Friday, April 21, 2006

Simon says...

Simon Reynolds writes:

"I'm a great defender of blogs but your post exemplifies precisely why Proper Journalists are so dismissive of blogging. You haven't actually read the US edition of Rip It Up, or even seen the content's page, but is that going to deter you from having an opinion? Hell no! You take this other reviewer's speculation (which is totally off-base) and then use that as the springboard for a whole raft of hasty assumptions and cultural generalizations.

If you actually wanted to know why certain chapters were cut from the US edition, you (or Diederichsen for that matter) could have contacted me easily enough to find out before opining. The fact is I was contracted to write a book of a certain length, and handed in something that was much, much longer--about 60 percent again. The two publishers reacted differently.

The UK publisher was, like, "no problem". The American publisher, concerned about the book being both too bulky and retailing too expensive, wanted me to get it closer to the original proposed length; we ended up with something in between. Rather than make a lot of small cuts throughout, which would deplete the richness of the whole thing, after much deliberation I decided to remove the three chapters that seemed the ones that an American postpunk afficianado would be least likely to expect or miss: a chapter on Magazine and Subway Sect (both of whom who had little impact in the USA), the chapter on the Some Bizzare milieu/second wave of industrial, and the chapter on SST, which few people on either side of the Atlantic would regard as part of the postpunk story.

There are other differences between the editions, an inevitable byproduct of having two editors. The only really significant ones are that US one is sequenced differently in terms of chapter order (making for a stronger narrative flow) and the chapter on Mutant Disco & Punk Funk isn't an oral history as in the UK, but proper written up historical prose, and to my mind, superior to the UK version of the chapter, which was something of a failed experiment.

I'm certainly glad to hear that Rip It Up became one of your favourite books of the year--it's a pity that someone reading your original review would come away with such an opposite impression. Another example of the dangers of rushing to judgement, perhaps?"

I apologise wholeheartedly to Simon and his publishers for any possible misrepresentation. On the other hand, his dig at blogging seems misplaced, since my original source for the information was legit, analogue media (practitioners of which, it appears, are just as capable of making fuck-ups as bloggers). "Proper Journalists", in fact, and I hope the initial caps signal a certain level of ironic detachment, rather than handbags at dawn. Think you've been in NYC too long, Simon - New Yorker-style full-time fact-checkers are beyond the budget of most of us.

The "rushing to judgement" thing is, I think, also unfair. In any media, old or new, producers of content (books, music, movies, whatever) want coverage to coincide roughly with release/publication. There's not much point in putting resources behind a major PR campaign if a hack is going to cogitate for six months before deigning to review it. It could be in the remainder bin by then! I gave my honest thoughts about Rip It Up after a first reading. The only thing I really regret about the original review was the clumsy comparison with Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces. What I should have said is that Lipstick Traces is better in purely literary terms. As a piece of journalism and serious analysis, it's pretty flawed, and Rip It Up pisses on it. You can quote me on that, Simon.

And as for cultural generalisations - my point was not about American consumers, but about the producers (paymasters, rather than the creatives themselves), who still seem to be operating in a "will it play in Peoria?" frame of reference. I doubt very much that American audiences would have run screaming from cinemas if Bridget Jones had made an ambiguous reference to "big pants", but then I'm not so dependent for my living on their custom these days. At the same time, it does sound as if Simon's US publishers think their readers might be put off by a book that was a] too expensive (perfectly sound commercial judgement) and b] too bulky (which may be a wee bit patronising; short attention spans and all that?).

Anyway, thanks for dropping by, Simon. And do check out a few of the blogs down the right-hand side. They're even more divorced from reality than this one.

Update, April 22: For another example of US publishers having low expectations of their customers, see this story from The Age (Australia). Some of it is (ho-hum) "political-correctness-gone-mad" stuff. But this is just bizarre: "Illustrators have been asked to avoid showing uncut loaves of bread and freestanding wardrobes because they might be unfamiliar to American readers."


