studied in art history classes. The paintings of Tony Curtis are not.

This is a pretty common way of seeing things. I know many people who will not read a book unless it was already well-reviewed in the New York Times. Otherwise, what’s the point of reading it?

“I don’t get blogging at all, Miriam said. “If I wanted to read something interesting, why not read “War and Peace” instead of your blog?”

For a second, I sat there and thought, “You know, that’s not a stupid question. Why should I read Retropolitan‘s latest blog post when I could be reading “War and Peace?”

Of course, in my case, blogging hasn’t replaced my time reading “War and Peace.” It has replaced my time watching “The Apprentice” and socializing with real live human beings. But, I could be reading me some Tolstoy! Maybe Sophia could even read it to me in the original Russian!

Yeah, but then I would have to take Sophia away from watching her “24.”

But I do get where Miriam is coming from. I studied “the liberal arts” in college and grad school. But despite the years you put in, you’re never treated with the same authority as a doctor or a lawyer. Miriam told me that being a museum curator can be frustrating, because everyone thinks her job is mostly about placing the frames on the wall. I’ve heard similar complaints from web designers, where clients think they can just have their daughter do the job for free because she knows a little HTML.”

So, unless you go to law or business school, the only real pleasure you can get out of your expensive liberal arts degree is lording it over everyone about how smart you are.

Now that I’ve finally read half of one book by David Sedaris, I bring him up all the time in conversation.

“You mean you haven’t read David Sedaris?” I say, snickering.

It feels good to be part of the cultured class. I remember coming home during my freshman year in college and scolding my mother, “How can you read these trashy novels when you should be reading Plato’s Symposium instead!”

Almost all my friends from college now work as members of this cultured class –publishing, media, television, etc… the arbiters and critics of what we should watch, see, buy, and read.

But the internet is screwing things up.

The academic world does not prepare you to think of a housewife in Ohio as a “writer” or a blogger/fireman as having anything interesting to say. No one expect two teenagers from Taiwan to make a compelling video and put it on YouTube. Hey, they didn’t even go to NYU Film School!

I actually love this democratization of the media.  And I get something from blogging that I can’t get from a novel.  I can’t interact with Tolstoy.  And as long as I wait, he’s never going to write a snarky comment back on my blog, acknowledging my existence  — although he will probably do it before Dooce does. 

But many find the growth of the individual blogger as scary, especially those who already work in the media. Is a newspaper columnist really that much more interesting than some political blogger — other than the fact that one gets paid and the other doesn’t?  Should we depend on cultural arbiters to decide what is considered “worthy” of our time, or should we let the “American Idol” spirit of “Hey, let’s vote on the next superstar!” be the new ideal? And if everyone considers themselves a creative writer, videographer, cultural critic, etc. – what happens to the experts? Does what they say still count?  Or could a housewife’s blog be as worthy reading material as something published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux?

So, the answer to Miriam’s question to me, “Why in the world would anyone want to read YOU?” is obvious.

It’s shorter than “War and Peace.”

P.S. –

Immediately after writing this, Sophia tore apart my entire argument. She said that it’s human nature for people to want an “expert” to show them what to read, watch, and “what NOT to wear.” Look at the home design “experts” on TV. Look at all the “expert” advice given in magazines.  Look at all the blogging sites telling you what blog to read. 

Sophia even told me about this new ABC show, How to Get the Guy, where “love coaches,” will help single women meet men.

Teresa Strasser is one of love coaches,” she said, knowing that she is on my short list of cute Jewish brunettes who appear on television.

“Oh, yeah?” I said, my eyes widening.  “Didn’t she used to be a home design expert on another show?  And a fashion expert on another show?”

“She must be very educated,” Sophia joked.  “But what makes this single woman a love coach? If anyone should be a love coach, it should be my mother. She’s been married for forty years!”

Sophia gave me one example after another of how Americans love to take advice from experts — even if these experts don’t know any more than anyone else.   Look how one word from Oprah can make a book an instant bestseller.  Or how people wait in line to hear advice from “experts” at seminars.

