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May 21, 2007 8:57 AM   Subscribe


 
i'd like to bitchslap everyone who uses the non-word "blogosphere".
posted by quonsar at 9:02 AM on May 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


What a total circle-jerk. Writing about writing about writing?

Thought will eat itself.
posted by Firas at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thus armed with the Holy Spirit, I sat back as Mr. Schickel was introduced.

Watch out Schickel, this blogger has Jesus on his side!
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2007


Wow. I'm not entirely opposed to the idea that someone who makes a study of literature is going to be a better critic or reviewer than someone who just picks up fat paperbacks at the grocery store and blogs about the good parts. But this guy comes across like the bad guy in a film where rock 'n' roll loving teenagers go up against the Chopin-worshipping school principal.

The laws of Eighties Teen Comedies state that in the final scene, this guy will end up covered in some unpleasant substance while his aged mother tells him "Screw you, Ricky, I'm gonna rock out!" Then the camera pulls back as fifty teenagers with gel-infused -- plus his aged mother -- dance on his lawn to a Beatles song.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 9:15 AM on May 21, 2007 [8 favorites]


Inevitably, blogging was presented as an attractive alternative — it doesn't take much time, and it is a method of publicly expressing oneself (like finger-painting, I thought to myself, but never mind).

Ha.
posted by rhymer at 9:15 AM on May 21, 2007


Hair. Gel-infused hair.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 9:16 AM on May 21, 2007


All words start out as non-words. And "blogosphere" at least describes something real and does it without confusing older meanings, unlike the ridiculous phrase "hook up".
posted by DU at 9:19 AM on May 21, 2007


I object to you bringing this to my attention.
posted by boo_radley at 9:20 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree with most of Schickel's points on the craft itself, but he fails on one unspoken assumption: that quality of criticism in some way correlates to professional employment in print. Quality of criticism correlates only to itself: you are either worth reading or you are not. A great reviewer can appear in any medium.

It's fun to say "blogging is speech, not writing", but there is no particular great truth in it: by his presumptive standard most writing isn't writing either.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:22 AM on May 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


Wow. I'm not entirely opposed to the idea that someone who makes a study of literature is going to be a better critic or reviewer than someone who just picks up fat paperbacks at the grocery store and blogs about the good parts. But this guy comes across like the bad guy in a film where rock 'n' roll loving teenagers go up against the Chopin-worshipping school principal.

I guess his characterization is what frames the story - the fuddy-duddy get-off-my-lawn-you-meddling-kids against the fresh faced mavericks.

I agree with Schickel. A review, or critique, is not about whether it was good or not, because so much of that depends on what you bring with you to the work. If you have a solid background in literature, you'll be able to red things in a book that others might miss. Similarly, if you have studied film (not just watched a lot of movies) you may see things in the way certain films are shot or the way scenes are constructed that others might like but might not know why they like it.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:22 AM on May 21, 2007


It's well written (as one might expect) and considerably more erudite than the rather squeaky rebuttal. I think his point about elitism is OK too. Nothing wrong with a bit of elitism: it's what separates El Bulli from Burger King.

But it's not really even a debate. Of course 99.99% of bloggers, no matter what they're writing about, are crap and have nothing interesting to say. But a few are good or even excellent and hopefully they'll be recognised as such. End of story.
posted by rhymer at 9:24 AM on May 21, 2007


Richard Schickel gave what is without a doubt one of the worst audio commentaries on a DVD that I've ever heard: Unforgiven. If you closed your eyes it sounded like he was blowing Eastwood. He should take his own advice in that not everyone is cut out speak out on dvd audio tracks.
posted by dobbs at 9:30 AM on May 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wonder if he can tell us whether or not shit stinks, too.
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:34 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was a print movie critic years before I was a blogger. I was a print movie critic for years while I was a blogger. I wrote a book about film while I was a blogger. Richard Schickel can kiss my ass.
posted by jscalzi at 9:38 AM on May 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


Schickel is both completely right AND a self-aggrandizing douche. It's easy enough to take offense at his tone, but read the IMDB or Ain't It Cool News forums sometime -- if you dare. Trust me, he's on the money.

(...Except for dissing PKD. The fuck is THAT about?)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:38 AM on May 21, 2007


kittens, my guess is that his complaint with Dick is that his writing is very utilitarian and simple. While one can make a case for that aesthetic being a valid artistic choice, I don't think Dick's writing style is a result of his having chosen to write that way, but probably more because of his limitations as a writer.

