The Greatness of Misrepresentation?

Bloggers have power. Hell, anyone who is read anywhere has power, especially if read by the bourgeois public. It'd be foolish not to consider the ethical implications of this power, and I hope I've done so quite often in this blog. About my own power, and that of other media.

A woman in my ethnology class last week really lashed out at the magazine Gringo. Gringo is run by people from a fairly diverse selection of ethnic groups and can be described as basically an immigrant equivalent of a gay pride magazine, brashly and colourfully presenting "suburban culture" with quite a lot of pow and tongue firmly in cheek. My classmate's objection was that they turned a blind eye to reality in the suburbs, which is often hard and poverty-stricken. A more balanced coverage where both the negative and positive side was represented would have been better, she thought, in order to give a fair picture of how things really were.

But I'm wondering how fair this is. Is it desirable when describing culture to be as accurate as possible, or should we default to just showing off the good sides?

I blog a lot about music. Within any particular genre, I usually go ahead and pick out the music that appeals to me the most, that I deem has a good quality. I probably do this less than most posters, because I end up posting stuff like this and because I have no taste, but nevertheless I strive towards posting music that's enjoyable. Is this wrong?

The answer is probably "partly".

If I was a classical music blogger, the question wouldn't even be raised. No-one would go around demanding I give an "accurate" picture of mediocre composers and amateur ensembles, they'd want me to go for the very best all the time. Actually, this comparison is not strictly accurate because there are some interesting music historians (in the field of "style history") who definitely are more interested in average works than greats, but if I was presenting the material outward, selling it as it were, no-one would expect me to bring up the mediocre or the awful.

However, there are a couple of differences here that are worth considering. To begin with, there's the whole imperialist taste-imposition angle. Taste is determined within the context of its production, the whole idea of "the scene" being one in which a group of people act as mutual referees as to which of their music is good. So who are we outsiders to go around selecting music according to our taste? Bloggers have the power of access to the public, so perhaps we should let our taste take a back seat lest we destroy the creativity of the scenes by asking them to conform to our needs? Perhaps. But I guess even going by someone else's idea of quality we're still basically stuck with a reformation of the same problem.

Secondly, ignoring what you feel is mediocre might in fact be oversimplification and the denial of diversity and interesting complexity. My classmate who talked about Gringo came up with an example of a little girl in one suburb who was an excellent violinist, one of the best at her age in the country, but who the magazine refused to cover. There's a danger that thinking about quality along one axis (a "ghetto culture" one, in Gringo's case) causes a creeping essentialism, where one ethnic group (or a whole social category like immigrants) is always associated with one style of cultural expression.

Still, I can't help thinking that we need both. Both stories about the bad and about the good, both pep-pieces and complete analyses. Or perhaps, rather, all possible angles from a diversity of sources. One blogger or one magazine can't possibly cover every story, so why not let them just focus on one thing as long as there is diversity in coverage overall? The general news media's reporting from the suburbs is relentlessly negativistic and bleak, confirming (as the media is wont to do) a negative stereotype. Gringo was partly founded on the idea of providing a positive counter-picture.

In general, the idea that one newspaper or one blog needs to cover all sides and aspects seems a bit old-fashioned in a world where my blog aggregator has something like 309 feeds, all with their own perspective. It does become more of an issue, though, when everyone or almost everyone veers the same way, creating a general monolithic discourse. Maybe someone needs to start a blog of fair-to-middling album tracks and flop singles they don't really like?

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