Friday, June 29, 2007

I'm Your Fa-a-a-a-ther, Luke...

So there I am preparing to enjoy perhaps my favorite guilty pleasure of each week---sitting down with the Friday Arts Section of The New York Times (a truly generous, remarkably erudite gift to the world, in my opinion)---but I never quite got around to reading Holland Cotter's piece on the exhibition devoted to how Portugal (where I lived for a while) conquered the world, or Roberta Smith's review of Rudolf Stingel’s show at the Whitney (we loved the version of it we saw at the MCA in Chicago recently), or the...ahem...three whole reviews from the 500+ exhibitions up in galleries at the moment (uh, I know it's Summer, but the streets of Chelsea were packed last night, goes on).

No, I didn't get to enjoy any of those offerings because I got distracted by a headline for a book review (
its headline is different online, mind you...isn't that interesting???):
The Roar of the Herd is Deafening on the Web
Now discussing books that one hasn't read is like discussing exhibitions one hasn't seen, but from what I can tell from Michiko Kakutani's review of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture it's apparently OK to pontificate about things one clearly approached with a bias firmly in place, so....

OK, so that was perhaps a bit harsh...let me back up. Here's what's got me so distracted:
Digital utopians have heralded the dawn of an era in which Web 2.0 — distinguished by a new generation of participatory sites like and, which emphasize user-generated content, social networking and interactive sharing — ushers in the democratization of the world: more information, more perspectives, more opinions, more everything, and most of it without filters or fees. Yet as the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen points out in his provocative new book, “The Cult of the Amateur,” Web 2.0 has a dark side as well.

Now you know I'm a bit protective when it comes to the blogging community, so you'll want to read the following with that bias clear in your mind, but Mr. Keen's analysis, from what is quoted in the review, is anything but.

Mr. Keen argues that “what the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment.” In his view Web 2.0 is changing the cultural landscape and not for the better. By undermining mainstream media and intellectual property rights, he says, it is creating a world in which we will “live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising.” This is what happens, he suggests, “when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule.”
This is what happens, I'd argue, when someone attempts to scapegoat a pastime for the downfall of those segments of an aging media that are resisting change, when arrogance meets solipsism meets piss-poor observation meets hyperventilated hyperbole.

After a wholly undemocratic rant against what he calls the "crowd" (yes, it is easier to lump folks together than to consider them as individuals, this efficiency has served bigots and false prophets well for centuries)---blaming crowd mentality for everything from slavery to the war in Iraq (height of all ironies for anyone advocating the mainstream media, IMO)---he then proceeds to overstate the importance and/or credibility of a host of online offerings. Anyone who spends anytime online at all knows full well you take the information on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, but that doesn't stop Mr. Keen from noting:

[T]he online encyclopedia Wikipedia (which relies upon volunteer editors and contributors) gets way more traffic than the Web site run by Encyclopedia Britannica (which relies upon experts and scholars), even though the interactive format employed by Wikipedia opens it to postings that are inaccurate, unverified, even downright fraudulent.
Well, duh...the difference, and what Mr. Keen fails to mention (or so the review would lead me to believe...[again, reason one shouldn't review reviews, darn it]), is that Encyclopedia Britannica charges you for its best information (offering only teaser info until you pay and plastering its site with ads), whereas Wikipedia gives you all its info for free and doesn't bombard you with offers like (yes, this is really on the Britannica site, that paragon of integrity) a book on fashion and the Oscars. But that's besides the point. Wikipedia is only one source for info (kind of like your online Uncle Rex...most of what he knows is accurate, but he's wrong sometimes, so you take that into account when you ask him a question), but it's fast, free and ad-less.

But it's when Mr. Keen disses the blogs that I wanna, well...let me try a different approach. Here's what he reportedly thinks:

[A]s Mr. Keen points out, the idea of objectivity is becoming increasingly passé in the relativistic realm of the Web, where bloggers cherry-pick information and promote speculation and spin as fact. Whereas historians and journalists traditionally strived to deliver the best available truth possible, many bloggers revel in their own subjectivity, and many Web 2.0 users simply use the Net, in Mr. Keen’s words, to confirm their “own partisan views and link to others with the same ideologies.”
Let's take Mr. Keen's own example to test this theory, shall we? Let's take the war in Iraq. Who among the traditional historians and journalists were delivering the mobs he blames for that debacle the best available truth possible in the lead-up to the invasion? Judith Miller? The Editorial Board at The Washington Post? No?

