Sometimes we get a bad press, us bloggers. Just this week the queen of shock-pop, Lady Gaga, slammed the apparently homogenous group known as 'bloggers' after her latest unreleased single found its way into the hands of the public via the internet. Sure, she wasn't blaming our little group of keyboard-tappers for the leak itself. And what I think she meant was "one particular blogger who has been totally loathsome to many people over the years". But she joined a long list of journalists, writers, artists, reviewers and many others who have spoken out to renounce and diminish the value and skill of those who produce written and visual material on the web, self-publishing thoughts, new concepts, and a multitude of viewpoints and personal experiences.
"What do bloggers know? They're just amateurs. Pah! They're just wannabe commentators and writers."
"Bloggers are self-absorbed narcissists who think everything they say is of great importance. They're deluded."
"Any idiot with a laptop can publicly comment on things they know nothing about these days."
"Blogging is for socially inept losers and computer geeks with no friends."
These criticisms have been around as long as the practice of blogging, and are probably familiar to most of us. But, et tu, Gaga?
Via a series of tweets, Lady Gaga trashed bloggers as a single body, stating that they were invalid critics of her latest leaked musical oeuvre, unlike fans and music scholars who were apparently free to say what they like about her work. She was cross. She'd worked hard to produce new music and to build up anticipation around its release, and someone had ruined that moment for her and her fans. One particular blogger had been unspeakably vile about her, making hideous personal attacks over a sustained period of time. Whilst the leak must be hugely frustrating for any artist, the vitriol of a single blogger (and I'm rather loath to refer to this person as that as he operates on such a different level from the average blogger) must be even more horrible. But Gaga's annoyed outburst contained a surprisingly discriminatory comment from one who professes to speak for all the 'freaks' of the world, the misfits, the marginalised, those struggling to find a voice. Her battle-cry is that everyone in the world is important and, however weird and unique you feel, you have as much right as the next person to be yourself and express who you are and what you believe. But this championing of underdogs and individualism does not extend to bloggers apparently. We - a group of people well-used to being dismissed and marginalised by mainstream media and technology players, and politicians and celebrities alike - are tarred by a single celebrity-gossip-monger-'blogger'-shaped brush.
Today, the line between bloggers and experts in particular area is a narrow one. Blogging is not just for angry individuals with an axe to grind, or loners who struggle with face-to-face social interaction. There are intelligent, well-informed, funny and insightful people all over the world producing wonderful, carefully-crafted articles and stories, and who are not afraid to define themselves as 'bloggers'. Of course, this is not to claim that every single person who calls him- or herself a blogger is contributing in a significantly positive and valuable way to the sum of human knowledge. For every wise and witty post published there are hundreds of pieces of excruciatingly-penned prose on which member of One Direction is the hottest, or vile diatribes assassinating the character of a particular politician (or pop star), or lengthy posts about the precise shade of cerise nail vanish one girl living in the middle of Nowhere, Missouri, bought last week and just "OMG LOVES!!!!". And that's ok. But the dismissal of bloggers as geeky irrelevant losers is short-sighted and silly at best and dangerous at worst. People have underestimated bloggers in the past, and then been surprised by the clout which many of them can bring to a debate; I'm thinking here of the heavy-weight political bloggers like Guido Fawkes, for example. Individual bloggers have had serious impacts in the fields of politics, journalism, fashion, and technology. Some bloggers make their living (and a good one at that) from their sites - what once began as a hobby or a side-line can become a lucrative business. Let us not forget that the Huffington Post began life as a blog.
But most bloggers are fundamentally Good People. Bloggers are, generally, kind and friendly. They help one another out, providing support in the face of trolls, hosting failures and coding dramas. They're there on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the comments box at the foot of your latest post, in your inbox. You meet another blogger in real life - one whose own blog you read and who reads yours - and it will stagger you how long you can chat to this stranger and how much you have to discuss, even if your chosen subject matter is entirely different to theirs. Bloggers are brave. Each time they hit the 'Publish' button they put a tiny bit of themselves out there for others to see, read, comment on and judge. They hope their shared experiences can mean something to someone, even if it's just one person. When someone misconstrues what they write, or responds with vile malice or spite, the blogger reads every word, recoils, breathes, and maybe makes judicious use of the 'Delete' button. But their skin gets a little thicker, and they keep on going. They practice their craft. Most bloggers work away at their blog with a commitment and dedication that is staggering if you break it down; particularly when you consider that for many, maintaining a blog is a hobby for evenings and weekends not a full-time job. Thousands of words a week, hundreds of pictures a year, dozens of comments all painstakingly replied to. And on the whole they aren't doing it for money or material reward; just the feeling that someone out there is receiving their message. That they are communicating. Maybe they need to do this to feel they're helping others, maybe they simply need to do it to process what is happening around them, and to make sense of the world.
"I live for the applause, applause, applause." sings the artist, Lady Gaga, in the cause of all this aggro; her finally-released latest single. Well, the average blogger doesn't. Most of us don't blog for praise or glory, and we sure as hell don't do it for the money, because usually there isn't any. Bloggers do what they do alongside other jobs, commitments and lives, simply because they want to speak out and share ideas with one another. They are driven by a desire to create and contribute something in this enormous, weird world in which they live. They do it because they care - about something, anything. And if that isn't the practice of art, I don't know what is.
I may not have a multi-million dollar music empire, or a wardrobe which rivals Liberace's in its extraordinary opulence, but I have this tiny web-linked corner of the internet, and a whole bunch of other writers, photographers, poets, designers and people who, godammit, just really love cat gifs, behind me. You can keep your 'Little Monsters', Lady Gaga, and I'll stay with my very own wonderful freaks over here. You create your music, and we'll create our blogposts. And when we cross paths we'll just tip our creative hats at one another and smile, and respect each other's right to express our own opinions, and to care deeply about what we each care about. Because that's how the vast majority of us bloggers roll.