“Hmmm…..,” I thought to myself as Sophia spoke…

P.P.S. –

Announcing:  (from the producers of BlogHim)

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A Three Day Seminar by blogging and relationship expert Neil Kramer

July 14-15-16

The Valley Inn
Ventura Boulevard (adjacent to Burbank Bowling Alley)
Burbank, CA

Cost: $4000

Special for readers of “Citizen of the Month”: $4500

Single women and previous “blog crushes of the day”: Free!

A Year Ago on Citizen of the MonthOnline Dating Works for Some

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73 Responses to Expert’s Seal of Approval

  1. Bill says:

    There is a huge disconnect these days between what is considered artistically good and what the mob like. I tend to think they’re both excessive in the praise they receive.

    On one hand, it’s fine to sit apart from the mob and make pronouncements on what is art but, if no one likes it, however artistic it is, who cares? On other hand, just because a penis joke makes you laugh doesn’t make something a great artistic achievement.

    Many people who don’t “appreciate” great books or films or whatever do not have a context for assessing them. They are accountants, for heaven’s sake! They’re electricians! They don’t have three or four years of liberal arts studies behind them. So why the hell should they think of someone’s new movie in the context of neo-realism with a reference to the Italian movies of the late 1970’s?

    And yes, The DaVinci Code is a better read for many people than is War and Peace. It’s faster. It’s more interesting. And there is all that stuff about Jesus and Mary Magdalene and that painting.

    Unlike Shakespeare, many of today’s artistic community create for themselves rather than for the mob. What Shakespeare managed was to make works that appealed to everyone, of his time, and yet managed to construct great art within the constraints he had to work within. He acknowledged his audience in his work; he deferred to them. Yet he did not submit.

    He knew his world.

    Today, we know only what we want to say. And damn anyone who doesn’t want to hear it.

  2. Bill says:

    And yes, I’m guilty of typos. “Sue me! Sue me! What can you do me?”

  3. Neil says:

    Is that quote from Shakespeare?

  4. kb says:

    i’ll take stories of getting stuck in parking garages and severe underwear-angst over early 19th century russia anyday.

    teresa strasser, on the other hand… not so much.

  5. Ash says:

    People read blogs for the same reason that they read other people’s diaries – to assure themselves that they’re ok (mentally, spiritually, not the loser in class, whatever).

    Also, I think ordinary people are a lot more interesting than academics. I worked at a university for years which may explain why I feel this way ;)

  6. Fitèna says:

    Am with what Bill says. I think following the mob is a lack of personality. It’s tantamount to being a weather cock.
    People who only read best sellers and good review books. I read two novels a week and still here reading you. I find in your posts what lacks in the books I read. Reality, maybe.

    Fitèna

    PS: I know I made Crush of the Day! Thanks! :-)

  7. Neil says:

    KB — Uh, I hope you don’t think I was comparing little ol’ myself to Tolstoy, one of the giants of literature? That would be arrogant and megalomaniacal. But Dostoevsky — that’s a more legitmate comparison.

    Ash — I think you’re right about the diary comparison. I try to only read blogs of those I consider worse off than myself. Whenever a blogger finds a boyfriend, gets a good job, or leaves therapy, I stop reading that blog.

    Fitena — You read two novels a week? Wow! In French or English?

  8. jackt says:

    I also had a liberal arts education, but I came from a somewhat blue collar background, so hanging out with all those intellectual elitists really made me chafe against that attitude. It’s ironic that I spent more time reading and learning just so I can show them up when given the opportunity! (not that I can do that all the time, but when I can I really rub it in…I’m a jerk that way but they started it).

  9. I don’t even know why I write The Retropolitan’s latest blog posts when I could be reading “War and Peace.”

  10. V-Grrrl says:

    Three thoughts:

    Literature doesn’t have to be “difficult” to be good. Many of the novels we consider “classics” today were page-turners or popular literature in their time. People equate how hard something is to read with its quality. Why is it that most academic articles are virtually unreadable. Every sentence has 30 or more words and numerous clauses, and every noun is stacked with modifers. YOu get to the end of the sentence and think, “Remind me again what the SUBJECT of this sentence was?”

    When we turn away from such writing, the implication is that we don’t “get it” because we’re stupid or not educated enough. No one dares to say we don’t “get it” because the ideas are poorly written, organized, and expressed. Hey, who wants to be bold and say “The Emperor isn’t wearning any clothes!”

