Reviews as Cultural Work

1 year ago | Billy Higgins Peery (Member)

My thoughts regarding WFG reviews can be boiled down to one sentence: reviews are cultural work.

That doesn’t really convey my meaning, though -- there’s a lot that needs to be unpacked. Most of the ambiguity is to be found in the phrase “cultural work.” What I mean by the word “cultural,” and how it relates to the word “work.”

So, let’s define culture. I’ve run across all sorts of interesting definitions of the term, but my favorite, and the way I’m using it here, is, “a way of doing things, which can be passed down from one generation to the next.”

So there’s a book culture (long-ish texts are informed by the texts that have come before), a book publishing culture (Johannes Gutenberg figured out movable type, a skill which has been passed down and built upon), literary subcultures (much modern fantasy is at least partially in debt to the way Tolkien did things; crime relies on the literary achievements of me like Chandler and Ellroy), and so on and so forth. There are possibly an infinite number of cultures and subcultures out there -- South African culture, lumberjack culture, hacker culture -- but hopefully the basic point is clear. Culture is simply a way of categorizing influence.

Then we come to the word “work.” For this discussion I’m not interested in the economic meaning of it. Instead I simply mean something that takes time, effort, concentration, etc.

So, to go back to the original statement, reviews are things that take time and effort, which in some way relate to a way of doing things.

Review writers’ purposes vary: they might want to shine a spotlight on the work they’re doing, or perhaps shine a light on themselves. Maybe they just want to contribute to the community, maybe they want something else entirely.

Honestly? I couldn’t care less about reviewers’ myriad motives. This doesn’t seem to be a widely held view, but it is mine. Instead, I care what impact reviews have.

Short-term impact is easy and obvious. The review brings attention to the reviewed work, while also (hopefully) making people think. In the long-term it does something even more important, providing a very small piece of the jigsaw puzzle map that is Web Fiction Culture.

Web Fiction Culture isn’t exactly isn’t in its infancy. You’d have to look at the pre-WFG world for that sort of thing. Still, it’s very young.

Right now we’re figuring out how web fiction works -- what makes it successful, what makes it fail. We’re figuring out what all the tools in the web serialist’s toolbox can really do.

Recently I heard a description of Silicon Valley’s philosophy that reminded me a lot of Web Fiction Culture: “Openness over hierarchy, risk over stability, innovation over the tried and true.” That’s exactly what web fiction’s about. It lets everyone pitch in and figure out what makes all this tick.

But in order for this to matter, there has to be a record of what does and doesn’t work. The WFG reviews are this record.

Every time a reviewer says what does or does not work about a web serial, they’re giving us more information. They’re giving us yet another puzzle piece that allows us to say, “This works,” or “This doesn’t work.” “Here be dragons,” or “Here be gold.”

If we want to figure out what makes web fiction work, we have to rely on reviewers’ perceptions of the serials they read.

Reviews have to be our record. Otherwise we’re trying to put together a puzzle without pieces.

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"Any number of hitlers, are still not my problem." -Tempest

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  1. E_Foster (Member)

    Posted 1 year ago

    I like this idea quite a bit, but just out of curiosity, how are we going to account for subjectivity in reviewing? Or is the assumption of subjectivity built in to this conception of reviews as cultural work?

    Cages: A Captivity Story - http://captivitystory.wordpress.com
  2. G.S. Williams (Member)

    Posted 1 year ago

    I think that's easier that it seems -- while reviews are subjective, there is an overlap about things that don't work and things that do when it comes to style, formatting, communication, frequency, etc. Zombie vs superhero vs literary classic is different, because those work for some people but not for others. However, frequent, consistent posting schedules, immersive chapters, clean formatting, good grammar, those things are universally effective.

    And the key elements to successful serials and non-successful ones are reflected in the reviews, and on top of that the reviews develop a consistency within a reviewer's personal voice so that you can tell how they overlap with other viewpoints, and where they're objective and where they have a bias.

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