(Ed. Skip down if you don't care about beer bloggers.)
I'll make this brief, since I feel, as many do, that navel-gazing is not particularly interesting to the rest of the world, but the short version is this: One of my favorite beer writers, Andy Crouch, whose book I just gleefully received for my birthday, I guess had a bad day and decided to write a long rambling post that almost dealt with cool questions but eventually came down to asking why people would write about beer if they didn't get paid to do it. 67 comments later, he did a second post and asked a good question about the Beer Bloggers Conference that occurred this weekend (namely, what's the value in that?). I'll look forward to hearing BBC10 reports to know if the experiment was, in fact, valuable, but the bigger issue is that the craft beer community had a bit of an ugly online weekend where those who have book contracts looked generally mystified as to why anyone would write about beer for free.
To the rescue came Jeff Alworth, Wikio's #1 Beer Blog author and general man of sanity, who got right to the source of what the issues were, and did so with his usual insight and clarity. Here's the takeaway paragraph on the nature of blogging:
Although it's not easy to define "professional" anymore, blogs are not so murky. They are unfiltered personal opinion. Whether we're talking about an anonymous knitting blogger or Paul Krugman, the nature of the blog is personal. Krugman's blog is a lot different than his column. It's pricklier and funnier, shorter and more oblique, more casual and sometimes way more technical. It is a reflection of his mind. Blogs exist because humans have to talk. We talk about the things that interest us and, if there's no editor getting in our way, in the way we want to. Long ago I came to the conclusion that a "writer" had almost nothing to do with success. A writer is a person who can't help but write. Good or bad, it's a part of the way they navigate the world.This is why I'm a Jeff Alworth fan. Go and read it if you want the insider baseball.
Okay, onto more beer and art.
I want to follow up on the Witch's Wit issue, which generated some really quality discussion and debate here and at places like The Beer and Whiskey Brothers, and some less quality stupidity on some other sites. Beer and Videogames tried to do their part by reminding us that the label was at least intended in humor. Then Alan McLeod tried to remind us that the label depicts an actual murder, which is at least "icky" and people can be forgiven for not finding that a suitable subject for label art.
I do want to just have a Coda to the debate.
As many have pointed out, there are many issues going on here. Let me first say that I don't buy the argument that says Lost Abbey should not change the label out of some resistance to a "PC" movement. The label depicts an act of violence, and if you think being against violence is PC, well, I can't help you.
There is also the issue of business. Burning witches, this argument goes, do not beer drinking inspire. Maybe, but this has been the label for three years, so it's doing something right. I don't really buy the idea that Lost Abbey, a phenomenal success in the industry, is terrible at marketing, though I do accept that they might not want to fight about this label for any number of good reasons.
Then there is the issue of the difference between art and marketing art.
In a long conversation with a reader named Zen, who was insightful and patient in allowing me to ramble, I said that one of the main questions comes down to whether one believes that art designed to sell something is fundamentally different from art designed only to be perceived. If you do believe that, then this label probably strikes you as offensive, because showing an act of violence to sell something is not justifiable morally.
But I don't believe that is always the case. And part of why I believe that is because I believe art is not separable from its audience.
Of course, using burning witches to sell beer is a suspect idea, but it's not just any beer. Craft beer's market is very different from mainstream beer's market. I would never suggest MillerCoors use images to sell Blue Moon, for example, but then they probably wouldn't adopt a whole label series around Catholic satire, either. And that's where my rambling to Zen translated to a part of the issue I hadn't thought about before.
Part of what made this an issue for Lost Abbey after three years is, in fact, Lost Abbey's success. When you're a niche label in a niche industry, it's easy to be playful and edgy. But as the brand grew, it became more mainstream, at least within craft beer. And, as one of craft beer's success stories, Lost Abbey attracted more eyes, even though it was using the same marketing as it always had.
That's why I still believe the answer is education. Yes, I realize this makes me a softie liberal twit. But in this case, changing the marketing would have real costs, and it would be at least a tacit admission of guilt that I don't think Tomme Arthur wants. Instead, embrace the original intent, which is derision at the ignorance of the Church-sponsored Inquisition. Do some good, and let's all drink a beer.
Okay, we're done with that. For sitting through it, I give you art:
Here's an example of some art that is unpleasant to look at, but is that way because of its desire to raise awareness and money for a cause:
The CraftCans.com tribute to the Goonies:
And finally, yes I know this is wine, but it's still cool alcohol packaging:
WSJ and Box Vox say, more socially acceptable than little bottles.