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Jason Kottke, the Modern State of Blogging, and My Own Blogging Mission

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I want Opus to be a source for hope in times like these.

Influential blogger Jason Kottke recently did an interview with Nieman Journalism Lab where he discussed the modern state of blogging. There’s no doubt that blogging has changed in recent years. Used to be, you’d have a list of sites that you’d visit on a regular basis (either via RSS or a plain old link roll), and hopefully you’d find something interesting each time. Initially, blogging was a largely personal endeavor that was often described as “curation” (a term that generated no small amount of derision).

But the rise of big, corporate blogs — Kottke mentions Gawker and Engadget as examples — changed all of that, making blogs more commercial and less individual and personal. However, of anything, social media has had the biggest impact on blogging. As Kottke notes, individual “curation” has shifted from personal blogs to Facebook and Twitter, primarily because those services make it so easy to share links, photos, and posts. (This ease-of-use has its own downsides, though, such as the loss of independence.)

Kottke also discusses the rise of newsletters in his own personal reading habits, which is something I’ve experienced as well. I’m subscribed to several newsletters — e.g., Versioning, NextDraft — and I’ve found them as useful as RSS and social media for finding interesting articles, if not moreso. And finally, he discusses the importance of memberships (as opposed to advertising and Amazon affiliate links) for supporting his site financially.

This is something I’ve toyed with myself. Last year, I added a support page where people can make donations to support the site (i.e., help offset hosting costs) and I’ve had some success there thanks to a few generous souls. I’ve also been investigating other options, such as a Patreon campaign, to help further support the site. I’m under no illusions that I’ll ever be able to run Opus as a full-time job (though that would be a dream come true), but I would like the site to pay for itself and to be able to invest in better infrastructure, promotions, etc.

However, if I’m being completely honest (and vulnerable), thinking about that always leads to self-doubt. I mean, I think that what I’m doing here at Opus (i.e., writing about obscure and underground music and highlighting excellent pop culture) is valuable… but do others think that way, too? Am I being presumptuous, asking people for fork over hard-earned cash to fund this endeavor? And what if I launch a campaign but nobody chips in? Does that mean nobody cares? I’ll keep running Opus in any case, but validation is always nice (especially financial validation).

All of this brings me to my favorite part of Kottke’s interview, where he describes his site’s mission:

I think that it’s been really hard, the last couple of years, to cover anything — I don’t know how to say this in a way that isn’t going to get all weirdly interpreted — it’s been hard to cover anything but things that are serious. Because, you know, a lot of people — I think very rightly — feel that if you’re someone who thinks the world is coming down around all of us, that you should be on a mission to try to fix that. And I think that there are plenty of sites and plenty of media outlets and plenty of people who are oriented in that direction and moving in that direction.

But I don’t think is one of those things. I think that the site is much more about things that are a little bit more — I don’t want to say hopeful, but a lot of it is, like, look at this cool thing. Look at what humans can do when they have enough time and energy and whatnot to do them…

There has to be room in our culture for that type of stuff — that stuff that is inspirational and aspirational — because it provides some sort of hope that we can actually have more of that in our lives, rather than less.

This really resonates with me. While I’ve dabbled in social commentary, I’m much more focused on uncovering some new worthwhile music, an intriguing or enjoyable film, a previously unknown anime title, or some other pop culture artifact that’s beautiful and worth seeking out. Not because I think social commentary or covering “serious” things is meaningless or a waste of time, but because a) we make a mistake when we consider pop culture a disposable commodity with no real import or broader cultural impact, b) being more thoughtful and deliberate about our pop culture consumption is a good thing, and c) promoting beauty and excellence instead of crassness and mediocrity will always be beneficial.

Back in 2011, I wrote an article titled “Finding Common Ground in the Culture Wars” which came to this conclusion:

Perhaps the best way to deal with the vast cultural divide in this nation is to simply talk less about those things that so obviously divide us, and instead, spend more time talking about those seemingly inconsequential things — e.g., movies, music, sports, the cute things our kids did this morning — that are easier to share and hold in common.

I still believe that’s true, even though our cultural divides seem deeper than ever, and many attempt to weaponize pop culture and use it to divide people. (Consider recent false alerts about racially motivated violence at Black Panther screenings.) At the risk of sounding pretentious, I want Opus to be a source for hope in times like these. As Kottke writes, “There has to be room in our culture for… stuff that is inspirational and aspirational — because it provides some sort of hope that we can actually have more of that in our lives, rather than less.”

I have felt the longings for, and stirrings of, beauty and truth — of hope — thanks to the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Zhang Yimou, Wes Anderson, and Terrence Malick; the music of Slowdive, Joy Electric, Jay Tholen, and Cocteau Twins; the books of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Neil Gaiman; the silliness of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Community, Spaced, and Jackie Chan; and even well-designed tech devices and user interfaces.

It may be tempting to dismiss these things as trivial in light of the many significant challenges and concerns we face today. (For instance, as I write this, the nation is still reeling from the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.) What good is My Neighbor Totoro, Souvlaki, or The Curse of Chalion when compared to reckless hate and violence? But I desire to write about such things because I believe they’re more than just mindless entertainment. Rather, they can remind us that a deeper, truer, better existence is possible.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that he had a “haunting instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be guarded.” I feel that haunting instinct, too, when I’m diving into Bandcamp’s listings, scanning through Netflix and Hulu’s upcoming titles, and perusing my library’s shelves, and that instinct is what brings me back to Opus every time, to blog about it once again.

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