Crossfire: All Blooker Prize Winners Are Amateurs

I came across a post two days ago in the blogosphere (specifically, posted in Vox and found here), and it started me thinking as well drafting a response in this blog.

Ed-infinitum’s post is an answer to the question: Do you think that ‘blooker’ prize winners would have won the ‘Booker’ prize? If not, why?

His post is a remarkably well thought out affair, with references to the articles that may or may not have sparked off his reasoning. It took me two days before I started writing this reply, because, well, it requires some thinking.

Ed-infinitum’s post is in essence saying: no, Blooker prize winners cannot win the Booker prize, simply because blooks are part of the Blogosphere – an ‘amateur medium‘. So what the Blooker prize does is to award the best of the amateurs, and creates a category of what he calls ‘professional amateurs’ who do not aspire to be ‘intellectuals’.

“Blooks are the new books, a hybrid literary form at the cutting edge of both literature and technology,” said Bob Young, founder of self-publishing site Lulu which organised and sponsored the prize.

What Bob Young actually means is that ‘blooks’ are ‘a hybrid literary form at the cutting edge of’ non-upper (intellectual) class literature. How, pray tell, can the ‘intimate diary of a prostitute’, or a ‘guide to ’s best greasy spoon cafes’, or ‘misadventures in the kitchen’ be considered to be located on the ‘cutting-edge of literature’? How do they compare with, for instance, Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, Ngugi wa thiong’o, Rousseau, Marx, J.S. Mill, Marcuse, and so on?

He sums up by saying that the best kind of awards spurs nominees along a ‘vertical development path’, to make them be the best they can possibly be, and to break past the barrier that separates amateurs and professionals.

Now, what he proposes may be elitist in its stance, but I can’t discount the fact that he is right, and he’s not the only one who has made such an observation. In a ZDnet article entitiled Reflections On The First Decade Of Blogging Dan Farber quotes Andrew Keen’s new book The Cult of the Amateur:

…instead of creating masterpieces, these millions and millions of exuberant monkeys [Internet users]–many with no more talent in the creative arts than our primate cousins–are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity.

Yes, it may sound offending, especially to you and me, mere mortals on the internet.

But there lies my counter argument against Ed-Infinitum’s post. The blogosphere is new, it is raw, and it can be described as The Madding Crowd. Using it as a medium to publish books (blooks) is still very much experimental.

But who is to say that the next Hemingway or the next Faulkner would not have online origins? The internet is ‘social’ and is getting more and more ingrained into our daily lives. I’ll be willing to bet that in a few years most of us will feel like we’ve had a lobotomy the instant we go offline, and that means the most of the next wave of ‘professionals’, no matter how elitist that sounds, will have an online presence of some kind.

What we’re seeing now is chaos as the sheer amount of content is generated by the madding crowd. But some of these very people are scientists and artists and intellectuals in their own fields, who are early adopters. Over time better techniques and technologies (the next Google, perhaps?) will emerge, and will allow us to find quality literature that we want to read, by people who aren’t ‘monkeys’.

Of course, the other way to go about this argument is that the very nature of writing on the web will change our literature – since the writing the masses enjoy reading off the screen is in ‘bite sized pieces’, as I’ve said in my post on Why You Will Never Read Fiction Online. But that requires predicting the future, and I’m not going to try my hand at that.

The Blooker prize is very much the product of an internet that is still coming to grips with itself. Whoever expected user generated content and social media to explode into the limelight, changing the way we interact and network? Nobody. So what the Blooker prize is doing is not so much encouraging a culture of stagnant amateurism, but to take the best of what is out there on the internet, which isn’t much at the moment.

At the moment we’re having a bad ‘signal to noise ratio’ on content generated to content consumed. At the moment we’re not sure of the possibilities the web has in store for us. But beyond the moment, I won’t be at all surprised if the content passing through hands of the Blooker judges will be of the same standard as those passing through the hands of the Booker.

It’s all just a matter of time.

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Category: Meta · Publishing · Writing · Writing Web Fiction