(Update: 13:58): Note corrections below. More to be added as caught or pointed out.
If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never understand people. That point gets hammered into me again and again, and yet I am always amazed at how situations can sometimes go googly-woogly crazy just because individuals in general can’t take a deep breath before going in swinging.
I had the misfortune of finding myself near the middle of a major blog pile-on over a year ago thanks to an e-mail I received from the CBC, and I stood aghast at how quickly the issue snowballed as sensibility gave way to craziness. What I have seen now doesn’t come close to matching the incident before, but it is similar in style. Honest people trying to do the best they can ended up angering the wrong people, and in the confusion of misunderstandings and accusations that followed, feelings were hurt, and the controversy blew out of all proportion.
I’m talking about the 2007 edition of the Canadian Blog Awards, now being run by a multi-partisan gathering of individuals. Having seen these awards develop since 2004 under the tutelage of Robert McLelland, and having organized similar endeavours myself, I can understand the struggles these individuals are going through.
These people, who I must emphasize are volunteers, are putting together a complicated set of awards, that will be voted on by hundreds of visitors over a few days. There will be some competition, a fierce rivalry or two, but ultimately one hopes that everybody will have a good time and go home happy. Unfortunately, being the Canadian Blog Awards, and having grown out of the political subset of the Canadian blogosphere, these awards have tended to gather together blogs and bloggers whose opinions differ on subjects of passion. It doesn’t take much for tensions to increase between these individuals, but one hopes that these tensions are set aside temporarily, in the interests of furthering an event which has come to celebrate everything the Canadian blogosphere has to offer.
There have been a number of issues which have proven to be challenges in the past, chief among them being inclusiveness, and the size and complexity of the awards. As I said, being born out of the political subset of the Canadian blogosphere, these blog awards initially tended not to include the non-political blogs out there, until Robert made an incredible breakthrough last year. And being born out of the political subset of the Canadian blogosphere, personal differences resulting from political differences have caused subsets of the blogosphere to turn away from participation in what I can only call a snit.
So the multi-partisan volunteers have this on their shoulders. They want the blog awards to be more inclusive, but they also want to control the complexity of the awards, as a common complaint the last few years was that there were too many political categories and not enough other categories, and too many categories in general. So they brought forward a slate of about twenty-five categories out there.
One of the first comments the group received was a request to include a Best Feminist Blog in the category list, by Berlynn. This did not appear to sit well with Suzanne of the blog Big Blue Wave who asked that the category not be included or, if included, complemented by an anti-feminist blog category. The organizers tried a compromise of a gender and sexuality issues category, which some accepted but others disagreed. Further prodding from those in support of Suzanne raised temperatures, and the whole thing just sort of boiled over.
(Note: thanks to Skdadl and others for their correction on this. My initial interpretation of these events was mistaken, confused by the fact that I thought I saw a Best Feminist Blog category materialize and accept nominations before the controversy really got going, but I may have imagined this. If so, that’s a pretty big delusion on my part, and I apologize)
Whatever you might think of the merits of Suzanne’s comment, or lack thereof, please remember that these individuals are volunteering their time. Please remember that they’re trying to keep the number of categories down. And please remember that they’re trying to maintain the multi-partisan aspect of these awards. It would be painful for these organizers to get accused of censorship from the get-go, which would be the accusation should the organizers start blocking some nominations, so a compromise was suggested. Not imposed. Suggested. They did not reckon on the offence this gave to some of the progressive bloggers out there. I didn’t reckon on it either. And from there, the situation blew completely out of control. And to the detriment of us all.
I’ll let you read the entire comments thread where this incident took place, but I warn you: it’s nasty stuff. And completely bizarre in its lack of perspective, in my opinion.
Look, Suzanne is a staunch social conservative blogger, who has positioned herself as an anti-feminist. That’s not in question. I disagree with her points of view on almost anything, especially when it comes to what society should allow my daughters to aspire to. Does she have a history of arguments with a fair chunk of the blogosphere? Of course! Was her request that the Best Feminist Blog be removed or complemented with an anti-feminist blog provocative and pissy? In my opinion, absolutely. And comments such as this certainly didn’t help.
