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.Â 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.Â And I get something from blogging that I can’t get from a novel.Â I can’t interact with Tolstoy.Â And asÂ long as I wait, he’s never going toÂ write a snarky comment back on my blog, acknowledging my existenceÂ — although he will probably do itÂ before Dooce does.Â
But many findÂ the growth of the individual bloggerÂ asÂ 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?Â 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?Â 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.”
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.Â Look at all the blogging sites telling you what blog to read.Â
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.Â “Didn’t she used to be a home design expert on another show?Â And a fashion expert on another show?”
“She must be very educated,” Sophia joked.Â “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 howÂ Americans love to take advice from experts — even if these experts don’t know anyÂ more than anyone else.Â Â Â Look how one word from Oprah can make a book an instant bestseller.Â Or how people wait in line to hear advice from “experts” at seminars.
“Hmmm…..,” I thought to myself as Sophia spoke…
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A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:Â Online Dating Works for Some