Air On A G-String (part iii)
I was writing about the state of writing -- the profession -- and journalism -- the profession -- and publishing -- the profession. And, in my wordy way, I was telling you that a job in publications these days was less preferable than a job in the domestic textile industry. And I stalked the oeuvre of the working male writer of the post World War II era -- men's magazines that paid the rent in a guilty 'devil's bridge' to provide 'redeeming social value,' i.e. to keep the publishers and their employees out of jail. (More the former than the latter).
And I was going to tell you why I'd suddenly decided NOT to attend the Willamette Writers' Conference this weekend. But there was another convention this weekend that riveted the focus of the media and the blogosphere, the YearlyKos Convention. And, all weekend, I was trying to explain the dual-pronged smear of The New Republic and the YearlyKos convention through the use of a diabolically conceived forking attack (from chess*), in which a uniformed soldier was "censored" at YearlyKos in the presence of two Army officers for making political speech IN uniform (one officer was retired General Wesley Clark, former commander of NATO) and an anonymous "diarist" for The New Republic was simultaneously -- literally -- silenced by the Army in Iraq, while a "full investigation" was undertaken).
[ * From Chess Tactics: "Knight fork is quite common and confusing to novice opponents as its move is difficult to comprehend."]
And this morning, in the continuing attempt to belittle/besmirch/bedevil dat bad ol' blogosphere, that the well-recompensed Rightie blogosmear terms "nutroots," Jose Antonio Vargas reported in the Washington Post:(I will simply report the relevant language, Vargas DOESN'T actually write like Louis Ferdinand Celine):
A Diversity of Opinion, if Not Opinionators
At the Yearly Kos Bloggers' Convention, a Sea of Middle-Aged White Males
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 6, 2007; C01
CHICAGO, Aug. 5 ... Cooper sees a problem. "It's mostly white. More male than female," says the former high school math and science teacher turned activist. "It's not very diverse."
There goes the open secret of the netroots, or those who make up the community of the Internet grass-roots movement ... the rock stars are mostly men, and many women bloggers complain of sexism and harassment in the blogosphere.
Walking around McCormick Place during the weekend, it became clear that only a handful of the 1,500 conventioneers -- bloggers, policy experts, party activists -- are African American, Latino or Asian. Of about 100 scheduled panels and workshops, less than a half-dozen dealt directly with women or minority issues ... "How many of the women in the audience blog?" asked a panelist.
Nearly three-fourths of those present raised their hands."How many of you get harassed?" [HW NOTE: no indication as to WHO does the harassing, but the implication seems clear] The hands stayed up. They complain of being harassed online for their views on issues such as abortion rights. ... She's black ... She's white. "Yes, this is a problem. A big problem." [she] is part Latina ... and said one reason she came to Yearly Kos was to get an answer to this question: "Why is the blogosphere, which is supposed to be more democratic, reinforcing the same white male power structure that exists?"
Everyone agrees it's a problem ... worried about generating more "inclusion," using the word no less than six times in 15 minutes. "I hate using the word 'diversity.'... The big question is, how do we include everybody?" ... a white blogger ... an African American blogger from Atlanta ... "I was completely surprised -- shocked even. The political blogosphere isn't as white as the people in this convention."
... Blogads Reader Survey found that the median political blog reader is a 43-year-old male who ... judging by the number of middle-aged men who attended one panel after the next here, it's hard to argue with that. ... half-jokingly says that the netroots community is full of "white liberal men," then quickly points out that Moulitsas is part Latino. (The other half is Greek.) "It's important to remember that African American and Latinos already had their alternative media before white progressive bloggers ...
Notice anything there? I invite you to read my slightly re-emphasized version of the same piece HERE. (I've created a special web page just for this post.)
I want you to take a moment and consider that marginalizing, stereotyping and marginalizing on the basis of race, gender and/or sexual preference is NEVER all right.
And while you're considering that, I want to take you back for a moment into the Wayback Machine to a brilliant essay that NYU's professor of journalism Jay Rosen wrote back in 2005, which has, seemingly, come true in spades.
Because, we are talking not only about rhetoric, but about the viability and visibility of rhetoric in the political arena. And its REAL WORLD consequences (including the loss, as you'll see, OF that Real World). These strands will all come together at the end, I promise.
It is called the "Rollback" and I highly advise that you read Rosen's ENTIRE piece. But this much is sufficient for our needs here:
Press rollback, the policy for which [White House Press Secretary Scott] McClellan signed on, means not feeding but starving the beast, downgrading journalism where possible, and reducing its effectiveness as an interlocutor with the President. This goes for Bush theory, as well as Bush practice. The President and his advisors have declared invalid the "fourth estate" and watchdog press model. (See my earlier posts here and here on it.) They have moved on, and take it for granted that adversaries will not be as bold.
