Friday, June 13, 2008

On Vanity

Ginger Meyerson of The Hackenblog has picked up on a recent trend in a fascinating direction. Where a number of bloggers have parlayed their successful novelty blogs into books, Mayerson goes at it honestly and has started The Journal of Bloglandia, collecting what she sees as the writings of some of the more interesting voices from around the blogosphere. Volume 1, number 1 is now available and well worth the time.

One of the pieces in it, Vanity, comes from one of Susan O'Doherty's weekly posts on M.J. Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls, and Hype. In it, O'Doherty muses about the meaning of the term "vanity" as in vanity press. Someone who engages in a do-it-yourself approach to anything that has (normally corporate) gatekeepers, is deemed a vanity production and treated as necessarily inferior.

Yet, she argues, if we think of the standard meaning of vanity -- the noun form of vain -- then isn't it those who slave to gain the approval of the gatekeepers, those who determine their worth from the acceptance of the establishment, rather than those who simply delight in their work and want others to also enjoy it, who are the truly vain ones in the equation?

There is definitely something to this argument, but as a blogger (yet another form of vanity publishing in this sense) it seems like there are vain bloggers and ones who are not so vain. There are blogs whose purpose is to be self-aggrandizing, others that are about the author but not in a vanity-type sense, and still others about something the author cares about other than him/herself.

The use of the word "vanity" that pops to mind is vanity license plates. At first, when this was an expensive proposition, having a custom plate may have been an act of vanity. But with the price significantly decreased in most states now, it hardly seems vain to put a joke or a reference to something one loves on one's car. It's a metal bumper sticker.

Yet, there does seem to be something to the use of the word vanity here. Sometimes there are books that are not as deep or novel as the author thinks. We get attached to our projects and often do have inflated images of them. If you write, you will understand this by going back and rereading something that you thought was great work several years ago. The experience is quite humbling. But vanity publishing happens in the deluded time frame. As such, perhaps there is something to the "vanity" here.