WEll, this comment thread is certainly about the How not the What. I think we talk a lot about the What though, particualrly when we talk about diversity which is another way of talking about the Who.It doesn't just stop at the blogosphere, though. I've been meaning to bring this up, especially in the light of this excellent post from Prince Gomolvilas during his guestblogging stint at Parabasis. Those are perfect tips to talk about the How (as isaac calls it). But how do we talk about the What?
And while the above might have read as facetious, i don't mean it that way.
do you feel like in the blogosphere we talk about the how too much and not enough of the what?
I've had the same experience at two recent writing groups I've attended. We all know the writers group deal, but just in case you don't: you get a bunch of writers together, they read their work and then give feedback. Usually there's some structure to the feedback to protect the writer and keep things civil. I'm a member of a couple of them and I really like them. There is a problem, though, and it's exactly this: the focus is on craft, style, but rarely, if ever on substance. The focus is on the How and never on the What. Or even more importantly on the Why.
Recently, in each group, someone presented work, good, solid, well-crafted work, that I questioned the Why of. It's a hard subject to broach. "Hey, Fellow Playwright, your play is fine, well-structured and all of that. I just think the entire subject matter is pointless, trite and unengaging." Not a good way to remain civil. But we don't have much of a vocabulary for it. If my grad school was like all the others, and all of the writers' groups I've ever been in like all the others, the focus is exclusively on form, not substance. We help each other write clearer, stronger plays, but not necessarily better plays.
And what was wrong with them? Well, avoiding the specifics to protect them (and me, just in case), they were plays that the authors felt deeply about, mostly drawn from peronsal experiences and perspectives that were all about the troubles, travails and issues of upper middle class urbanites, mainly white (or color-less). Of course, most of the writers were upper middle class urbanites. Write what you know, right? Those are the limitations.
Sitting in the circle, I was of two minds: how to frame useful, productive feedback and what could I say about the content that wouldn't be offensive or pointless. And I came up with nothing.
Can we talk about the content? Can we ask ourselves which stories are we hearing? That's the real question. Irony v. sentimentality, linear v. non-linear is all a sideshow. Even diversity is a sideshow. The real thing we have to figure out is what stories are we telling and why.
Why and What. Why are we telling stories we're choosing to tell? In a way, we know why theatres are programming the way they're programming. But what effect is that having on the work we're all creating. Whether we want to or not, we should be asking ourselves those questions.