Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

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WORST BLOG POST EVER

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I’m coming late to the debate ignited by this excellent post on Jim Carroll’s blog (which was itself partially inspired by this commendably honest piece Johnnie Craig posted back in April.) The question being argued, basically, is whether Irish bands get soft treatment at the hands of Irish music critics. The answer, as any honest critic will tell you, is that of course they do. To argue otherwise would be utterly disingenuous. Just to be clear though, if I do go easier on a band from Wicklow than I would on a band from Wichita, it’s not because I’m afraid of running into their drummer in Whelan’s. Most musicians I know are self-absorbed, egotistical and locked in a perpetual adolescence. It wouldn’t trouble me in the slightest if they hated my guts.

Ireland, however, is a very small country. To hold domestic bands to the same standard as international bands would be akin to holding Pat Kenny to the same standard as David Letterman, or Shamrock Rovers to the same standard as Real Madrid. It’s not workable or realistic.

When I’m doing the singles reviews for The Ticket, if I have to weigh the merits of an above average single (by their standards) from Ham Sandwich, against a below average single (by his standards) from Kanye West, I’ll probably give the former four stars out of five, and the latter three.

Does that mean that I consider Ham Sandwich superior recording artists to Kanye West? No, of course it doesn’t. Is rating them in this fashion, therefore, technically misleading? Yes, it probably is. But am I troubled by that? No, I can’t say that I am. (And let’s be honest, I doubt Kanye is losing much sleep over either either.) That the out-of-five-stars system is an imperfect method for rating music is so transparently obvious as not to require stating. Most readers, I would assume, are intelligent enough to understand this for themselves.

Where I would disagree with Jim, however, is in faulting musicians for being thin-skinned. Even if our criticisms are watered down to almost homeopathic levels, musicians are still entitled to feel hurt by them. A musician is one of the very few people in society (the only others I can think of are footballer and politician) upon whom just about everybody considers themselves qualified to sit in judgement. That’s not to say that music criticism isn’t valid – far from it. It’s simply to say that I understand why musicians resent it.

As a journalist, I know I’d get pretty crabby if someone took a pot shot at an article I’d spent an afternoon writing. I imagine, therefore, that if someone from another profession pilloried something I’d spent eight or nine months slaving over, I’d be more than a little bit pissed off. Imagine if someone who had no idea how to string two words together, let alone how to grind out a living as a freelance journalist, were to offer a running public commentary on my work. (“Funny”, “Not funny”, “Bullshit”, “Boring”, “Not as good as his last article” etc.) I’d get fairly pissed off fairly quickly.

But as a journalist and blogger, I don’t have to worry about that. We consider it completely beyond the pale to submit our own peers to anything like the same level of scrutiny we hold musicians, let alone politicians. Think about it. When was the last time you heard one blogger openly criticising another blogger? I don’t mean respectfully disagreeing on a given point – I mean criticising the overall quality of another’s work? It simply never happens.

Twenty Major, for example, has had two books published and has taken home the top prize at the Irish Blog Awards the last 157 times in a row (or thereabouts). His blog is massively popular. But when have you ever heard another blogger point out the glaringly obvious truth that his blog is also nasty, vulgar, puerile and reactionary. It caters exclusively to the lowest common denominator and (most unforgivably of all) is almost always woefully unfunny. I don’t mean to single the guy out. But if Aslan had won 157 consecutive Best Irish Band Awards the IRMAs, it would at least have provoked comment.

Many bloggers will acknowledge this anomaly privately. But when was the last time you heard anyone admit as much publicly? As I said, it simply never happens. Yet at the same time, we bloggers consider it a quasi-sacred duty to point out if, say, Super Extra Bonus Party’s new album was not as good as their last one, or if Fight Like Apes latest single sounds a bit like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

My point, I suppose, is not that bloggers should be more sensitive to musicians’ feelings. I think we’re plenty sensitive as it is. But if criticism is constructive and healthy, which I think it is, we shouldn’t be offended to find ourselves on the receiving end from time to time. (Also, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad and the farmer and the cowman should be friends…)

That is all.

July 31st, 2009.

24 Responses to “WORST BLOG POST EVER”

  1. 1st Says:

    Shite article, wish you’ld return to your Slate roots.

  2. Paul Says:

    Never looked at this Twenty Major you speak of. Yeah, not funny, not able to use the English language properly either (“their” used meaning “there”? Tsk tsk).