Who, on the other hand, was highlighting the articles The New York Times was burying on page 19 about experts at the CIA who were questioning the validity of the Administration's claims about Hussein's alleged WMD? Who was screaming " attention to this...we're not having the full and open debate about this invasion we owe our troops!" Was it the traditional journalists???

No, goddammit! It was the blogs! And virtually the blogs alone. Traditional media had either been bought off or were too chicken-shit to call the Administration on its overstated case for war. In fact, with Judith Miller at the head of the pack, it was the traditional media that cherry-picked information and promoted speculation and spin as fact, if they did even that, and didn't merely print the White House's talking points.

What Mr. Keen seems to have forgotten in his research is to remember that old adage: "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." Web 2.0 has sprung up because the traditional media were not meeting the public's needs.

Besides, despite his accusations that bloggers are undermining the media, very few bloggers I know consider their site anything more than what a blog is, by definition: a personal web online discussions of their personal opinions about things, not a replacement for the news. In a nutshell, it's entertainment.

Mr. Keen reveals his true objections via a thinly disguised warning of doom:
Mr. Keen argues that the democratized Web’s penchant for mash-ups, remixes and cut-and-paste jobs threaten not just copyright laws but also the very ideas of authorship and intellectual property. He observes that as advertising dollars migrate from newspapers, magazines and television news to the Web, organizations with the expertise and resources to finance investigative and foreign reporting face more and more business challenges.
Its a perceived loss of authority and profit that motivates screeds like Mr. Keen' on:

“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Mr. Keen writes. “The new winners — Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave.”
OK, so stay with me. Here I am, reading this review in the print version of The New York Times, which I pay full price for every day (because, as I've noted, I want to support the frail little man who sells them on my corner) and yet somehow, because I also have a blog, I'm partially responsible for undermining the print industry? I have directed more people to a wide range of articles in the very paper Mr. Keen's books is being discussed in than he ever has, I'll guarantee it. I've directed them to pages where The Times has ads and tons of links to its other offerings, unlike Mr. Keen's book.

This whole stance, this anti-Web 2.0, under the guise of fretting for our offline culture, is so transparent and idiotic. As I noted in a comment the other day, a good number of folks in the art world (you know that industry with the blistering hot market and record prices) figured out recently something the traditional media might want to pay attention to. You stand more to gain by collaborating with others to increase the size of the pie than you do by wasting your resources desperately trying to protect your little slice of it. Web 2.0 can be good for the traditional media who spend more time learning how to harness its power and less trying to fight its tide. Seeing a YouTube excerpt from a TV show has led me to rent the entire series on CD or watch it during prime time, for example. Finding a link to an article in a blog post has led me to eventually subscribe to a magazine I didn't know about before then.

I'm not saying traditional media aren't facing challenges. The world is changing. Technology is making old methods obsolete. So, you evolve or perish. That's nothing new. But finger pointing and mocking new media isn't going to change anything. It's not like Google or YouTube are going to read Keen's book and say, "You know...I think he's right...I think what we're doing is undermining main stream media (and Lord knows that's synonymous with important culture). I think we should close up this business and open a traditional newsstand instead."

As I noted above, even if Web 2.0 does eventually destroy the very sources of the content we crave, our need for that content will lead to new inventions for its delivery. Protecting our fathers' media (how? through legislation? guilt? what?), when it's unable to evolve on its own, is a ludicrous solution to this. Not all fathers (like not all their media) represent the path that will steer us clear of the dark side. Sometimes you have to trust that the new generation, when it finally figures out how to wield its light saber, will do the right thing.

Labels: Blogs


Anonymous John said...

Amen, brother Winkleman!

Railing against new media like it's an evil ogre intent on sucking our souls and eating our bones is beyond annoying. It's the equivalent of the angry old man standing on his porch yelling at the kids to "get off ma lawn!"