Of course, I don't think anyone reads Dick for the beauty of his prose. It's the ideas that are intriguing. It's a shame Schickel can't see that.

Otherwise, though, I do almost completely agree with his points (but not the implications, i.e., no more blogs). Elitism is the wrong word to use here– meritocracy might be more appropriate. If you've got the skillz, write the reviews. Otherwise, don't. I understand it doesn't really work that way in practice, and there needs to be some way for the connection-less to show their stuff to the world. I guess that means I'm all for stuff like blogging. The problem (and this is inescapable, and there's nothing to do about it except for silence everyone or live with it) is that democratization results in a lot of noise. It's worth it for the few people out there who really have the chops and would have no means of getting the word out otherwise.
posted by invitapriore at 9:57 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


George_Spiggott's point is worth repeating: Quality of criticism correlates only to itself: you are either worth reading or you are not. A great reviewer can appear in any medium.

That's pretty much the end of the discussion for me, but there's more from House Next Door, Newsbusters, and GalleyCat.
posted by muckster at 9:58 AM on May 21, 2007


(Let me back up and qualify -- unlike Richard Schickel, I do not think that being a blogger automatically makes one a not-serious critic. Like Schickel, I also do not think that appearing in standard print automatically makes one a serious critic. Unlike Schickel, I think that anyone, from any walk of life, may be a serious critic -- I see no reason why a man who manages an auto parts store could not be every bit as informed and insightful and as much a pleasure to read as Pauline Kael in her day, even IF his work appears exclusively on his blog. Like Schickel, I think that serious criticism is important, and cannot be replaced by incoherent rambling or hackery...and I am forced to agree that the democratic nature of the internet means that it will run more worthless criticism than worthwhile. But, you know, most of everything that appears in print is also worthless.

...Generally, I'm opposed to worthlessness.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:59 AM on May 21, 2007


I hate the phrase "bitchslap". The next person who uses it gets "bastardpunch".
posted by srboisvert at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Alan Vanneman at Bright Lights After Dark: "I’ve been bruiting old C-A S-B all over the Internet for years."
posted by muckster at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2007


George_Spiggott's point is worth repeating: Quality of criticism correlates only to itself: you are either worth reading or you are not. A great reviewer can appear in any medium.

...

posted by muckster at 12:58 PM on May 21

Spiggott may have a point, but only on the Internet will you find the phrase "bitchslaps the blogosphere."
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:05 AM on May 21, 2007


"Archie, I can scarcely be expected to discern the echoes of my own musings with that cacophony outside-"

"Uh, yeah, Mr. Wolfe, I'm sorry to say it's Officer Schickel again. You know, the one who feels that cluediggers like Encyclopedia Brown and Miss Marple don't qualify as real detectives, and should leave matters to 'professional' investigators-"

"-Phui."

"Yes, sir. You can bet he hasn't even started on you yet."
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:18 AM on May 21, 2007


The "blogosphere" is not a thing or an organism, it's a catchphrase. Therefore, it can not be "bitchslapped", or react to said action.
Please stop reifying abstract concepts and catchphrases.
posted by signal at 10:20 AM on May 21, 2007


I do not think that being a blogger automatically makes one a not-serious critic

But the odds are it does.
posted by rhymer at 10:27 AM on May 21, 2007


He'd have a leg to stand on if newspaper movie 'criticism' wasn't so uniformly awful.
posted by empath at 10:36 AM on May 21, 2007


i'd like to bitchslap everyone who uses the non-word "blogosphere"
I hate the phrase "bitchslap". The next person who uses it gets "bastardpunch".
only on the Internet will you find the phrase "bitchslaps the blogosphere."
Please stop reifying abstract concepts and catchphrases.

Geez, I just thought the phrase was vivid and nicely alliterative. I didn't mean for it to be such a lightning rod. I feel like I've been... well, I'm having trouble coming up with an appropriate term just at the moment.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:48 AM on May 21, 2007


Dickcheck would have been way more appropriate than Bitchslap.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2007


Please stop reifying abstract concepts and catchphrases.

Ha ha, nope!

I'M IN UR CULTURE REIFYIN UR CONCEPTZ
posted by Greg Nog at 11:05 AM on May 21, 2007 [7 favorites]


dobbs writes "Richard Schickel gave what is without a doubt one of the worst audio commentaries on a DVD that I've ever heard: Unforgiven. If you closed your eyes it sounded like he was blowing Eastwood. He should take his own advice in that not everyone is cut out speak out on dvd audio tracks."

