Friend of mine, the editor of a famous etiquette book asked me the other day why I'd left my own editing job. I told him I'd grown tired of being the 'custodian of information', in an encyclopedia supposedly 'written by the people'.
He said he thought that was the whole point. Without guys like me, how could it function? All you'd have is a free for all that no one would take seriously.
Then why bother with all this 'people' crap if ultimately the whole thing is controlled by individuals who'd otherwise be spending their time producing the old fashioned kind of encyclopedias?
It's a compromise, isn't it? Between the people and the custodians?
Not really, I said. Then I produced an example of the kind of thing I come across when I edit. Someone had added to the page on UK Nuclear Power the following comment: The government is relaxed about Monty Burns building the UK's next generation of power stations. Most people know that Montgomery Burns is the dodgy power plant operator from the Simpsons. So that helpful addition cannot be true of course. And it has to go.
I explained I'd been strangely reluctant to delete it though. It's not the stuff of encyclopedias, evidently, but it did reflect public sentiment (in some quarters at least) that the government strategy had not been properly thought through. So what the hell is this 'people's encyclopedia' supposed to be or to achieve, if the end product is what it would have been if I had just written the encyclopedia myself?
Surely not an encyclopedia of public sentiment, he said? Surely that is exactly what the wider internet is all about? There's loads of public sentiment out there. Millions of blogs etc.
And I told him that he was probably right, but that I wished that institutions - be they governmental, media, commercial, whatever - would just stop using this idiotic word: People's. No it's not the people's anything. It's just as f-ing hierarchical as any other 'great undertaking' by a great institution.
He asked what next? I said I was doing some preliminary work on a survey seeking to identify the periods in history when art has been most easy to forge. I added that there'd never been a better time to forge art than right now. All you need is bric-a-brac, tat, debris, shit and the odd dead animal. You could copy most of the crap out there right now.
Leaving aside the cynicism, he said, it sounds to me like you mean the kind of art that could be produced 'by the people', he said, rather triumphantly... and simple enough to be accessible to the people.
It's of little benefit to the people financially though, I replied. Which might be the point.
By guest blogger, Vince White