Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Second Note on the LAMMYs

So it wasn’t a surprise to me that this happened. Five or six weeks ago, when it came time for the Large Association of Movie Blogs to host its annual awards, I backed out from participating. I didn’t put myself out in search of nominations and I didn’t complete a nomination ballot. I wanted nothing to do with it. This comes from a number of places both internal and external. I’m not a fan of unbridled competition, even for what is essentially a popularity award. I react badly to competition. All I ever ask for is a level playing field, and the field is never level. It results in hurt feelings and people getting upset.

I’ve spent the last half hour or so writing down what happened, but I’ve gotten rid of all that text. It’s not important in the specific, save to say that in several places, people have gotten their feelings hurt by either unclear nomination criteria or a joke that didn’t work as well as it should have. You can track the progress at several other places on the internet. Rather than rehash it, I’ve decided I can curb my apparent unquenchable desire to chronicle things just this once.

Anyway, as often happens with such things, what I feared came to pass and a lot of people are unaccountably upset by things. This is normally where I say something like, “I told you so.”

The inevitable crush of hurt feelings, though, is one reason I pulled myself out of contention at the start. I felt it was in my own best interests to distance myself from it. Another is that it conflicts with the reasons I blog in the first place. I don’t do this for acclaim. I do this more or less as a way to chronicle (there’s that word again) the journey I’m on. It’s for me. The fact that I’m getting multiple thousands of page views per month and comments on most posts is gratifying, but I was doing this for months when I got maybe 15 views a day, too. I still write this for myself more than anyone else. Stumping for other people to hand me a virtual trophy changes my intent and my purpose, and I didn’t want that.

Years ago, my first teaching job was at a self-defense/martial arts school. I liked it. I learned a lot about myself and learned a lot about self-control and self-discipline. One of my teachers there was big on martial arts competition and pushed as many of his students to compete as possible. He used to brag that he could get anyone to compete, which would make me his first failure in that realm. I didn’t compete. I never competed. I worked my ass off to learn the jo stick form and I near killed myself to master a particular move in our escrima form because I wanted to learn them. There was value in the knowledge of it, not because it would help me win a trophy. At the risk of sounding New Age here, my competition was daily and with myself to be better than I was the day before. It meant nothing to me to be better or worse at it than the guy standing next to me.

And really, I’m generally not better at it than the guy standing next to me. This is the largest of the reasons I backed out at the start. Of the 15 awards listed, I’d have liked a nomination for Best Podcast, because I’d have liked that for Nick. I think I qualify only for one of the other 14, and it’s one that should be eliminated anyway—Most Prolific. My reasoning for that is that there is an objective winner. There is someone who is more prolific than everyone else by some objective measure—most posts, most words posted—whatever. It’s like awarding “biggest land animal” to the rhino because elephants didn’t campaign hard enough. All of the other awards, popularity contest or not, are at least completely subjective. And in those subjective categories, I can easily and happily name multiple people who deserve a hell of a lot more praise and acclaim than I do. And equally important, many of those people will find that praise and acclaim far more meaningful than I would. I’m not trying to sound like an ass here despite how it comes out. It’s simply that my motivations are different. Not better, just different.

Anyway, it’s taken me close to 800 words to get to what needs to be said about all of this, the reason for this particular screed. I started blogging as a way to record my own personal growth on this front. I wanted a record of where I started and my first fumblings as a movie critic/reviewer and to see where I got by the end. I’ve taken on a number of projects in the meantime, expanded the scope of the blog recently, and gotten involved in things I couldn’t have predicted three years ago. I started podcasting. I’ve taken on a monthly feature at the Large Association of Movie Blogs. I did these things with a purpose in mind.

