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
  • http://gadgit.vox.com/ ed

    “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‘. ”

    Thank you for considering my viewpoint.

    I am not specifically stating that ‘blooker’ prize winners cannot win Booker prizes simply because they are part of the ‘blogosophere’. Rather, it is the lowering of the bar, for the blogosphere, by the non self-publishing sector that may cause their underdevelopment. There is no doubt that ‘hemmingways’, ‘Ngugis’ and ‘Waughs’ may emerge from the blogosphere. However, the question, did they emerge as a result of the perspectival norms that are ossifying as a result of the reinforcement received via ‘bloggies’, ‘blookers’, etc, or if they are a product DESPITE these state of affairs begs consideration.

    Given the tyrannous and perspectivally circumscribing influence of the forces of ‘demand and supply’ and the increasing prominence and numbers of the blogging world, we may actually even see a lowering of the bar when it comes to ‘booker’ awards themselves. We are living in an age where quality and profundity is being confounded with prominence, with the latter being used to argue for the latter. We see this phenomenon in a myriad of arenas such as ‘celebrity worship’, the emergence of ‘blogstars’ who are deemed as such purely on the basis of the number of ‘hits’ they receive from the relatively ill-exposed young, the penchant for giving prominence to non-expert ‘celebrities’ in their views on areas falling outside of their field of ‘expertise’, etc. This is what I call the ‘commodification of prominence’. This indicates a particular generic state of mind that will have untoward effects on our attribution of quality in other arenas. When the young, given their generally invariable perspectival characteristics, are allowed to determine ‘quality’, the great thinkers and writers that emerge will do so despite them and through the study OF them as opposed to FROM them. It is at such times that the forces of ‘demand and supply’ will see the masses of bloggers being validated for what the bloggers themselves view to be of quality. That is when all new entrants will have impressed upon them that the only route to prominence and self-realisation is to learn from the ‘betters’ within the blogging world. When this happens, they will assail the ‘bookers’ out there, not with better produce but with what they will learn to deem as ‘better’ standards learnt and emulated within the blogosphere.

    I have no doubt that there are already ‘hemmingways’, ‘Ngugis’, ‘Waughs’, ‘Marxs’, ‘Rousseaus’, amongst others, in existence in the blogsophere. But you can rest assured that the click-cultured minds of today will not be affording them much ‘hits’, and thus true insight is kept out of the sight of blooker-like awards. In time, they will not only fail to raise the bar for the blogging world and thus be unable to elicit mass emulation, but they themselves will prune their own abilities to bring about a goodness-of-fit between their thoughts and the perspectival propensities of juvenile minds. And soon, the ‘bite-sized’, sensationalised, trivial morsels that require the least amount of information-processing and which fits well with the little the ‘bloggers’ already know will cause their own thoughts and minds to become similarly minusulised.

  • http://novelr.com Eli James

    Hello, Ed. I was just about to drop by and leave you a comment, alerting you to my reply (Vox doesn’t have trackback yet, if i’m not mistaken), but it was 2 in the morning and i thought i’d leave it for another day.

    But you saved me that trouble with this comment. :-)

    First off, thanks for the clarification in your first paragraph:

    “the question, did they emerge as a result of the perspectival norms that are ossifying as a result of the reinforcement received via ‘bloggies’, ‘blookers’, etc, or if they are a product DESPITE these state of affairs begs consideration.”

    Yes indeed it does. But it appears to me that we cannot answer this question without first discussing the very nature of the way that the Web is changing our media.

    Before the advent of blogging (or citizen journalism, no matter the questions the use of such a term may bring to mind) the propogation of news was controlled by major corporations, and before them, governments.

    With blogging, however, you, me, and millions of other internet users of questionable intellect is churning out masses of content. This conversation we’re having, no doubt, is one of millions that is happening simultaneously all over the world, be it on topics as mundane as Britney Spear’s bald head or as profound as the effects the Iraq war is having on the global economy.

    However, public opinion has always been skewed to the ‘bite-sized, sensationalised, trivail morsels’ that you talk about, which require ‘the least amount of information-processing’ even before the advent of social media, or (I dislike this term) Web 2.0.

    So the question you ask (allow me to simplify it to man-on-the-street English): Whether quality literature emerges off the web as a result of awards like the Blooker, or DESPITE of awards like them, reflects the growing democratization of media and consumption that is happening not only in the Blogging world, but everywhere, in everything.

    It is a well known fact that award winning novels don’t sell as well as the new standard of publishing success: the international bestseller. And, of course, i’m not surprised. If we compare Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance Of Loss, to, say, the The Da Vinci Code (it’s the first bestseller that came to mind, forgive me), one would see that The Inheritance Of Loss trumps The Da Vinci code in elegance of prose, in the themes explored, and in the characters portrayed as affected by globalization in one way or another.