The old notion (still being taught in J-school, I’m afraid) had the press permanently incorporated into the republic as one part of the system of checks and balances— not a branch of government, but a necessary, vital and legitimate part of open government and a free society. The First Amendment was interpreted as protection for that part of the system, and this is the grand thinking behind which Judy Miller has gone to jail.
... as Larry Speakes, fomer press secretary to Ronald Reagan, once put it: "You don’t tell us how to stage the news, and we don’t tell you how to report it."
Now, here is the crucial point, the one that needs to be borne in mind as we discuss the state of journalism (part i), the profession of the writer (part ii) and the current marketplace FOR writing (this part):
was getting at in a celebrated passage from his 2004 article in the New York Times Magazine, 'Without a Doubt.' Today it is mocked by the Right as crackpot realism. I think the passage, which adds little to the documentary record since the official who speaks is unnamed, is a parable about recent innovations in executive power.
[author Ron] Suskind, as you may recall, wrote [in the 2004 article in the New York Times Magazine, 'Without a Doubt'] of a meeting with a 'senior adviser to the President,' who expressed his displeasure with an article Suskind had written about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes (one of the architects of rollback.) 'Then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend-- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.' The parable:
Today the prosecutor is studying what they do, and there’s no way to roll that back. In a Salon interview after the Times article came out, Suskind (whose sources were mostly Republicans) was asked whether the Bush forces were indeed trying to 'eliminate a national point of reference on facts.'
- The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That’s not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'
No more honest brokers; claims take the place of facts. Disguised by the culture war’s ranting about media bias, these very things are happening all around us today. Limits on what liberties could be taken with the factual record without triggering a political penalty are being overcome. Joseph Wilson interfered with this, forcing the White House to pay a penalty: the so-called sixteen words in the State of the Union speech that had to be withdrawn after his op-ed. So he had to pay. And that’s how rollback, freedom over fact, culture war, and the naming of Valerie Plame connect to one another.... [emphasis added]
- Absolutely! That’s the whole idea, to somehow sweep away the community of honest brokers in America -- both Republicans and Democrats and members of the mainstream press -- sweep them away so we’ll be left with a culture and public dialogue based on assertion rather than authenticity, on claim rather than fact.
That's right. The basis of reality now resides almost exclusively with words. The YearlyKos convention was utterly about words. The coverage (including the sexist, racist, ageist Vargas) is utterly about words. In the "pro" spin and the "anti" spin, we exist in "a public dialogue based on assertion" and "claim."
Am I the only one who sees the shameless irony of the current smear of Private Beauchamp and the TNR by conductor Michael Goldfarb and his gang of blogging goons about the "factual" nature of the reports, and how they're "fabulists"?*
[* UPDATE: This paragraph is cited HERE as "Sigh. So predictable it hurts." See my comment — assuming they don't remove it.]
Why, old Satan himself, the Father of Lies, must be, as Hubert Horatio Humphrey used to say, "pleased as punch."
And what opposes this? Journalists?
They're losing their jobs faster than faster than Okies in a citrus orchard.
Authors? The entire 'mid-list' class of writers (always by far the largest class, from whence best-selling authors tended to emerge after a few books, like, say, John Irving and Steven King, etc.) has been essentially gutted.
Bloggers? Well, OK, but, according to the Vargas version of the Washington Post, they're all middle-aged White males. So that's no help.
Which brings me to WHY I didn't attend the Willamette Writers' Conference. (I didn't attend YearlyKos because it was prohibitively expensive. Jane Hamsher noted on Firedoglake this morning that just her HOTEL bill was nearly $1000.)
I thought I could attend WWC, and I DID have the money in the bank for it. I went to their website, and after swallowing hard at the sticker shock (one day, which was all I intended attending) cost $260. (Which instantly meant that I couldn't pay for myself AND my wife to attend. She's got a book-and-a-half to sell, too, after a publisher and an agent stole two years of her life in getting the manuscript back to her. The agent's letter, revealingly, confirms the "mid-list" author thesis, above.)
I don't know what kind of writing these folks is doing, but that's mighty steep for the likes of me. I've attended scads of science fiction conventions, a World Horror Convention, World Fantasy Convention and others -- none of which cost that much for the entire convention! But this conference had two other nasty little surprises:
One: out of 33 "literary consultants" (agents and editors) 26 were women. One, in fact ,came from a press that ONLY publishes women. (Ironically, I have a feeling that did some press try to send a representative that ONLY published White males, they would be politely disinvited from the event):
... a senior editor at ** Press, publisher of women's nonfiction books, written for women, by women. ** Press is fueled by the radical thinking and daring work of its authors, and its list includes books on women's health, parenting, outdoor adventure and travel, popular culture, gender and women's studies, and current affairs.