It wasn’t, despite what you might think, to figure out a way to make a living off this writing. I didn’t do it to create a fanbase or an army of sycophants. I did it to increase my exposure in the blogging community, yes, but for a specific reason. I like talking about movies with knowledgeable people. The more people who come here and comment, the more people I get to talk to about something I love. That’s the entire point of almost everything I do related to but outside the scope of this blog. I do it in the hope of bringing people here to start up a discussion. Agree with me, disagree with me, whatever. I just want to be a part of the dialogue, to hear what you have to say, to exchange opinions and thoughts on films, and hopefully enrich us all in some way. What I don’t want is to appear like some all-knowing guru on high doling out pearls of wisdom to the benighted masses.

The recent upheaval with the LAMMYs, though, is making me re-evaluate this. I have particular commitments that I will uphold, but I think this is evidence that I need to refocus myself and this blog in ways that are more beneficial to me personally and that are more in tune with my original goals. Things have gotten out of hand because too many people want to be the focus of the discussion rather than merely a part of it. There’s too much ego and too much of the sense of needing validation and not enough of the pure fucking joy of watching movies, writing about them, talking about them, and even respectfully disagreeing about them. It’s become, or started to become, a pantheon of personality where each person who is involved in the greater community has a specific persona that must be addressed. There are petty feuds and personality cults and constant dealings with egotism (and at times I suspect ergotism).

There’s no way around that. However, I can happily fill the role of the one person in the pantheon who gives up a place in it. Hestia did it; I can, too. There’s an old saying that if you aren’t a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. There’s a third option—I choose to remove myself from the situation entire. I can deal with politics and hurt feelings and infighting. I can also choose not to and to ignore all of it. It doesn’t improve my life to be a part of it.

This isn’t some pronouncement of superiority, by the way. I’m not proving myself a bigger, better, or wiser person by stepping back from this. I’m proving myself to be far more uncaring, unconcerned, and/or lazy. I’ll leave it to people who are more invested, care more, or want to act like adults far more than I do to sort out the mess. Dealing with it just makes me sad and tired. It’s entirely possible that the greater amateur movie blogging community will learn something from this and we’ll all benefit. It’s more likely that a patch will be slapped on and in a few months or a few years the pressure will build up again until it springs a leak, dousing everyone in the area with boiling water anew. In either case, I’m better off simply standing out of range. I garner less benefit of being a member of the community that way, but also risk far less mental and emotional damage.

There are comments about there being a lot of cliquishness involved in all of this. That may be true, and in fact is almost certainly true. Many of the people who come to this site and read what I have to say even once in a while come here because they've heard The Demented Podcast or the LAMBcast or they read Foreign Chops. Does that make me a part of the clique? I didn't ask to be. I just wanted people to talk with about movies.

In other words, most of us have behaved deplorably. There’s a lot of talk about being embarrassed to be a part of the Large Association of Movie Blogs, or being embarrassed about what has happened. We should be embarrassed—all of us should be. We’ve all let what should be a self-congratulatory party become a whining fest because not everyone gets a trophy. We're so far up our own asses that we’re ready to take everything as a slight. We’re ready to let old feuds boil out and what we’d shrug at from one person we’ll announce through a loudspeaker about someone else. I’m as guilty as everyone else on this. And yeah, I am embarrassed, but not to be a part of one group or another or one side or another. I’m embarrassed at my own behavior in this and my own inability to stop myself from getting caught up in it. I’m not any smarter than anyone else; I’m just one of the first to realize that I’ve acted stupidly and would like to move on from it.

I’m just one voice, and new voices appear daily. Some of those voices are worth listening to. My voice will still be around, but increasingly, it will be here and here alone, and in the grand scheme, not much will change. After all, nothing ever really does.

The sad truth is that the people I think really need to read this will not because they don’t come to my end of the movie blogging kiddie pool. The people who do get it and probably don’t need to read this are the ones who show up here anyway.

See you tomorrow.

21 comments:

  1. Yep...awards are stupid. They bring out the worst in most people (both winners and losers).

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  2. I gotta say - I'm questioning your motivations with this post, particularly since you made a point to tag a number of friends on Facebook with it. There's absolutely a lot of truth in here about a lot of things (I don't agree with everything, mind you, but much), but there's something extremely contradictory about saying "I don't care about X" whilst writing a 1,000 word essay on X; to say I'm not going to be a part of the community while tagging several members of the community. The existence is at odds with our viewpoint.

