The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Nine

I don’t know if any of my readers are young people who aspire to be published writers one day, but if they are, let me point the megaphone directly at them — at you? — and give you a very specific message at max amplification: You cannot prevent the reader from interpreting what you write!!!!! Sometimes the reader (or viewer) will give you too much credit, find rhetorical or symbolic depths in your work that you never meant to put in there. I often think that the vast majority of Shakespeare criticism works in precisely that manner. Ol’ Billy-Boy was just trying to get paid, you know. He whipped his plays up carelessly, in hurried fashion, relying on whatever book happened to be in front of him at the time. There’s some evidence that a lot of the First Folio is basically a first draft. Obviously he was a genius; just as obviously, he was phoning it in half the time.

More often, however, the reader will obsess or fixate on a tiny piece of what you’ve written to the exclusion of the rest. This was the case with today’s piece on unequal enforcement. About twenty percent of the text deals with illegal/undocumented/whatever immigrants and their tendency to operate vehicles without the appropriate insurance. In doing so, I stepped on the third rail of the left-wing immigration fetish, so the bulk of the comments are about that twenty percent of the piece.

A few of the readers took me to task for not providing a more thorough overview of the immigration issue. A few others were disappointed that I’d resorted to what they felt were quick-and-dirty characterizations. The problem for me is that I completely agree with them even as I could not disagree more.


My long-time readers know that I don’t suffer from any sort of brevity-related illness. If I didn’t also have a kid and a full-time job, I’d write a million words a year. I’d make L. Ron Hubbard or Harry Turtledove look like haiku artists. There’s no limit to how much I’d like to contribute to the national conversation. In fact, I’m currently nursing a bit of an annoyed ego from my most recent submission to my favorite print magazine: I turned in about 4700 words and it went out the door at 3489. How dare they do that! The whole magazine should be text. It should be like Lapham’s except it should all be by, and about, me.

The problem is that the Internet is a short-attention-span medium. So even if I had the OK from my editors to go on at 10,000-word length about immigration as a sidebar, almost nobody would read it. And it certainly wouldn’t pay. Furthermore, 10,000 words would be just a drop in the bucket compared to what could be written about the topic. We’ve been talking about immigration since before the dawn of recorded history and we’ll be talking about it until the Caliphate takes over and squelches all dissent.

Now here’s some irony for you: the World Wide Web was designed to handle precisely this issue through hyperlinks. It used to be considered good practice to absolutely burden your text with hyperlinks, so that if the reader wanted to digress or diverge for a moment (or a year) he’d be free to do so. If you want to get a sense of what early Webpages were like, just take a peek a Wikipedia, which continues the practice of comprehensive in-text linking.

In our effort to make the Web a commodity and a product, however, we’ve cut that shit out. Links take readers away from your product, from your page, from your control. We’re building walled gardens now, both politically and commercially, so you never have to leave the nest in which you’ve landed. It would have been good 1995-era Web practice to put twenty-five links in that piece, so that readers could see what I’ve been reading and what I’m using as supporting documentation and where I’ve found various ideas. But if I do that too often, I’ll be impacting TTAC’s ability to stay afloat and to pay me.

So I’m faced with these choices:

  • Keep a laser focus on topic… if I have just a thousand words, use every one of them for a single topic. Don’t offer the reader any distractions or escapes.
  • Write a sprawling Infinite Jest-style piece, covering any and all digressions to their practical maximum, with the understanding that 9,999 out of every 10,000 readers will fall asleep or close the browser window before they reach the end.
  • Link out to everything and trust the reader to click ’em all before complaining that I’ve short-changed a particular aspect of the piece.

I don’t know what the right answer is. This is the best one I can give: I don’t expect to be singular, or authoritative, on any given topic. I’ll get you started on a train of thought, and I’ll show you some spurs you can take along the way. If you start on one of them, you will have to understand that at some point you’ll be on your own. In this fashion, I’ll be free to write as I like and you will be free to read as you like, too. And if I occasionally under-serve a topic, or a point of view, or a particular conclusion, we will have to chalk it up to the imperfections of this medium and my talent. While you do that, feel free to give me more credit than I deserve, but please don’t give me less, okay?

31 Replies to “The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Nine”

  1. bigtruckseriesreview

    I used to earn $600 – $800 a month on Epinions.com before they were bought out by Ebay and I made my ultimate switch to Youtube. Now I monetize all my Vlogs and I earn around $2000 – $2600 a month. Haven’t gotten into the $3000-range yet, but when you join car clubs and “do stuff” to generate content, it helps keep the money flowing.

    It’s ultimately the ROYALTIES which keep the checks coming because even if what you create isn’t received well initially, it “might be” later on.

