There’s been some discussion on the web lately about so-called “negativity” in criticism and reviews on blogs and in forums. First of all, let me say that I was always a big fan of Miss Manners’ column when it ran in my local newspaper. A person can never go wrong by striving to be polite. Does this make a person humorless? Does it mean I need to put up with being mistreated? I don’t think so. Miss Manners used to say, “You can’t fight rudeness with rudeness.” I agree. I like civility. I’m trying to instill it in my children.
That said, I don’t think every honest critic is rude. I happen to think a certain amount of satire and irony is a good thing. I am not someone who suffers fools gladly. I don’t mind helping people, but I like to see that people have tried to help themselves.
Some of my personal history: I learned to knit as a child and came back to it in my late 20s. From then on, nearly everything I learned, I taught myself from books or magazines. I am somewhat short-tempered with what I consider “stupid” questions, by which I mean, any question that a few minutes research could have answered. I’m not going to be ageist and assume that this is a trait only for the young. Some people seem to need a lot of hand-holding. I, however, am not a hand-holder. (Except on young children when crossing streets or in parking lots.) Because I have figured out every advanced knitting skill that I have learned on my own, people who won’t try to learn mystify me.
Who is a fair target for public scrutiny? The blogsters of You Knit What? have a statement I agree with. Professional, published designs and their designers are fair game. If you got paid to make something I consider ugly, more power to you. But by becoming professional, you expose yourself to be judged by professional criteria. If people think it’s ugly, they’re going to let you know. If they don’t tell you, they will vote with their wallets.
Let’s back up to the Summer Issue of Knitty. A number of bloggers reviewed it with a broad stroke, proclaiming, “It sucks.” End of story. As someone who had two designs in that issue, I had braced myself for negative reviews. When you put work forth, as a professional, into the public realm, you have to be ready to hear that some folks won’t like it. I find it most helpful when they explain why they don’t like it, but I understand that no self-appointed blogging critic has any obligation to satisfy my preferences. In fact, I was somewhat indifferent to the blanket “It sucks” criticisms for a few reasons. First, no one singled out my designs from the pack to slam. In fact, a few critics almost admitted that they were almost ok. Second, neither pattern was one in which I had a great emotional investment. Both were projects I was making for other reasons and they happened to be done when the issue was taking submissions, so I wrote them up. In both cases, I took the time to look through the Knitty archives and make certain that they didn’t look too much like something previously published therein. In the big picture of knitting they were not original concepts. In both cases I was more a pattern writer than designer. Third, I wasn’t too impressed with a number of the choices myself. I don’t know what the rejected submissions looked like, but there were a few inclusions that I would only have included under extreme duress. No, I’m not going to name them and no, I’m not going to go into detail about why. That’s another essay for another day.
Moving on, there’s the recent flap concerning a certain knit designer who is known for pushing the boundaries of the craft. Some of her more vocal critics posted comments on her blog. They did not mince words. They were not kind. They were not softening the blow. And they did not stick to a critique of the designs. It got personal. I have the feeling that I missed a chapter in that book, but the archives of the blog in question are not currently available. Some people have said that attacking the designer’s character on her own blog was too harsh. I am not this designer’s biggest fan. A lot of her work does not appeal to me. Much of it seems contrived or gimmicky. Fine. A lot of other people do like her work and make and buy her patterns. While my personal code of ethics would allow me to post an honest review on my own blog, or if I had access, in a print source, I would not feel right going to her blog to slam her work or character. But what if the earlier chapters of this story involved a retaliatory shot fired by the designer? I don’t know if they did or not: I just don’t believe that the blog commenters now being vilified would pick this fight out of thin air.
Another bone of contention for some is the amount of obscenity one blog-writer uses. I try not to punctuate my sentences with those words because I don’t believe they enhance my writing. Do I care if someone else uses them? Not one bit. As she says, if you don’t like it, don’t read it. There are times I feel her writing would be improved by a little cleaning up, but it isn’t my place to tell her. She doesn’t pop in on my blog to point out my sentence fragments and or other editorial offenses.
There is a pack-like behavior on the internet that I find fascinating and disturbing. One person passes a critical judgment on a blog or in a forum and another responds. Soon, each has an army of defenders leaping forward to reassure each principal that she was right and the other person is a bitch (or worse). Then volleys of emails are lobbed en masse at people who unsuspectingly stepped into the fray. A lot of that is right out of junior high school. The adults rise above and hope the young’uns grow out of it soon. It’s like a bar fight. People start craning their necks to see what’s up and get swept away with their emotions. Next thing you know, all sorts of otherwise level-headed folks are weighing in and adding to the hostilities. Which leads us to this truism: the Internet is truly anarchy. Good thing it’s virtual anarchy, because the bodies would be piling up by now! There is no authority saying that you can’t print that here. In the information age, anyone with a speck of computer literacy can start a blog and find a public. It’s a wild and wooly world. At the end of the day, each of us must live with our own self.
Each of you will do what you want. No amount of admonishing you all to, “Behave! Be Nice” will help. It doesn’t stop my kids when I’m towering over them with my most dagger-filled angry mom eyes. I don’t think I want the Internet to be overflowing with niceness. But I’ll use a military analogy and suggest that we try to aim our verbal grenades at the other willing combatants and be mindful to avoid the civilian bystanders. Some poor misled teen doesn’t deserve as full a measure of my scorn for her fun fur cell phone cozy as does an internationally acclaimed designer foisting one more poncho on the world. The teen may yet grow out of it!