Of course, 'taint no big thing to YOU. You don't exist in a profession in which blatantly discriminatory policies, the specific targeting of stereotypes and the EXCLUSION of entire classes are perfectly legal and acceptable.
It's sort of like the way the movie industry is run, which I note is EQUALLY discriminatory in the OTHER direction! (Why do you think that minorities have still made so little penetration into Hollywood)
Of 26 "film consultants" listed, only 7 are women. Given the weird numbers, both ways, I have to interpret it based on what I know of both industries: My agent in New York through the 1990s (until he was indicted by Elliot Spitzer -- don't ask) often bemoaned the utter takeover of the New York publishing industry by women. (He used rather more crude terms.) Now before you get upset with me, please recognize that he KNEW what he was talking about: he had started in the 1960s, and had discovered several male best-selling authors (whom I won't name here).
He had married, and relocated to the Midwest with his partner/wife, who, upon their divorce took most of the agency business, and he moved back to NYC to resume his career, which had been grievously harmed by NOT living in New York. (Little tip to those of you looking for agents: if you wanna do films, the agent BETTER live in LA, and if books they'd better live in NYC. Painful experience has confirmed that agents living elsewhere lose that little "edge" that comes of not being able to take the Industry schmucks to lunch. FWIW.)
He was astonished at how much a stranger in a strange land he'd become in just a couple of years. The entire staffing of most of the publishing houses with which he was familiar with were now women. And, he confessed to me on more than one occasion, they were openly hostile to men's interests in books. I've heard it theorized that at some point publishers decided that since w0men had become the majority buyers of books, they should tailor the market to them, and the "men's" fiction and interests categories have been steadily dwindling since the late 1970s.
But even knowing that, I wasn't prepared for the sticker shock of so many women and so few men in publishing. Film? Well, I lived in Hollywood for a decade and a half, and I know how MCP the business is. And the disparity in the number of men and women among the "film consultants" is EQUALLY appalling. There is no excuse for it.
I have spent my lifetime (pre- and post- "progressive") absolutely committed to the equal rights of all humans, be they men, women, black, Native American, Hispanic, Gay, Lesbian, all of the above, none of the above, etcetera. It has always been a core value for me (even after my mother, who taught me the progressive ideals of equality and meritocracy turned her back on them to become an extreme Fundamentalist bigot).
In good conscience, I would not attend, whether I was the target of this prejudice or not.
Now, to be fair, there were a FEW crossovers between the two sets. But even one of the male literary agents wrote this in his "mini-bio":
[He] is looking for breakout mainstream, highly commercial women's fiction, horror, suspense/thrillers and selected commercial nonfiction projects right now.
There is no point in repeating the soul-crushing avalanche of WOMEN ONLY language in the mini-bios. Now, the only two novels that I have in print, Christina's Hideaway and Christina's Craving ( as "Blakely St. James") were written AS a woman, and in first-person female, -- and are currently selling used on Amazon dot com USED for $49.98 and $63.65 today, respectively, although I've seen them as high as $200USD+ on Amazon dot UK -- so I don't have a problem with producing reverse-George Sand novels, but at this point, to WHAT point? I would like to think that after half a century I might be valued for something other than my fictional vagina and breasts. Just ONCE, you'd think, they might let me write a book as a man.
So, when Vargas wrote his vile little slam against White Males in the Washington Post this morning, I wasn't all that surprised. Just glad I hadn't begun writing this post on Sunday, which was when I'd INTENDED to do so (so that I wouldn't deny the WVWC and "business." Even while I found their prices exorbitant and their practices vile, there's no point in harming anyone with one's words if one doesn't have to -- a bit of advice that Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard OUGHT to take to heart.)
But, even then, at an absurdly high price and with a female bias against my writing (which is not exactly a new experience for me, professionally, alas), I was STILL willing to bite the bullet. Until I got to the last portion.
You see, they "sell" time for you to "pitch" your project to these consultants. You can pick five "one on one" encounters, and multiple "group" encounters (where you pitch in front of a room full of similarly predicamented ... er, "writers").
For only $15 a shot, in addition to your conference fee.
And the sad thing that hit me (remember that I'm a former contributing editor to OUI and PLAYERS) was that the price was more or less what you'd pay for a lap dance in any strip joint around LAX. You'd get about the same amount of time, and the stripper would be just as "interested" in you as the "literary consultant" ....
They'd more than likely be most interested in how many five dollar bills were stuffed in their metaphorical g-strings.
Which brings me to my final point.
As I have noted before, this battle, this political war is a war of words. Whoever has the best words wins, and, at least since the limousine arrived for Ted Sturgeon at the Philadelphia World Science Fiction Convention in the early 1960s, wealthy Republicans have been more than willing to pay and pay well for good writing. For professional rhetoric for their professional orators. I've written the story elsewhere, and if not, perhaps I'll tell it some time in future.
