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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

entry arrow10:08 AM | The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in These Digital Times

[Beware: This is a rant.]

There is a quiet, thought-provoking scene in Brad Bird's wonderful The Incredibles that makes me think about the nature of the contemporary world. Mr. Incredible, by the time we see this particular scene, has already been forced by society to become an ordinary guy called Bob Parr. His son's school has just held an event where all the kids get to come home with trophies so as not to make anyone feel bad. Mr. Incredible grouches, "They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity!"

It's food for thought indeed.

Because do we really do that in real life? The answer is, yes. I'm a little perturbed about how things are in the world today: people seem to award the bad, and patronize even the despicable (or at least the underwhelming). Let's just say there's high tolerance for mediocrity these days, something that was the subtle message in the Pixar animated hit I mentioned. (Another favorite line of dialogue from The Incredibles: Helen coos, "Everyone's special, Dash." The kid puts on his pouty face: "That's just another way of saying no one is.")

Here's a short list that will make what I say a little clearer... Be a bumbling college frat boy and draft dodger, and you become President George W. Bush. Be an anti-Semitic drunk, and are Mel Gibson, director of the surprise box-office smash Apocalypto. Be a dimwit pseudo-porn star and heiress, and you are Paris Hilton. Ransack a country and buy thousands of shoes, and when you return from exile, you are Imelda Marcos, numero uno socialite. Pretend stupidity is cool because it is surprisingly marketable, and you are Jessica Simpson. Be white trash, and you are Anna Nicole Smith. Write trashy pulp fiction about an unoriginal idea, and you are Dan Brown. Show your boobs and moan like crazy in "Monsters Ball," and you are Oscar Best Actress Halle Berry. Write a blog... Let's not get into the specifics.

It's scary when you find yourself in such a world where something is obviously so bad and you say so, and you get an attack of rabid apologists who stretch too much the acceptable relativity of "excellence." Of course, everybody can believe that something they do is "the best" no matter what -- but they forget that's a principle that people like American Idol's William Hung also cling to. (Sometimes, watching the show, I can't help but feel a mix of pity and revulsion over some of those who audition and who truly believe they're good, even if their voices are the equivalent of Piolo Pascual farting out "Kailangan Kita.")

I came across a blog that's protesting some undue criticism over awards and the quality of blog content. I believe I was one of those who did brandish the scalpel. (But only so sligtly naman. I wasn't in my best bitchy mood then.) It's a "personal" blog lang daw, and how "best" is always relative. I agree with the last part, but a personal blog is not "personal" at all, although it may possess the illusions of being so. I repeat: it is a delusion to think that "personal blogging" is primarily all about a personal sense of fulfillment. Yes, there is that, but "sense of fulfillment" is also true for most endeavors, like why we paint, or write, or... The whole idea of posting personal thoughts in a medium that the whole world can easily access also points to the fact -- consciously acknowledged or not -- that in some levels, we want to be read by other people. Blogging is a public medium of expression, and like all public stuff, it is a lightning rod for criticism, both good and bad. When it is entered in a contest (whether the blogger wanted to be nominated or not), it becomes a target of even more scrutiny. People will ask, "Why this blog and not that?" And rightfully so. That's the risk of the whole endeavor. I know this to be so true, because every time I enter a literary contest, there are always supporters and naysayers. When I won the Fully Booked Contest having tied with Michael Co's marvelous, marvelous story, I got my fair share of both. And I still lived to tell the tale, so to speak.

In the Internet age and coming from a year when Time has just declared "You" to be the Person of the Year, telling apart bad from good in the online world has suddenly become an issue everybody is talking about. A flap over several false Wikipedia entries (here and here) is the subject of a recent Newsweek article I read a few hours ago. It's titled "Dawn of the Web Amateurs" and is written by Steven Levy who has a nose for balancing all views on the matter. In that article, Levy writes about the recent tirade by Andrew Keen, author of the book The Cult of the Amateur due from Doubleday in June, who believes that the entire Internet movement is leading to a cultural meltdown. Levy writes:

The Essjay incident fits Keen's critique of the democratization of the digital world so neatly... In Keen's views, sites like Wikipedia, along with blogs, YouTube, iTunes, are rapidly eroding our legacy of expert guidance in favor of a "dictatorship of idiots." Reliable sources of information (like Encyclopedia Britannica, your local newspaper and even your beloved newsweekly magazine) are under siege from an explosion of self-appointed writers, broadcasters and filmmakers whose collective output, charges Keen, is garbage.

Levy is more positive in his final assessment:

Just as the printing press was disruptive in its time, the ubiquity of the Net and the cheap tools that give voice to anyone -- whether talented or not -- has kicked off a period of creative ferment. The optimists among us believe that the cream will rise to the top.

(The full article here.)

I believe in what Levy has to say. I love the democracy of blogging and YouTubing and podcasting and the like, but at the same time, the cream must rise to the top. So I will say it so when I have to say it so: some blogs are Michael Buble, and some are William Hung. It's just a little sad that the William Hungs of these cyberdays are pretty much accepted by the undiscerning. (Should I provide links? Well, why should I?)

Nobody -- certainly not me -- is advocating the complete wipe-put of these mediocre things. Because in the long run, there's an easy solution to this dilemma of "quality": if I don't like a particular blog, I will just have to learn to click the exit tab, or click on to the next one in our hyperlinked world. Or even this: continue reading it, because there's also nothing as spectacular as the guilty pleasure of watching (or reading) a train wreck.

FOOTNOTE: A friend recently asked me, "She's only a 19-year-old blogger, Ian. And she admits to being shallow. You don't have to be so quarrelsome about mere blogging." That's true, actually. It's just that the first time I discovered her blog in Pinoy Top Blogs months before, her description of her site really got my goat. It was the same strange feeling I usually get when somebody scratches his nails on a chalkboard -- the grating sound makes my bones all go shifty and ticklish and uncomfortable.

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