Steve Almond was pissed. It all started with a discussion about The Best American Short Stories with his MFA writing students.

To my astonishment, a number of students made comments indicating their disdain for the annual anthology.

“Wait a second,” I said. “The stories in those collections are always great.”

There was an awkward pause. Then one of them said, “You’re being ironic, right?”

At this point, I sort of lost it.

You can read the whole article over at Poets and Writer’s. But what interested me in the article was two things:

  • How many times have we all said, “________ movie /book/game/band/writer/ weather/student/teacher, was completely shit.”
  • Is Steve Almond right about the empowered feeling of entitlement being more prevalent in the internet connected world?

Recently I told Gord that I really didn’t dig the 2013 edition. Which is true. I probably said something like: “there was a whole lot of quiet desperate lives stories. I don’t like quiet desperate lives. I want more shit to happen. A bomb, or at least constipation.

(There were two stories in the collection I really liked: “Miss Lora,” and “Breatharians.” Read them. Love them.)

Now does this mean that I don’t respect the other stories? Does it mean that I think those writers are hacks and should have their MacBooks glued shut?

Of course not. Because what I, and others, like or don’t like is purely a matter of taste. Just like an editor that chooses what stories publish, or the agent, the editor of a major publisher, etc. And we’re all entitled to our own taste right?

(Now my blood is boiling and my fingers are ready to rattle off a righteous rant!)

And this is the slippery slope that many will tumble down, especially those who don’t bother to read the whole thing to the end. (Then again, it’s really hard to pin down what exactly “entitlement” splits from opinion and into arrogance.)

But I don’t think that’s Steve Almond’s point.

His point, I think, is don’t dismiss just because you’re jealous or because it makes you feel like you’re better than you really are. Don’t slam others to make yourself feel/look good.

Respect others, respect the craft, and remember to be humble.

You know, like in the good old days before the internet allowed us to scream out to the world and find like-minded screamers. Because it’s not like we have a really long tradition about that kind of thing…

Alexander Pope, John Dryden, or more recently all of these guys and gals.

But with all of this said, I think Steve Almond is really onto something: (Bolding, my emphasis)

Entitlement operates at a more basic and often unconscious level. It’s a kind of defensive snobbery, a delusion that the world and its constituent parts—whether a product or a piece of art or a loved one—exist to please you.

Americans as a whole have become more entitled as we’ve become more deeply immersed in consumer culture, with its insidious credo: The customer is always right.

This is why I often find it disheartening to eavesdrop on people at the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ conference and book fair, for instance. So many of the conversations seem to be about why this panel sucked or that writer is overrated.

I understand the temptation to talk smack. It’s daunting to be surrounded by ten thousand people who all want the same thing: the adoration of readers. Especially given the dwindling audience for poetry and literary fiction and nonfiction. People wind up feeling powerless, which leads them to seek the cheapest available form of power: the power to judge.

If we snark and talk smack out of entitlement, rather than a passion and respect for the craft, that is a bad thing. It just makes everyone end up looking like a lopsided boob.

So Steve Almond is onto something.

Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley via Compfight cc

No respect: a lesson in entitlement