The torment of “something for everyone”

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column. (Image via Pexels.)

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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher

Anyone who’s spent time writing or editing has no doubt identified their own set of grammatical and rhetorical pitfalls that drive them bonkers. Some are inoffensive if sloppy technical mistakes that set off a little twinge of irritation each time they show up in a draft, like misplaced hyphens or unclear subject-verb relationships. But others cut deeper, offending one’s very specific and personal sense of how writing and the world should work. I terminate “whiskey-soaked vocals” and “female-fronted band” on sight, to note just a couple examples of the problem phrases that afflict music coverage. I also recently found out that I’m not the only person who experiences profound torment when encountering the phrase “something for everyone.”

Capital Times reporter Lindsay Christians, perhaps the arts writer I respect the most in town, recently told me that she has banned “something for everyone.” At some point I did this as well, but it has admittedly slipped past me in a few Tone Madison pieces. We traded a few notes recently on why these three words rankle us so.

“It’s lazy,” Christians says. “It’s the thing restaurateurs say when they don’t know how to say what they really mean—like, this restaurant is for drunk college kids on State Street. This restaurant is for rich white people. This restaurant is for people who want to think they’re eating somewhere special and exotic, but really just want big plates of cheap carbohydrates.”

Here’s the nut of the problem for Christians: “It’s fundamentally untrue. None of the things in the list I gave you [above] have ‘something for everyone.’ I am one of everyone, and I do not like Piloxing, most late contemporary classical music or, whatever, monster trucks.”

As someone who is also one of everyone, my big issue is that, in a media and entertainment world that is all about niches and niche audiences, the concept of “everyone” falls apart and has no real utility for the reader. A band or movie or restaurant might appeal to a whole mix of tastes and constituencies, true, but it never adds up to anywhere near everyone. Media types like to challenge each other’s story ideas or business plans with this question: “Who’s your audience?” If you answer that you have “something for everyone,” you really have no answer.

Journalists should assume that their readers are smart and engaged and have their own independently formed ideas about what they like and what they are curious about. As an arts writer, I might be able to offer you a perspective you don’t have or point you toward something you haven’t checked out before, but I should also respect that your tastes and interests are just as complex as mine. Using the phrase “something for everyone” is like driving an asphalt roller over those considerations.

Plenty of worthier journalists than I have fallen back on the phrase, and we shouldn’t denigrate them for doing so. But by talking openly about it we can perhaps help each other out and hold each other accountable. We all struggle at times to express our thoughts without falling back on clichés and placeholders—that’s why people need editors, sounding board, time to think and revise. We also work in an ever more stressed-out, under-resourced media world, which puts real strain on the writing and editing process. As we contend with that, let’s not try to please everyone, because in this world there is no everyone.



New this week:

On the podcast, Kai Brito reports on the revived Monsters Of Poetry reading series.

Reid Kurkerewicz takes a first look at The Winnebago, a new café and venue on the near-east side.

As That BBQ Joint prepares to close, Scott Gordon offers a lament for southern food in Madison.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Golpe Tierra played a live set on Wisconsin Public TelevisionEdge Effects looks at the Chazen’s current exhibit on early photography. Electronic music site Resident Advisor has high marks for Madison’s Klack and Ilana BryneThe Capital Times talks with culinary historian Michael Twitty.

This week’s Madison calendar: Three experimental shorts from Ephraim Asili screen at Arts + Literature Laboratory. Techno artist IVVY plays Robinia Courtyard. Teenage Fanclub plays the MajesticAnd more.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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