    Some of my videos have gone viral. Sadly enough, it’s the ones where I just get angry and make a short diatribe/slideshow. The videos I put the most work into make far less but they earn.

    I was never really interested in being a “published” author in the strictest sense: “writing a book and publishing it to collect royalties”.

    But that’s the beauty of the new social media/internet.

    There’s NOTHING between me and the money besides nameless/faceless entities who will accept whatever I create and let the free-market decide what my worth is.

    THE FREE MARKET.

    That’s what’s most important.

    A market devoid of censorship, government regulations and restrictions.

    I want to be able to meander at will.

    I don’t feel I need to write “10000 words” if I can say what I need to say, succinctly with 5000.

    Let the Free Market be my judge.

    Whether they subscribe or not, I get paid simply from the views.

    Fine by me.

    TRACKHAWK coming SOON.

    Reply
  2. bigtruckseriesreview

    I should also say that YOUTUBE LIVE may be the greatest money maker ever created.

    It can TRULY bridge the gap between rich and poor by allowing TALENT and the FREE MARKET to decide who is worth giving Attention (money) to.

    If you have a monitized Youtube channel, you can “go live” and your videos will instantly be monetized and you begin earning money immediately.

    EVERYONE can be their own publisher.

    EVERYONE can be their own “anchorman”

    EVERYONE can be their own journalist.

    The Free Market will decide who earns.

    There will be no “publisher” or “editor” between me and the checks.

    Reply
  3. Disinterested-Observer

    Holy shit those comments are missing the forest for the trees, or vice versa, I never understood that expression.

    Anyway, here is a cop speeding through a residential neighborhood to answer a call for a “disorderly man” at 1100 am on a Saturday

    Reply
  4. Mateo319

    With all due respect Jack, your TTAC piece read like it was built to make the unequal enforcement w/ regard to undocumented immigrants the entire point of the article. You placed the issue at the rhetorical center of the piece. Given the heightened political climate, I think the reaction of the readership was completely understandable.

    I often find what you write in the political realm to be distasteful and in the service of an agenda that’s hurting a lot of people at the moment. Today was one of those days. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re doing it just to get a rise, to build an audience, or you’re making your own point. Sometimes you do a drive by on the way to a large point. But other than the odd comment here or there, I don’t typically go out of my way to pick a fight with you on those issues when there’s plenty of opportunity to do that pretty much anywhere these days.

    My own personal political stance aside, In today’s piece, the writing was the thing. Sometimes it comes out like you want it to, sometimes it doesn’t. It happens.

    -Mateo

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I appreciate the feedback and I will work harder to be worthy of your continued patronage.

      With that said, I believe that we need to live in reality as much as possible. There is no policy or law, no matter how sensible, that does not hurt someone, that does not pick winners and losers.

      Will Trump’s proposed immigration policies hurt some families? YES. Did Mr. Obama’s immigration policies hurt families in the Midwest? YES. Somebody’s going to lose either way. The left says “replenishing America” when what they really mean is “replacing America”. That’s what I believe, although I’d welcome being proven wrong.

      Reply
      • Mateo319

        Next time we meet up, we can discuss the country’s problems over a beer or something stronger. I have no doubt we’ll find some common ground.

        As for the writing, I read the TTAC piece in the context of what you wrote last night. You were on boil. The words were coming. I’ve been there. Your prolific output while maintaining fatherhood, a full time job, and a busy track schedule speaks for itself.

        -M

        Reply
  5. Sseigmund

    The Agency State vs the Little People. The problem is there are not enough little people like Glenn Carr fighting back. We did fight back as a group once and ended up with country. Maybe it can happen a gain. Until then the powerful and lawless will be free.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Arbuckle

    “In doing so, I stepped on the third rail of the left-wing immigration fetish, so the bulk of the comments are about that twenty percent of the piece.”
    _____________________________
    You’ve been writing long enough that you must have known this was a likely outcome.

    Reply
  7. hank chinaski

    When money talks, bull$hit walks. See also CCW permits, deed restriction housing, health insurance, et.al.

    Ever lived/driven SOTB? Hit and run is the defacto norm. The web is chock full of third world videos of scooters and their riders being macerated by trucks and buses. The Russian dash-cam vids are probably the least disturbing of the chaos abroad.

    They can’t build that wall fast enough.

    Reply
  8. Orenwolf

    Jack,

    This was a great retrospective (introspective?), and I appreciate knowing you think about this stuff as much as I thought you must (hence my comment earlier about it).

