Friday, April 21, 2006

Write and Wrong

Does it ever happen to you that you agree with what someone is saying, but the way they're saying it makes you cringe and want to bludgeon them with a suitably blunt instrument?

Take this article in the Asian Sex Gazette by someone called Roshni Olivera that DesiPundit linked to recently [1]. It's so incoherent, so poorly written, that despite the seriousness of the underlying message I couldn't help laughing out loud reading it.

Look, obviously rape is a serious issue, and there is good reason to emphasise the need for consent to be explicit, not implied or assumed by some arbitrary standard. No is (or should be) No, irrespective of the victim's past sexual record or the perpetrator's beliefs about her willingness. So the two cases that Ms. Olivera points to in her article, both involving rape by 'friends' of the victim are serious crimes and deserve to be appropriately punished.

The article does sort of make this point, but its buried away under a lot of rambling obfuscation. In Ms. Olivera's world view, apparently, "all such rape incidents highlight an issue that has been simmering for a while now - can't a woman just be friends with a man?" Harry and Sally, meet Thelma and Louise. Let's say, for the moment, that a man and woman can't just be friends, that it always has to be sexual. Does that make the cases she talks about okay? No, right? So how is that the issue here? Ms. Olivera seems to recognise this too, and hastily switches back to the issue of consent ("even if there's a bit of teasing bordering on flirtation, does it have to end up in bed?"), but it still leaves you wondering - would it have been too much to ask that she take the trouble to edit her own article? Has it occured to her that there might actually be a difference between a piece of writing and a rambling conversation with a friend? That putting down the first thing that comes into your more or less empty head is not the way to write a good thought-piece?

Where the article gets truly hilarious, though, is when Ms. Olivera decides to 'investigate' the causes for this malaise. She does this in two ways. First, she talks to the 'experts'. They inform her that
"The main issue is that men and women perceive things differently". Ah, so that's why. You would never have thought it, would you? No, no, we needed the EXPERTS to tell us this. There follows a lot of psycho-babble about 'misconceptions' that men have, drawn, one can only surmise, from the long, difficult hours the 'expert' has spent watching Hindi movies.

But Ms. Olivera is not content with this. No, as a true journalist, she feels the need to capture 'public opinion', which, as we all know from regular readings of the Onion, consists of stopping the first three half-wits you meet on the street and asking them for their 'views'. This process, as always, yields deep insights, including:

Some decades ago you wouldn't find a girl and a guy having much interaction. Today, you have girls, even actresses, very open about their relationships. Times have changed. These kind of rape incidents, where a friend is the perpetrator, are appalling."

Anyone care to explain how the sentences in that statement connect to each other. I'm particularly curious to understand the 'girls, even actresses' bit.

And wait, wait, it gets better. Just as you thought this whole date rape thing was a lost cause, Ms. Olivera manages to find the one right-thinking engineer who has practical suggestions to make:

a girl should be smart and understand the guy's intention. If he's just a good friend, there's no question of any sparks. If he's flirting with the girl, she has to clearly set the boundaries. There has to be communication in these matters. And if it's a guy who's the kind to get drunk and misbehave, she should just dump him."

Oh, wonderful. So now it's the girl's responsibility to be smart enough, is it? And never mind the possibility of being sent to jail for years, all we really need to stop people from raping their dates is the threat of being dumped. Why bother with police complaints, criminal trials, etc. when a simple break up will do?

Finally, Ms. Olivera pulls in yet another expert, a legal one this time, who informs us, drawing doubtless on his deep understanding of the sub-clauses of the law concerning rape "
The law is always a little behind social trends, always trying to keep pace. Let's hope for further strides now!". Who would have known?

Never mind the ridiculous stereotyping. Never mind the fact that Ms. Olivera doesn't seem to realise that opened quotation marks need to be closed. Did no one ever tell this woman when she was in school about the importance of a logical sequence of thought? Consider this:

"The main issue is that men and women perceive things differently, say experts. And in most of these cases the perpetrators are either teenagers or young men in their 20s or early 30s. "A girl might not suspect anything.

Can you imagine anything less coherent?

The kindest thing I can say about this article is that it might be a spoof, if an extremely subtle one. Somehow I doubt that. And I'm not convinced I'd appreciate spoofs written on so serious an issue anyway.

[1] Why anyone would be reading the Asian Sex Gazette in the first place is beyond me, of course. At least with the Bombay Times the ads are informative.



Veena said...

I remember reading this yesterday with the same exact feeling. I think I got to the point where she quotes some guy talking about Mars and Venus and gave up. And why exactly is Desipundit who supposedly links only blogs (unless the article is super interesting and relevant or whatever) is linking this?! Had a good mind to send off an email to them and then got too lazy to do that.

Falstaff said...

Veena: Good question. Though frankly, quality of writing that DP links to is pretty spotty anyway (self-affirming though it may be to believe otherwise). Personally, I think of DP as being kind of like those Every Flavour Beans in Harry Potter. There's an astonishing amount of variety, but you never know when you're going to bite into a link and find earwax.