    Second thought:

    I hate the assumption that only the “best” and “most important” writers get published. Bullshit. Publishers publish what they know they can sell–period. It has little to do with quality and everything to do with marketing.

    Final thought:
    Why read blogs? 1) there’s some awesome writing and provocative ideas and funny jokes out there. 2) it’s all about having a real relationship with your readers.

  11. And as Neil points out frequently, some bloggers are hot.

  12. Roberta says:

    The most interesting (to me) thing someone said to me about blogging was, I hate when people start blogging because then they stop telling you things about their life. Well aren’t you reading my blog?
    Ouch! That hurt a little, but I’m glad it was said to me; I am now extra mindful of that little bit of self-indulgence.
    Lochka, have a mini-seminar while you’re on the east coast.

  13. Jenni says:

    War and Peace is far overrated…but then again, I’m no expert.

  14. Leo T. says:

    If I recount this blogpost with Neil, it is to show that, in my personal experience, he was the only man who understood the significance of education and of the printing press in our time.

    But, I’m an anarchist so what do I know?

  15. Okay, sorry…I had to!

    I just like reading about what other people in my country and around the world are doing. We’ve got war, we’ve got politics and many other things that pull us apart as humans. I think we are all just searching for common ground in this crazy little messed up world of ours. I think, that through blogging, a pretty safe and faceless environment, we achieve or find our humanity and the humanity in others. We find like, we find dislike, but unlike face to face interaction we have more time to contemplate, more time to think before we speak. This makes us able to share without fear. If I don’t like something you have to say, I can turn off my screen, where as in real life you would still be in my face pissing me off. The internet is the safest form of communication, unless of course you land yourself a blog stalker. :)

    As far as reading War & Peace over reading a blog…sometimes I’d just rather read mindless drivel than something thought provoking. That’s all I have to say about that!

  16. Rik says:

    Blonde Vigilante, you call Neilochka’s writing “mindless drivel?”

    For shame…

  17. Brooke says:

    Tolstoy has a blog?

  18. Thérèse says:

    Hm… I see Miriam’s point.

    But still. I can’t help thinking that blogging is just like talking to people. You don’t only talk to experts to get an overall opinion, do you? You talk to everyone, and then you ultimately consider the experts when it matters to you. Otherwise, it’s more or less a new form of interaction with people, all over the world.

    Maybe you read someone’s blog because regardless of background, he or she is a good writer. Or perhaps he or she leads an interesting life far removed from your own. You find that you are hooked, wanting to know what happens next in the life of this real person. Or this person someone real has imagined. It’s much like reading fiction; you never know whether or not some or any parts of it are real.

    I think you are spot on with your comparison and replacement. Following certain blogs is much like following certain TV shows. People get hooked on the comfort of the familiar.

  19. party girl says:

    One thing I love about blogging that occured to me over the weekend, I have meet some of THE most fascinating people from all over the country that I otherwise would not have. I can have intelligent conversations that I otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to have.
    I can spout and vent at will which gets all of my frustrations out.

    …and I’ve been reading David Sedaris for years. He’s one of my favorites. His sister Amy is even more hilarious.

  20. Alison says:

    “…the only real pleasure you can get out of your expensive liberal arts degree is lording it over everyone about how smart you are.”

    When did you get in my head?

    And, “Whenever a blogger finds a boyfriend, gets a good job, or leaves therapy, I stop reading that blog.”

    Uh-oh, good thing I’m still unemployed, huh?

    One last thing: I now have a crush on V-Grrrl!

  21. Scarlet says:

    1. I like the interaction with blogs and commenting.
    2. So much easier to read at work than Tolstoy.

  22. Jessica says:

    Not as long as War and Peace? Have you read this post, yet? Kidding!

    I know I speak for everyone when I say that we read you because of your ability to simultaneously warm our hearts and make us laugh.

  23. Jessica says:

    P.S. – if you enjoy David Sedaris (and you already know how much I love him), might I recommend Augusten Burroughs? His stuff is darker but he’s equally great.

  24. Dating Dummy says:

    Ooh, cool seminar!