    Just my perspective. Let's just say I'd be a lot more interested in hearing what's wrong with X or Y if the person wasn't shouting at me the entire time that they don't care about X and Y.

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    1. *with your viewpoint, that is.

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    2. I think that's a fair criticism. I tagged all of you more or less as a way to have this conversation all at once. It's unfair to simply back away and disappear.

      I don't care much for the LAMMYs, but I do care about film, and about a lot of the people in this community. The LAMMYs aren't worth 1000 words. The people are.

      And the bulk of this isn't about the LAMMYs but about what has happened because of them. While the one passes over me without much notice, it does genuinely affect me when friends get beaten up over things or are called out for things. I am allowed to care about the impact of what has happened, since that does affect me. I'm also allowed to explain where I've gotten to. That I tagged half a dozen or so people on Facebook was to get this conversation out and to move on.

      I didn't post this on the LAMB forums, but could have. I did this here instead, because I admit this is an entirely selfish rant.

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  3. I left my comment this morning, and have since moved on.

    I'm humbled by the nominations, and truly don't care what happens now. But this has gotten out of hand.

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  4. Completely agree with you, Steve. The community has lost its kindness and drive among petty arguments, feuds that are not even related to the community, and egos. (I'm not blameless in this either). Thanks for writing this. I think a lot of people have been thinking the same thing, and have been too afraid to say it.

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  5. I must be completely out of the loop: I never understood the ways to nominate (or self nominate) and voting, so I guess wasn't a part of it at all. All I have to say is that despite the "petty arguments" that have happened on twitter or Facebook, it has all been in good spirits and fun, I have been called on my incongruence when it comes to taste levels, and have had incredible conversations on my (and others') podcasts that I can't have even with my IRL film loving friends.
    There might be pettiness and egos in this group, but that's not a function of competition; it's a fact of any large group of passionate and creative people.

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    1. True. It just makes me tired.

      I've been told before that I have unreasonably high expectations of myself and others. This is more evidence of same.

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  6. Steve, it's unfortunate that things have gotten to this point. I understand your reasoning, especially given how things have gone lately. This is my first experience with the Lammys, so it's been interesting. I liked the idea of having videos announcing the winners, and there have been some positive aspects to it. I've also discovered some great blogs that I didn't know about through it.

    I think we have similar feelings about how we view our blogs. I started mine just figuring friends and family would read it (most don't), but it was a good way to push me to watch films I'd been meaning to see for a while. When I discovered the LAMB and met a lot of cool film lovers along the way, that was a bonus I never expected.

    That said, I did create a silly poster and put my blog up for the Lammys. I figured it would be fun and never looked at it like a serious competition. Even with some of the chatter, I still look at it that way. I'm actually a pretty competitive person, particularly when I play tennis. But the blog is different. The primary focus is seeing movies and writing about them, and getting to go on podcasts and talk with others who share my interests is an awesome bonus.

    I planned to stay out of the whole thing, but like you say, it's tough when it gets personal. Regardless of your plans to step back, I'll still be a regular visitor and commenter on your site. I do hope you'll continue doing the Demented Podcast, which is one of my favorites.

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    1. DemPod will continue. With Nick's plans for next year, we've planned a hiatus after this season anyway, which is probably good for both of us, and I'm committed to Foreign Chops through this calendar year at the least.

      I, though, try to avoid competition. I don't like who I am in those situations.

      It's worth noting that I've had a long and respectful conversation with Ryan McNeil about this. Most of this can be worked out if everyone is willing to take the time to do it, but most of the time, we aren't. We jump very quickly to the wrong conclusions and stay there, damn the cost, and we're all guilty of it in one degree or another.

      We're too quick to get indignant rather than look for intent.

      The last 24 hours have been instructive in a lot of ways, and I mean that positively.

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  7. C'mon Steve, deep down, there is so much good to come out of all of this.

