A month ago, my editor sent me a cookbook and asked if I would review it. I thumbed through the pages and didn’t feel connected to image, food, and type, so I passed on the opportunity because I’m of the stock who believes that my work should celebrate the audacious and ambitious nature of others. To hatchet or dismember someone’s work felt wrong, cruel, and I didn’t want to waste my energy on that. Personally, it never feels good to pull someone under simply for the fact that you can.
While I held an executive position in an agency, I had to keep my personal views of the industry and more specifically, influencers, private. Years ago, I saw the influx of incredible talent who rallied against traditional books. I’d met people whose voice was bombastic, singular, evocative, and they fled to blogs and burgeoning social media platforms as a means for expression, as a means to allow themselves to shout when they had been muffled. These artists forged a movement united around creating work that was authentic, provocative, and meaningful. Sure, the online space was cluttered with noise and junk, but people were breaking ranks with their art and words in ways we hadn’t seen in glossy magazines. Not everyone was preened to perfection, as marketers would have us believe.
In 2002, I published a literary journal, Small Spiral Notebook, as a refuge for exceptionally talented writers who were routinely excluded from the top-tier literary journals. In 2006, I desperately tried to convince my colleagues in traditional publishing that the online voices were just as powerful, if not more so, influential than their paper counterparts. I’ve always pumped my first for the small fry with a Blogspot domain and an acerbic wit. Someone who had a megaphone because they believed their work meant something, that they had the capacity to move us in ways that were real, if not sometimes uncomfortable.
Then something happened. It wasn’t immediate, but the changes were slow, slippery, almost imperceptible to everyone, and I started to notice that the tone, positioning, and energy in the online space shifted. It was interesting to see so many people, who once eschewed the slicks, become minor versions of them, down to their endorsement deals and dubious agents. Witness the multiplication. See a few bright shining lights working tirelessly, and then see those who only desire a great reward. That great reward is BRAND “ME.” Here is my portfolio replete with a headshot, site analytics, and my card that reads: Social Media Consultant.
Over the past few years I’ve been feeling subsumed by the business of blogging. While I believe that those who create a product or service that delivers on value, utility, and entertainment should be compensated (much like how models and writers and producers should be paid), I’ve been seeing talented bloggers shill themselves out to the highest bidder. I’ve seen those few shining lights being photocopied, en masse, by blind, fame-seeking unoriginals. I’ve seen social-climbing that makes soap operas look like Saturday morning cartoons. I’ve seen cliques form that rival the high school mean girls. I’ve seen post after post of sponsored post until my eyes grew heavy, and I began to wonder: Who are you? And more importantly: What do you believe in?
But I had to keep quiet, smother voice as it were.
Then I found a magazine that was a complete and utter celebration of blogger buddies and besties in the online space, a small coven of kindred folk who shared a similar, whitewashed aesthetic. I saw bloggers pairing up, passed around online + print publications like trading cards, and it made me wonder — how different is this from the print publications they once decried? At least these magazines are nakedly transparent about their ambition. So when I received Kinfolk magazine’s cookbook, I got so incensed I didn’t know what came over me. These Kinfolkers took what I love so much about food and reduced it to less than the sum of its parts; they made it an Anthropologie catalog. They tried to make expensive finery humble, and as I paged through the book I saw all the familiar faces.
I wanted to throw the book out the fucking window.
I wrote a pretty scathing review of Kinfolk‘s cookbook because the conversation shouldn’t just be about this book (although this book is one example of something in the online space that feels more like an epidemic), but it should be about the flipside of influence, it should be about defining a creative democracy. It should be more than an indulgent, escapist fantasy. We should check our privilege, and do it often. I grew up poor in Brooklyn, but I’m not blind to the fact that I made out better than a lot of my grade school friends. I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t take my life for granted, and that reminder is humbling.
Do you know I was nervous about publishing this review? I’m not egotistical to think that my one small voice could puncture the scores of glowing affirmations from the top-tier blogging set, but this swanning made me doubt myself. I made a dozen recipes from the Kinfolk cookbook, and some of them just didn’t work. I read the book cover to cover, and realized there was no real connection between image and type. At the most basic level, couldn’t the profiles have been a story surrounding the recipe, and subsequently the editors could have shown that recipe in the context of a gathering of kin? Instead, this was a beautifully-shot portrait of an influencer accompanied by a lengthy fawning, and the recipe was merely an afterthought.
I kept asking myself: am I wrong to question this? If all these bloggers whom I revere promote a book I don’t believe in, is there something wrong in what I believe? Am I revering the wrong people? Am I not checking all my privilege? Or are all these bloggers false in a way, until now, I hadn’t realized?
This morning, I received a dozen emails from bakers and readers alike who expressed a similar frustration with the cookbook, which puts me to thinking a scary thought: are the collective power of these influential voices enough to muffle the few dissenters?
I don’t know. I’m still trying to make sense of this as someone who is an artist, blogger and professional consumer marketer. All I do know is that something, right now, isn’t right. And Kinfolk‘s book is just one example of it.
While I’m not ranting like a lunatic, I found the following of interest: The Atlantic posted an incredible essay on the alcohol as an escape from perfectionism. As someone who’s struggled with alcohol a great deal of my life, I found a lot of truth in this piece.
Elena Brower hosted a fantastic wellness conference this week, and I spent a lot of evenings listening to podcasts on how we can cultivate more mindfulness in our everyday lives. I really recommend that you download the podcasts, which I’ve found wholly inspiring.
Finally, I absolutely loved this blog post on finding perspective in the blogging game (pretty apropos considering my rant above).