The Stock Market with French Flaps
The Blue Light Project has been nominated for a CBC Bookie Award. Thanks to the CBC producers who included me on a list with Patrick deWitt, Esi Edugyen, Brian Francis and Elizabeth Hay. Those are amazing writers! I’m truly honored.
That said, it’s fascinating that this particular novel would be nominated for this particular prize.
The Blue Light Project is the story of a lone street artist, Rabbit, who pulls off a city-scale installation so beautiful that it stops chaos in its tracks. The chaos in question is a hostage crisis. A man storms a TV studio where they’re taping a cynical reality show called Kiddiefame. The man has a bomb. He seals the studio with a bunch of kids inside. The surrounding city descends into bedlam as confusion mounts. The power of Rabbit’s installation is that it umbrellas the city in a moment of intense splendor. But the work also mesmerizes people by magnificently opting out of the intense rivalries that animate shows like Kiddiefame and the broader culture the show reflects.
Rabbit’s art rises above. And dazzled by the vision of it, people are moved and changed.
Obviously, Kiddiefame wasn’t an arbitrary choice. It represent entertainment in our era. What television show isn’t “reality” now? Check out food TV. Five years ago Mario Batalli was sharing recipes. Now he’s battling to the death in Kitchen Stadium. But the whole television product has shifted that way, as television critic John Doyle recently lamented. Everything on the tube now seems to be about people getting chopped and eliminated and dragon-denned into submission.
Literature used to stand aloof from all this mano-a-mano action. At the Giller Prize ceremony with Stanley Park, I recall feeling real sympathy for my fellow nominees. We were all in the same boat, tossed together on the seas of fate. Competition between us was purely abstract since there was nothing we could individually do about anything.
Online voting competitions change that dynamic completely. You can choose not to self-promote (more on that in a minute). But candidates can absolutely influence results. If a vote is your objective, the Tweetiest and most Facebookie candidate can indeed win. Klout = clout.
The Bookies are precisely tuned to the cultural moment, in other words. And their impact will compliment other developments which now extend the writer’s job far past merely writing the book. Post-publication is now the busiest season, where the author needs to be out there working the networks, pumping hands and kissing babies, on the stump, looking for love.
In all of that activity, however, it’s worth pausing to reflect that literature in a contest for votes is just the stock market with French flaps. Art might save us, as it promises in the conflicted world of my novel. But there aren’t very many people left in our real and conflicted world who think the stock market can save us now.
None of which should be taken to mean that I feel above it all. I set up a Facebook page for Blue Light. I’ve been nominated for Canada Reads, previously. I Tweet (@Timothy_Taylor_). I’m part of the phenomenon.
Do I sit this one out, then? Well, I won’t email the universe. I won’t Facebook or Tweet anything other than this post. Not because I don’t want to win. Of course I want to win (although I’m pretty sure Patrick will nick the prize for his wonderful book). But it’s academic, because you can’t very well ask people to make you the most popular for a book that ruthlessly criticizes that very social impulse.
I could vote for myself, of course. I have already. I discovered that by opening and closing Firefox I can vote for myself endlessly. I could probably squeeze in several thousand votes for myself before the month end. I could RoboCall my way to a win!
And I was tempted, I confess. After all, I’ve been nominated for book prizes and never won. A favorite magazine editor once said to me: dude, you better win one of these soon or you’re going to go down as the Susan Lucci of Canadian letters.
But I won’t. I promise. I will vote only as many times as there are days remaining in the contest, as per the rules. I’ll enjoy the irony and go on to what I now think of as the blissful part of the publishing cycle. I’ll just get busy on this next book.
It’s going to be a winner.