  3. Paul Says:

    (When I say “never looked at” above, of course, I should have added “until you kindly brought him to my attention”. I thank you).

  4. El Kid Says:

    I agree with Twenty Major. Back to your Slate roof, Butler… or something like that.

  5. Eddie Says:

    Re: the farmer and the cowman

    The problem there is that one of them likes to push a plough, while the other likes to chase a cow…

    You see the problem?

  6. Eoin Says:

    @ Eddie – that’s no reason why they can’t friends

  7. Jenny Says:

    I’m missing something here.Why are you talking about farmers????

  8. Seán Says:

    Fair compromise: from now on you rate singles out of ten, with Kanye and Ham Sandwich both getting a seven each. Seven’s a good noncommittal number to use to avoid future bustups like these.

  9. massey Says:

    Hehe, the Justice for Kanye campaign starts here.

  10. ChrisNoise Says:

    I think this is one of the best responses to the whole affair. I nearly left a comment on ‘on the record’ but I knew I’d get sucked into a internet argument which is the most pointless argument of all. I hope that doesn’t happen here.

    I’d take the stance that if you want to dish it out you have to be able to take it. It doesn’t mean you can’t say something is bad, just that you should consider how you word it.

  11. El Kid Says:

    FREE KANYE!!!

  12. Kanye Says:

    I like fishsticks. Does this make me a gay fish?? I think so!

  13. Eoin Says:

    @ ChrisNoise – for “pointless argument” read “Kanye West joke free-for-all”

  14. 1st Says:

    Kanye Best, methinks.

  15. Patsey from Ballyfermot Says:

    “As a journalist, I know I’d get pretty crabby if someone took a pot shot at an article I’d spent an afternoon writing…..But as a journalist and blogger, I don’t have to worry about that”

    Ah but yes, you do Eoin. If your pieces don’t get enough reaction from readers or from your editors, you won’t be commissioned again. And you can tell by your traffic stats and number of comments, how a blog post is going down.

    That “On The Record” post got over 100 comments – your man is doing his job as always of stirring people up and getting a reaction. All journalists and bloggers would like to do likewise

  16. Eoin Says:

    Patsey,

    I have superiors whose job it is to make sure that I do my job correctly. So does everyone currently in employment.

    What I don’t have to worry about, however, is having my shortcomings publicly picked over by a critic who may or may not know what they’re talking about.

    On the other hand, I don’t have women throwing their knickers at me while I’m tapping away at the laptop here, so its swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

  17. ChrisNoise Says:

    Maybe they don’t have your address? Maybe then you would be inundated with ladies undergarments.

  18. Eoin Says:

    Fair enough Chris, hysterical female fans may send their knickers to the Eoin Butler for Mayoman of the Year Steering Committee, P.O. Box 281, Dublin 7.

  19. Fiona Says:

    Gah! The elephant in the room is out and rampaging round the blogosphere! Good points raised, though I would contend (naturally) with this bit: But as a journalist and blogger, I don’t have to worry about that. We consider it completely beyond the pale to submit our own peers to anything like the same level of scrutiny we hold musicians, let alone politicians.” I would say that as a journalist, you put stuff out there for criticism all the time. Once it’s in the public domain, it’s up for grabs, and I often get comments from non-journos telling me just what they think of what I’ve just written. Which I think is fair game. It’s what I do. Er, that is all.

  20. Eoin Says:

    @ Fiona – That’s true of course, but neither of us has to contend with a cottage industry of commentators (who may or may not know what they’re talking about) publicly marking us out of five on everything we write.

    I got a taste of what musicians have to contend with when Mongrel magazine, which I worked on, closed down. Jim did a blog post about it:

    http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/ontherecord/2008/03/04/closing-the-book-on-mongrel-opening-the-chapter-on-state/

    What amazed me were some of the comments from people who clearly had no idea, or only the vaguest idea, of what the magazine had been about, but who nonetheless felt qualified to pass judgement on it. One guy said he disliked the magazine because all it did was make fun of chavs and run photographs of Traveller weddings. We’d never once done anything of the sort.

    How do you argue with that?

    I wasn’t pissed off about it or anything – far from it – because the vast majority of the comments were positive (or were from people who genuinely didn’t care for the magazine.)

    But it did give me pause for thought. It did make me question how many times I myself, either in public or even in print, had enunciated on a topic I actually didn’t know that much about. My suspicion is that we all do it far more often than we should.

  21. El Kid Says:

    What I hate most about this blog Butler is the incessant racism and misogny. Cut it out, dude.

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