    I’ve been working for web-enabled authors for more than ten years now (and all sorts of different mediums – blogs, newsletters, link aggregation sites, even the Wikimedia Foundation) and about the only universal truth I’ve found from those experiences is that good writers hyperanalyze and kvetch endlessly about their work. Which is exactly what you would expect from an author trying to sincerely convey something from gray matter to (virtual) printed matter.

    I appreciate the insights into your thought process and respect the awareness you have of how they affect the medium.

    Carry on, sir.

    Reply
  9. Kevin Jaeger

    Great article at TTAC – I really enjoyed it.

    It very succinctly captured trends that Victor Davis Hanson has written about at great length in his book “Mexifornia”. He describes how California has effectively split into the massively taxed and regulated coastal areas and the other parts that are de facto lawless enclaves of Mexico. Have you read his book?

    Reply
      • silentsod

        I think I still have my copy of Mexifornia around the house. It’s a solid read and I arrived at it after reading other books of his such as Ripples of Battle, Carnage and Culture (which can be taken as an interesting counterpoint to Germs, Guns, and Steel and which I lent out and never received back), and Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience.

        Reply
  10. Person With Computer

    I’m somewhat dumbfounded by the negative responses, Mr Baruth. I’m a mild-faced gent who finds a lot of things you write to be strongly in opposition to my own opinions and beliefs. However, there wasn’t anything in that piece that so much as made me raise an eyebrow.

    Reply
  11. 1A

    Wow, just went over there and saw the 350 comments. Um, somebunnies need to GET A JOB. I’m not one to use that phrase, but holy hell—GET A JOB. If all those Bernie beta-males were out WORKING, TTAC would fold (lol). TTAC propped up by We, The Taxpayers?! Shit, now there’s a thought.
    #CanadianConspiracy #ResistCanada #FakeCanada #GrabYourCanadianBacon #MapleLeavesMatter

    Reply
  12. yamahog

    Awesome article, I don’t read TTAC anymore but the #triggering in the comments section was predictable, vindicating, and enjoyable all the same.

    Really liked this observation – nice articulation. I really think the perception that ‘the outgroup’ gets away with ‘more’ fuels a lot of America’s appetite for Judge Dredd style policing.

    It reminds me of a Chris Rock bit – “men lie the most, women tell the biggest lies”. We have one group who seems to account for most of the inner city gun play in America and other highly visible crime, and we have another group that peddles influence and alerts us to “super-predators”.

    Reply
  13. Will

    I read every single comment with that post just for fun, but two items stood out:

    1. With jimz (I think, at least the dude with the horse picture), he of course didn’t mention if the guy who hit him left the scene and/or had insurance. Knowing those two facts reinforces Jack’s point or makes his.

    2. FreedMike wanted us to run Mexico for them as part of his plan. This is not only is this idea laughable at best, but imperialistic and with the same breath he most likely decries America’s overreaching political history. The cognitive dissonance on display always amazes me for some reason; I always hope by writing their thoughts, people would see their own contradictions.

    Reply
    • silentsod

      2. Suggesting America as a nation fix Mexico is absurd and I’d like to introduce him to our history in the middle east.

      Reply
      • Will

        Agreed. You make a point like that, you’re liable to dismissed as an imbecile. But he genuinely proposed that and is the first to probably complain about our role in the Middle east. Like I said, the cognitive dissonance is astounding.

        Reply
    • TAFKADG

      I only made it halfway through before my eyes started glazing over.

      Did anyone end up using the word “anarcho-tyranny”?

      Jack’s hardly the first person to observe this trend.

      Reply
  14. MLCraven

    Your writing is always thoughtful, usually provocative and sometimes incendiary, and without being mean-spirited or sanctimonious. TTAC — which I frequent as a lurker only — is not well-served by reduced Baruth content. Part of the answer is not to give your critics more credit than they deserve. (and sometimes to give them a lot less)

    Reply
  15. Aoletsgo

    “I turned in about 4700 words and it went out the door at 3489. How dare they do that!”
    My apologies for a second reference to the movie Amadeus but it hit me hard.
    “displace one note and there will be diminishment, displace one phrase and the structure would fall…”
    Also thanks to Kevin for mentioning Victor Davis Hanson, I ordered The decline and fall of California and will check that out.

    Reply
  16. DirtRoads

    Heh — I wondered if you’d end up saying something over here. OK no I didn’t. I know you would. I’m still the last comment on that article over there, not sure why, but hell if people get bent out of shape for someone telling the truth, that’s their perception problem.

    Now we could argue all day long frames of reference, education, specific demographics of the audience etc etc but I don’t care. I’m too old to give a damn what the hand-wringers think or say. If you say something that is true, that’s all there is to say.

    That said, if someone can come along and show me that what I believe, as opposed to what I know, is wrong, I’ll change my mind. But facts never change.

    Reply

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