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The worst ideas of 2012 (with a few exceptions)

Here's my list of the most annoying and overrated ideas of 2012:


This word is used a lot in reference to art critics and academics, but particularly to the publishing industry. It is used by the writers of science fiction, romance and paranormal stories to disparage the old-fashioned "literary" values (a word always in quotation marks) of the publishers who have rejected them. The genre writers point smugly to the massive successes of a few self-published mysteries and vampire romances as evidence that publishing houses are out of touch with what readers truly want, and they go on to question the categorization of literary and genre writing, saying it's essentially false, the propaganda of elitists who merely prefer one genre over another. If you try to explain to them the artistic sophistication of Alice Munro, they get really upset. That's when they call you a gatekeeper.

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When you hear directors of cultural institutions – theatres, orchestras, ballet companies, museums – start talking this way, you know that they have been bitten by the MBA e-commerce consultant zombies and are infected. You must aim the flamethrower at them before you all succumb. E-marketing jargon has penetrated everyday speech just as deeply as the old-style MBA code (best practices, core competencies, buy-ins) crippled language in the '00s. Speaking in tongues is a sure sign that new exhibitions or shows will be required to have an interactive online component at its centre. You can also be sure that the violinists and the ballerinas are about to be laid off and Great Big Sea is about to get its own two-month run.

User engagement

Corollary to the above. When the phrase "user engagement" is used by curators and producers and editors, it means they have also been bitten or are trying to please their zombie masters in the offices upstairs. It means that the interesting experts are about to be laid off, and the evaluation and selection of art will henceforth be conducted by online popularity contests, manipulable by those with large Facebook followings. It also means you are about to see every news story punctuated by commentary quoted from random Twitter users. Reaction to the tax legislation was swift on Twitter: "OMG i don't get taxes but i hate obama god blessAmerica" wrote jared896. I don't care what jared896 thinks. And I can go on Twitter myself.

Gender wars

The question of who is better, boys or girls, is not only boring and repetitive, it is unsolvable, like disputes about religion. And like religion, it gets very emotional, very fast. For some reason discussions about aesthetics and ideas in the cultural domain – everything from what kinds of poems one can enjoy to what kinds of politicians will be the most sensitive – tend to slide very quickly into this quagmire, which is unfortunate, because it obscures a whole host of really interesting disagreements. If the two sides in any argument immediately get assigned to a gender camp, then the argument is already uninteresting.

I know, right?

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It was funny at first, and its semi-ironic nuance was appropriate for uncertain times. But when it's part of every conversation it starts to sound as clever as "don't even go there" or "talk to the hand."

On the bright side …

There were good things about 2012, too. The surprising affinity between social media and poetry was one: Poets and poetry editors discovered that most poems are the right length for easy distribution and consumption on a Facebook feed. So there's a whole lot more great poetry flying around, and not just contemporary stuff – if you have a favourite John Donne piece, you can bless everyone's day with a short and startlingly incongruent verse at any time. It adds beauty and amazement to one's e-mail.

Then there's the Giller Prize, whose judges finally rewarded a fast-paced book, Will Ferguson's 419, a novel by a writer who probably would have been considered lacking in the requisite dietary fibre by the juries of that prize's early years (gatekeeping in its most rigid form).

Finally, long-form journalism made a comeback in cheap individual e-singles at sites such as Byliner that provide essays and articles for phones and tablets for a couple of bucks each. This has provided not just an alternative stream of information and entertainment in a world of shorter and shorter news segments, but another income stream for writers as well.

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