Thanks Dobbs. While Schnickel is blowing Eastwood, I'll be blowing my lunch. Ewwwww! (and lol)
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:25 AM on May 21, 2007


So...what is the difference between cocktail-party chat and logically reasoned discourse that sits still on a page, inviting serious engagement given media persistence on the web and demand for reasoned discourse?

Yeah, I gotta go with George_Spiggott, proof of the pudding is in the eating, whatever the medium.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:37 AM on May 21, 2007


The idea that in a population the size of ours, that the only reviewers worth reading will be the one who, by shear luck, get picked to do so for a handful of large newspapers is either outstandingly elitist or just fucking stupid naivety. I'm going to guess a combination of both.

Oh you can drop names of 19th century reviewers? Congratulations. Being picked to be a reviewer for a top publication is not some sort of mystic Darwinian process which results in the top 5 or so reviewers being divined from the chaff of the yokel-jawed masses. Now instead of one or two reviews which may miss the point of the book, I can get 10 or 15 with a marginal increase in effort. And out of those 10 or 15 I might find someone with a different perspective, even a more in-depth perspective. I can, my God, read a review of the Einstein book by someone who blogs and also happens to work research for Fermilab. Or I can read the review of the new Don Delillo novel by a community college professor who absolutely loves Delillo, has read each of his book, has read countless criticism and also, by chance, whose second interest happens to be 9/11. How many experts of both happen to be in the country?

If anything, I have found that New York Times and LA Times book reviews happen to perpetuate a type of book that they have been taught to perpetuate. I do not find a great conspiracy, but simply a circle-jerk that states certain authors and certain literary types are somehow good, and much like Socrates' asking the poets how they manage to write such great poetry, simply do not know the answer to what makes a work great.

I would imagine most people use book reviews in much the way I do, as a great characterization of the book, so even if we aren't able to read 9-10 books a week we can get an idea of what is on the literary landscape. If Against the Day showed, most reviewers aren't able to deliver a literary critique in the time it takes to actually read a book. Instead we get a quick-read-through-here-is-what-I-think. If they claim to give anything else, well they are just masturbating.
posted by geoff. at 12:06 PM on May 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Schickel is wrong because he assumes that there is some "establishment" (represented by himself and other critics who write for mainstream media publications) that have a divine right to be gatekeepers of taste and opinion.

The bloggers aren't writing for the "establishment", in his view, because they have no talent. He is, because he does.

In reality, plenty of MSM writers (critics, reporters, political pundits) are vapid no-talent gasbags. And plenty of bloggers are erudite and intelligent.

And, of course, there are good MSM writers and crappy bloggers.

But being employed by a major media outlet does not indicate one's inherent superiority. And not being so employed does not indicate one's inferiority.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:10 PM on May 21, 2007


I think geoff nailed it.

There are plenty of people online who don't have the time or inclination to be full time critics who nonetheless can have expertise in subjects that apply to a particular work that they've taken an interest in.
posted by empath at 12:19 PM on May 21, 2007


From Schickel's own website:

"The nicest words ever written about me are these: "Mr. Schickel knows how to use his prodigious knowledge of cinematic history to create portraits of film artists that illuminate their individual talents while at the same time situating them within a social and aesthetic context."

A.O. Scott, the New York Times reviewer"

That's just...sad, if you ask me.

I appreciate well-written, well-thought-out critiques, and I will seek them out wherever they are found. Frankly, I find Schickel pompous, elitist and verbose, so I won't be reading his work any time soon.
posted by misha at 12:45 PM on May 21, 2007


What's really interesting is that he made some of his comments the very week his daughter, Erika Schickel, was using the power of the "blogosphere" to showcase her first book. My company, MotherTalk, is hired by publishers (and occasionally authors) to create blog-based virtual book tours, and we did a 10-blog tour for Erika back in March, during which time her dad went off on bloggers. She wasn't surprised by her father's comments (which she responded to on the blog where they were first posted). And I guess in the end, I wasn't either -- it's just another example of how people used to the old way of criticism/reviewing/being the gatekeeper for consumers have a hard time recognizing the shift to new ways of promoting/marketing/reaching out to readers.
posted by mothershock at 1:31 PM on May 21, 2007


Well said, geoff.

