This is another post that will probably make half my readers leave, but fuck it. I've been brooding on this for years and, well, here it is.
There are a lot of great things about the knitting community, both in real life and on line. People are kind, and helpful, and do nice things, and are fun and funny. But if you dare criticize - even nicely - someone's public work (things that are published or otherwise made public, not project pages on Ravelry or blogs or the thing the lady next to you is knitting), someone will pipe up with how you're a meaniemeanieboogerhead and cruel and unworthy and don't fuckin' get it. The hostility seems to be all out of proportion, and infinitely stronger than in other creative groups.
You Knit What? Got run out of business. Basically they quit blogging over there because they were tired of the hate mail. Sure, they were snarky. Sure, they were bitchy. They also pointed out a lot of really truly awful stuff, and were hilarious. Why is snark and bitch so horrible? Really? Every other creative industry has all kinds of review web sites and blogs and magazines and whatall. If you think everything they say is nice, you live in a different universe than I do. Rose-Kim Knits, with her "Thursdays are for What the Fuck is this?" gets a lot of crap, but so far she has hung in there and is soldiering on. Often she doesn't even SAY anything, just posts pictures. And still the hate mail rolls in. Two days ago I got a comment on the VK Holiday 09 review telling me I was a "snarky bitch" and that it's easier for me to "shit on other people's stuff" than to come up with my own designs. Actually, it's not. It takes me four to six hours to write a VK review. I could certainly write up a simple design faster than that. (We can have a race, if you like.) As for 'snark' and 'bitch', well. I've been snarky and bitchy. Quite a lot. But I didn't think that last review was either. I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.
What I don't understand are the beholders.
I do a lot of reviews around here, not just the VK ones. I once said Miami Vice was the dumbest, worst-looking, lamest movie I'd seen in years. No one piped up to ask me how the actors or producer or director would feel if they saw the review. No one told me I was cruel or bitchy or snarky. It was a movie review and I thought the movie sucked. End of discussion. I once reviewed "20,000 Years of Fashion", said it was dry and long-winded and brutal and implied I was insane for reading it. No one told me I would hurt the author's feelings or that I should shut up and write my own book. It was a review and that's what I thought and everyone went "okay" and that was it. I have continually bitched about military medicine for four years, practically foaming at the mouth and chewing the scenery, and I get nothing but sympathy. (Which I appreciate, really.) I call the guy who screwed up our orders at PSD "fuckhead the wonder monkey" and no one asks how his momma would feel if she saw that. I enjoy some disagreement. Life would be so boring otherwise. I once said Shakespeare was a hack, and people checked in to disagree to various levels, and I e-mailed back and forth with Amy Lane for about a week, both of us giving point and counterpoint and really having a good time and agreeing to disagree. Historic Stitcher and I have disagreed regularly on points of history (both textile and other) and e-mail back and forth about it. It's all good.
Yet I review VK and declare a knitting design unflattering or badly written or just dumb looking, and people come out of the woodwork to go berserk. I don't fuckin' get it. The source of rage seems to come from three different directions.
There is the 'who the hell do you think you are?' response. And my answer to that is, I AM THE ONE WHO PAID FOR THE MAGAZINE. The design was published for the whole world to see. I bought a copy. That gives me the right to determine if it sucks or not, and say so. If you don't like people saying the design sucks, don't publish it. I've been knitting over twenty years. I have knit VK designs (and never once met one without an error of some kind in it). I run this blog in part to educate and help less experienced knitters, and if I can save them from the frustration and cost of trying to knit a screwed up or unflattering pattern, I will.
There is the 'what the hell do you know?' response. Well. See above about knitting for over twenty years. One of the reasons I'm so good at spotting bad patterns is because I got burned by VK repeatedly back in the eighties when I learned to knit. And it was VK (and spending hundreds of dollars on yarn to knit one of their patterns, that I was then unable to figure out) that inspired me to research and learn how patterns are written and how knitwear design works. Which then gives me the knowledge to know when said patterns are goofy. I think the phrase for this is 'hoist by your own petard'.
Finally there is the 'you don't know what it's like' response. I can't POSSIBLY understand what it's like to DELIBERATELY put my work out there for the whole world to see. Guess again. I have published articles - more than one - with Knitty. If you think no one does reviews of Knitty, you haven't looked. Every quarter quite a few people do review it. Some of those people are bitchy and snarky, and they review the articles (like the ones I write) as well as the designs. There are blogs out there that have shredded my articles. I have gotten e-mail running from "I disagree" to "you are an ignorant moron" and beyond. I was accused of plagiarism by someone who couldn't define the word if her life depended on it, over an article that I had footnoted. I wrote an article saying Arabic/Muslim people invented knitting. After 9-11. In a world where a lot of irrational people spaz out at the word "Muslim"; I tell you, there are folks out there who are absolutely enraged by the suggestion that their favorite hobby was invented by the people they think are the boogeyman of the modern world. (For the record: I do not think that.) I've never responded to a review of my work; I do reply to polite e-mails, but that's it (that includes disagreeing e-mail, so long as it's rational). No matter how full of shit I think the reviewer is, I don't reply. It's a review. It's their opinion. Arguing with it will just make me look like an idiot.
I've been wondering for years now, what it is about some knitters that makes them so insanely hostile to criticism. Not necessarily designers. Regular old knitters jump in with the 'how dare you?' on stuff they had nothing to do with. It's like there's some cognitive disconnect. A review is mean, so people get mean in response to them? The cure for 'bitchy and snarky' is to attack? It's like jumping into the middle of a feeding frenzy and biting a shark. It hasn't ever made sense to me. Sure, some of my earlier reviews of VK were bitchy and snarky. The last year's worth, or so, have been entirely to help knitters figure out what patterns are flattering or well written, I've left out nearly all the personal opinion, and yet I get more hostility now than when I was just bitching and moaning. I don't suppose hostility is logical, so I should give up on understanding it. But it's really strange to me.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I'm allowed to be mean, and no one else is. I've been bitched out by people who, I admit, had a reason to be mad. I was bitchy, they were bitchy. Tit for tat. What I don't get is the current trend of people being mortally offended by a simple review.
So, long story short, there's a new VK out, and I'm going to go find a copy and review the damn thing. I think I'm going to time myself, and then write a generic pullover pattern, and see how long THAT takes, for comparison. But I'm sure, no matter how polite I am in the review, unless i say I love everything, someone will leave some pissed off (and anonymous, of course) comment.
Still don't get it.