There are rants ahead...
For some time now I've been threatening to write a critique of Irish blogs but I have been hesitant to publish it. It's a can of worms and I'm not sure I want to be the one to open it. Watching the excellent Rince ar Phár series on TG4 recently, Alan Titley's comment on the importance of criticism for the development of Irish language literature got me thinking. He spoke about his early days as a critic, he didn't know too many of the people in Irish literary circles and he gave honest and not always complimentary reviews. They weren't well-received, so he decided to hold his whist; if he couldn't say anything nice, he'd say nothing at all. I think that some parallels can be drawn between literature in a minority language and publishing in the minority media. Like Irish language literary circles, the Irish blogging community is small. There is a sense of camaraderie, everyone is very nice to one another. This is not to imply that they shouldn't be... but it means that all too often, comments are favourable to the point of sycophancy, dissenters are dismissed as bitter cranks and cynics. An unfavourable review is seen to be impolite and criticism poses a threat; it may cause personal offence, when none is meant.
While I love the sense of camaraderie and community that comes from both the Irish language and blogging, it frustrates me too. Balls to brothers in arms. Let's sort the wheat from the chaff. For blogging to become a valid medium for writers, we need to spend less time congratulating one another simply for being bloggers and actually work to ensure that the bloggers of note are those keeping blogs of note. Make it more about content and less about the cult of personality.
Because right now it feels like an ugly popularity contest. I can only assume that the A-listers of the Irish blogging world are lovely, lovely people because to be frank, some of them are shit-awful writers. I shouldn't need to point out (but I will anyway) that this is intended as a critique of the blogs themselves, and not of the bloggers. There are an awful lot of people out there who need to get themselves a good editor, or whose blogs need a harsh fucking review.
Who does she think she is?
It's a little over a year since I started to keep my own blog. I've acquired a steady readership in that time and am only now beginning to wonder where it is I fit into the Irish blogging community, if I fit in here at all. This blog has recently drawn comparisons with a few others that were meant to be favourable but which I was more than dismayed by; I may be single, female and living in Dublin but fuck me, I'm a far cry from a flirtysomething. I mean no slight to its author but that blog epitomises for me all that I dislike about Dublin (and I hate that I dislike anything about this city) - it is to blogs what Café an Seine is to pubs and I think it perpetuates an unhealthy and unhelpful stereotype. Is this the company readers see me in? It's certainly not company I would choose for my blog to keep and it got me thinking about my own list of Pretend Friends. I don't read all of them, or at least I don't read all of them often enough to give them space in my already overcrowded feed reader. Should I add a caveat like Gimme's? Would his People I like/Respect/Feel grudgingly obliged to link be appropriate? Perhaps.
The Gong Show
Hailed as king of the bloggers is the brains behind the Irish Blog Awards, Damien Mulley. I admire Mulley as a social entrepreneur (or as an entrepreneur, at any rate) but his blog leaves me cold. I'll dip into it occasionally because I see that so many others link to it and wonder that I might be missing something, but the more I read of it the more I think not. I don't find it particularly topical or interesting, if it were a radio show it would be Ray D'Arcy's (I do not understand the popularity of Ray D'Arcy either) and I am surprised that so many people subscribe to it. That said, he deserves sincere praise for his work to establish the Irish Blog Awards. Perhaps linking to his blog is how people show their appreciation?
The awards, however, are not without their problems. I was disappointed in them - not just for the night that was in it (though I should have expected that the event would be just as it was) but because I didn't feel that many of the winners deserved their accolades. My expectations were unrealistic - the awards are not the Booker. They are a by the people, for the people affair and while these particular people may be more literate than most, there is still a strong element of lowest-common-denominator culture winning out.
I was disappointed particularly in the winner of the Best Use of the Irish Language category. I was a nominee but let that be neither here nor there, I was disappointed because the winner writes in Irish about Irish, which has to be one of the most deathly boring things one can blog about. I work as a cultural officer to promote the language and I'm not interested enough to read it, why would anyone else be? Gaeilgeoirí have little interest - the posts generate precious few comments. It would certainly not entice people who don't speak Irish to try to read it, to sit down with the dictionary and work out the gist of it for themselves.
The shortlists for the other categories disappointed me just as much. It's not that I expect all good blogs to be prize pieces of literature - there are plenty I enjoy simply because the stories they tell are human ones and they tell them in a plain, unmanipulative and earnest way. But there are others which are little more than turgid regurgitations of the news with some self-righteous indignation thrown in for good measure, more still which are nothing but You Tube tenpenny bags. They have little to recommend them or to hold my interest and I'm baffled by their popularity.
The awards are not entirely without merit, they do help to highlight blogging as a medium and they do encourage bloggers to interact with one another. I'm all for hugs and pints, but it would be nice if the awards had offered some encouragement to up my own game, rather than leaving me disillusioned and wondering if I've just gotten the wrong end of the stick altogether as far as this blogging lark goes.
In conclusion: Don't hate me. Or do. Fuck it, I'm thick-skinned.
This is all just a matter of personal opinion. It matters not a jot. But knowing that I am not the type of blogger who will ever write a Nokia N95 winning post at least gives me the freedom to rock the boat a little and try to promote a little debate (not dissent) in the ranks. I am sure that there are others out there who read blogs and who share my frustration at seeing excellent posts by engaging writers overlooked while lazy posts by popular writers spark their own message boards. This may well turn out to be an exercise in how to lose pretend friends and piss people off, but for the love of the game I'll consider that a risk worth taking.