Saturday, October 16, 2010

In order to save the mainstream media it became necessary to destroy it

Annie Bookcrosminsky worries that the blogosphere is shrinking. And yes, she’s got a point. Many of the old names who were around when I started Cultural Snow nearly five years ago, when memes were pretty cutting edge and you sent a thank-you note if someone added you to their blogroll, have gone on to other things, like death or babies; or they only pop in when they’ve got something really profound to say. And yet blogging, the idea of blogging, the feel of blogging is bloody everywhere.

I’ve just watched Claudia Winkleman’s first outing at the helm of Film 2010. Now, I’m old enough to  remember Barry Norman in the same chair in the late 70s. He’d tell you what he thought of a film, then there’d be an insert from Hollywood with that bloke with a moustache, then Barry would tell you what he thought of another film, then he might interview some up-and-coming whippersnapper like Alan Parker, then Barry would tell you what he thought of one more film, and that it wasn’t as good as a Howard Hawks film that I probably hadn’t seen at the time, but I made a mental note to look out for it if it showed up in the Radio Times. Because Barry Norman said I should, and he was presenting the film programme on the BBC, so he should know. It was classic, old-school, implicitly de haut en bas media.

But Barry sells pickled onions now – that’s not a euphemism for death, he really does sell pickled onions – and Winkleword is something rather different. It’s not just that they’ve got a self-confessed blogger on the team, in the person of Charlie Lyne from Ultra Culture. The show is live, and we’re encouraged to tweet our thoughts, and Claudia’s got an in-house sounding board in the person of some bloke from the Guardian who acts a bit like Mark Kermode’s little brother. (The real dweebs wanted Dr Kermode to take over from Jonathan Ross, but he knew his quiff wouldn’t fit.) It’s no longer the baggy-eyed lecture that Bazza made it, or the stand-up routine that Wossy offered. It’s a conversation, people, just like blogs were when there were enough of around to converse with.

I’m not the only one to have laboured the obvious analogy, but blogging is a bit like punk rock. Punk as a vital, revolutionary force burned itself out after about 18 months, with the greatest talents re-focusing their energies into the sort of musics that Simon Reynolds has chronicled; the others either died, or have played their two-and-a-half chords on the fundamentalist nostalgia circuit ever since. But at the same time, those who were cast as the villains in the McLarenite morality play, the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart, Genesis and Pink Floyd and Yes, were all changed by the experience. Their songs and trousers became tighter; their guitar solos and haircuts shorter. Punk didn’t destroy them, but it did make them change their tune, figuratively and literally.

So it is with blogging. Some of the pioneers have been absorbed by the mainstream media, still a bit spikier than the norm, but now with advertisers and libel lawyers to trim their nails if they get too sharp. Charlie Lyne appearing on Film 2010 is like Plastic Bertrand appearing on the cover of the Smash Hits dummy. And even the anti-bloggers, the Street-Porters and Dejevskys and Marrs, have realised that some of the core aspects of blogging – the immediacy, the interactivity, the links – will have to be taken up if mainstream media is to survive.

Annie’s probably right that the blogosphere is shrinking, if she means that sites with ‘blogspot’ and ‘wordpress’ in their names are less likely to provoke excitable debate at fashionable dinner parties by the time Film 2020 rolls around (by which time it will probably be introduced by Justin Bieber, or the woman from the Shake ‘n’ Vac ad, or maybe an artichoke). But that’s not because nobody’s blogging any more; it’s because everybody is.


broken biro said...

Pickled onions? Pickled onions What's he doing pickling onions when his country needs him?

(Nothing against onions, but that's like saying Mother Theresa has gone into the dog-grooming business or Stephen Fry is working in MacDonalds... You want Frys with that? )

Rol said...

I miss Barry Norman too. Things were so much simpler back when everybody was only allowed to have one opinion about everything. Nowadays nobody can agree about anything.

Following your blog=punk rock analogy, I feel a bit like Green Day or one of those American punk bands who tried to revive the genre in a fake and overblown way after all the cool originals had either died or sold out.

Well, Green Day minus the success, obviously.

Annie said...

oh no, by your analogy, I wish I could be Poly Styrene but fear I'm more like, er, Toyah.

By the way, blogworld is in fact expanding. Look who has made a triumphant return!

E. Studnicka said...

Perhaps Roger Ebert could lend me some advice on how to prepare pickled onions in a rice cooker...

Tim F said...

Perhaps one day Ms Winkleman will delight us with her Scotch eggs, BBiro.

Green Day minus the success and the smackability, Rol.

Annie: :-)))))))))))))))

MWB: I've filed his book next to "Play Better Darts" by Stevie Wonder.

An Unreliable Witness said...

As someone who has been blogging since October 2000 - exactly ten years plus two days, as a matter of fact - when Blogger was the only option, regularly fell into unexplained downtime, and didn't have any comments, I do think the number of *personal* blogs has shrunk. The numbers are still there, but the vast majority are no longer being updated. The vibrant personal blogging has moved on a generation, and I am told (by 16 and 17 years olds) that it's big amongst teenagers. I guess my contemporaries and I are too long in the tooth, and can only just manage to motivate ourselves to update Twitter and Facebook.

To our viewpoint, then, blogging - which was frowned upon by the media for so long - has been well and truly co-opted by them now. Look at newspapers and broadcasters and how many blogs they have between them. Companies too. Blogging has well and truly gone overground.

So the amazing thing to me was reading this, about an upcoming panel debate at the Festival of Ideas, which will discuss "what blogging is" and aim to answer such questions as "is blogging journalism?" I seem to have a distant memory that we discussed this almost ad infinitum in 2004. And 2005. 2006, too. Though I think the subject was becoming a bit old hat in 2007.

Anonymous said...

These days more blogs are begun with a purpose in mind, than for general meandering wittering.
All end up the same way though.
Or is that just me?

(Brought to you by the word verification: rugstud. I like it. Are we talking carpet burns or Brucie's thatch?)

Tim F said...

It was old news to many of us, Witness, but it seems that plenty are still catching up. I regularly encounter educated people who need to have the word "blog" defined.

I did start a purposeful blog, BWT, but got bored. Whereas the meandering one is closing in on its fifth birthday.