27 July 2014

On writing, sucking at writing, and the inexplicable popularity of Michael Coren

I suck at writing. That should be clear to any visitors. It has become clearer to me as time passes. The average post here gets about twenty hits. Less than one post in ten gets a comment. My level of sucktitude was driven home to me when I visited Larry Correia's blog and saw his "Official Alphabetical List of Author Success". I rank somewhere between being on the T-list, "Troglodyte" whose defining characteristics include: "When nobody likes their work proclaims “They just don’t understand my brilliance!”" and "Likes to post angry reviews on the internet bashing Authors A-S"; and being on the U-list, "Aspiring" Those who are "Thinking about writing something", "Wonders where they'll find the time" and "Don't feel bad. We all started somewhere."

To sum up the trajectory of this blog: after seven(!) years of writing here, I have developed no following (most of my twenty nine followers are no longer active, or have moved on to other fields such as facebook and twitter, or are dead) no brand, and no increase from the beginning. When I look at some other writers, the depth of my insignificance is driven home even farther. Fr.Z., for instance, regularly posts pictures of his dinner and gets more hits and comments than any post of mine. Pictures of birds by his window get more hits than anything I post. It seems that any average reader who has the misfortune to stumble onto my poor site would have to team up with some other poor average reader to form a search party to find a rat's a$$, so they could give it. In any objective, measurable sense, this blog is a failure and a waste of time. I would call it a monumental failure, but there is nothing monumental about this blog. I have failed even to fail big.

So when I, abject failure in the field of writing that I am, slag another, more successful writer than myself (and let's face it, a five year old whose mother taped their crayola scribblings to the fridge has more readers and feedback than I do) some who may have noticed what I wrote may wish to put it down to sour grapes and jealousy. And they may very well be right.

I have witnessed lately another kerfuffle come out between a few other writers, one for a national newspaper, and another running a small time blog like myself, only a little bit better read than mine, because, let's face it, he can't be less so. They are Michael Coren and blogger Vox Cantoris. Vox became offended (something which he does frequently- sorry, Vox) at something Coren has done, and said so on his blog, and Coren answered him in a large newspaper. I am at a loss why Coren would take the trouble to answer something on a large scale that was said on a very small scale, as it would only attract more attention to the small post than it would otherwise get. But I am at a loss to explain much of Coren, beginning with his popularity.

Here's some more disclosure: I know Vox Cantoris and consider him to be a friend. I have never met Coren personally. The closest I came to meeting him was a few months ago at a church bazaar where I was hawking my stuff. Coren was supposed to be there, the church had advertised that he would be there as a minor celebrity, but he never showed. I have no idea why.

I said I never understood Coren popularity. That is true, but only by half. Let me say what I admire about Coren before I get into what I don't. Coren always spoke his mind, and never let anyone tell him otherwise. He waded into controversial issues and pronounced his own opinion, all else be damned. He paid a fair price for it. From time to time his speaking engagements would be cancelled, and by his own admission he received a lot of hate mail, up to and including death threats. Still he charged on, speaking his mind and calling it as he saw it. Out of this he began to have a following, sold books, and appeared on television, and it was apparent that even as he said what he thought, he was also saying what others thought, so many tuned into to hear what they thought coming through the mouth of Coren.

But I was never one of them. I never saw Coren as a good writer. Coren's style was that of a bull in a china shop. His style had little polish and no subtlety. I believe words are to be used as a surgeon uses a scalpel: precise and exact. Coren, to my eyes, uses words as blunt objects. His thinking, such as it was, never struck me as deep and penetrating, and occasionally it was ridiculous. I remember one of Coren's anti gay articles where he wrote of a gay pride parade or perhaps on the opening of the Sydney Olympics (he tended to be repetitive, so it is hard to say) where some drag queens would be paying homage to the old movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Coren wrote that the drag queens were an insult to women, and a mockery of them , and how women should be offended. It struck me at the time as a singularly dumb thing to say. Many of the biggest fans of drag queens  are women. Plus, knowing as I do some members of the gay community, the drag queens are not an attempted insult, but an attempt at fun. Even though I personally am not a great fan of the drag shows (despite that time back in high school where I dressed as Madonna and sang Like A Virgin to a packed auditorium) what he wrote was, in my opinion, abysmally stupid and terribly wide of the mark. Yet some agreed with him.