Veena said...

Falstaff: True but hey, these are blogs we are talking about. The writing is supposed to be spotty. The expectations are much higher while reading pro journalists who write for a living. Apparently not!

DP, Every Flavor Blogs. Sounds nice. Now let me run away before Patrix or Ash or someone comes and shooes me away.

Falstaff said...

Veena: I don't necessarily agree with that, btw. First, I don't know that it's empirically true that journalists are better writers than bloggers. I've never seen a significant difference - at least not in style, ability to write clearly or logically (obviously, there's difference in content). Second, I don't see why we should hold bloggers to lower standards just because they're doing it for pleasure. Remember we're not talking deathless prose here, we're talking basic clarity and punctuation. That's like saying it's okay to have stupid opinions on political issues as long as you're not a politician. Or that it's okay to sing terribly in public as long as you're not Jennifer Lopez.

The way I see it, the value add of journos over bloggers is not that they write better - it's more than they do primary research, which bloggers rarely do. It's about information gathering, not about style. Which is not to say, of course, the journalists shouldn't have to write well. Only that bloggers needn't be held to lower standards than journalists.

Anonymous said...

Hi Falstaff,

I think you came down too hard on the writer, perhaps I should say judged it by too high standards. I had never heard of this magazine before DP linked to it, and yet the quality of writing is only about as bad as you would expect from TOI. I am not saying for a minute that the article was not badly written, just that so much bad writing is floating around in much better known publications, why pick on this one?

Secondly, does everyone understand or need good writing?

Though, I agree about the DP bit. I am not sure why they linked to it.

About DP in general, a lot of times the articles they link to are pretty low in quality. But as you said, they have to offer variety and there is no way something like DP can satisfy everyone.

What should be of more concern is, how shallow the pool of good writers in Indian Blogsphere is . I mean how many good writers are out there to whom DP can link? I mean, if all one is interested is in reading quality writing, add about 20 blogs on your blogroll and you don't even need DP.

I discovered your blog through DP. So, apart from linking to an occasionaly interesting article(for which I dont blame them), they are invaluable for a new comer. I am sure, though with your quality of writing, you hardly needed any props, their linking to your initial writing would have helped your growth too.

Anonymous said...


I am not sure I agree with your latest reply to Veena. While I agree that bloggers should hold themselves to some self-defined minimum standards and atleast do some basic research, some people simply cannnot write well. Should they be deprived of their ability to write just because of it does not hold on to some artificial standards?

You write well, too damned well infact. Even if I did my best, I will never be able to write half as well as you do-still, I should be write my own blog-right?

The majority of the world is like me, that is why we read you-Falstaff.:)c

Anonymous said...

Though I agree that people who cannot leave a comment without commiting two errors should be banned. That was-

''I should be able to write my own blog''

Falstaff said...


1) Just to be clear: I wasn't suggesting that the article was any worse than your usual Bombay Times piece, I'm ranting against bad writing in general - this is just a convenient example. You see, I manage to avoid the ToI writing because I don't read it - I got tricked into reading this one because it was on DP

2) I agree completely with DP's value as providing a good way of discovering new blogs - a good proportion of blogs I read I first saw on DP - it's the reason I check DP avidly. My point is just that it's unfair to fault them for not linking only to high quality material when their key value is variety. It's like blaming Southwest for not having high quality in-flight programming.

3) Finally, nobody's depriving bloggers who can't write from having their say. I'm just saying that bad writing is bad writing, irrespective of whether it's by journalists or bloggers. Nobody's saying we should ban badly written blogs, any more than anyone's serious proposing banning the ToI. Only that we should acknowledge that they're badly written, and not read them unless we absolutely have to.

Veena said...

Falstaff: Now you want me to be accurate! How about "Most journalists (I read) are better than most bloggers. Few bloggers that I read are better than a few journalists"? Aside: Have you noticed that quite a few of these better bloggers also happen to be journalists?

And I do not hold bloggers to lower standards because they are doing it for pleasure. I hold them to lower standards because:
1) Since everyone has a blog and everyone links to all these blogs, it is more difficult to find good writing in blogs and so by default, I don't expect it.
2) Anyone who is a journalist has a little more credibility in that someone hired him to write (reading TOI one wouldn't know this but I do not see why I would expect a random blogger to write better than David Brooks for instance).

neha vish said...

Ah! I am not even going to explain why I read the ASG - however, unless somebody rants against them - they don't get feedback right?

I am no keeper of DP's policy, but beyond a point there's only so much good writing that I see. Mostly I find myself inundated with breakfast scrawls and napkin notes. Sometimes I see a glimmer of hope in a post and I link to it. People often end up writing better when they know they are being read.

I found that post provocative in a very negative way. Which is why I didn't qualify the link. I didn't say it was stellar or even mediocre.

