Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Monday, October 17, 2005

The creamy center

The other day I sat on a panel at the charming book and thought repository Richard Hugo House on the subject of persona in journalism. Ready for a philosophical throwdown or at least a few good jokes, I soon found myself discussing the old-fashioned topic of truth in journalism, in rather old-fashioned ways. It all started when somehow the question came up -- do I ever manufacture quotes? No, but I've been known to tack a couple of sentences together. And not long ago I called and interviewee back and told him I needed a particular quote on THIS, NOW, and struggled with him until he gave it to me. (I did check the quote with him afterward.) This all horrified the proudly ethical Joni Balter , who'd just announced that her first article was about saving wolves in Alaska for her college paper, and who explained in a kindly way that showing the artifice of a condensed quote is what ellipses are for. I felt dirty.

This exchange set the tone for the rest of the chat, which divided down the left-right brain divide between myself and Matos on the one hand and Balter and the down-to-earth Amy Jenniges on the other. (Hugo's Lyall Bush was on the dreamy critics' side, but he remained consummately moderator-ish.) The crowd enjoyed exchanges on subject like interviewing celebrities and protecting yourself from angry readers with fale email addresses, but I only sort of did. I'm happy to debate gradations of propriety, and defend its violation in certain circumstances. But leave that to Judy Miller's defenders, if any remain. What I'd like to talk about on a panel about persona in media is the rapid eradication of interiority (oops sorry five-dollar grad school remnant there) among (um, within?) those of us who inhabit the rapidly expanding media sphere, and in fact, for us all.

I've got some issues about this -- never have written in journals, for example, and think "writing for myself" sounds about as fun as "dieting for myself." I love me some readers. But living from blog to deadline to Breaking Bonaduce at the gym, it's sometimes easy to feel totally scripted. Totally watched by oneself, in hopes of being watched (read: read) by others. I pointed out on the panel that this is also one way of viewing the construct of femininity -- the gender that looks in the mirror, or as John Berger once wrote, "men act, women appear." That comment went nowhere too.

What is on the inside of the individual anymore? What might remain private in community? What ever was? What can't be articulated? Is anyone still grasping for that essence rare? Or was that just a dime-store perfume all along?

Raising such issues on this public forum might just be silly. By the way, thanks to anyone who's posted a comment. As I said before, I love to be read, and it's nice to know somebody's out there on the other end of this non-diary.


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