But the important point is this: The reason that the Right is kicking "We The People's" ass politically is because they nurture, pay and recruit writers -- the best writers they can find. And they pay them well. They pay them for Rightie books, for Rightie columns, for Rightie speeches. Hell, they even pay Rightie bloggers and Rightie trolls.
There was a time in the 1990s that every daily posting on the Heritage Foundation's website seemed to "mysteriously" show up as a special order speech that night on CSPAN, all paid to writers from "charitable" donations, written off and completely deductible, just like the Red Cross, or the March of Dimes.
Only, in this case, it's the March of Slimes. Since you and I have to make up the difference in taxes, it's almost like WE were paying for the Rightie speeches.
The full explication doesn't concern us here. What does concern us is this:
"Progressive" writers are starving because nobody's paying them. The whole "men's magazine" market dried up and nothing took its place in a literary sense. (Knight Magazine, back in the mid-1960s was publishing Jacques Cousteau back when the mainstream wouldn't touch him as some kind of conservationist kook; there were many others).
And Rightie writers have a vast wealth of sources to tap for funds (pun intended).
I noted a year ago in "Objective Journalism" (part I and part II) how the biggest Rightie publisher uses a foundation (one of the judges is Robert Novak) to pre-pay young journalists to write long pieces and features on spec (the publisher gets first right of refusal) for publication in the greater media. WorldNetDaily's founders, fresh from the disastrous collapse of The Sacramento Union financed their own "Vince Foster Murder" investigation to the tune of five and six figures' worth of "charitable" dollars from the "Western Journalism Center," and their investigator founded NewsMax in 2000.
Indeed, WorldNetDaily came OUT of the Western Journalism Center, as their tax returns have noted in black and white.
As Darrell pointed out in an earlier comment on the origins of Pajamas Media, "The Matt Drudge of Porn," Luke Ford was originally hired as a blogger before his background disqualified him. But they were paying, and he was willing to Rightie Blog for Hire.
Virtually the entire Clinton impeachment came out of endless Richard Mellon Scaife dollars being poured into investigators and writers, and even the underwriting and subsidizing of The American Spectator to disseminate the information.
Get it? They PAID for their writing, and they have results to show for it.
There is no Progressive equivalent. We do NOT pay for our writing, and have damned little to show for it. Meantime, journalists and their support personnel are being fired at an incredible pace (see part i, The Write Stuff). As Jay Rosen points out: we are being moved into a "real world" in which ALL that matters are the words, and we're losing that battle because we neither honor nor pay for our own words.
So, if you're a middle-aged, White male progressive author, there is evidently no point in going to YearlyKos, and no point in going to the Willamette Writers' Conference: they don't want you. And nobody's going to pay you, either. Because Progressives and Liberals DON'T HONOR THE WORD or the wordsmith.
Progressives think that rhetoric is as natural as breathing, and they don't NEED writers. Especially writers like me ... just like the New York publishing houses.
What does this mean?
I guess it means that I probably can't afford to blog anymore -- certainly not much more. And until I can come up with a business model that allows me to survive, and/or publish one of the seven books that are in the can,* but can't seem to find a publisher for, I don't know what to do.
[* I gave myself the freedom in 2004, just this once, to write the way I wanted to write, without editorial interference, and some great things have transpired, but it has brought in not a thin dime over half a million words. You heard me: five hundred thousand words. Plus. But then, I know: I'm obviously a crappy writer. Right? Sure.]
The state of the profession sucks. I have blogged, pro bono, since early 2004, and wrote on my website before blogging began. But I really can't afford to give it away for free any more. I can't afford health insurance. We were thrown under THAT bus last year, after fighting to keep our heads above water for over a decade and accepting worse and worse and worse health plans. Now, nothing.
The red ink is piling up, and if some catastrophic illness were to appear right now, it would probably be "Game Over." Because writers like me were supposed to invest "up front" for the royalties that would tide us over in our old age. But if there isn't any place to publish, then the effort was merely wasted.
The Right pays its writers. And its track record since 1964 speaks for itself.
Until the Left starts doing so, we can expect the endless smear campaigns and the rhetorical frameups to continue ... UNOPPOSED by our side. Except by the endless amateurs of the DailyKos variety, who spend as much time backbiting as they spent biting back.
Do you hear me, Lefties?
And I sure as hell can't afford to stuff five dollar bills in the g-strings of "consultants" in return for literary lap dances.
I've still got a scintilla of pride, even if they don't. And I don't cotton to prejudice and bigotry against ME anymore than you do against YOU. Fair's fair. And "equality" means just THAT.
And that's why I didn't go to the Willamette Writers' Conference last weekend.