Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie & Julia: It's Not About the Food, It's About the Media

"Julie & Julia" opened this weekend, a movie about Julia Child's rise as one of America's premier food mavens and a blogger's search for the meaning of life through the re-creation of each of the 540-some recipes in Julia's seminal tome, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

The two principals never meet, and the movie cuts back forth between their stories. Among the interesting contrasts between the two tales - in addition to period costumes and heavy (cigarette) smoking during Julia's time, especially during dinner time - is the stark difference in media and the opportunity for self-expression. For example, Julia and her co-conspirators set out to write the first cookbook explaining French cooking in English for the American housewife audience. That entails laboriously typing over 700 pages of manuscripts, with copies possible only through the use of carbon paper and onion-skin duplicates. The completed book must then be (snail) mailed to a publisher, who stands as the gatekeeper between the authors and their audience. The first prospective publisher rejects the book, but the second comes to the rescue. This gives Julia's book a much smoother ride to publication than that endured by many of today's most well-known authors, including J.K. Rowling and John Grisham, who apparently encountered double-digit rejections before reaching publication.

By contrast, Julie Powell, the intrepid blogger, has no such third-party obstacles. She is online within minutes (at least in movie time) of conceiving the idea of her blog. Of course, finding an audience (other than her mother) takes a little longer, but at least the audience (and media attention) she attracts is presumably a function of the quality of her writing, not dependent on the judging panel of a publisher that makes the American Idol crew seem promiscuous.

The moral of the story seems to be that, in this web 2.0, interconnected, user-generated world, anyone can be a writer. As one would expect, in that event, anyone will. Even me.