I remember taking the red-eye to Cancun back in 2008 and reading Matt Bai's new (at that time) book The Argument -- an on-the-road account of the 2007 Democratic primary race that partly focused on the role influential bloggers played and the impact of the influence they carried. I had been pretty taken by political blogs at that time with their somewhat-radical forms of writing and the youthful, exuberant energy they brought to my daily reading of current events. It was exciting to know there was a credible movement of new information that was no longer tied to mainstream outlets or major publications -- anyone could start a blog! I was so inspired by the idea that I even considered creating my own. By the time I landed in Cancun, however, I felt differently.
What Matt Bai revealed about political bloggers at that time seems rather obvious now, but was rather disheartening back then. After travelling with them, meeting up with the elite names at conventions, and listening to their conversations with politicians, Bai basically observed that political bloggers were more interested in what their virtual status could get them in the physical world, rather than actually pushing any new ideas forward. They were trend-followers, lacking in the basic foundational tenets of liberal philosophy, who really didn't even care about writing as much as they cared about attention; yet, they were being heralded as bastions of progressive thinking. I'll never forget Bai's interaction with a room full of newbie bloggers where they all run around asking one another if they're "progressive" -- it reminds me of today's "craft" de jour where everyone's telling you what they stand for, but no one actually knows anything about what they're doing.
You can tell right away when people have their own ideas, or if they're just repeating and idealizing what others have done or said. I'll know it within the first few minutes of meeting with a producer -- they either let the booze stand for itself, or they spend the entire time trying to tell me about what it is before I've had the chance to taste it. People work the same way for the most part: the more someone tells you what they're about and exactly who they are, the less likely it's the case. The tragedy of turning a genuine movement into a glorified buzzword, however, is that it takes the legitimacy and integrity out of what certain intuitive minds are doing, and clouds their work in a sea of like-minded, soulless replication. I talked to one distiller recently (whose identity I won't reveal since I haven't cleared this with him) who told me: "I don't ever want to be identified as a craft distiller again. That term lumps the work I'm doing in with a bunch of other guys who are just getting started. It also prevents me from growing my business into something larger and working on projects that are grander in scale because I'm supposedly committed to the idea of being small. I'm beginning to hate that word, actually."
While some distillers are beginning to move away from the term "craft," I'm wondering if those of us who blog about spirits will ever move away from being defined as "bloggers." What I love about whiskey blogs is that they allow for outside interpretation and evaluation of booze. They also provide havens of support for those who want to take the discussion beyond the general and into the specific. What they're in danger of doing, however, is fusing with the basic irritations of social media to the point that their general personality becomes a caricature (as referenced in my own comic strip a while back and by my pal SKU a few days ago). Basically, if there are unspoken rules to blogging and participating in the whiskey online experience, where people blindly mimic what others are doing, then it's just another version of what Bai described with the political scene back in 2007 -- and none of us want to be associated with that, believe me.
I remember the first night I got to do a radio show on the UCSD college network and curate a program with my own music. I brought in a bunch of albums I planned on playing, but the guy running the station said, "Oh, you can't play any of these."
"Why not?" I asked, rather shocked.
"Because it's...like...not what we play here. You can only play indie rock or hip-hop."
"Are you fucking serious?" I asked, with total disdain.
"Yeah, bro. You'll make people mad if you play any of that commercial shit," he replied.
"Because, dude. That's just...like...what we do."
No matter where you go you'll run into people who understand the "rules" and what's considered acceptable in their desired social circle, but not necessarily why this allegiance is required. That type of behavior indicates the death knell of anything cool, organic, or interesting. You can't be independent or creative if you're just doing exactly what everyone else is doing, and you can't move anything forward either. Sometimes I know I'm doing my job well by looking around to see how many people I've angered. In fact, it's only when I piss certain people off that I know I'm still doing decent work on this blog.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: there are no rules to drinking, and, by extension, there are no rules to blogging about drinking. If you're afraid to tell people you like Hennessy, or that you secretly drink Crown Royal when no one's looking, then you might as well join the online party because it's that fear that will eventually sink whiskey blogging. When everyone agrees that there are the same good whiskies, the same bad whiskies, and the same desired attributes that any serious drinker should strive for, then we're all useless.
That's when I'll sign off.