The Phenomenon of Bad Writing

Today we have a guest post from my friend Ellen, who has been a good friend of mine for the past five-plus years or so – the same period of time that I’ve known Ariel. Weirdly enough, when I move to New York at the end of this week, it will be the first time during our entire friendship where we actually live in the same place (although New York is fucking huge, so this is sort of up for debate). The last time we met up was a few weeks ago when I was staying at her place for a job interview, where – for some reason – we began an inside joke of dismissing mildly upsetting things with “Well, we’ll never be royals!”. Which somehow inspired Ellen to write this rant about Lorde. It’s not in the comedy vein that we typically do here, but we are fans of a good rant about poorly written things.

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I’ve written two guest posts for Matthew and Ariel, both of which were humorous and intended to ridicule the terrible writing on which this blog feeds. In this post, however, I’d actually like to discuss how bad writing is affecting the world of good writing. I will preface my opinion here with a disclaimer: I do not claim to be the most cultured of readers. My favorite author is Margaret Atwood, not Jane Austen. Though I know Kurt Vonnegut’s cousin’s granddaughter, I don’t claim to have read all of his work. Unlike one particularly well-versed friend of mine, I can’t compare great authors verbatim or recite passages or poetry. I can, however, judge the quality of writing in a piece, and I think that I am not alone in saying that the average quality of writing has declined tremendously since those books that we call “The Classics.” (This is not to say that some modern-day writers are not producing enthralling and well-constructed reads. Rather, it seems that the quantity of authors has increased so exponentially that many crappy pieces are finding places in our bookshelves.) This decline in quality of work is not only detrimental to the readers of the world; it is also unquestionably damaging to those people who write.

Let’s examine Stephenie Meyer. A middle-aged woman publishes a bad book about vampires which becomes an international phenomenon. She writes three more books to round out her series, watches all four of her books become movies, and now has certainly retired on a mound of cash (I don’t keep up with her like I do the Kardashians, so I can’t say for certain). To a large number of people in the world, she is regarded with spite, but to those who enjoy the Twilight series, she is revered as a superhuman: she brought millions of fantasies to life, and even spawned a spin-off terrible author in E.L. James.

At this point, I need to draw a comparison to the music industry, so let’s look at Selena Gomez. A child star and talented actress (I really do think so), she decided to pursue a music career and has released several albums of dance tunes. She has a decent voice, but on the whole, the world regards her as a terrible singer. Much like Stephenie Meyer produced bad books, Selena Gomez has, in the public eye, released bad albums. Despite her music leaving a bad taste in many mouths, however, a fair number of tweens and college-aged students think Selena Gomez is a star (at the very least, they like dancing to her music).

Now enter a talented songwriter.  At only 16, New Zealender Lorde has created a chart-topping hit (“Royals”) with resonating lyrics and a mellow beat. She has a unique and soulful voice, undeniable talent, and is receiving critical and popular acclaim. Rather than using this acclaim to promote her music, however, she’s using it to tear down other (read: bad) songwriters. Several weeks ago, Lorde attacked Selena Gomez for not being “feminist,” claiming that Selena’s song “Come and Get It” objectifies women. My opinion of “Come and Get It” notwithstanding (though, for the record, I like the song and find it to be empowering rather than belittling), I am appalled at what bad writing has done to a good songwriter. Lorde is 16. She should be riding the wave of her success, not tearing down another artist. But in this world where people like Selena Gomez and Stephenie Meyer are superhuman stars, people like Lorde become gods – and they are not benevolent gods. In this world full of bad writing, both song and literary, those people who can write good music, or good stories, begin to feel that they have the power to do and say whatever they want.

I don’t just wish that we could all get along (impossible: authors and artists have always had feuds), but I do wish that artists could stop ripping each other apart and focus on their craft. Bad writing has no choice but to persist when people that create good work burn energy insulting the work of others. I’ve met several pretentious authors, and I’ve read much about the pretentious Lorde, and my comment to both is thus: bad writing is clearly here to stay. Don’t drown out the people creating it; just make your work better.

(Yes, this post was shamelessly created to express my opinions on Lorde.)

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Editor-Who-Never-Listens-To-The-Radio’s Note: Who is this person?
Editor-Who-Does-Listen-To-The-Radio’s Note: I didn’t know who this was either.
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0 comments

  1. Jena Reply

    I have to admit, I’ve held a distaste for Lorde ever since she dissed Lana Del Rey.

