Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Whose Blog Is It, Anyway?"

The assumption is that a blog represents the uncensored expression of the blogger’s thoughts and feelings, hopefully skillfully enough delivered as to be worthy of the busy time of strangers. But that’s a bonus, the “skillfully enough delivered.” On its most basic level, a blog is simply a platform where guys, or the female version of guys, can freely and fearlessly express whatever they want. To paraphrase the respected rabbi Hillel,

“If not there, where?”

You’re not getting paid. That’s the “down” side. The “up” side is, because you’re not getting paid, you have no payer to answer to, no one to gracelessly remind you, “I’m writing your paycheck. Do what I tell you.” With a blog, there are no external pressures to submit to. You write what you want to write.

Or do you?

A Primary Concern

You don’t want to write for nobody. You’re hoping somebody will read it. Otherwise, you can save the wear and tear on your fingers, and simply talk to yourself. I actually do that a lot. Dr. M doesn’t care for it. She thinks I should be talking to her. She doesn’t know I’m doing her a favor. She wouldn’t like what I’m saying to myself. That’s why I’m saying it to myself.

Bloggers have to please somebody or they’re out of business. Which is embarrassing – losing a job that doesn’t pay anything. I don’t even know if there’s a word for that condition.

“I’m unemployed.”

“From what job?”

“No job at all.”

That’s really depressing.

You don’t want that to happen.

To keep that from happening, the blogger’s required to maintain at least a minimum number of readers. Your perception of what that “minimum” would be is subjective, but the word “minimum” suggests, no matter who you are, it’s not a very big number.

Accepting “maintaining a minimum readership” as a condition for blogospheric survival, which, by having started the blog we’ve acknowledged we’re interested in, what then, precisely, is involved?

Let me be clear here. I am not discussing “How To Write A Popular Blog?” You would need to go elsewhere for that information. What I’m interested in examining is, is a blog truly an “uncensored expression of the blogger’s thoughts and feelings”, or, in an effort to attract a minimal number of somebodies to insure survival, does the blog, consciously or unconsciously, evolve into some crowd-soliciting sales tool funhouse-mirrorly different from the blogger’s original intention?

For openers, reader responses shape the content. Wait. Before that, reader responses shape the output. I post five days a week. Why so regularly? Readers have come to expect it from me. Do I want to post five days a week? I’m not really sure. But it’s noteworthy that the pace of my output is not entirely under my control.

Back to content. As a former big league television writer, I have stories to tell about, among others, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, The Cosby Show and Larry Sanders. I also have thoughts about how careers happen, and “hands on” particulars on what’s involved in the writing. TV writing is an area I can speak about authoritatively. I am happy to pass along what I remember, and take a crack at questions readers who are interested in the process want to ask.

Would I want to write exclusively about television? No. It’s not a question of downplaying my experiences. Writing for television was a dream come true. But it was also a shitload of work, and extremely stressful, especially when I was running the shows. My goal was to complete the daily requirements and then go home. That’s not a very interesting story. It’s just a guy doing his job.

I’ve tried to be balanced talking about my what I did. There was genuine excitement, and I hope you picked up on that. But I made sure to show you the human toll as well. Again, however, did I under-report the human toll to avoid sounding ungrateful for the opportunity, not to mention unappealing in my character? I probably did. Nudging me away from my “uncensored expression.”

How about style? Do I try to be funny? I hope I don’t push it, but I do, generally, focus on stories with humorous formulations, though hopefully, there’s more. But by angling for laughs, am I seriously distorting the stories themselves? And what valuable but unfunny stories am I leaving out entirely?

It’s a meaningful question. What truth-damaging alterations does the blogger succumb to in the name of trying to please the public?

How about effort? Recently, I rewrote, and, I believe, improved, a post published over a week ago. Did I do that for you? Or did I do it for me? I think I did it because I thought of something that would make the post better and I felt duty bound to include the improvement. But it wasn’t entirely art for art’s sake. I alerted you to it in a subsequent post.

Tone. Too angry? Too vindictive? Too self-serving? Too sad? Critical calls when you’re writing for others. But they have nothing to do with “uncensored expression.”

Finally, there’s opinion. Here, I’ll defer to my superior and writing hero, Mark Twain. In his essay, “The Privilege of the Grave”, (reprinted in the New Yorker, December 22 & 29, 2008), Twain asserts that,

Its (the grave’s) occupant has one privilege which is not exercised by any living person: free speech…. As an active privilege, it ranks with the privilege of committing murder; we may exercise it if we are willing to take the consequences. Murder is forbidden both in form and in fact: free speech is granted in form but forbidden in fact.… Murder is sometimes punished, free speech always.