    But The Da Vinci code still outsells The Inheritance Of Loss, because

    A, it is more entertaining
    B, it is controversial.

    This example is one of many of the power of ‘supply and demand’, something that we can’t hide from. However, is it not true that both has received recognition of their own kind? One is accepted by those who appreciate literature, and love brooding over the themes presented in an elegant, succint fashion. The other is accepted by those who love a dashingly good read, an assault of the senses, that sends the aldrenaline pumping through the body. It doesn’t matter, then, that one has more readers than the other, because those who want a dashingly good read outnumber those who appreciate good literature.

    It is the same with the web. Just as Kiran Desai doesn’t change her writing style to Dan Brown’s to gain more readers, the Hemmingways and the Faulkners and the Brontes of the web will not change their writing simply to attract more ‘hits’. They may change their writing to that of the web – namely short, simple and to the point (it is near impossible to read long blocks of text such as these on screen and not feel daunted), but in the end recognition can still be achieved, like that of the The Inheritance Of Loss, through prizes that award the quality of writing and NOT of the hits each work generates.

    However, I cannot discount your observation that a great deal of importance is placed on hits and ‘stars’. This is a fact of the life, and very little can be done to sway public opinion, least of all telling them what they should like. But what awards like the Booker and the Blooker can do to help is that they continue choosing the best of the best, be it in the realm of books (the Booker) or the realm of blooks (the Blooker).

    This works on the assumption that content on the web will gradually improve with more and more academicians and ‘people who matter’ adopting the internet for their work. And this, I believe, will definitely happen.

    As I mentioned in my post, it’s all just a matter of time.

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  • http://www.marketingtype.com Stephen Fraser

    Part of the argument Ed seems to be making is that the ‘blook’ category on which the Blooker awards is based is contrived and thus cannot be taken seriously. Well, the concepts of a new genre — the blook — and a new award for that genre – the Blooker — certainly are contrivances, but two other important points follow:
    1) The preciousness of the concept is exactly what has driven the attention the Blooker has thus far received in the media, and whatever ensuing benefit that publicity has provided the authors themselves. That attention, I should add, has been the envy of the Booker organization and many mainstream publishers (I should volunteer that I have the benefit of an insider perspective on some of this striving). All awards thrive on attention: An element of novelty, or preciousness, goes a long way toward delivering attention. The more attention the greater the exposure of the award and thus the potential field of competition.
    2) ALL book categories are to some extent contrivances: Fiction is no more strictly fictional than nonfiction is factual; children’s literature is not strictly predicated on what appeals most to children; what falls into science fiction is a notoriously shifty discussion. And yet all literary awards begin with the assumption of a discrete category. Which is simply to say that a blook is one of many filters through which one could choose to look at the most recent generation of books, and a blook award one way to acknowledge the achievements there discovered.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Hrmm! Thanks for that insight, Stephen.

    The fact that the Blooker prize is being driven by the novelty of a new medium is only to be expected, but I must admit the thought of the established Booker prize being envious of the Blooker’s press took me by surprise.

    I’d have thought the things going against the Blooker – the fact that it’s sponsored by a company that publishes blooks, and that it is, as Ed says, about a medium where mediocrity rules, would have sufficiently provided a balancing to its positive press – if I’m not mistaken when it was first released there was a little negativity buzzing about the blogosphere.

    But I guess you’re right. Novelty does have its strenghts. And, yes, we can’t deny that the Blooker prize winners do have quality, be it for just the blogosphere alone, or beyond.

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  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org/ CrazyDreamer

    Ignoring for a moment Ed’s sheer elitism, Sturgeon’s Revelation, and the general air of pessimism that pervades Ed’s original post and comment, let me pull out a few passages from Ed’s comment to this entry:

    “. . . the relatively ill-exposed young . . .”

    “. . . the young, given their generally invariable perspectival characteristics . . .”

    “. . . the click-cultured minds of today . . .”

    “. . . the perspectival propensities of juvenile minds . . .”

    When I read his comment, I found it to be a surprising and disappointing screed against every conservative’s worst nightmare: “The Youth of Today.” Honestly, quality writing has been (supposedly) under attack by “Modern Youth Culture” for centuries, and yet it has always survived. While it is possible that the online medium will alter the format and structure of writing, what constitutes “good writing” in a more fundamental sense–believable characters, engaging plots, technical excellence, etc.–has remained more-or-less constant for thousands of years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I agree, and I’d like to add on to that: it’s looking at the big picture that good writing has remained more or less constant. I can certainly think of a few fads that I didn’t like, but these were just that: fads. It passed on.