    I seriously don't think its all bad and all the personal-slights people have made is only because its the internet and people can be that little bit more offensive. We should (a)take it with a pinch of salt and (b) consider the deeper, constructive element to what is being said.

    I said it on the forums and I'll say it again - all of this passion is because people do care. It'd be so much more depressing if no one commented or cared despite holding contrary opinions. EVERY blogger I know is through the LAMB. I don't write for Lammys (Check the history... has my blog ever been a nominee??) but its a time when everyone does become more vocal and people get involved who wouldn't normally. This is a good thing and I'd like to think that Joel and anyone invested in the LAMB is wading through all the discourse and consider the bigger questions about the purpose of blogging - the purpose of community, LAMBS and cinema.

    If it was just about watching films why write a blog? People write blogs, i believe, for community. For the discussion. This is the discussion - like it or not, as long as people don't bail on the LAMB and don't take anything too personally (nobody is attacking families, or criticising anyones livlihood - none of us get paid for film-writing...), it should be constructive.

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    1. It should be, and I hope it is. We can get something constructive out of this, even if its simply a direction for the LAMB to move in or a goal for which to shoot. That would be a worthwhile result of this. Whether that means expanding the site in some way, or taking it back to code and reforming it in some way, I don't know. But something good can come from this.

      I'm in this discussion not for the awards, but because I genuinely care about a lot of the people in this community.

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  8. I can see where you're coming from but I wonder what happened. LAMB members seem to be friendly. Is there any particular case that made you write this post?

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  9. http://thelambforums.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=lamb&action=display&thread=1029&page=1

    This is as good a place to start as any.

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  10. I feel as if I should say something but right now I just feel drained. Like you I feel as if I want to take cover in my own blog. Where the air is fresh to breath, where I can stick to what gives me pleasure: to write about movies and all that comes with them. That's where it began. That's where I keep coming back to. LAMB is a nice addition, but nothing more than that. Sometimes when you swim around too long in a little pool you lose all proportions and start to imagine it's the world. In a months time we'll barely remember what people were so upset about.

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    1. That's where I am. The good news from all of this is that a lot of the animosity has been lanced. I've got some hope that there will be something to come from this. But I'm with you--it makes me tired more than anything.

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  11. I'm guessing there's been all kinds of uproar in places where I don't go (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that you are referring to because this is all news to me. It sounds just as well that I didn't run into any of it.

    This was my first year with the Lammy's, so I did do nominations. None of the blogs I nominated made the final ballot, so I didn't bother to vote because I didn't agree any of those choices were the best. I don't know at the moment if I will bother to do nominations next year.

    An indication of how much the winners did or did not matter to me can best be given by the fact that I couldn't be bothered to watch a minute and a half video to find out the winner if they couldn't be bothered to take a couple seconds and write the winner in the post that held the video.

    I had noticed that less than 100 people had participated at one point, which was far less than 10% of the total membership. Perhaps I know why now.

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  12. "I couldn't be bothered to watch a minute and a half video" - I think that says enough right there.

    Putting the winner's name in the post would kinda kill the purpose behind the video, would it not? I'm sure a full list will be up once the ceremony is complete.

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    1. "Putting the winner's name in the post would kinda kill the purpose behind the video, would it not?"

      Exactly.

      Perhaps I am just being a grump, but my feeling is people (in general, not just LAMBs) are a little too satisfied with doing videos/podcasts/tweets/etc. instead of writing a well-composed piece of text.

      The few of these things that I have watched/listened to over the past year almost invariably ended up with the people in them trying to be entertainers instead of communicators and their key points usually got obscured or even lost. At this point I almost never bother with videos/podcasts unless the topic is very interesting to me.

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    2. I think that's fair.

      The LAMB had text-driven announcements in the past, but Joel wanted to try the video thing this year. I'm sure they're not for everyone, but I think the people that have made them had fun and I think most of the people watching them are digging them, too. As I said, I'm sure there will be a full list when it's all wrapped-up.

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