That papers and mags are losing eyeballs to the web is news to no one, but it is interesting to see someone other than the bean-counters feeling the crunch (IIRC, 100 jobs are on the block at the Shickel's LA Times) and starting to kick.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:32 PM on May 21, 2007


I'm addicted to reviews.
Movie reviews, play reviews, book reviews.
I turn to the back of any magazine or newspaper first, just to get my print or digital fix.
Almost EVERY reviewer, no matter how perceptive or foolish, appearing in the toniest highbrow magazine or grungiest fanboy worship-site, commits what I regard as the Cardinal Sin of Criticism:
A plodding "book report" of the plot.
A synopsis.
Usually in the first paragraph, it pads out the piece, spoils the surprises and is just shoddy, lazy writing.
Just wanted to vent.
posted by Dizzy at 2:05 PM on May 21, 2007


Dizzy, I disagree entirely. A movie/book review in a magazine isn't like an academic essay—you don't write assuming the reader is familiar with it. If I haven't a clue what the book is about, why not enlighten me?
posted by Firas at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Firas---
Your point is apt; I'd like to have it both ways.
I failed to note that I find the most artful reviews reveal plot points by integrating them into the contex of the rest of the piece.
I think recent David Denby in The New Yorker is especially nimble at this.
Thus it isn't just plotplotplotplot PrettyMovieStar was good the end.
"Informative critical essay" need not be an oxymoron.
posted by Dizzy at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2007


That Schickel's a pompous, complacent fool goes without saying, really - but I just want to take up the "quality reviews aren't about saying whether the thing you're reviewing is good or not" notion.

Yes, they bloody are. Absolutely, good reviews are about more than that - but a discussion of the creator's intentions, cultural relevance, thematic interests and philosophical points that completely fails to indicate if the creator has actually been successful in conveying any of those is, to a large extent, a poor review.

"Review" or "critique" isn't just a mass-market synonym for "scholarly essay"; it's a very distinct discipline that require just as much craft and talent as any other field of writing. Reviewers can be fantastic essayists as well; but reviewers who forget that a fundamental part of their job is appraising the quality of a work are simply indulging their own egos and short-changing their readers.
posted by flashboy at 2:48 PM on May 21, 2007


(And of course, the blogoversesphere is actually a much better place to provide the sort of non-review commentary that Schickel approves of, because bloggers can approach their readers in a take-it-or-leave-it manner - it's not their job to provide any appraisal of a work, because, well, it's not their job at all.

muckster already pointed to Matt Zoller Seitz et al's fantastic House Next Door blog, which is a great example of doing just that for films and TV.)
posted by flashboy at 3:02 PM on May 21, 2007


I've never heard of Schickel until now.

POINT: BLOGOSPHERE
posted by bardic at 4:15 PM on May 21, 2007


I prefer Peter Schickele to Richard Schickel.
posted by ericb at 5:36 PM on May 21, 2007


Schickel's good points are lost in his overweening pretension. Having managed to score a job doing criticism is no great indication of one's ability to review and criticize; the columnist's world is a tight and highly incestuous one. The world has no shortage of PhD's in literature basing their entire prospective career on whether Shakespeare (or indeed any male figure in the history of literature) was gay or not, and that has never struck me as being a valid point of view for criticism at all in the first place.

Yet surely these are acceptable critics, for they have spent a career already studying and "contributing" to the field! No riff-raff there, these people have been in university so long all their jackets have suede patches on the elbows!
posted by clevershark at 9:25 PM on May 21, 2007


No way, Richard Schickel.. I'm a journalist now. And Time called us "People of the Year."

He deserves a cockpunch! (tm, non-words inc)
posted by drstein at 11:02 PM on May 21, 2007


Because you kids these days don't have a clue about the blogoflogocoprosphere that us oldtimers built out of earwax and dental floss, I note that 'slaps' from the original post was written by our very own ed.

Now eat you blogmeat or you won't get any blogpudding. How can you get any blogpudding if you don't eat your blogmeat?

Geez, I just thought the phrase was vivid and nicely alliterative.

New to these here parts, aintcha? Well, sonny, you won't be for long. You'll be invert-reified or you'll be dead. Ain't no big thing either way.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:10 PM on May 21, 2007


And here's the crazier thing, stavros. Without self-linking, I've also contributed to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The elliptical trajectory is enough to send all participants roundly slapping their own cheeks!
posted by ed at 11:16 AM on May 22, 2007


I couldn't get past his first couple paragraphs. What an asshole.
posted by serazin at 8:08 PM on May 22, 2007


ed, on the other hand, wrote something great there.
posted by serazin at 8:11 PM on May 22, 2007


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