deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
[personal profile] deborah
For some time now, I have been unhappy about the thinning of the wall between authors and readers that has taken place in the blogosphere. I've never been able to pin down exactly why (except in little ways -- as a reviewer, I had to stop reading Scott Westerfeld's blog when he started posting gleefully about positive reviews he'd received from me). I've also found it frustrating when other people post mixed or negative reviews on their own blogs, which they immediately retract if the author shows up in the blog comments to ask why the review was negative. The sense the blogosphere gives us of all being friends makes it more difficult to fulfill the professional obligation of the reviewer: to advise people on where to spend their limited resources.

Now I have a non review-related example of how this thinning wall aggravates me. Will Shetterly's behavior online has made me feel uncomfortable about the fact that his Elsewhere is required reading in my class, because I don't want to give him the sales. This is clearly a ridiculous concern on my part. For one thing, I regularly support far more loathsome people with my purchases. Shetterly, on the other hand, was probably once a pretty well-meaning guy who has just reacted pretty badly to being told that his own history of hardship does not make him always right. But more important, much more important, the book is pedagogically important. It's a little-known precursor to the genre which would eventually spawn Wicked Lovely and Twilight. Giving Shetterly a few dollars in royalties (dollars he desperately needs; the man is filing for bankruptcy, not living large on ill-gotten gains, and unless I'm going to stop requiring Twilight I really just need to get over myself) is the necessary price to teach my students what I need them to know to understand the genre.

Still, it sticks in my craw. And it shouldn't, I should be able to keep the artist and the art separate in my head. It makes me sad that the blogosphere has made that more difficult for me.

ETA: A. helped me narrow down exactly what's making me uncomfortable here. It's not an artist being Wrong on the Internet; Orson Scott Card, for example, is Wrong on the Internet pretty much every time he opens his keyboard. It's this thinning of walls, this Internet-created feeling of fellowship which allows us to engage with each other in the same spaces. When Card is an ass, he's an ass in newspaper columns. When authors engage with their critics (not even critics of their books, but critics of their extratextual words) in the spaces populated by their fans and critics, I get uncomfortable. As A. pointed out, some of the people Shetterly is insulting, investigating, and posting rumors about could easily be my students or potential students. It's that which makes me uncomfortable, not his willful blindness to the legitimate concerns of people whose side he would like to think he is on.

Well, that, too.

Date: 2009-03-02 06:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yendi.livejournal.com
I see that frustration, although I'm not sure that the blogosphere has so much thinned the wall as simply increased the number of points on the wall at which thinning could occur (to stretch the metaphor horribly out of shape). Certainly, back in "the old days," there was already an often-tiny divide between fans and authors (witness the folks, starting at least as early as Robert Bloch, who spent time on both sides of things), and there were regularly tales of folks acting in a boorish manner. The limits of technology, of course, meant that stories could only spread via word-of-mouth (at conventions or using traditional mail), and the sort of perfect storm of the Harlan Ellison/Connie Willis situation (relying on blogs, youtube, etc) certainly couldn't have spread the way it did if it had happened in 1970.

But the thinned walls aren't always a bad thing, either. One of the most important thing for fans to get over is the idea that authors are Golden Beings Who Should Be Put On Pedestals (or Villains Who Set Out to Piss Of Their Fans, alternatively). The folks who post negative reviews and back down are in the early stages of this, still treating authors as special celebrities. Once they get past this stage (and a number of them never will, of course -- see the current George Martin kerfuffle, or the Peter David/Daily Scans one), some of the dialogues that can occur within fandom as a result are not only phenomenal, but are accessible to thousands and preserved for years. The first still happened in the old fandom model, but the latter two are hugely strengthened by the internet. And I'm not sure many authors want to be on the pedestals; too many of them are fans at heart (Jo Walton's recent writings at Tor.com make for some of the best fan writing I've seen in years).

All of the above thoughts are just off-the-cuff rambling, of course. And there are a dozen or more other factors -- including the fact that, as you note, some authors often step a little too far off those pedestals. I commented in someone's LJ that WS was a prime example of an author I wish didn't blog, as I valued his previous books way too much to want to see him acting like an ass online. And although some authors had managed to create plenty of interpersonal havoc even before coming online (I certainly had a sense of the issues some folks had with OSC, Ellison, and Piers Anthony long before I got online or became a part of fandom), the web abets that hugely. But that strikes me as the second edge of its double-edged sword.

Date: 2009-03-03 04:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yendi.livejournal.com
*nod* I think that last paragraph sums up things nicely (and the ability to open up fandom is something that can't be overstated). And again, I see it cutting both ways -- authors for whom traveling to cons is impossible (for economic, geographic, or physical reasons) can use the internet as well.
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