Tuesday, August 7, 2012

the horrors which where written of him

So the literary parts of the Internet are all up in arms about Jacob Silverman's Slate article condemning the "epidemic of niceness" in online book culture, and Roxane Gay's response in Salon, in which she says Silverman is totally full of shit.

Feel free to read both articles and come to your own conclusions, but I'm siding with Roxane because, let's face it, the idea that the Internet is too nice is so demonstrably wrong that it almost doesn't need a response. I mean, really. The Internet is the biggest open cattle call for douchebags since the invention of Rush Week. Has he never read any Amazon user reviews? Or any popular blog or YouTube comments in the past five years? Maybe I should send him some of the Adfreak hate mail I've gotten since I started writing for them.

He's not wrong to snipe at literary culture for becoming "mired in clubbiness and glad-handing," but literary culture would be a disingenuous hugbox without the Internet, and if he ever wants to leave the warren and observe non-literary online book discussion, he'll find all the nastiness and acrimony he wants. If anything, this article felt like a excuse for Silverman to lament his own fading relevance and bitch about how popular Emma Straub is.


Roxane's response to all this is as well-reasoned and observant as we've come to expect. "If literary culture is a school ... social networks are the cafeteria," she writes, adding that "what you find there will be loud and gossipy, amusing but not very satisfying." Basically, Silverman needs to look elsewhere if he's trying to find the root of literary culture's problems because, again quoting from Roxane's response, "social networking has never been and never will be a medium for thoughtful criticism." Silverman's insistence that it is undermines the rest of his argument.

One minor quibble with Roxane's piece though, if I may. She asks, as a way of advancing her argument that the Internet isn't particularly nice to women/minorities/the LGBT community, whether a man writing in the public sphere ever been called fat, ugly or a whore within the context of his writing. The answer is yes, and it happens a lot. George R.R. Martin takes a lot of shit about his weight and appearance from online discussions of his work, as does Charles Stross. It's sadly common in genre fiction for authors to be judged by, and mocked for, their physical appearance, whatever it may be. Granted, a lot of us are unfashionable nerds who don't publish with bigger houses (who often pick attractive authors because they're easier to market), but still. I understand what Roxane was trying to say, and she's right, but white guys aren't as protected from that as one might assume.

Speaking of genre fiction, I have some that I should be writing. Ta.