Taste, trust and user-generated content

Splendid rant by Simon Jenkins…

Whatever the borderline between amateur and professional, skill and artistry, some things are very difficult to do, and most people will admire and pay those who do them. Every creative talent comes with unseen baggage, directors, designers, stage-setters, publishers, editors and coaches. No art is without effort, and the effort is collective. If the electronic marketplace becomes devoid of copyright, producers will devise ways of protecting and “monetising” their appeal. Pulp fiction still seems to be thriving.

The internet has certainly torn up the media of communication pioneered by Gutenberg and Caxton, Marconi and Reith. The anarchist in me is attracted by the sovereignty of the mob. I like to see the market, the audience, hitting back occasionally – even if it does so from the Tower of Babel. Shakespeare had to contend with his groundlings and La Scala with its claque.

But rulebooks there will always be. The popular scientist EO Wilson explained the cultural genetics that guide our myriad responses to group stimuli. Embedded in our DNA, they govern everything from artistic sensibility to habit, style and forms of pleasure. In matters of taste, these genes demand frameworks of trust, whether the proclaimed intermediary be a priest or a fashion editor.

I trust certain writers, directors, composers, artists, even newspapers, to widen my horizons without revolting me. Between their transmitting and my receiving is a zone of faith. That is why, however worldwide the web, there will never be a “blog-standard” newspaper. I need to trust a news-gatherer to adhere to known standards of veracity and taste, or my own judgment will go haywire. Those with no one to trust are not to be trusted.

There is no substitute for a disciplined, rule-bound, edited news-gatherer any more than there is for a formal theatre, movie-maker or publisher. Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” will not find its apotheosis in the internet. The message transcends the medium and always will. The fact that a reader’s taste can sometimes be shocked shows the power of the trust on which it is normally based.

The backlash against user-generated content gathers pace.