The Critics Respond, Part Forty-Two

Near the end of Joni Mitchell’s Miles of Aisles live album, she becomes tired of the crowd calling out requests for her greatest hits and responds, somewhat passive-aggressively, with “Nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ You know? He painted it and that was it.” (More on that comment, and its ramifications, here.) I was just two years old at the time, and on the wrong coast besides, but if I could get in a time machine and travel back to that night I would yell back, “YEAH, AND HE ALSO JUST GOT PAID ONCE FOR PAINTING IT, SO QUIT YOUR BITCHING!”

When my son is old enough to truly comprehend the fine distinctions involved, I think that I’m going to spend a lot of time stressing to him that different jobs don’t just pay different amounts of money — they also pay in different ways. Consider, if you will, the vast majority of pop songs. The writer gets paid as long as people buy the song. The rights holders to the song also get paid as long as it’s selling. That’s really the best way to get paid. The original headliner can probably get paid to perform the song as long as it’s popular; that’s not quite as good as getting paid for doing nothing but it still offers the prospect of continued employment. Last and least are the studio musicians who took a one-time payment for performing on the studio track and signed over the rest of their rights.

Studio musicians tend to stay poor and die broke, no matter how good they are, because they don’t own the rights to what they do. As fate would have it, I’m kind of a studio musician when it comes to autowriting. I don’t own a magazine, I don’t own a website, and I don’t retain rights to much of what I write. Like Van Gogh, I deliver the product, I take the money, I walk away, and I never have to — or get to, depending on your perspective — do it again. I write 350,000 words a year— that’s a new War and Peace every nineteen months — and I only get paid once for each one of those words.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It’s a privilege and an honor to have the editors, and the audience, that I have. Joni Mitchell might have considered her fans to be a distraction or even a hassle, but I cannot bring myself to feel that way. I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to serve that audience. Which brings me to the comment by dal20402 above.

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The Critics Respond, Part Forty-One

I like this analogy — the five-dollar word — because it can easily be extended to demonstrate a depressing, but absolutely inarguable, point. Samuel Clemens wrote his most popular work between 1880 and 1890. According to this inflation calculator, five bucks in 1890 is equivalent to about $130 today. Looked at another way, five dollars in 2017 has the spending power of nineteen cents in 1890.

So let’s take a look at the “home-equity loan” paragraph referred to by the above commenter and see what effect the inflation of illiteracy, which has proceeded in lockstep with the inflation of the currency, has done to make my relatively prosaic prose so precociously pricey.

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The Critics Respond, Part Forty

Sea lion woman, black dress on
For a thousand dollars, she wail and she moan
Sea lion woman
— “See-Line Woman”, traditional

The common name for disrupting or attacking someone under the guise of a legitimate concern or lack of knowledge is “concern trolling”, but I also like the neologism Sealioning. It’s a tactic that is currently enjoying a sort of Golden Age on the Internet because it’s hugely passive-aggressive and because it is generally supposed to be immune to a libel suit. You can’t go on a stock-trading website and post “WMT (or the stock of your choice) is headed for a big fall because they’re engaging in massive Social Security fraud,” because you will be the target of a civil suit before you get home that evenings. Seriously. Don’t do that, no matter how anonymous you are or think you are. People have lost everything they own, and more, doing that. You can, however, probably get away with posting, “I’m just really, really worried about all these rumors about Social Security fraud regarding WMT. What does that mean anyway? I’m just trying to understand these rumors I’ve heard.”

Yesterday, a commenter on something I wrote posted “What is a MILF? I don’t understand.” You’d have to be an utter fool, or suffering from recent head trauma, not to understand that the sole purpose of making that post is to “sealion”; after all, it’s literally three times as difficult as getting the definitive answer yourself. The easiest thing for me to do would have been simply not to respond, but instead I made fun of the troll character who posted. Now we’re in the middle of yet another civility discourse over at TTAC.

My purpose here, however, is not to comment on the rightness or wrongness of the original comment, my response, the responses that followed, or the subsequent site-wide convulsion. I’m no longer the E-I-C over there and I don’t set policy; I don’t even really want to comment on TTAC policy in public. It’s tough enough to run that site without having your predecessors second-guess your decisions. Instead, my purpose is to discuss why I treat some commenters with absolute respect, even when I disagree with them or they are personally offensive to me, and why I treat some commenters like they are utterly beneath contempt and completely deserving of the worst ridicule that can be heaped upon their heads. How do I determine who is “real” and who is not? The answer: fingerprinting.

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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.

