To Everything (Comintern! Comintern! Comintern!)

Breakthrough: An Amateur Photo Revolution
Photo by Steve Rhodes — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Even if you are not a professional singer, you have my permission and encouragement to go ahead and sing along with The Byrds — I swear it’s not too late. There are others, though, that are warning against the voices of amateurs, and these pros are making good money off of their fear factories.

As covered in Festival News (Amateur Culture Unite), the latest entry in the who-is-authorized-to-create-as-an-authority debate, is the distinguished Andrew Keen with his book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. Andrew is no slouch on the tech and culture scenes: he has helped to create companies and opportunities in both spheres.

If you doubt Andrew’s credentials, though, he is more than happy to provide his bona fides. As he writes in his own online bio:

Andrew’s erudition, his entrepreneurial experience, and his writing and public speaking skills have established his voice today as both the most controversial and incisive in Silicon Valley.

As the self-defined “most incisive” voice, Keen’s new book warns of a world wide web that perpetuates mediocrity precisely because the web is inclusive in offering a platform for the vox populi. If amateurs replicate the professionals our culture will be brought down to the lowest common denominator — something the professional media would surely never let happen. (Thankfully, Keen’s own publisher, Doubleday, only sells books that enhance and purify our culture. Where would we be without their latest publication, The Diana Chronicles?)

The issue of amateur v. authority (i.e. professional) is really about two very different fields of inquiry and communication via the web: journalism and the arts.

The most virulent in warning of the dangers of an open space are journalists who tout the vetting process available via paid employment, editors, and publishers. Most people I know who use blogs and feeds for news have not abandoned traditional news sources at all. Rather, readers have expanded the depth and breadth of coverage of the world with access to stories from on the ground. Global Voices is a perfect example of how amateurs can enlighten and inspire readers — and even do the same for professional journalists.

Surely, in this day and age, no one can doubt that professional journalism has its limitations, either due to lack of resources, or due to ownership structures, whether private (to maximize profit) or governmental (to minimize opposition).

(Even big book publishers can get facts wrong. Take a look at Lawrence Lessig’s catalogue of mistakes in Keen’s book.)

In the arts, the culture-is-collapsing worriers are missing the point about platforms for posting and sharing by all of those amateurs. Making tools and technologies available to the masses to replicate or imitate the professionals enhances the interest, support, purchase, and development of the professional arts.

Think about the still camera becoming readily available, and the growth of photographic art’s appreciation and sales. Think about families making all those home movies, and Hollywood’s continued growth as well as the development of independent movie making. Think about how playing an instrument increases the enjoyment and admiration of a professional musician’s work.

The last thing the arts need is to have a Comintern of professionals dictating who can make art, and how to make it. If professional art imitates life, what’s so bad about amateur life occasionally imitating art?

- Bill Reichblum

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