Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A new year... finally

My first post of 2007. Sorry it's taken so long - a hit this new year running.

So I won't get into the horror that is Time Magazine's Person of the Year, which basically confirms all my suspicions, that have been voiced by many others in this case, that big corporate media is praising all of us in order to get our money. They made ME person of the year, then I should really get a subscription. Ridiculous. A better but still l-i-t-e (in a good way) criticism of this feeble marketing attempt was written about by Siva Vaidyanathan (of sivacracy) on msnbc, who sums it all up nicely:

Well, thank you, Time, for hyping me, overvaluing me, using me to sell my image back to me, profiling me, flattering me, and failing to pay me. As soon as I saw myself on my local newsstand, I had to buy a copy of Time... Almost every major marketing campaign these days is about empowering "you."

(and later) It’s part of a slippery slope between true democratic culture and crass commercial culture. Because we all matter equally in the polis we pretend we all might matter equally in the public square. Granting that illusory wish can be very profitable.

I like his point about this corporation illusion of participation and communication, versus the very real possibility of it that has yet to be realized. He doesn't really address my concerns, in this article at least, about legetimate authority and controlling one's content - though I like his line about "failing to pay me." The Weekly Dig made this point when the Boston Globe writers were on strike: these reporters are expected to keep blogs, which are then excerpted in the newspaper, and it's questionable whether or how they're being paid for that content.

And in the current issue of Mother Jones, Alissa Quart has a good article on "the amateur revolution." Quart introduced a term I didn't know, "pro-am," or "professional amateurs:"
The majority of the millions of amateurs out there are not far-out obsessives, but rather what is known as "professional-amateurs." These "pro-ams," as Wikipedia describes them (at least for now), exist "within any endeavor that could be called professional, such as writing, sports, computer programming, music, film, etc.," smudging the distinction between expert and novice. First identified in Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller's 2004 essay "The Pro-Am Revolution: How enthusiasts are changing our economy and society," this new breed pursues "amateur activities to professional standards" and has redefined leisure as "not passive consumerism but active and participatory."
Ahhh. So they have a name. Much of the article involves giving interesting examples of these people - well worth a read (and I should say, unlike Time magazine, Mother Jones is well worth a subscription!). Quart doesn't come out strongly as pro or anti, but rather questions the state of things in a way I found helpful and agreeable. She points out the corporate intrusions on this amateur world - fake videos posted on YouTube by supposed amateurs who were later uncovered, Wizard-of-Oz like, and found to be PR firms and what-not.

Reading these pieces makes me feel part of a group of skeptics, not sure that there is a solid answer but not ready to run excitedly into this future where "pro-ams" are given full reign. The article quotes Ron Hogan, publishing blogger at GalleyCat (which I've quoted), who says that "capital-J journalists... possess an 'ironclad defensiveness about who gets entry into professional institutions.'" But I can't help but think he's referring to people who worked their way up, through j-school and through small publications, to get into positions of more power. Why shouldn't they expect the next crop to do the same, to prove their ability and their work ethic for that field?

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