  25. Kevin says:

    So, what you’re saying, is if I stop reading this cyberblackhole, not only will I get back time to watch more crap on TV, but I’ll also save $500 on your seminar?!?

    Sweet! See ya!

  26. Heather B. says:

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read War and Peace, so forgive me if I’m wrong. But I don’t recall Tolstoy’s penis doing any narrative nor do I remember it being all that hilarious or dripping with wit and sarcasm.

    Neil: 2; War and Peace: -10

  27. V-Grrrl says:

    Thanks Alison! And thanks Neilochka for the stimulating (ooh baby) discussion.

  28. Some things need expert opinions – like lawsuits or strange medical maladies. But I think too many people depend on other people telling them what to read, or watch or wear or believe. It’s one thing to take all the “expert” info, sift through it and decide for yourself. It’s quite another to follow blindly what someone says just because he or she is a so-called expert. This story about your friend’s reaction to the idea of your blog reminded me of one of the things I loved most about living in New York – that blunt, in-your-face questioning attitude. But she should try your blog before criticizing too harshly – she might find she likes it and wants to come back for more. She might even find it habit-forming and mildly addictive.

  29. eeekat says:

    yes, blogs are addictive because they’re ongoing– unlike novels. and, you can interact (repeatedly) with the author..and of course, they’re shorter.

    anyway, i still don’t get it: are you and sophia still married?? (see, i couldn’t ask john updike that)

  30. Neil says:

    Jessica — David Sedaris? Augusten Burroughs? Elitist snob! Archie comic books not good enough for you?

    Kevin — Thank you for being the only one who noticed that I charged readers of this blog $500 dollars more. You ever watch a sitcom and hear the writers laughing in the background at their own pathetic jokes? I laughed for ten minutes when I wrote that. I’m so passive-aggressive!

    Eekat — Sophia and I are SEPARATED. Despite her constantly wanting to get back together, I tell her I can’t be married to her for a very important reason:

    It keeps this blog fresh.

    Like I wrote in my post, who wants to read a dull blog about a happily married couple?  Look how readers complained to Deb of the popular Smitten blog after she got married and became “happy.”

    Also, if I were “married,” it would be creepy to keep on flirting with female bloggers. This way, I have an “out.”

    Neil: “Poor, poor me. After everything I’ve done for her… now I’m living in this crappy ‘bachelor pad’ and remaining loyal to my marriage vows and ONE WOMAN despite an amazingly strong sex drive, PERFECT BODY from working out at the gym for Bloggers with Biceps, and women hitting on me every day in the elevator. Woe is me.”

    Female Blogger: “Oh, how sad for Neilochka. Despite being a fine example of manliness, he’s separated from Sophia and very lonely and frustrated. Even worse, Dooce will never comment on his blog and he’s too depressed over his love life to read “War and Peace.’ Maybe I SHOULD just send him that photo of myself to cheer him up.”

  31. Dagny says:

    I read blogs because there is only so much knitting and reading novels I can do at work.

    Also, loved your mention of “How to Get the Guy.” Last night I added the series to my DVR list because it’s filmed in SF. Then again I was also a little peeved. Where was I when they were creating this show?

    And Neil, that last conversation from your mind? Really sad. I hope Sophia takes you back soon.

  32. Neil says:

    Dagny, I’m trying with Sophia. Things are improving. It used to be she would say, “We’ll get back together when hell freezes over.”

    Now, it’s just, “We’ll get back together when Dooce comments on your blog.”

  33. Jessica says:

    Omigod – do you have ANY idea how many Archie comic books I have read in my lifetime?! How I used to beg my father for them when we went to the store? I use to ask if I could have an Archie “Dig-est” (you know, ‘dig’ like a dog might do in a yard).

  34. Neil says:

    Jessica — I have a feeling you’re definitely more of a Veronica than Betty. GRRRRRRR…

    Unfortunately, I always related most to Jughead.

    Now those were were well-developed characters! Not hack work like that Madame Bovary.

  35. Bre says:

    A girl I went to college with recently hired a “Relationship Expert” to help her find the love of her life. She fired her about two weeks in because “I could have gotten the same kind of advice from my grandmother for free… and nana would have given me pie.”

    I think we may be looking at this in the wrong way – we’re all experts in something, we just need to hone the craft!

