A little while ago I came across a book review website/blog that pretty much trashed my 2002 novel, Archform:Beauty in a way that was clear the blogger had neither any understanding of what the book was about nor of a lot of other things. So I simply posted the following comment on the review, “Interestingly enough, both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly gave it starred reviews.” Not surprisingly, the blogger replied to the effect that he really didn’t care what they thought and that he was selling it back to the used book store… and by the way, that my own words said that minority voices were important. I agreed that minority voices needed to be heard, but that didn’t mean that they were either accurate or inaccurate simply by virtue of being minority voices. Then I was questioned about why I’d made the first comment, as if it were somehow rude to question a review offered with open comments. When the blogger then stated that I‘d never change his mind, I pointed out that my comments weren’t made for that point since it was obvious I would never change his mind. I should have left it at that, but, unfortunately, I didn’t. I added the phrase that I wrote for people who could think, with the clear implication that he couldn’t. I understand that created a slight furor with some people.
This “discussion” of sorts, however, crystalized, at least in my mind, something that I and a great many others have talked around and about, but which tends to be overlooked. With the proliferation of niche news, niche blogs, niche products, we are creating, or have created, a society where anyone can express the most inaccurate or misrepresentative or misleading views or selected facts for “their” following,” and because like attracts like, seldom are these facts ever challenged in that niche. Oh, CNN may dispute Fox News, or CBS and BBC news may present very different views of a story, but there is seldom another side shown on any niche program. What’s truly frightening to me is that there’s more discussion of the other side on the entertainment shows such as Colbert or Bill Maher, or it’s buried on early Sunday morning news shows. Obviously, there are exceptions, but they’re few, and getting fewer. This “niche isolation” also contributes to societal polarization because the followers in each niche continually reinforce their beliefs in their interactions with each other, which makes it easier and easier to ignore, minimize, or marginalize any conflicting views.
In addition, the internet/world wide web has become a “wild west” of information dissemination, where some sources are good, some bad, and all misrepresentative to some degree. The web has also become more and more powerful in influencing what readers choose to buy or not to buy, and for authors that makes favorable information valuable and unfavorable information worrisome, particularly if that unfavorable information is highly misrepresentative or inaccurate. What compounds this us that with people compartmentalizing their information intake there’s no telling if they’ll ever encounter other information to balance or expand their knowledge base about an author, particularly if their initial information comes from a source that views the author unfavorably.
Part of the reason why I made the initial comment in the first place is because I’ve always disliked anonymous snipers, particularly when they don’t know what they’re talking about. I think, far too idealistically, that such people should not go unquestioned. But what I realized well after the fact, was that society has become so polarized that, for the most part, very few people still retain even semi-open minds when their judgments or beliefs are questioned. The problem with my reaction to the “review” is that, in all likelihood, all it did was make people who would never like my books anyway mad at me, while suggesting to those who do like my work that I’m excessively sensitive.
But all writers are. That’s not the question. The question is how we should balance such sensitivity when facing adverse material on the web that could affect our sales, reputation, and livelihood… and how we actually do. It’s easy to suggest we remain above the fray, and that has historically been the best policy, but with the way the times are changing, I have to wonder if such “neutrality” is necessarily wise… and yet, I’ve seen and heard certain authors have spent so much time and money reacting to so many slights, misrepresentations, and inaccuracies that I’ve wondered if that didn’t do more damage than help.
It’s definitely a brave new world (web).