I just received an email from my local knitting store informing me of their website launch. No, please continue to read. I’m not going to slobber on about women and community, nor will I defend the nobility of DIY or ponchos. I don’t go in for those sorts of shenanigans, particularly when there seems to be a worldwide crush on “crafting” and I am a big-time grouch. Web technologies have created a mushroom-cloud explosion of young women who make things, talk about making things and talk about getting together to talk about making things. My personal pants are not on fire about it. I do, however, field email about yarn. I also write about my adventures in silk-paper decoupage in my secret online journal that you will never read, not ever.
There is a difference between what I do and what they do. And at this point in the column, I guess I have a little dignity invested in exploring it.
Websites like LiveJournal, DiaryLand and Blogger have removed barriers to online authoring for those not aggressively inclined toward nerding it up. Young women, the magical demographic, seem to have taken to this new ease especially well. But now that the trope of the maudlin, misspelled weblog has entered the collective joke book, how can a gal with a laptop and valuable insights be taken seriously? How does she talk about herself without talking about herself? And how do you expect her to afford Web hosting on six bucks an hour?
As it turns out, redirecting focus from one’s self (and one’s thoughts about rainbows and Hello Kitty and pin-up girls) to objects is an excellent way to deflect scrutiny—and it is this phenomenon that makes crafting such a popular choice for weblog material. Add to that the hive-minded notion of the misery of the postmodern condition—buying, never creating—and out of the forehead of the Internet Zeus springs forth a fully armoured Athena: the concept of crafting as the authentic way to spend leisure time, keep modern despair at bay, earn pin money and create a supportive community of women.
So a throwback Cult of Granny rules the Web, sewing, knitting, glue-gunning, beading and cross-stitching women together across the bandwidth. It’s entertaining to have a look through these personal pages and see what people are up to. Many times, however, what they are up to is homogeneity veiled in defensive politicization. Cribbed motifs of cat ears, robots, pirates and cherries repeat in permutations throughout Web rings, as their creators invoke the self-congratulatory-punk-rock-DIY correctness of their endeavours. Everyone is peddling something. Most of it is offensive from a skill standpoint, in addition to being totally useless.
The justification is that, like all things punk, these objects carry with them a level of authenticity that is beyond criticism. Well, I was punk for a bit, and I can tell you that posting pics of your sand candles and friendship bracelets at Craftster is really nothing like it. Punk is not about art, and it’s never about crafts. It’s a selfish, self-imposed poverty of the wallet and the spirit acted out by individuals who regard much-needed psychiatric therapy as a tool of The Man. Only a mild sociopath can disrespect property and yet amass a Scrooge-worthy collection of vinyl and zines. And only a deluded little wiener would knit a garter-stitch scarf to sell online and call it punk. DIY? Perhaps. But personally, I would be ashamed to have done that.
The problem with online-crafting rhetoric is twofold: it requires a consensus from all participants and it promotes a brand of feminism that is off-limits to criticism, no matter how warranted. Anyone who does not immediately applaud the work of another is branded a “troll”—even users who don’t post anonymously and who bother to be thoughtful (in the same vein as the well-reasoned comments I expect to receive below this column). Apparently, dissent takes up too much discussion space, space which could be better used for more pictures of the questionable item you’ve “crafted” out of duct tape and the ensuing comments expressing mild admiration and congratulations.
Political unity and politeness toward other members’ naïve crafts stand in for one another whenever it’s convenient: “Don’t challenge our politics” becomes “Don’t challenge the worthiness of my handicrafts,” and vice versa. These two tenets have become tangled together in a way that delights the Bust magazine subscription department and puts anyone off the trail of honest discussion—especially anyone who finds the politics troubling or the end-result craft to be of arguable value.
A few years ago, I picked up a neo-conservative academic journal in my university library. I was utterly unsurprised to find an article by Jean Railla, the founder of getcrafty.com, now supernaturale.com. Getcrafty’s content was instrumental in propagating crafting as a political act, and its Glitter forum was the laboratory where begging to differ was branded trollishness, making things was deemed punk and the whole business was elevated to a social activity aesthetically and morally above reproach. This is not the vibrant “community of women” it proposes to be. It’s more like a gated community. And I don’t want to live there.
Ultimately, though, craft culture and punk culture do share a few qualities. Both value individual expression to the point of disallowing critique, and both mimic majority-culture economics and values on a subcultural scale while insisting they provide a morally superior alternative. And majority culture looks to both of them for marketing cues; the cultures imply and depend upon one another—the Amazon write-up for Railla’s book, for instance, reads like an excerpt from Fascinating Womanhood.
So if it’s all a matter of scale, I’ll go big and crafting can go home. Just not to mine—I don’t want that jank mess in my house.
David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto--for a large technology corporation and a non-profit, respectively. They met via their blogs, and were married in the winter of 2002. They have a hamster and a dog, but no yacht. Nerdworld appears every second Sunday.