Most of Web 2.0 does not supplant traditional media and economies, it compliments them. The new entrepreneurs have heeded the religion of the long-tail and figured out how to monetize the fuck out it. Meanwhile, traditional media has sat back and tried to guard its vertical empires. Now they find themselves in survival mode because they did not choose to adapt and innovate. Boohoo.

And lest we not forget that one old school medium is still rockin' along. Books, the traditional aggregators of scholarship and knowledge, and the medium this a-hole has chosen to deliver his "superficial observations of the world" are going to be with us for the long haul.

6/29/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

This is off-topic, but, what's the guilt in the pleasure of reading the Friday Arts Section?

6/29/2007 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Most of Web 2.0 does not supplant traditional media and economies, it compliments them.

Exactly. There is no denying revenue is down at traditional print media, but the new media represent an opportunity as well as competition. Did we eschew automobiles because the buggy industry was threatened? Smart buggy manufacturers refitted their operations to make car parts instead.

what's the guilt in the pleasure of reading the Friday Arts Section?

How much time I allow myself to wallow in it.

6/29/2007 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger stephen lee said...

But where would we get all our news on Paris Hilton without mainstream media?! I mean, Larry King dumped Michael Moore for Paris Wednesday night(who knows how much CNN paid to bring us this extremely important news)! I love the Uncle Rex comment and couldn't agree more about coming together for the bigger slice instead of shutting everyone off to keep your little piece. Just like any medium that delivers the news, there are good sources and bad, thanks Ed for delivering the good.

6/29/2007 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Just like any medium that delivers the news, there are good sources and bad

Yes, but I'm willing to bet Mr. Keen isn't taking Fox News to task for the damage their doing to our culture. If fact, in this interview on NPR, Andrew Keen insists it's blogs that have dangerous agendas, not any of the traditional media.

I hope there's vodka in that Kool-Aid.

6/29/2007 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger stephen lee said...

Agreed. Just listening to him in that interview makes him sound even more ludicrous and off base. I say we start blogTV, a television station dedicated to reporting all the top news that's hitting the blogosphere... what would Keen say then.....

6/29/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Joerg Colberg said...

Am I the only one who's massively offended by the use of the words "mob rule"? That's straight Ann Coulter material. That's so unbelievably offensive! So that's what we "amateurs" really just are, in the eyes of the writer and, since the reviewer didn't really feel like addressing it, in the eyes of the Times?

6/29/2007 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Oly said...


Great, great post.

Why do blogs have to have an "agenda" anyway?

Don't most who blog about art just love art AND writing-- like, a lot-- and want to share it with others?

I don't care about movements, or history, or "subconciousness," or that dreaded academia-speak that makes me put down the article by paragraph two.

I just want to know if something out there is good and where to see that thing that is good.

NY's top blogs like-- Anonymous Female Artist, James Wagner, you, Bloggy, and ArtFagCity make art fun (why's that a bad word?), accessible and interesting to people that would tire of a long-winded Cotter review anyday.


6/29/2007 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Gracious, Edward, you must be a Morning Person. I cannot fathom how you are able to assemble a screed with such clarity and thoroughness before 10 AM.

6/29/2007 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Change always generates anxiety. The fact that people who don't know each other can share views, opinions, images with one another and find community has reduced the collective sense of isolation. It also has reduced the status of the commentators (entertainers) because now there are so many more of them. Competition in a free market society.

Interesting post, Ed.

6/29/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Whey up in Maine, just got the Times. It's more condecending and paternal to read it in the paper form. I'm going to throw my lap top in the ocean before I'm tempted to blog again.....Then I read the Paris/Larry piece, f-ck. Now that's REAL media.

6/29/2007 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Chelsea Dealer II said...

Re: The Times
Only three art reviews in today's paper for the entire city and no Chelsea listings. What is going on?
They are making us turn to blogs to get information on current shows!

6/29/2007 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Sunil said...