On another occasion I was surprised to see Coren appearing on an A&E show about H.G. Wells. (Remember when A&E actually had good shows that had something to do with Arts and Entertainment? Can anyone explain to me what Dog The Bounty Hunter has to do with Arts and Entertainment?) Coren quoted a passage from Wells' writings to illustrate that Wells was a racist. The narrator and another expert then pointed out that Coren had actually misquoted Wells, or stopped the quotation short, and that the whole quotation actually said the exact opposite of what Coren said it did. Coren is not merely a poor writer, he is also a poor reader. This is not surprising, as the two rather go hand in hand. Yet people still read him.

What has caused this little disturbance between Coren and Vox, and between Coren and much of his fan base, is that Coren has now changed him mind on gays. Coren still speaks his mind- good for him- but he no longer speaks their minds- bad for him. Coren never spoke my mind, so I don't much care, one way or the other. But Coren, shades of Augustinus from Cafeteria is Closed, is now writing and encouraging others to join his new found position. And he has, as I said, a large readership.

My fisk-o-meter is lying idle these days, so I'll just pull out a few lines from his recent article over at the Catholic Register (the diocesan newspaper for Toronto). The second line of the post reads thus: "One would have thought that writing, as I did in my last column here and in my weekly column for the Sun newspaper chain, that a Catholic should employ love, empathy and kindness instead of hatred, literalism and cruelty was self-evident." Yes, it should have been self evident. I agree. Vox points out that Coren himself has failed on this very point in this very article, but, sorry to say Vox, that is a formal error in logic known as Tu Quoque?- or, in English, "what about you?" I would say Coren has failed on that point in a many other articles, including the ones where he preached hate against gays, but that would also be tu quoque, so I won't go there except for rhetorical effect. What I will say is that he is right: we should act in charity. He says we should act in charity, Vox says that should include Coren, and I say they're both right.

Incidentally, Coren also indulges in a "I would never bring that point up even as I bring that point up" style of rhetoric in his final sentence of the article where he brings up the spectre of Fr Rosica's loving and lovely phrase "Taliban Catholics": "Not so long ago a priest with whom I have had many differences referred to “Taliban Catholics.” I disagreed with him then, and I still believe the term is unfair and not helpful. But my goodness I now understand what he meant and why he said it." Very good. He gets to call his critics Taliban Catholics while, at the same time, claiming that he is doing no such thing.

Back to the middle of his article. What kind of people are his not quite taliban-esque critics?

I know some of the attackers, and a more broken and dysfunctional group one could not meet. Some in particular I have felt sorry for and tried to befriend over the years, and their response is thus. I do have some pity because several have come from difficult backgrounds, but that does not justify such venom. Strangely enough the son of one of my new critics wrote to me shortly after my column was published, telling of his difficult childhood. I suppose I should not be surprised

Let's see, which formal error is this one? Poisoned well? Ad Hominem? "My critics are dysfunctional, and therefore they may be dismissed." Great logic, that. Except there is no logic, it is a rhetorical manoeuvre which serves a purpose akin to innoculation: you make people immune to someone else argument's not by defeating the arguments, but by making the other person look wrong from the start. They are not proven wrong: they are assumed to be wrong before they even speak. One sweep of the brush, and all is clear. And what, exactly, is he dismissing in their criticisms?

There was also an obsession with one particular sexual act, one that is actually fairly rare among gay men and impossible among gay women. But these people wrote at length about it with a scatological and morbid relish. Who, I had to wonder, were the extremists?

He is dismissing their objection to sodomy. Here I may get myself into some hot water, or would if anyone actually read this article, but here goes: I actually agree with Coren to a certain extent here. I find many Catholics who are far, far too obsessed, in my opinion, with gay sex. They may say "Hate the sin, but love the sinner", but the obsession with gay sex blots out all else. All that can be seen on the outside is the hate. All that is felt by the gay community from us is the hate. Seeing as it is our job to spread the word, and bring others into our fold, I will say this: we will never succeed with ranting, raging, and hate.

Having said that, the extent to which I agree with Coren ends when he minimises the sin. He says it is "fairly rare among gay men" and therefore...what? This is the inverse of the 'Everyone does it all the time, therefore it's okay" argument, and it is equally wrong. If it is wrong it is wrong whether it happens once or a thousand times. Here I believe we must perform a balancing act. Love and charity, but also firmness. In the past I thought Coren went too far over on one side, and now I believe he has toppled onto the other.

Coren has a few other lines about people too tied up in legalism as he seeks to unbind himself from legalism, it seems. Again, that is going from one mistake hard into another. In between, he calls some people names while claiming not to call them names and makes some formal logical errors. In style and substance this article is no different from pretty much every other article of his I have ever read. And for this, he has a large following.

