Where oh where did the perception that bloggers are somehow more pure than ordinary people come to be? That is my question after reading Tom Coates' post on weblog marketing. (And who is this "we" he keeps referring to?)
A short history: Coates' post comes from a history of posts/comments about free wine giveaways to bloggers and the morality of such marketing. (Read the post to get the history, it's all there.)
The part that confounds me is the assumption of the purity of bloggers Coates' makes throughout his comments. He writes:
The problem is that - at least at the moment, and long may it last - the weblog community determines its heroes and its trusted and noble citizens from smaller but finer-grained metrics than we do in the wider world.
Earlier, he wrote that:
Weblogs are about authenticity - about people being able to express their voices and opinions. If people get the sense that you're distorting your opinions for your peers because you get free stuffhave to be less inclined to believe you (and think less of you as a person). And quite rightly - it's a demonstration of a lack of personal integrity.
What I object to is the assumption that seems to underlie these statements that our opinions are formed in a sort of bubble where no influence exists and are therefore pure until we are offered something for free.
Let me say it another way: authenticity by no means implies pure (sans influence). Authenticity means you own your words and acknowledge your influences. Pretending you have no influences (product freebee or no) is more damaging to your "personal integrity" than acknowledging them transparently.
But the problem is that people will always find being given free stuff attractive. And that means that - as long as there's the possibility a negative opinion will result in no more freebies - there will always be a pressure towards playing to the sponsor. A good proportion of people will find this kind of thing completely acceptable, but let's not pretend that it's completely impartial, morally neutral and fair.
Who is pretending that "it's completely impartial, morally neutral and fair?" As far as I am concerned the first two items don't exist, and the third is so wrapped in personal judgment that is it useless as a metric. This romantic need for impartiality, neutrality, objectivity -- whatever words you want to throw out here -- is a throwback to the modernistic, dualist, dogmatic way of thinking. We are not modern, but rather wrapped in a skein of relationships that are constantly being negotiated. We live in a world of change and uncertainty, where what is acceptable behavior shifts.
I can hear the screams of relativism now! But I prefer to look at the way things are vs. some simulacra of romantic ideals that are useless in helping people navigate morally complicated situations.
It is dangerous to assume that bloggers are somehow more pure than regular people. We are bombarded with persuasive messages all day every day. We are under a chain of influences from desired recognition to the desire to get free goodies. Whatever we write is influenced by someone or something. While we absolutely need to figure out the ethics and rules of the road of persuasion and authenticity (the big question is when to be transparent), hiding behind some idealistic purity leads us only to a dead end.
(And, again, who is the "we" Coates talks about? He writes:
We determine who to read based on whether we've come to feel a relationship or a personality that means we actually directly like the person or people concerned, whether we trust them, whether they're the kind of people we would want to associate with or who say things that we respect (or amuse us). And these relationships are more fragile, but deeper and more reciprocal, than those we have with sports heroes and movie stars.
Better to have replaced the "we" with "I". Yes, many people will read based on these attributes. Others won't. The god's eye "we" implies a (judgmental) power OVER those who don't follow their "rules.")