So there’s that.

I tell ya, it seems like it’s my blog.

But I wouldn’t actually bet on it.


Jess Kiley said...

It's Ken Levine's blog, that's what I've always thought. My blog belongs to the Federal Government, without whose fine toothed Kent combs, I'd feel like another voiceless American with no armed backup. And, it belongs to the Christian homeschoolers who knew me as a threat the second I brought a homebaked pie to gymnastics class, and forced them to eat it.

Your blog is also Don Rickel's blog, who I saw on Leno last night. An 83 year old man zinging one-liners, Jew jokes, sex jokes, black jokes. MAN, was he edgy! I'm going to recommend Jimmy Fallon picks him up.

My blog is eventually going to be all about making fun of Larry King. That makes it Ashton Kutcher's blog, I guess.

Earl, you've confused the whole purpose. Thanks alot! Might as well start a Twitter account if you have this much going on in your head. It's all the old-people rage now.

Jess Kiley said...

Oh, I almost forgot...I can't believe I didn't state this first. Must be all the propaganda I'm forced to consume through all the other media outlets that gots my brain in a mush.

Everyone's blogs, even and especially yours, belongs to our soldiers. I never write a single post without remembering that. Most people do, I don't. The internet wouldn't exist without them, and they continue to suffer everyday "under the radar".

I want to bring you on Larry King, but I'm not famous enough. I want to tell Larry myself how you've inspired me by being a consistent role model of manhood and fatherhood, in that virtual sort of way.

I want to tell Larry that Ashton Kutcher isn't where it's at. It's on our battle fields, it's between the generations, and it's in the comment boxes. Despite what Ken Levine would have you believe.

A. Buck Short said...

What wonderful and appreciated shared introspection. I’m beginning to wonder what kind of couch Dr. M installed in the living room – and can I get one at IKEA? I can appreciate the conflicting feeling, similar to those felt years ago when I started rejecting my own sexual advances. (There, try to lose that mental image… and how fast does IKEA deliver?) Because I am noting if not insecure, I hope you realize I think “Whose Blog is it Anyway?” every time I start rambling on with a comment like this and can’t stop. The easy out is, “Well I’ve just been entertained and informed, and it would be nice to give something back.” However I’ve learned that just about every time you hear somebody say “I just wanted to give something back (generally to society)” as a reason somebody gives for doing anything – that’s when you should start checking to make sure you’ve still got your wallet. But I hope you know that you’ve started somebody else at least attempting to think a little creatively every morning, when there would have been no other reason to do so.

B. Buck Short said...

I am so glad to hear that you too are an unabashed Twainiac. Many years ago my wife and I were fortunate enough to have been invited to some friends’ house for dinner in Marblehead, MA with the wonderful Twain biographer Justin Kaplan and his wife, the novelist Anne Bernays. There’s a lot of pressure to feel you’re contributing to the conversation. My wife’s was, “I just realized, I’m the only one here who hasn’t written a book!”

Since the subject of Twain had not even come up, I was kicking myself for the next year-and-a-half not only for not having remembered that Mr. Kaplan was a Twain biographer in the first place – but more significantly – that I had not only taken the Twain stories I had adapted as Radio Story Theater for my master’s thesis from his anthology, but have even stolen his Twain portrait illustration for the advertising posters. (With Ms. Bernays being Freud’s great-niece, I thought of taking this block up with her; but isn’t it nice that you too guys have sort of a Twin Twain couple?)

C. Buck Short said...

[Part of your ever expanding readership.]We all need the eggs. Does blogger give you feedback on the number of readers, even though not all comment?

D. Buck Short said...

Kindly leave pushing the funny to us professionals.

Gary Mugford said...


Bloggers blog 'cuz they have something to get off their chests. Maybe it's just to keep the writing muscles limber. Some times it's to keep the shrink bill down to something reasonable. Some times, it's to let off steam (me). And other times it's just to give back to the community, whatever that community is, in some way. But it always reduces down to having something you want to say.

That you write what you want to write and in what order and at what length is your prerogative.

Don't let anybody tell you any different. (From a frostback who never made the move south of the 49th when offered the opportunity)

Anonymous said...

Earl -

I generally don't comment but this seems a good time to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. They're all good no matter what your topic of the day is.


Anonymous said...

I am leaving this comment to let you know I, too, really enjoy your blog. The stories and introflection are all great, on all topics. I hope five entries a week doesn't brun you out!

Kathryn said...

Your hero's latest book goes on sale today (Who Is Mark Twain?). There is also a writing contest, an e-book deal, and free audio download. Check it all out here and spread the word!