On My Soapbox...

I see there's quite a shitstorm of discussion going on over at the Yarn Harlot. Apparently someone left a comment about the socks Stephanie was knitting, calling them "fugly". Stephanie was slightly miffed, pointing out that her blog was like her living room, and it would be rude for a guest in her home to say "Gee, that's an ugly couch", so why do visitors to her blog feel they can say whatever they like?

Well, at the risk of putting my foot into it, welcome to the world, girls. When I first encountered the sublime realm of knitting blogs, I was quite put off by all the mutual adoration going on. Everyone seemed so nice, freakishly so. Of course it's great to hear total strangers say "You're brilliant", but when that's ALL you ever hear? Just not realistic. People have all kinds of different tastes and abilities and that's what makes life interesting.

Given all that, I still like the Yarn Harlot, mostly because Stephanie is a compelling writer, with a Leacock Award-worthy gift for humour. (Stephen Leacock was a very funny Canadian. There is a yearly award given in his honour.) But the fawning that goes on in the comments section! It's a bit scary. The Harlot has a huge, well-deserved readership. It would be normal for there to be some difference of opinion. But now I see it - step out of line, get a little loose with the "fugly", and it will be noticed. I feel great sympathy for the poor reader who dared to differ - she was swiftly and universally shat upon by, at last count, over 550 commenters.

Compare that to the comments typically received by another of my favourite bloggers, No Impact Man. Colin regularly gets nasty comments, sometimes quite personal. But he doesn't get hundreds of comments from people leaping to his defence. Why? Not only can he defend himself quite well, the topic of discussion is at a different magnitude, and correspondingly passionate. How to reduce one's environmental footprint to save the planet invites debate. Whether or not it is worth one's time to knit grape leaves on socks is apparently sacred.

Now, I have been following the progress of the socks in question, and while I can see that the design is ingenious and the challenge for many an accomplished knitter quite irresistible, I wouldn't make these socks myself. Why? There are not my style, not to my taste, just not my thing - in other words, I THINK THEY'RE UGLY AS SIN! They are, as my mother would say, galoptious, meaning overly decorated. I would say they have lost their integrity, and their relationship to function. But go ahead and make as many as you like - have fun - (and the most sacrilegious thing I will say tonight) it's only knitting!

Don't get me wrong - I love knitting, and I believe it brings good to the world, in many ways. I have done my share of waxing metaphoric about the divine structure of knitting. But I also believe knitting, as a form and practise, is tough, and can withstand critical thought. I'd love to see more lively, gritty discussion about knitting - now that so many knitters have developed the skills and techniques to tackle complex projects, there are a multitude of paths that can be explored.

And if that's leaving myself open to comments from people who disagree, fine!


  1. I didn't follow the "sock comment affair" but I believe the problem is not about whether the socks are nice or ugly - it's about people treating Yarn Harlot as some kind of a no-matter-what-she-knits-guru, a saint, and would fight for her till the last blood drop, irrespective of anything and everything. And that's weird and scary in a way...
    And I agree with you - everyone should have a right to his/her opinions and if we want to hear only the good ones - let's put up a sign "sweet comments only!". *^v^*

  2. Ok--you asked for it. I like those socks, but I think knitting is boring. I knitted constantly for years, way back when it was popular before, and I've been there, done that, have bad wrists to show for it. I always skip knitting parts of blogs.
    On the other hand, I totally agree with you about the sometimes overly positive tone of blog comments. However, I guess the way to interpret it is that people who don't like what they see don't comment, just like I don't comment on knitting.

  3. i'm with you on this one....lets get real!