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  2. Cate Reply

    Dear Ellen, I appreciate your views and I do think you make some astute points. There is certainly a difference between constructive criticism or stating personal views, and expressly disparaging an artist’s person and reputation, which benefits no one. I can see how Lorde crosses that line.

    On the other hand, there’s also a difference between classifying someone else’s music as inferior to yours, and pointing out that the *message* is not progressive. Lorde’s comments seem laced with disdain, which may make her come off as “pretentious”, as you say, but I disagree that there is no kernel of plausibility to her criticism that Selena Gomez’s “Come & Get It” does not empower women.

    I specifically refer to this stanza in the lyrics:

    “You ain’t gotta worry, it’s an open invitation
    I’ll be sittin’ right here, real patient
    All day, all night, I’ll be waitin’ standby
    Can’t stop because I love it, hate the way I love you
    All day, all night, maybe I’m addicted for life, no lie.”

    She sounds like a 1950s housewife sitting next to the phone all through the night waiting for her man to call. I can’t find an ounce of assertiveness in the song’s general message. While I don’t think there’s anything *inherently* wrong with lyrics challenging (with consent) the male love interest to take control or seize the initiative, the overt passivity of the female narrator sitting, not moving, “waiting standby” 24/7, because her life revolves around the presence of some man who may or may not be interested in her, encourages adolescent and preteen girls who idolize Selena Gomez to be Sleeping Beauties rather than assertive, self-possessed women who have better things to do than sit around waiting for someone “all day, all night” because they have jobs, hobbies, interests, pursuits, and desire more from life than just getting a man’s attention, especially if it is not reciprocal.

    That said, I feel that Lorde is misdirecting her comments. I doubt Selena Gomez wrote the lyrics to that song. There are issues with the teen idol industry for endorsing, promoting and selling stereotypical gender roles that may work to the detriment of a young and impressionable audience, but fault can also be found with parents who buy the material, the education system, the media, and the consumers themselves.

    Still, I wouldn’t hold it *too* much against Lorde. She’s 17, actually, I think, and has enjoyed tremendous success. I could see many young people in that situation and especially at that age going through a period of disillusionment with society, criticism of stereotypes and social constructs, and introspection, a combination possibly leading to greater “pretentiousness” than you would see in her if you knew her personally, or several years later as she develops into a young woman.

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    • kellamity Reply

      I definitely see your argument. Where I see the positive in Selena’s message of theoretically consensual sexual activites (instead of, for example, “When you’re ready, I might not be, but come and get it anyway because I guess I’ll be okay with it if you make me”) there still exists, as you’ve pointed out, the negative of her all-consuming need to wait for a particular man when she could be out living her life. And that’s definitely a poor motto for young women.

      What concerns me, though, is not the particulars of the song or the argument against it; it’s that the fame and positive reviews have given an incredibly talented singer the right to bash other successful artists (Lorde has also given some scathing reviews of One Direction, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Lana Del Rey). Because bad song writers and bad singers can become so famous, Lorde, as a good writer and singer, has ridden an unfathomable wave of success. I am worried that she will destroy this success by lashing out against other artists, rather than continuing to create great music.

      I hope that you’re right, however, in saying that as she ages, Lorde will become better equipped to handle the fame and to regard her fellow artists. I don’t think that she isn’t entitled to her opinions, and I hope that she learns to express them in such a way that isn’t damaging to her own reputation as well as to the reputations of those she means to criticize. I especially hope that she continues to create music and that it continues to be as well-received as it is currently. The greatest tragedy would be her criticisms destroying her credibility as an artist and decreasing the public’s desire to listen to her music. As I (vaguely) mentioned in my post, such an event would, naturally, allow more bad music to rise to popularity.

      In sum, I agree with your claims about “Come and Get It,” and (though I didn’t address this) your thoughts that Lorde’s criticisms are misdirected altogether. My post intended to address the line between constructive criticism and pure disparagement that you mention in your first paragraph. There is most certainly a kernel (probably even a tree) of plausibility in Lorde’s argument, but I want her–and other good artists–to find a way to express it that doesn’t overshadow her talent.

      That said, I should probably go write a bestselling novel instead of continuing to criticize Lorde’s criticisms.

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