Tuesday, February 06, 2007
For Your (Hah!) Consideration
It's that time again, kids, when the gang at CyberCatholics calls for nominations for this year's Catholic Blog Awards.
When television first became commercially available, most of the expertise and talent came from those who crossed over from radio. Even by the 1970s, a few actors who had long made their mark on stage and screen would eschew the novelty that was television. (Jack Cassidy, husband of Shirley Jones and father of David Cassidy, is one holdout who comes to mind.) Likewise, with the advent of the weblog, the best and the brightest (and most-often viewed or touted) are already successful writers and authors in the print media. I submit that the medium known as the weblog has yet to mature to the point, where some heretofore unknown without a publisher-agent could reach critical acclaim, and on the merits of said medium alone.
Don't believe me?
Then try to find an article on "Catholic blogs" that does not mention the same one or two individuals (and you know who you are, dahhh-lings!). My point -- and it is my ONLY point -- is that one cannot claim the internet has come on its own as a tool for getting the Catholic message across. Not when it is predominated by those who are already well established in other related media. And once you concede that, you also have to concede that an award for excellence in that medium may not be saying much.
UNLESS... you're prepared to take your criterion to the next level.
(DISCLAIMER: This is not about any particular person; this is about the phenomenon itself. If you think someone is being singled out or picked on here, you're obviously not reading very closely, so you may as well stop now, since it won't get any easier.)
Last year, I established a profile of the majority of potential winners. But the last crop of awardees may have put some of those pre-conceived notions to rest. Just barely, mind you. That means I might have been wrong. It can happen.
At the same time, I may have been doing something right. Since I began mwbh in June of 2002, last year was my best ever for readership and comments/response, and 2007 is already looking better. I'm getting as many as one thousand views in a given week. In mid-January, during the week of "Biting the Hand," it was nearly double that. (For that post, I got 34 comments, not counting 5 of my own!) That's a drop in the bucket for some of you big-time yahoos, but for me it's a windfall. This increases the possibility, however remote, that I might be nominated for an Award. Being named a mere finalist would be enough to move me up the food chain that is the Catholic blogosphere. I might get more than a hundred views a day, every day. Maybe two hundred. Maybe (gasp!) hundreds. Next thing you know, I'll move on to the big time, speaking across town at Ladies' Sodality meetings.
And so, people so inclined as to forward my name to the esteemed panel should be aware of the larger ramifications of such a decision. There are considerable risks involved. I have counted seven:
1) Any medium of mass entertainment (and I use the term "entertainment" very broadly here) relies to a great degree on something called "the formula." This is especially obvious in commercial radio, but it shows up elsewhere as well. Producers and purveyors look for the comfort zone of their target audience, and aim toward the middle. To that end, I don't exactly fit the "Roman Catholic poster child" mold. No, I don't mean that I'm a sinner and others are not. That's beside the point. I don't have that fresh-shaven face and button-down demeanor, with an adorable, devoted wife and five or six obedient children wearing matching outfits. There are also no stories in passing of loading the kiddies into the van for soccer games, or staying up nights to watch the youngest one with a cold. Oh, we can all say we're our own person, very unique in God's eyes and all that, and that we all have our own crosses to bear. But it's not how we're different from the viewer that draws them to read us; it's how much they can identify with us. I'm fifty-two, with a grownup ex-Catholic son -- personally, I think he's bluffing -- who sort of lives with me, following several years of estrangement. Not the kind of guy the Knights of Columbus will nominate as "family man of the year" anytime soon. Where is the inspiration in that, I ask you?
2) An occasion to remarry in the Church is obviously the result of an "automatic" process where tribunals spit annulments out like a Pez dispenser -- a process which, in turn, would have been undertaken while forsaking that of praying for ten or twenty years that my wayward spouse would return to me. (Think that's gonna happen? Fine, YOU try living with her!) In the meantime, I am very likely up to every manner of wickedness, which all of you are too polite to mention. (Thank you very much, by the way.)
3) I do not have some adult conversion story involving a perilously misspent youth which I can now parlay into a book deal and a lecture tour on why I have seen the light, and how you can too. The truth is that my quest for virtue has been pretty dull, really, never mind successful enough for mass consumption. It could be because I never stopped going to Mass, not even while in college. Could be, mind you. We may never know until... well, you know. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on my level of virtue.
4) In fact, I don't parlay much of anything into a book deal and lecture tour. Not that I wouldn't want to someday. But many years ago, before the internet, I made the conscious decision to pursue a professional career with a large institution, one that provided for a wife and family, later one that provided regular child support payments for sixteen years, and now provides for regular mortgage payments. Trying to live the faith while living a normal life without hanging around a rectory every other weeknight for a meeting. Knowing that at no time before the Second Coming will some guy wearing the famous Black Hat -- birettas notwithstanding -- will ever appear on EWTN.* (Still waiting by the phone, though, just in case.)
5) I don't jump on every story that hits the Catholic blogosphere within the same news cycle. Don't ask me how, but others have time for that. There appears to be a demand for posting links to a dozen stories a day and connecting them to clever witticisms, and doing that day after day. Maybe I just don't have the gift. What I do have, is the unmitigated gall to wait until they've all finished re-hashing the press releases, not to mention each other, and then provide some semblance of a thoughtful analysis. Occasionally something that a few people have missed, like... oh, the big picture, maybe. In fact, if you didn't know better, you would think that I had done some serious reading on the subject. Or even had a mind of my own.
6) When it comes to assisting at Holy Mass, I'm not exactly groovin' to that rockin' Steubenville Sound (and some of you know exactly what I mean), nor am I totally in with the Tridentine-Mass-or-die crowd (having been banned for life from one related e-mail list because the moderator is a twit!). There goes two voting blocks right there. That's because, in matters of Catholic worship, I am clearly one of those "reform of the reform" guys, employing a term obviously coined by some crackpot theoretician to prolong worthless polemics and otherwise reinvent the wheel. (By the way, he's now the Pope.)
7) My weblog is not generously decorated with pictures of John Paul II (whom I thought I'd wait for the Church to canonize before I did), Mother Teresa, and other Catholic luminaries. It is, however, decorated with me. (It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.) In fact, to know this would qualify as a "Catholic" blog, you'd probably have to break down and read it. That's when you'd discover the possibility that being Catholic, in the words of writer Thomas Storck, "can involve more than avoiding sin and exercising virtue." There is also the danger of actually learning something about the Faith that comes from reading too much for your own good. That's why I do it, to save you the trouble.
Those are seven good reasons not to nominate me. HOWEVER... if you can manage to ignore all of them, and take the broad leap of faith in considering this weblog on its own merits, then together we just might do something original.
Then again, why do that, when you can be like everybody else?
You have been warned.
* Not that I couldn't win over a crowd of two hundred for an hour. But it might in part involve my guitar, a harmonica strapped to a neck harness, and an evening peppered with what the handbills term "blues, ballads, and bad jokes."