  36. Edgy Mama says:

    Have I been a “Blog Crush of the Day” yet?

  37. claire says:

    I get Sophia’s point about expert advice, but I don’t think it’s human nature to want an expert to tell you what’s best for you; I think it’s human nature to want shortcuts. Whether it’s for love, money, fashion, fitness, health, fitting in… I think the underlying thought is: if there’s an easy to way to attain your goal, why start from scratch?

  38. chantel says:

    -I got to school, yes college. There are college level classes about Blogging. I could get credit for this but I don’t because I would rather read the classics than worry about popular culture in a higher learning establishment.

    I do beleive in that the fundemental classics are essential to a good learning experience; blogging isn’t. I also don’t want my professors reading my blog and ripping it apart which is what they get paid to do with my papers; I don’t need the additional knife to my ego. I think they do it for fun.

    But blogging has had a positive effect on my life, my outlook and my observations are better and remembered. I’ve taken a moment to smell the roses or dump the coffee or something like that just so I can blog about it.

    P.S. Are you running a David Letterman like campaign to get Dooce to comment on your blog?

  39. Does Dooce read this blog?

  40. Jessica says:

    Omigod (again) do you have any idea how badly I wanted to be Veronica?! I didn’t care that she and Betty were the same woman with different hair, I wanted to be the rich, dark beauty that is Veronica Lodge.

    Scary, Neil – you have me pegged.

  41. justrun says:

    Maybe wanting someone to comment on your blog is like waiting for water to boil: It doesn’t happen when you want it to and then when it does, you’ve gone into the other room, forgotten about the pot and now have a huge mess to clean up.
    Maybe.

  42. Neil says:

    Edgy Mama — Uh, yes… many times…

    Chantel — I’ve been out of school for a awhile. I didn’t know they teach blogging courses. How can we get those teaching jobs?!

    Maybe this post got out of hand when I started comparing blogs to great literature. Of course there’s a quality issue. Blogs are written in ten minutes. I was more talking about the attitude that there’s nothing worthwhile in the musings of a “regular” person and that they shouldn’t put their thoughts and ideas out there. It felt as if Miriam believed that a housewife doesn’t “deserve” to be read by others because she hasn’t passed the test of educated critics.

    As for Dooce — Absolutely.  I’m patient.

  43. Dagny says:

    Written in ten minutes? I knew I was doing something wrong. OK. So some of my posts are written in ten minutes. Some I work on for days.

  44. I’m lucky if I spend ten minutes on mine.

  45. schrodinger says:

    I must disagree with Sophia – who are these people who listen to ‘self-declared experts’??…nobody I know, and not my circle…so although it IS a social phenomenon, I’d take one of your thoughts over Oprah’s anyday, just because you’re funnier, and she probably hasn’t read Sedaris and Tolstoy. Not because you’re a self-declared writing genius.

    Crap. Maybe she’s right.

  46. Have you ever noticed when you go to seminars or to conferences that you never ever learn anything? It always pisses me off, especially when they’re in some lame ass city.

    Now, ^^^^ that is mindless drivel. I’m mindless and I drivel. It’s in my nature. You, probably not as mindless as me. I’m one crayon short of riding the long bus. I’m a short buss ridin’ fool.

  47. Sandra says:

    I like to think of it as Citizen Journalism…or Citizen Internet, even. It levels the playing field a bit and gives readers the chance to find people they think are interesting — not the people who some random-ass publisher liked the most (although the two are not mutually exclusive).

  48. Alison says:

    I’m with you, Neil: I want one of those jobs where I teach people about blogging!

  49. Neil says:

    Advanced Seminar in Blogging
    Harvard College
    Prof. Kramer
    3 Units

    Session 1: How to Write a Post

    Session 2: How to Steal Readers from the Blogrolls of Others

    Session 3: How to Add Blinking Widgets to Your Sidebar

    Session 4: Why Reading Your Stats is More Important Than Spell-checking Your Posts

    Session 5: The Holy Grail: Getting Dooce to Comment on Your Blog

    Midterm

  50. Melissa says:

    I don’t read reviews until after I’ve read the book, seen the movie, listened to the CD or tried the restaurant.

    Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one – and the only one I’m worried about is my own.

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