June 8, 2007
Bloggers are a gaggle of ignorant blowhards.
They are! All you have to do is speak ill of them and they fall all over themselves squawking about it, guaranteeing scads of free publicity to the unwary offender. There's no surer ticket to instant notoriety this side of the MPAA ratings board, annoying whom has always been every controversial filmmaker's shortcut onto the entertainment and op-ed pages. One of these days, some smart publicity-seeker is going to wise up and post an item saying something like, oh, "Bloggers are a gaggle of ignorant blowhards," and just wait for all the Google hits to roll in.
Something like this even happened to a Big Read book once upon a time. When The Grapes of Wrath came out, it was denounced from one end of the Joads' odyssey to the other. In Oklahoma, right upstanding pillars of the community attacked it as "a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind," all because it showed the squalor to which the Depression had reduced Oklahomans by the hundreds of thousands.
Sarah Cook with Big Read Readers Guides, outside the "Area of Refuge." Photo by Molly-Thomas Hicks.
Steinbeck's fellow Californians didn't like his masterpiece much better. Agribusiness and its mouthpieces editorialized against The Grapes of Wrath, burned it, even published a counter-novel about how cushy the pickers really had it. Writer Rick Wartzmann, co-author of The King of California: J. G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire -- and a terrific voice on the Big Read audio guide to The Grapes of Wrath -- is working on a book about The Grapes of Wrath's reception in California's Central Valley, and the story is enough to curl anyone's toes.
Except, of course, for those of the Viking publicity's department circa 1939, who knew free publicity when they saw it, and proceeded to milk the controversy for all it was worth. Cynical? Hardly. They had a great novel about a depressing subject to sell, and they were determined to sell it ? in the words of that bestselling author Malcolm X ? by any means necessary.
So yes, as in this photo shot outside the Big Read's office door, literature is an Area of Refuge ? whether from natural disaster, as the civil defense planners have ordained, or merely from the cares of the workaday world. But great social literature like Steinbeck's is also an area of engagement with the world: its hugger-mugger, its shameless publicity stunts, even its bloggers, among whose ignorant, bloviating number I remain proud to count myself?