But none of that justifies the absolute vitriol that so-called progressive bloggers heaped on the organizers of the Canadian Blog Awards in general and Saskboy in particular for their decision to try and respond politely to Suzanne’s request (which was itself, although provocative and pissy, still polite). Certainly swearing at Saskboy,
calling him a racist (correction noted, with apologies to Mattbastard), is completely unhinged. Worse, it ends up making Suzanne look like the sane one in this whole incident.
I probably would not have taken the decision taken by the organizers here. After some thought, I might have said: if you don’t like a Best Feminist Blog category, don’t participate in it; let them have their fun, and have your fun… elsewhere. There are plenty of other blog categories Suzanne could have participated in. But be that as it may, whatever criticism the administrators deserved was far exceeded by the vitriol they received.
Under Robert McLelland, the intent of the Canadian Blog Awards has always to provide a fun showcase for all Canadian blogs, regardless of their political stripes or if they even had political stripes. Indeed, that was the big success of last year’s awards, since the sudden appearance of Raymi the Minx to topple many of the top political blogs (much to Suzanne’s chagrin, in fact) meant that these Blog Awards had burst from the political echo chamber in which they’d been founded and were now showcasing a wider range of opinion. It didn’t really matter who won. But unfortunately, due to sour personal relationships between Robert and a few of the bloggers out there, significant sections of the blogosphere weren’t participating. Robert selflessly handed over control of these awards to a group of organizers encompassing a wide range of opinion, from Stephen Taylor of the Blogging Tories to NBCDipper of the Blogging Dippers to Postcards From the Mothership for fairly apolitical blogs, in the hopes that the various groups could set aside their differences for at least a few nights and enjoy the company of fellow Canadian blogs.
Maybe it was asking too much for the diverse groups within the Canadian blogosphere to set aside their differences, but I was shocked at which side lost their cool first. I never would have expected generally reasonable progressive bloggers to have lost their heads in such fashion, to the detriment of their cause. The actions taken against Saskboy are very similar to the sorts of things progressive bloggers criticize conservative bloggers for doing — attacking rather than engaging, swearing, seeking to divide rather than unite, getting all hot under the collar for a simple, volunteer-run, not-to-be-taken-too-seriously blog contest. As provocative as the original request might have been, progressive bloggers did themselves no favour by falling into the trap of responding as they did.
And if anybody has a complaint about this assessment, let me add this: IT’S JUST BLOGS, PEOPLE! IT ISN’T POLITICS, IT’S JUST BLOGS! IT’S JUST SOMETHING MOST OF US ARE DOING IN OUR SPARE TIME FOR OUR OWN ENJOYMENT, AND FEW PEOPLE OUTSIDE OUR IMMEDIATE CIRCLE OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY EVEN KNOW OF OUR EXISTENCE, MUCH LESS CARE! GET A GRIP!
It’s a shameful and embarrassing display that proves the cliche of the blogosphere as a whole — a chattering mass of low intelligence, with way too much noise drowning out the signals.
All of this leaves me very discouraged in the state of the blogosphere in general, but I can at least draw strength in my shouting two paragraphs above. I do what I do for fun, which means that when I started blogging, it was fun. And I don’t have to look very far to realize what it was that made it fun, and it was this: getting out and seeing the world around me, through the eyes of different people expressing the world through their own distinct personalities. That’s what brought me into blogging, and that’s going to keep me in blogging for some time to come.
So I will continue to participate in the Canadian Blog Awards. I will continue to nominate blogs that I feel deserving of recognition. And I will look forward eagerly to the long-list as it is whittled down to the short list, to reintroduce myself to some old friends, and possibly meet new ones. The incident that happened here doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Whatever the results, they don’t matter at the end of the day. I will look for the blogs, I will introduce myself, virtually speaking, to the people behind the blogs. I will make new friends and I will enjoy myself.
And nothing is going to take that away.