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Friday, September 5, 2008

Truth in Blogging - Wikiality in the Soap World

Have you noticed that lately I tend to be couching my opinions with statements like "This is only my opinion" or "This person is a friend of mine, but that doesn't mean I like all of their storylines?" or "Yes, I may be biased, but I'm trying to look at this objectively?"... some preface that makes it seem like I'm petrified of what I'm about to type.

That's because I am. But not for the reason you might think.

It's probably assumed I don't want to piss anybody off in the industry, for fear of never getting hired again. That's a fair assumption. It's also not my biggest concern. Why? Because any head writer or executive producer could google my name, and find numerous posts from the 1990's, where a young Tom graduating high school and going to college, debated the hiring and firing of head writers and EP's, griped about stories he thought were stupid, and made assumptions about behind-the-scenes goings-on based on what the magazines printed. (I recently found a long exchange between me and DonnaB from RATSM where upon learning Roman was returning to Days right around the time Susan showed up on the canvas, we pondered if Roman was the father of Susan's baby! HAHAHAHA!!!!)

Back then, I dreamed of one day working for soaps, but you never know if it's really going to happen. But yeah - all of that stuff is on the InterWeb someplace, archived away, and I can pretty much guarantee I probably made some incorrect assumptions about writers I never met, based on absolutely nothing... and one day ended up working alongside them and really digging them as people. If I could go back, I don't know if I would censor myself - I was a fan, a web surfer, and I did what the rest of you do every day on here.

But the times, they are a'changin'... and sadly, none of us were given the rulebook.

We live in a world now where primetime television showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Joss Whedon blog all the time - about their experiences working on their shows, and what other shows out there impress them. Diablo Cody and Stephen King write monthly columns for Entertainment Weekly about other authors and screenwriters they like (amongst other things). Maybe they're talking about their friends, maybe they're talking about people they never met. But the fans are reading every word. Sara Bibel posts a soap blog three days a week where she interviews actors, gives her opinion on what's going on out there on various soap canvases... and all the while, juggling her future endeavors with her love of all things soap (I can relate... hoo-boy, can I ever!) Dena Higley opened up her personal life to Days fans everywhere a few months ago, letting them in and showing them a side of herself the fans never had access to before. Internet poster "MarkH", a longtime fan of the genre, regularly posts his thoughts. I'm on MySpace anywhere from three to six days a week, doing the same. And it expands to other genres as well - Harry Knowles over at AintItCoolNews was the subversive element in "geek Hollywood" for years. AICN was one of the first movie sites I discovered years ago on the Internet, and back then, he was like this mysterious figure in the entertainment industry, leaking secrets right and left. Fast forward to today, and he's well-known as a guy living in Texas who schmoozes with all sorts of big Hollywood types. Suddenly, the subversive element is hobnobbing with the L.A.-elite, but that doesn't stop him from running a site that thousands of people flock to every day to get scoops on what's going on in the Lucas/Spielberg/horror/sci-fi/superhero pockets of La-La-Land. He's commenting on the people he might now consider friends.

I was discussing this with a friend of mine recently, who has long made their career in journalism. It's a touchy subject, but you guys know me - I love trying to look at a situation from all sides, and try not to jump to conclusions until I hear all the angles. And this person expressed concern, especially after the Hinsey incident and that vile thread on jossip, that when soap writers/bloggers like me and Sara give an opinion on a soap, we have an inherent conflict of interest, as we have so many personal relationships with these people. And therefore, we have a difficult hurdle to overcome - and you, as readers, have a difficult challenge: To understand that just because we say something, it doesn't mean it's the truth. The same way somebody posts something under a pseudonym on the web, and it might not necessarily be the truth. And yet... somehow? It automatically becomes the truth to so many people, just because it was in written on the Internet - and my friend isn't wrong. That's not a good thing.

Stephen Colbert refers to this as "wikiality". Meaning if you write something on Wikipedia, no matter how untrue it is, to a large segment of the population it just becomes canon... a tidbit of information tucked away in your brain, and you don't know where you heard it, but you're at a bar, talking to somebody, and you say "I read somewhere that...", and suddenly it's out there in the world. Colbert and his writers actually did an experiment on the Colbert Report, where they said elephants in Africa were no longer an endangered species on a wikipedia page... just to see how far it would go before people thought it was "The Truth"... and within hours, Wikipedia had to lock down that page on elephants because so many people logged on. I'll admit - part of me giggled at the time, but it's fascinating how much people really do want to make their own Truth, that may or may not be the reality. It's gleefully rebellious to many people, but to others who built their careers on true journalism, it's disheartening and dangerous. More and more people read a sentence in Times New Roman Size 12, and it becomes The Truth, whether we want it to or not. Tabloids and Reality TV have turned the entire world into "Heroes" and "Villains", "Cliffhangers" and "Reveals".

I've pondered this for a while now, and honestly? This is an issue, and one that probably needs further discussion. I don't want to contribute to this kind of mentality, but I don't think that's really in my control. People are going to take away from my blog what they're going to take away. Somebody on SON that nobody's met posted a rumor about a head writer installing a bar in their office, and suddenly, months later, people are still referring to this writer with quips about their drinking. Now I've never written anything in this blog even remotely personal about any of the writers I've worked with, but I certainly said some things during the strike about power plays and back-alley deals, and while that may not be as "scandalous" as the rumor that somebody built a bar, it still contributes to that mentality - and not in a good way.

So obviously, the best thing to do would be not contribute - to close the blog down and never post again. But selfishly, I don't really want to do that. I've been able to make a connection to a lot of people through this blog who want to work in soaps themselves one day... who want to have intelligent discussions about storytelling... who genuinely care and aren't this "lowest common denominator" TPTB tend to gear their shows towards. And I love responding to the e-mails I get from you guys, and building this network online of writers, journalists, fans and bloggers who don't want to see this genre die, but instead discover a newfound renaissance! But I also know that anything I say, I can read on a message board a year from now "Tom Casiello said this....", and they may have gotten what I said completely wrong.

I don't know the answer to this problem, but the more I think about it, the more I see that there are whole new worlds opening up that have no rules, no guidelines. We're making it up as we go along, folks... and sometimes we drop the ball and we screw it up. But it's an interesting debate to have, and one I think is important to view objectively (if that's even possible for us, anymore).

This is a discussion worth having, and one that involves all of us, whether you're a blog writer or a blog reader, whether you're a print journalist, or you faithfully follow print journalism. I didn't shy away from money issues or race issues on daytime, and I certainly don't think I should shy away from this. I'd like to open the floor and hear what you guys think!

Do you think we're all helping or hurting?

Are our inherent conflicts of interest as we write about the shows we once worked on revealing the truth, or twisting it?

In the long run, do you think people will remember this trend of treading into unknown Internet territory as ground-breaking and important, or gossip-mongering and harmful to an already dying industry?

Are we contributing to the light of hope and fondness for our soaps, or contributing to the dark world of rumor-spreading and tabloid journalism?

Where should we draw the line as bloggers, and where do you need the draw the line as readers?

As you surf and read, how do you decode the Truth?

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