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The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Eight

It’s not the biggest hit TTAC’s ever had; that honor, in the post-Farago era at least, goes to a short piece Ronnie Schreiber wrote about the “Porsche Design Soundbar” last year. But my analysis of the Audi ad was the fastest-moving long-form to appear on the site since my Lamborghini Urus opinion piece of 2012. And it could have been even bigger; thanks to a combination of factors including me being slow to respond on an editing question or two because I was on the way to Indianapolis to get measured for a Nomex race suit, we sent it out the door seven hours later than we should have.

Oh well. If wishes were fishes, we’d all eat salmon every night the way my father is doing in his unstinting effort to live forever. The artcle was, and continues to be, remarkably popular nonetheless, thanks to links in from a variety of general-interest heavy-hitter sites like Instapundit and the “Kotaku In Action” subreddit. As you’d expect, many of those non-automotive outlets are far more concerned with the general societal implications of the advertisement in question than they are interested in what it means for the car business.

Given some of the recent political sensitivity at TTAC among both readers and management, I made every effort to ensure that this editorial was clearly marked “before the jump” as a potentially controversial opinion piece. The opening paragraphs, and even the title, should have made the readers aware that I’d be addressing issues outside the stark sales-statistic meat-and-potatoes that defines the site’s current content and direction.

Apparently, there was one jagoff out there who didn’t see all the warning signs and managed to accidentally electrocute himself on the third rail of having to read something besides December’s CUV sales rankings.

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The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Seven

The AP Stylebook says that it’s no longer appropriate to mention race in crime-related news stories. The provided exception, mais bien sur, is the James Byrd case, because it’s a case where white people targeted a black person for violence based on nothing but the color of his skin. (In cases where the races are reversed, as in so-called polar bear hunting, the AP Stylebook appears to recommend that the story be buried or deleted.) It’s also appropriate, we are told, to mention race when it is related to civil rights or slavery. I’m reminded of the Dilbert comic where the narrator says something along the lines of “The only appropriate way to portray women in sci-fi is as starship captains.”

Of course, since journalists are lazy by default, the old (and admittedly racist) headlines of “Blacks riot at mall” or “Blacks attack old man on street” have simply been changed to “Teens riot at mall” or “Teens attack old man on street”. The aliens who listen closely to our news broadcasts are probably shocked by the way in which undifferentiated teenagers have replaced undifferentiated African-Americans as the nation’s greatest criminal threat; everybody else just reads the “dog whistle” and nods knowingly.

Luckily I don’t cover the crime beat so I don’t have to devote much though to any of the above. But when I mentioned the race of an Escalade driver in my Zimmer review, at least one reader decided to take me to task. Was he right to do so?

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The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Six


Never believe what people tell you they want. Yesterday’s No Fixed Abode was widely reviled as being inside-baseball journalist-drama time-wasting — yet it did more traffic on Day One than any supercar review I’ve done on TTAC has ever seen. In that article, I mention my time as a fast-food worker, leading “VoGo”, one of our more prolific commenters, to write the above.

I don’t require that anybody agree with me, ever — which is why I value VoGo despite his steadfast opposition to the vast majority of what I write. When I read the comment above, however, I realized that Mr. VoGo and I inhabit very different worlds.

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The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Five


Imagine this guy’s disappointment when he opened Moby-Dick for the first (and last) time, only to find that there was no video of a dick.

As Strother Martin once, said, “Some men you just can’t reach.”

Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings for a moment, because I think this is a good jumping-off point for a brief discussion about why video hasn’t quite killed the journalism star.

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The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Four


What would you call somebody who turns down a challenge to a race then tries to snitch on you to your employer? You’d call that person a coward, if not worse.

Yamaha’s Bruce Steever is a coward, if not worse.

And he has wayyyyy too many skeletons in his closet to be a snitch.

Let’s take a look.

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The Critics Respond, Part Thirty-Three


Let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves. Is the kind of lazy, sloppy, corrupt writing that plagues automotive journalism really a problem? When MotorTrend reviewed the current Viper, Lieberman ranted that “luxury and driveability have been sacrificed” and that “driving the manual is hard” and that the Viper is “hot inside”.

None of that is even remotely true. I’m not even sure Jonny is stupid enough to believe the lines they’re having him read. I think the “creative” team at MT understands that videos like this get a lot of YouTube clicks. A click from someone who hates you pays the same as a click from somebody who likes you. That’s the business.

So what? So what if MotorTrend slanders the Viper? In the immortal words of our next President, what difference does it make?

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