Todays post comes from Trail Baboon’s living and loving correspondent, a man who is a bottomless well of wellness, B. Marty Barry.
I was scandalized … SCANDALIZED! … to read this NY Times article about the for-pay book review business. It turns out there are people who will say nice things about books in online reviews without really reading those books!
They do this as part of a financial arrangement to “legitimize” the writer in the eyes of potential readers. This is one of the few places left in the world where journalists can make a little money – inventing the kind of promotional blurbs they used to disdain! Oh how far we have fallen!
Normally I’m all in favor of praise, but I think this is a very dangerous trend for everyone who might venture into the unregulated internet looking for a little validation. And we are all seeking some of that – the sweet nectar of positive comments! As one of the “experts” in the Times article said, “Nearly all human beings have unrealistically positive self-regard.” But it is fragile and needs constant support.
Before long, it won’t be just book reviews. It will be personal remarks of all kinds that are for sale. Such as:
“Clyde is a perceptive man – a genius and a scholar who is under-appreciated by those who could most benefit from his wisdom – the indifferent mob that cannot see greatness when it is in their midst.”
“Barbara may physically be in Robbinsdale, but her intellect knows no bounds and her influence ought to be valued by the famous and the mighty. There is nothing beyond her understanding, and no problem that would not yield to her commonsense analysis.”
I say these things from the heart, but a person with very little writing talent could invent such compliments in minutes, and you the reader would be none the wiser.
I feel personally and professionally threatened by this. As a therapist, I have to help my clients see themselves clearly by guiding them through a discussion of their good qualities and some of their habits that are, quite frankly, rotten. But why would anyone seeking self-knowledge come to me for the brutal truth when they could just as easily go to a professional flatterer for a comfortable lie?
Of course the truth is much more useful than empty praise in the long run, just as brussel sprouts are better for you than potato chips, but guess which has the most shelf space at your local supermarket? And for that matter, how can I even believe the positive things I hear about brussel sprouts? Maybe someone is building them up for a financial reward.
I’m afraid this all may lead to a global outbreak of Midwesterner’s Syndrome – an infectious condition where the brain cannot accept a compliment, but must always, ALWAYS give credence to the most negative available assessment because it feels true.
Imagine it. Lutheran farmers, everywhere.
I’m not feeling very optimistic at the moment. But please don’t try to cheer me. I want to believe you, though I’m pretty sure I can’t.
Can you give us a few kind words for the dust jacket?