The Curve said...

It seems Diederischen did not do his homework, and we all indulged in a little gun jumping.

Tim Footman said...

That's why I'm a bit peeved that SR used this as a stick with which to beat bloggers. Diederichsen was writing (presumably for money) for a print magazine.

But it was still my booboo to trust him.

patroclus said...

Well, you said in your original post that you hadn't read the book and you were relying on Diederichsen's review, which is quite enough disclosure as far as I'm concerned.

And since when did bloggers need 'Proper Journalists' to 'defend' them? We can defend ourselves, thank you very much. And in a way we're *more* accountable, because we've got our audience right in here with us, in the comments boxes.

patroclus said...

Also: 'defend' us against whom, exactly?

Tim Footman said...

C'mon, Patroclus, you must know that Old Media is getting a bit edgy about the so-called power of bloggers. So it will apply a contradictory tactic: it will attempt to absorb the phenomenon into its embrace, by buying up the best of the bloggers and turning them into 'proper' journalists/authors, etc, and by starting up officially sanctioned blogs as spin-offs from its own products; and at the same time, knocking the whole phenomenon as amateurish and shoddy.

Simon (whose main point I see entirely - he's devoted a huge amount of effort to his book, and he doesn't want people telling porkies about it) is both author and blogger. (So am I, to an extent, as a quick Google would determine.) I think what he's really suggesting is that bloggers should attempt to raise their standards (at least as far as factual reliability goes) to match those of Old Media. I agree, and I screwed up; my only defence is that Old Media (as personified by Diederichsen) is just as capable of making mistakes as we are.

Whether rigorous fact-checking would negate what's great about blogging (immediacy, enthusiasm - a sort of punk attitude, if that's not overstating things) is another question.

Any thoughts?

patroclus said...

>>I think what he's really suggesting is that bloggers should attempt to raise their standards (at least as far as factual reliability goes) to match those of Old Media.<<

Well that's only if you see blogging as a sort of unpaid/amateur journalism. But the way I see it, blogging is just the same old stuff that people always used to talk about, only now those conversations are visible. And because they're visible, it now - *gasp* - exposes what people actually think.

So whereas before, the Old Media had an audience that it assumed was just out there, lapping it up, now it's realising that the audience 'out there' isn't blindly lapping it up so much as forming its own opinions of whatever it is the Old Media has written/produced, and hey, sometimes those opinions aren't totally positive. Often they are. But either way, it has to deal with the fact that it can now see what people are saying about it.

And as for factual correctness, the great thing about blogging, in my opinion, is that anyone can step in and point out a factual inaccuracy, via comments (or in Simon's case, by emailing you, which you very diligently then posted). Which is the kind of feedback loop you certainly don't get (or at least to anything like this extent) with the old media.

I do agree with the fact-checking angle, though - and another great thing about blogging is that you can correct inaccuracies very easily with new posts or updates to existing posts - again, as you have done.


Tim Footman said...

>>But the way I see it, blogging is just the same old stuff that people always used to talk about, only now those conversations are visible.<<

In essence, yes. But you must have noticed that a disproportionate number of bloggers are either involved elsewhere in Old Media; or want to be.
Should the standards applied be different, according to which hats they're wearing? (And I'm not talking about censorship, just an appropriate critical response.)

StillWater said...

Wow, thats interesting that a woman consumes over 4 to 9 lbs of lipstick in her lifetime! Here is the link that I found that shows all of the research:

Robert A. Swipe said...

"The American publisher, concerned about the book being both too bulky and retailing too expensive,..."

You mean *they* thought it was too long? Never.

Still, as a Marxist, I'm sure the emphasis on keeping the cost down for all those 'liminal' class consumers out there must have touched you, eh Simes?

I got my unread copy out of the Library, as it goes - well, can't be doing with all this consumer fetishism...

How's it selling, btw??