  4. Anonymous12:43 PM

    Brilliant post !!! You are FANTASTIC!!!! LOL.
    I didnt see the original post or comment storm, but seriously, - those people need to get a life. It's SOCKS...It's Knitting - for goodness sake.
    It's not nice to be critisised, and I was brought up 'if you cant say anything nice, dont say anything at all' I wouldnt call someone elses work ugly, unless they specifically asked my opinion, and then Id probably prevaricate, because Im a wuss. Anyway, its a bit different to guests coming into your house and commenting on the furniture - Im sure if I posted a video tour of my house on youtube and asked for comments, i'd get a heap of people saying 'ugly couch'. You put stuff on you blog with a comments section... you're asking for it....I have to go find no impact man now, his blog sounds just like my cup of tea...might start writing nice comments defending him ...
    ps: please dont come and write nasty stuff on my blog, or I'll cry, and I dont have 550 people to leap to my defence...

  5. Anonymous1:57 PM

    I'd like to disagree, but I can't.:o)

    (About the socks I can't say anything, I don't know what they look like.)

    I understand that mosts comments will be nice because normally you will read blogs with stuff you like (at least in general). But what worth is there in praise, if there is never any disapproval.

    A blog is not a living room. A blog is an open space. Like sitting at a place or in a shopping mall, hundreds and thousands of people passing by. So.. if someone puts his living room in the mall... someone will find it ugly.

    (But maybe I'm just a strange person... my friends also tell me, what they don't like about my linving room furniture. That's what frieds are for... getting someone elses opinion.)

  6. Tough issue. I really like that "living room in a mall" analogy -- at the same time that a blog is incredibly personal, it is also very, very public. I can see why it's difficult to figure out which rules apply. I honestly don't know.

    About the sock controversy -- As you note, Stephanie has stated that she considers her comment section to be her virtual living room, and would like commenters to use that as their yardstick for deciding what is appropriate. Should commenters abide by her request? In itself, that is an interesting question. Should one, indeed can one, exert such control?

    I hope there is a difference between being a sycophant and maintaining a certain level of civility. (I would guess, based on her writings, that Stephanie would be uncomfortable being idolized.)

    And yet expecting that civility is open to question, precisely because of the public/private nature of blogs.

    Personally I'm uncomfortable with any debate that becomes negatively charged. But that's my own issue. I know other people thrive on it.

  7. Anonymous7:45 PM

    Well, this is interesting. I haven't seen the socks either, but obviously they aren't really the important thing here. It's all about the blog and blog rules, if there are any. A blog is a new form of communication which appears to be open to anyone and their two cents. But it isn't really.

    The linguist David Crystal wrote about early internet communucation and found that although it is communication though the printed word, it often follows spoken linguistic rules. It also lends itself to over-familiarity with people we've never actually met and probably never will. It appears to give an outlet to our private opinions and ideas and it does, to an extant. At some point though, the wall of formal communciation comes crashing down and we are brought back to the reality that the blog-world isn't a free-for-all after all.

    Interesting stuff, and all brought on by a pair of socks.

  8. Anonymous8:13 AM

    I'm with you, Heather -- the fawning that goes on is ridiculous. It happens on sewing and other craft blogs also, and completely disrespects the whole idea of critique and dialogue. When women complain that they are not taken seriously as artists, and that textiles and craft aren't taken seriously, I think this is a big part of it. When we treat our work like a big group hug and trivialize it, why would anyone else take it seriously? Now -- this is not to say that community isn't important. It really is, and I've tried to say this on my blog. But aren't we smart enough and tough enough to have real discussion?

    Glad I discovered your blog.

  9. I think it's true that people who don't like what they see on a blog just don't comment. Notice I am commenting :o)

    I think the positive comments are often supportive of the creative effort and process, whatever the actual outcome.

    I have a sharp tongue, and I'm a quite lousy crafter. I appreciate all the support I've had on my blog from talented and skilled persons, it has actually encouraged me to continue. This kind of support I never found in "real" life and it's been a very long journey for me to dare create something.

    Sometimes however, I chuckle at some formulations on comments, because I can almost see the person wondering how she is going to say something nice about my crap lol. But I always appreciate the effort and the kindness, and I get the subtle messages.


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