The part of this I take issue with is the part about complaining about SEO/trollgaze/clickbait/etc. Most of the people making these accusations are people in the online publishing field — people who know exactly what they’re talking about and how prevalent it is. I mean, “trollgaze” was coined by Maura, and I’m fairly sure she knows standards and practices for music blogging.
And yes, it’s usually valid. Recent example: Chris Brown at the Grammys. Any guesses how many media outlets went easy on him out of “objectivity” or “measuredness,” in part or in whole a proxy for not pissing off the Chris Brown stan constituency? It’s not just about tone, either; it’s about what gets written about and how much, which often looks more like a cost-benefit analysis than what people connect with. Yes, that’s how business works. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions. It’s still a valid observation.
This is a misunderstanding of my actual point, which has nothing to do with the realities of SEO optimization as a glorified spam-content creation process (which I will absolutely acknowledge as real and pervasive). But I'm not talking about some vaguely-defined, if probably real, "them." To the extent that SEO leads venues to publish stuff that barely passes the test as "writing," which in my understanding is most of it (see: photo slideshows, listicles, etc.), I don't really care about it much. I can ignore it.
But writers at Village Voice and Popdust and other places sometimes throw the concept of "SEO" around in bad faith of what I see to be things (like songs and artists) far less directly related to literal SEO strategies. This is the problem with the "trollgaze" index -- it basically assumes that every decision in a given song or from a given artist is made with the same cynical eye toward gaming the system that high-functioning spambots (and the people who function as high-functioning spambots) use. Part of my point is that we shouldn't believe that to be true as our default position. And another, probably more important part is that even if that's true it doesn't necessarily tell us much about the thing in question. By assuming "trolling" and calling it a day, the intentions of the creators, however valid, have completely superseded any attempt at meaningful analysis of what's actually going on. It's not that it would be impossible to write something valuable doing that, but that it's a difficult prospect, especially when it's a standard way of writing about certain kinds of music. This was the crux of the "Lana Wars" from my perspective -- very few people, myself included, were actually listening to the music very carefully; rather, they plugged whatever they happened to hear into the framework they'd established before they listened. That this approach usually, but not always, makes for shoddy music criticism isn't too surprising to me. I also happen to think that it makes for shoddy social analysis, shoddy image analysis, shoddy everything -- not on principle, just in practice.
So yes, SEO is a "thing," and it leads to a lot of problematic content online. I'm just saying it's not an excuse for why our writing and ideas are so bad, if and when they're bad. "SEO" isn't in itself the problem -- a more basic and more pervasive problem is that too many writers are creating far more content than they have ideas. This is how I ended up feeling at Tumblr -- I was producing stuff that might as well have been "data" -- I was my own SEO machine, except I wasn't really "optimizing" anything for anyone in particular.
(One specific Tumblr format issue is that, rather than directly respond to someone as in a comment thread, I would often take what they said and republish it for a slightly different but overlapping audience. That allowed me not to engage with specific claims and ideas, but rather take everything as a jumping off point for whatever it is that I wanted to say. And again, this is as much a "me" problem as it is an "environment" problem.)
At least here, or in a comments thread, I can have some semblance of a back and forth in which there's something at stake -- two people either enter and then leave with a new understanding, or at the end at least there can be some understanding of how (if not why) something went wrong. This is exactly what happened during the Rebecca Black comment back-and-forth between Katherine and myself at the Jukebox, which I want to bring up again not to open any old wounds, but as a reminder that this was a genuine conversation, but was never finished.
What's interesting in the context of this post is that what (to me) was the most important divergence point of that back and forth was a point from Katherine that brings me back to the cynicism problem:
It’s my problem with people going and auditioning shittily on purpose just to get them some of that potential finale-show exposure and gag CDs. It’s my problem with producers setting up people who aren’t conventionally attractive, or who aren’t all there, etc., and using them as fodder to mock — and some of them are in on this, some aren’t, but it sucks either way.
My argument, at the time, was that this in no way fairly represented the tactics of Ark Music Factory (from what we can know of their process, which is limited), even if other producers do it (in American Idol auditions, although there we also know that the process of getting an audition is far more understood to be fodder for mockery, which was obviously not true of the extremely-obscure Ark Music Factory prior to "Friday" virality).
And this assumption that AMF must be in any way in conversation with contributing to mockery -- that is, immediately blaming the producers instead of the ones doing the mocking -- is exactly what I'm referring to when I say "operating in bad faith" -- taking the perceived and sometimes real (though not always) immoral behavior of a select group of individuals and assuming comparable behavior from others. That's an incredibly cynical way to view the music world, but in practice such cynicism only holds in specific instances -- that is, it's not a blanket cynicism that would hold for anyone creating music. I don't know how cynical Ark Music Factory may be, but what I can react to is the nasty and seemingly unverifiable claim that a producing duo was knowingly exploiting young women on the off chance that they might be mocked by a mass audience.
That is the attitude I'm referring to, an attitude that, I think, ultimately poisons the well. (At least, that's the poison I'm waving toward in the previous post, re: SEO-blaming.) It exists in the SEO world, sure (if Rebecca Black is being 90% mocked, the spambot assumes it should probably write a mocking post -- why not), but SEO is not responsible for it. It's our fault, us being the ones literally in conversation with one another.