If there was better writing by MORE bloggers, it would feature on DP. If I feature every amazing post you wrote (which is EVERY post you write anyway!), I'll have "partisan" cries drummed into my head. :)

Anonymous said...

mmmm, ok. About not reading bad writings-I think if one writes badly-no one will read that person anyways. No one is holding a gun to anyone and forcing her to read someone.

One question?

Do you think the pool of quality writing on Indian blogsphere is too shallow?

On a side note- I completely agree with Veena- almost all good blogs-Uncut, Middlestage, Jai arjun are written by professional writers. Perhaps, you are the only blogger who I read who writes as well as them and yet is not a professional.

Anonymous said...

I think Neha made a very valid point in half jest - if quality of writing was the sole crierion, everything you write should be there on DP.

That is not something possible or desirable, is it?

dazedandconfused said...

yeah, I read the article too from dp. The link and the title sounded pretty interesting but yeah, the article was disappointing and unremarkable though I didn't really notice the bad writing part like you did.

I find DP pretty useful though, good timepass. I think they have a good thing going.

And confused, we seem to be commenting on the same blogs. One of us needs to change our comment-name. U r stealing my thunder!! :)

~SuCh~ said...

hey falstaff.. agree completely with u on the quality of writing..
forget the eloquence, or the style.. a logical flow is something thats a fundamental pre-requiste to any form of senisble communication.. And when it comes to a public communique, its significance is more pronounced..
The quality of journo material has degraded over the years.. Guess someone introduced "reservation" in the journo schools as well ...Intrestingly though, TOI offers a journalism course which is not recognised by the Govt of India nor by any other body.. Probably they find it their moral responsibility to employ their own students.. ;-)And thanks for turning off the word verification..

Anonymous said...

this is a little bit like Goliath stomping on that village shepherd on his way to fight David. Yes, I get it, you are against bad writing.

Falstaff said...

Veena: fair enough. Though I think to be fair we should be comparing either random journalists to random bloggers or good journalists to good bloggers. comparing good journalists to random bloggers is not fair. There are bloggers out there who write more intelligently than Brooks (it's not that hard, really).

Also, even if I accept the expectation point, that's still not reason to have different standards. So you can't criticise a journalist for writing bad stuff any more than you can criticise a blogger. Think about it this way. Let's assume that on average Norwegians are taller than Indians. That doesn't mean that a short Norwegian is any shorter because he's Norwegian. Only that you're more surprised to meet one.

Neha: Arrey, such flattery.

Just to be clear - I wasn't for a moment criticising your selection of the post or DP more generally. I recognise that it's hard to find good posts and I'm exceedingly grateful for the work you guys do to bring so much variety together. If you didn't link to bilge like this, what would I have to rant about?

I do agree with Veena that I was a little surprised that you were linking to a non-blog site, though.

confused: a) I'm not sure that it's true that there aren't good non-journalist bloggers. There are plenty of people whose blogs I read and enjoy who are not journalists (dammit, one of these days I have to put up a blogroll) - Veena herself qualifies, and there's Shoefiend, and JAP's not a journalist, at least until someone puts him out of his misery by giving him a bookdeal. There's certainly a number of good bloggers who are also journalists, but it's not their exclusive domain.

b) And no, I don't think the pool of good writing is shallow at all - I just think it's at the bottom of a very vast ocean of poor to average writing - so it looks small as a %age of all posts, but the absolute numbers are not that small, I think. Though, of course, it comes down to what you mean by shallow. To me, a dozen well written, engaging posts a day is reasonably deep, and I'm sure I manage to average that many.

d&c: agree with you on DP. See my comment above.

soliloquist: I don't know about reservation. It's nothing something I've thought about much, but if I had to come up with a hypothesis it would be that with the Internet and Cable fuelling a huge expansion of media over the last decade in India, the demand for journalists has far outstripped supply. Which means that the industry's had to lower its standards to keep up. Just my two-bit theory.

anon: hmmm...are you suggesting that I'm about to be brought crashing down?

~SuCh~ said...

true.. the problem of Quality Vs Quantity.. But there has to be something that goes into all the professional training that is invested in... Freelancers seem to be more inviting than the proffessional for the average reader's sensibilities...Being coherant isnt a mammoth requirement.. leave alone the stellar insights..

Anonymous said...

I agree. A lot of so-called good blogs on the Indian blogosphere say sensible things but don't know how to say them. One never knows whether to read the piece and discuss or simply move on.

Anonymous said...

And I agree about DP. I have no idea how they decide which pieces to link to.

Gaurav said...

Another point. Journalists also have the benefit of editors, proof-readers, and in the case of some Times supplements, "re-writers"(go figure!) to make their writing look good.

Bloggers necessarily don't. Speaking for myself, I am a strictly first-draft blogger. I just write what I want to, and press the publish button.

I could say I do so because I write for myself, and once what I went to say is out of my system and on the computer, I am not going to work on it further. But I'll just be honest and admit that I am too lazy to edit/proof it myself. :)

As for DP, I admire them but also, do not envy them at all. They have a tough job, and no matter what they do, they get brickbats. A thankless job if there ever was one.

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