September 29, 2009

My point, and I do have one

 The weather at the coast is rainy and cool, and it's given me time to think and make decisions (and knit.)

More than every once in a while, a pattern comes along that captures the enthusiasm of a lot of knitters. Monkey, Clapotis, Swallowtail, Fetching, Jaywalker, Baby Surprise Jacket... and every time this happens, the world of knitters can roughly be divided into five groups.

1. Knitters who see something, give no weight at all to whether or not something is popular and either knit it or don't according to their whims.

2. Knitters who see this lots of people knitting something, decide that it's cool and knit it.

3. Knitters who pay attention to what's going on, trend-wise, but have other stuff going on and end up following a trend way late - after everyone else has knit it. (I fall into this group a lot.)

4. Knitters who see that lots of people are knitting something, and decide instantly that they wouldn't be caught dead knitting it, specifically because it's popular.

5. Knitters who don't know what's popular at all, because they aren't part of a knitting community, and really, statistically speaking, this is most knitters. There are about 50 million knitters in North America, and even Ravelry only has 455,766 users. That means that the very biggest chunk of knitters are acting entirely independently. (This is an interesting point for those of us in an active knitting community who think that "everyone" is knitting or reading a particular knitting pattern or source.)

Me, I flip flop around and find myself falling fairly often into the first three groups -and almost never in the last two. (Although I often don't know what's going on in general, I usually know what time it is in the online knitting community.) As a matter of fact its group 4 that I almost never fall into. I understand the argument - or at least I think I do, it seems to be rooted in a strong sense of independence, and a desire to be unique and "trendproof" and that much rings true. I don't know many knitters who would spend as much time, money and energy as it takes to knit something working on something that they don't like or doesn't resonate for them, and I know a lot of knitters who won't knit something really popular even if they do like it, since a big part of knitting for them is the part where they can express their individuality in yarn. Even if they do like a popular pattern, knitting it would make them appear less individual, and so they reject the pattern. That makes lots of sense, and I respect it. There's lots of us who want to look like ourselves, and don't care if there's other people wearing the same thing, and lots of us who want to look like ourselves and feel like that can't be true if you look like everybody else. Fair enough.

There does, however, seem to be a fringe element in that group who would rather die than knit something popular, and in fact hold popular knits and the knitters who knit them in contempt. We've all heard the "sheep" comment - about how if you knit something popular you're just a sheep who's following the herd and have no will of your own and ... You know where this goes. This small group of knitters dislikes things that are popular not because they're worried about protecting their sense of individuality (valid) or not because they don't want to look like everyone else (valid) or because a pattern isn't to their taste (really valid) but simply because it is popular, and for no other reason.

I don't buy the argument, and sometimes I'm even offended by it. The idea that something is a crappy knit just because lots of people knit it, or that those people are somehow brainless minions who are only following a trend annoys me. The whole premise seems rooted in the McDonalds theory. The one that says that something is popular because it's a) accessible, and b) watered down or benign enough that it's now nothing more than the lowest common denominator... a reflection of the basest human cares, devoid of value... and they're right - sometimes. McDonalds is popular because of those reasons. Human like fat, sugar and salt. McDonald's delivers that, pretty much straight up, and is therefore popular. Nobody pretends it's the best food in the world - and everybody knows it's junk. It's popular anyway.

On the other hand, some things are popular because.. well. Frankly they're popular because they're really good. Really, really good. The Mona Lisa. Michelangelo's David. Monet, Bach, chocolate cake ... these things are popular because they're the best of humanity. They're brilliant - and when something is good enough it hits a lot of our common buttons at the other end of the scale, and it gets popular for reasons that are exactly at the other end of the scale from McDonalds.

People who hate popular things on principle aren't allowing for both ends of the scale to exist. They think that everything popular is part of the McDonalds theory, and there's no convincing them otherwise. Even though they (as far as I know) don't walk around saying things like "Michelangelo? What a hack. Anyone who likes him is a brainless sheep who can't think for themselves" or "Bach? What a load of crap. I wouldn't be caught dead listening to him. I wouldn't want people thinking I can't think for myself", they say stuff just like that about knitting patterns or knitting trends. There's enough of this fringe element out there that when I said that I thought that my next knit would probably be the Drops Jacket, that a bunch of them wrote to me and told me that it had already been knit too much, that it was "too popular" and that I should think for myself and choose something else.

With all due respect to them (and I really mean that, just because I disagree with you doesn't mean that I don't like you or think less of you) I think they are ignoring that other end of the scale, and I wonder what makes them think that I'm not thinking for myself and choosing what I like? I mean, it's not like I took a look at that jacket, heaved a huge sigh of regret and said "Damn. That jacket is popular? Crap. Now I'll have to knit it and wear it even though I think it's stupid." Sure, it came to my attention because a lot of people knit it, but what about that makes it a bad pattern, or me brainless?

This is all just a long way of saying that I've decided that my brown handspun should be the Drops Jacket 103-1.

Yes. I know lots of other people have knit it. I think that's because it's a great pattern and because a lot of people have good sense. I don't have a problem with that.

Baa. Sheep unite.

Posted by Stephanie at September 29, 2009 6:16 PM