So Michael Coren has lost some of his readers, only not really, because- alas, or perhaps hooray!-I imagine a lot of them will continue to read his work so they may continue to be outraged and angry over his next words, and also that he no longer speaks their mind. But -hooray! or perhaps alas,- he will now speak the minds of others. He will land on his feet and has a new book coming out entitled "The Future of Catholicism". I expect it to be as unsophisticated, illogical and badly written as everything else of his that I have seen, yet still well read.

Meanwhile, this blog will continue to be unread, I will slide down the list of author success. I will continue to complain that no one appreciates my brilliance, speak the mind of no one but myself, and gnaw at the heels of those far more successful than I. To quote famed Australian Ned Kelly: Such is life.

And to anyone who got this far: go get a friend, get out there and find that rat's hindquarters.


steam0001 said...

I read it.

Matthew said...

I appreciate your genius, and read everything you write.

Teresa B. said...

Great article. I don't check out many blogs anymore unless someone links to it from FB. I don't usually comment on the blogs themselves.
I have too many blogs I am interested in so I wait for FB posts to appear.

Eunike said...

For what it's worth, I read all your posts, though I seldom have any response smart enough to justify commenting -- I don't really have anything smart to say now. Also for what it's worth, you and your family are in my prayers.

Vox Cantoris said...

If Michael Coren were any other broadcaster or journalist, I would ignore him. The problem is, he is a Catholic and worse than that, he has put himself out there as an apologist for the faith through is books and his appearances.

He has taken money from Catholics and Catholic organisations and built a profile only to turn around and slap those in the face which have questioned his change in position.

I do not wish to debate the issue of love, I accept the three paragraphs it the Cathechism of the Catholic Church referring to the sin of sodomy; the question is, does Michael Coren?

He has publicly rebuked anyone and everyone, even from his parish, that has even had the temerity to question him and they have done so reasonably, I know these people.

Coren's words have been used by one of Toronto' radio's leading morning announcers (gay) to his advantage and not the truth of the faith.

Coren created this problem for himself, it has become a scandal because he puts himself forward as a Catholic publicly!

By the way, how's that history coming?

JD said...

why isnt this blog on:

I jump from there to all my blog reading

Bear said...


I am pretty sure I sent in my information to that spot, but it was never picked up. Perhaps I'll try again.


I agree that Coren's prominence makes this a bit more of a thorny issue. However, insisting he make a declaration one way or the other grants him an importance I believe he has neither earned before nor deserves now. Rather than wrenching this issue up another notch, I would see it die down and people treat Coren's opinion with the same indifference they treat, well, mine. We must not drive anyone further away from the Church with our actions, and that includes Coren himself, if he has indeed begun to leave the Church and her teachings.

As for the history, I haven't worked on it for a while. I have not time for research, and, unfortunately, the only person who has expressed any interest in it at all is you.

Thanks for your help in getting the hits up this time. It's nice to occasionally have a larger number of readers.

Julie Culshaw said...

I don't think the lack of comments indicates readership. I rarely get comments, yet I have close to 200 hits per day. People just figure someone else will say something. I would suggest forgetting it.

Eunike said...

Julie's right about the comments. I work for an online publisher with multiple sites and over a million readers altogether each month, and we almost never get any non-spam comments. When we do, it's usually someone disagreeing with the writer -- or begging us to get them onto a reality show (???).

Bear said...

Perhaps you are right on the comments. But, as I said, it isn't merely comments that make me believe this blog is insignificant, it's also hits, of which I get considerably fewer than 200 a day. On the other hand, I have mused in the past that perhaps it is a good thing that this blog is not terribly successful. I have seen quite a few other bloggers become... arrogant, for lack of a better word, in their success.

Adrienne said...

Bear - you have been sitting in my tabs since you first posted this as I was not sure what to say plus having to chase down the articles you referred to and reading them took up much time.

About the hits and comments: Many people, such as myself, read most everything in a feed like Feedly. That doesn't show up as a "hit" on your stat counter.

As to Coren - I've never much cared for him. In fact I care very little what "professional" Catholics have to say.

It's one of the reasons I read so few "Catholic" blogs. Most are anything but Catholic. And it's the primary reason I switched from Catholic to politics. Politics is so much tamer ;-)

DavidM said...

Ha! Funny stuff. The thing with Coren is, he is very clever, much brighter and much more knowledgeable than your average person, he can be pretty funny, and he's certainly got panache. But that said, he hosts a TV show everyday and he gets paid to entertain, not to be a deep thinker. That has to take a toll on a man's soul. Poor fellow.

LarryD said...

I read you Bear. You were one of my first readers back in the day (along with your darling wife Puff), and I will forever be grateful.

Keep up the good work!