Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Everyone Thinks They Have Good Taste and a Sense of Humor

Last week Long-Suffering Husband came home from work and found me in a generally foul mood. I wasn't seething with rage or screaming at the shadows for jumping or anything, but I was a bit more irate than usual. And he made the mistake, as long-suffering husbands have done since the earliest instances of marriage and will likely continue to do for so long as the institution survives, of asking me what was bothering me.

"It's nothing specific. Publishing is just full of a bunch of entitled assholes."

I then proceeded to tell him about several articles I'd run across that day wherein the author took an absurd amount of pleasure in announcing that what everyone else seems to like reading completely sucked and civilization as we knew it was about to collapse under the weight of its own stupidity. Literature is doomed. The sky is falling. The inmates have taken over the asylum and if we keep publishing books like this, that, or the other bestseller, the future will be nothing but a wet grey slum populated by mindless drones.

I'm reminded of that scene in the middle of When Harry Met Sally where Jess and Marie are moving in together and they're arguing over the wagon wheel coffee table and Harry just completely loses his shit.

Everybody hates somebody. Self-published authors don't respect the traditional publishers and the traditionally published don't understand self-pubbers. Science fiction enthusiasts think fantasy lovers are silly and the magic users think the scifi geeks are stuck up. All of them can band together though, to call the romance readers mindless idiots just looking for porn. People into YA are so grateful as all get out that glitter-coated trampires are no longer poisoning the minds of our youth, while others complain that we should stop with all the darkness and heavy topics and keep our youngsters pure and fresh and innocent. It doesn't matter which side of the debate you choose though, because adults who read books for teenagers ought to be ashamed of themselves anyway. The womens are apparently destroying everything! (Though at least they're being very up front about their efforts when it comes to science fiction.) And the literary fiction folks hate everyone equally, including each other.

"I'm just trying to help you have good taste."

That's the standard defense when confronted with the notion that it's all just bitterness and envy, a boiling glob of vitriol masquerading as cultural critique. That offer of help implying, of course, that their taste is the only real good taste and the rest of us are just standing around thinking the stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale coffee table is great.

Which is when I started waving my arms and ranting, preparing for my dramatic exit from the scene.

A few weeks ago, after a long and winding click trail across the internet, the kind that leads you so far off your original path you can't even remember what you opened your search engine to look up in the first place anymore, I found myself reading the Wikipedia article on Jewish humor. And as I sat down to write this blog post, I was reminded of this joke:

A Jewish man in a hospital tells the doctor he wants to be transferred to a different hospital.
The doctor says "What's wrong? Is it the food?"
"No, the food is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Is it the room?"
"No, the room is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Is it the staff?"
"No, everyone on the staff is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Then why do you want to be transferred?"
"I can't kvetch!"

People--all people, not just Jewish people, by the way--are never so happy as when they're complaining. It's not a new phenomenon, by any means, and it certainly isn't something I haven't heard before. It just all piled up on me at once and I had to shut down my computer and my phone and completely disengage from the world for a few hours, or risk vomiting all over my shoes. Or maybe punching a hole in something.

(Okay, fine, I'll be more realistic there. Attempting to punch a hole in something. And then probably just hurting my hand. Unless the something in question was a piece of tissue paper, which, while effective, probably wouldn't be all that satisfying as violent outbursts go.)

The point is, I was mad and sad and I had started to wonder what the hell I was thinking with this plan to dedicate my life to the whole publishing merry-go-round. There's value in constructive criticism, sure, and everyone has a right to their opinion, particularly where it comes to art. But does it all have to be so. . . bitchy? Why do we do this to each other? To ourselves? What is the point of dedicating so much time and energy and emotion to ripping each other to shreds?

I don't really expect an answer and I'm not even sure what I'm doing with this blog post. But it's been building up and bugging me and I just felt like getting it out there. Do you feel the same? Is it really as awful as it seems sometimes? And if so, does anyone have any idea what we can do about it?

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