I agree with most of what you have said except for one disturbing trend that I have started to see around the nation (and I say this with the risk of getting mauled here). Lots of mainstream newspapers are starting to let go of their art reviewers feeling that the position of the art reviewer is no longer viable in a culture where you could get 'user generated reviews' on the internet. The only problem with things like art reviews being 'user generated' is that the quality suffers (you should check out some of the book reviews on Amazon). Now, I am all for blogs and personal expression, but when it comes to a proper critique of what is current at a museum or a gallery, I would rather trust someone with experience than a naive blogger writing her/his reviews after going to a couple of art shows.
That said, the concept of 'quality blog's (like the ones mentioned above by oly) do have the power to deliver thoughtful content on the artworld and this needs to gain ground. I am not too sure how a quality movement like that would spread, but this ( ) is a step in the right direction.

6/29/2007 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Sunil: I won't Maul you. The one thing I want most from an art review is photos. I want to see as many damned installation shots as possible. (Assuming of course that the images of the works themselves are online at the gallery, so I can get a detail view if I want. I know, I know. This is not always a good assumption [he said, snarkily]).

Someone, somewhere, is intensely allergic to this idea. Newspapers? Galleries? Artists? I don't know. If bloggers give me more photos of the exhibitions, then that's far more important to me than a written exegesis by a writer. If I can get the photos, then I'll be interested to read an intelligently written text as a supplement, but the photos need to come first for me.

Anyway, long story short, I think blogs (including photo sites like flickr) are by far the best medium for this type of thing.

6/29/2007 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Democratic spirit behind the blogosphere is what makes it great, and also what makes it dangerous.

True story: I had had my work trashed by a blogger (who was quoting a friend commenting on a jpeg of a 7 foot painting), only to have an irresponsible reporter from the Associated Press release the quote all over the world.

The blogosphere can be like the game of telephone that we played as children, with unpredictable results.

6/29/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

I just watched Roberta Smith's audio slideshow about the Rudolf Stingel show. Brava, Roberta! Nicely done. Really beautiful.

And, having seen the audio slideshow, the written review makes a thousand times more sense, and I can appreciate the essay for what it is, rather than agonizing over not knowing visually what she's referring to.

(I just wish the NY Times would make their reporters re-record their audio after doing the first draft. The abrupt audio edits bother me. And the audio for the Stingel review was even more choppy than average.)

6/29/2007 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

This is not always a good assumption [he said, snarkily]).

No respect...I get no respect, I tell you. ;-P

Lots of mainstream newspapers are starting to let go of their art reviewers feeling that the position of the art reviewer is no longer viable in a culture where you could get 'user generated reviews' on the internet.

Is that really the reason they cite? How incredibly lame. If newspapers don't understand and appreciate the value of a critic over your average blogger, though, why should the public?

6/29/2007 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I had had my work trashed by a blogger (who was quoting a friend commenting on a jpeg of a 7 foot painting), only to have an irresponsible reporter from the Associated Press release the quote all over the world.

This sort of thing will sort itself out as blogs begin being ranked in order of prestige and credibility. Right now, the AP is as clueless as most other people as to which blogs are reliable, and which might have agendas, but as with any media anywhere it takes time to build up trust. I wish the AP and others would get in the habit that most bloggers have and qualify the source of the quotes they lift (i.e., "from a blogger in New Hampshire who's Technorati authority is 12"). It's not that hard to get some idea who you're quoting.

6/29/2007 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

As I read your post, I noticed you quoted the NY times article but not the actual book. Did you actually read the book? I feel like thats the sort of journalism that Keen is saying is dangerous and harmful. I bet the NYtimes Reviewer read the whole book, he didn't just read a few excerpts and threw his opinion out there.

And also I would disagree with you when you that the adage "nesecity is the mother of all invention" is what spurred the growth of web2.0. I personally feel like its ego, pure ego. The idea that you can have very strong beliefs about something, put them out there and have hundreds maybe even thousands of people is what causes a lot of people to blog. The idea that you can sit in my underwear and give my opinion, and can still become an "internet celeb" is what drives many people.

And I personally see web2.0 working its self out. I think abc has done the right thing with putting their TV shows online, and with bloging we see the most respected photography blogs coming from working photographers, the magnum blog, Alec Soth, Jen Beckman. In the end the educated and respected "gate keepers" will still rise to the top.

