Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Blogging is not a genre

I think this is probably one of those that seems less profound when you start to write it down, but here goes:

A news report this morning introduced one of its subjects as "a blogger" from a country currently in political turmoil. Automatically an image formed of a member of the opposition bravely reporting conditions and advocating for the cause, at considerable personal risk. Salam Pax would be an archetype here.

As it happened, that particular image was basically correct. But as with all snap judgments, it need not have been. Run down the following list of labels and see if a particular image doesn't form involuntarily:
  • Political blogger
  • Entertainment blogger
  • Mommy blogger
  • Blogger
If you're like me (and if your mileage varies, great!), all but the last invoke not just the literal meaning but a particular kind of blogger. "Political blogger" suggests a partisan of whatever party. "Entertainment blogger" suggests tabloid-style gossip. "Mommy blogger" suggests a "soccer mom." I would venture to guess that for many people "blogger" in general suggests a particular genre of interest. For example, a politician might equate "political blogger" with "those irresponsible muckrakers making my life miserable" or "those hard-working souls selflessly putting the word out," depending on the day.

Interestingly, those characterizations don't seem a particularly good fit for the handful of blogs I actually read semi-regularly (These in turn are fairly disjoint from the blogs I've referenced here. This blog is about the web, not so much about my reading habits per se). That's not a complete surprise. When I try to decode someone's shorthand description, I'm trying to figure out what they mean, not what I might mean by the same thing.

But blogging is not a particular genre. Blogging is fundamentally a structure. Its distinguishing feature is not that it is about a particular brand of politics, or gossip, or parenting or whatever. Its distinguishing feature is that it is written serially, in small segments.

There does not need to be a great deal of continuity across those segments. The topic can shift with each post. Characters and scenery may or may not recur. Any action described in one post may or may not relate to action in any other post. On the other hand, because a blog is generally written by a single author or at most a small group, there will generally be some continuity of theme and style.

Within those constraints -- short, serialized segments and general continuity of theme and style -- pretty much anything is possible. Just as there are many genres of novel, play, movie, TV show, magazine article or newspaper column (one of the blog's closest relatives), there can be, and are, any number of genres built on the blog structure.

Nope, that wasn't particularly profound, but I guess I had to get it out of my system anyway. What can I say? I used to be an English major (for all of a semester).

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