6/30/2007 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I just re read my comment, and you actually cant sit in my underwear, but you are definitely free to sit in your own.

6/30/2007 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

In addition to re-reading your own comment, Andrew, please re-read my third paragraph, where I agree with your assessment that it's not advisable to discuss books one hasn't read. The arguments Keen's advancing that I'm addressing, though, are hardly novel and I've actually blogged on this very topic indepth before, so it's not as if I'm just now "read[ing] a few excerpts and [throwing my] opinion out there. More imporantly, what I'm definitely not doing, nor suggesting any but a few bloggers are doing, is what I'd call "journalism."

None of that, however, means, as Keen clearly suggests (and I'm not basing this on his book, which [how many different ways can I indicate this?] I haven't read, but on the NPR interview with him about this topic, which I did actually listen to), that bloggers are responsible for the difficulties that traditional media are facing, which is the thurst of why I'm taking him to task.

This kind of scapegoating is rampant right now (Keen's hardly the first critic to suggest blogs are the culprit) and, to my mind, idiotic in that it implies that a remedy be applied, which no one will spell out, but none of the ones I can imagine seem better than the supposed problem.

And also I would disagree with you when you that the adage "nesecity is the mother of all invention" is what spurred the growth of web2.0. I personally feel like its ego, pure ego.

It's hard for me on an eponymous blog to argue ego's not a big motivator. But I'll reiterate that I initally turned to the blogs because what I was reading in the newspapers was horrifying me. Bush was marching us off to war on what seemed very clear to me the flimsiest of pretexts and the mainstream media were banging the drums for him. On the blogs I found an intelligent, insightful debate (both pro and con) that made me feel much better about this country. It wasn't ego, it was a real need to be reassured the whole world hadn't gone mad that brought me to the blogs. Then, when I saw how they actually facilitated the ideals of democracy much better than the ever-more-corporate press

6/30/2007 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


...I began to be even more impressed with them. They're messy right now, which might be what most offends some people, but they're maturing and becoming an important new media.

6/30/2007 05:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanna sit in andrew's underwear.

6/30/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

Ewww. (Now there's something you could only do on a blog!)

6/30/2007 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a virtual world messy underpants might be the place. Painternyc has been getting good mention, it's messy. People have an opinion, they get straight to it. At the end of the day there are no winners. There are no prizes, but sometimes a lot gets said.

I think the blog or ideal information/germination tank/world you are talking about here is something very close to the traditional media where people with sensible writing skills and good ideas argue points. The winner is the one who at the end of the bog/information/throw-around-idea day has accrued the most points though possibly without really having said anything fresh or standout because points are not given for that. Sensible indeed, but staid!
That's how I see it!
Art hardly ever argues sensibly.

7/01/2007 04:19:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

What's really hilarious is that Andrew Keen is GUEST BLOGGING to promote his anti-blogging book. Google him and see.

7/01/2007 11:26:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Oh. And here's the edress for Andrew Keen's own blog:

7/01/2007 11:32:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

I agree with you, Edward, and with most of the comments here. Keen is just one more nay-sayer, and his worries are born of a fear of change, and of social evolution.

Having said that, I must reveal that I do share some of his concerns, though I don't view the web as the sole culprit. Some bloggers and blog readers may turn to both the blogosphere and the NY Times, but many folks I know don't read papers (online or printed) anymore and even fewer read the articles published in the magazines they do subscribe to. Most contemporary print publications rely heavily on photography, whether you're considering ArtForum, National Geographic or US Weekly, and those that stand by the writing - The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly - have small circulations (and shrinking every few years).

I wouldn't blame Web 2.0, by any means, but we are an instant gratification society, and little given to rumination. What this forebodes, I'm not sure, but some of the more respected sociologists bang the Dark Ages drum. I think they're making a mountain of a molehill, but when you look at the educational statistics - in a relatively recent poll of high school seniors, something like 30% could not locate New York State on a map of the world; 12% couldn't locate Canada or Mexico - it begins to seem rather dismal. Color me a little nervous.

7/02/2007 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see jorg "all photography on flickr is kitsch" colberg leaping to your side in the struggle against snobbery....

7/03/2007 09:33:00 PM  

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