There comes a time, I hope, when the opinion of someone with over four-and-a-half decades of intensive reading experience, might matter. I say this because I’m constantly struck by those whose opinions actually count, and how little they often are to be considered experts. For example, I watch YouTubers young enough to be my children treated as experts. A little probing sometimes shows that their qualifications are the ability to get people to look at them. Click that like and share button. If enough people do like and share, you can be an expert. Or take opinion columns in newspapers. I notice the headlines for some of these in the New York Times. They are opinions only, and yet the prestige of one of the great American newspapers stands behind them. These are opinions worth listening to.
The popularity contest is an old and venerable tradition. I wasn’t popular in school and wasn’t voted “most likely to” anything. Meanwhile, those chosen as the likely leaders and novelists and beauty-pageant stars generally don’t get too far along that road. As Bruce Springsteen sagely noted, those “Glory Days” pretty much all end up back in high school. But as Bowling for Soup observes, “High School Never Ends.” We like to look at the confident, the well-adjusted, the narcissists. Their sense of entitlement carries over into hoi polloi. The quiet and self-reflective sometimes get noticed, particularly after they’re gone. The Thomas Mertons and Thich Nhat Hanhs. The household names, however, are those who loudly claim they should be heard. Just because they think they should.
Another part of this complex equation is finding a subject that interests people. In my case, I know lots of people are interested in horror, but I also know that there are many experts out there. Ironically, I still have people ask me about ancient West Asian religions—this is a field where you need to be immersed to stay on top of what’s going on. The books and articles you have to keep reading are dense and heavily footnoted. The articles are located in journals not always easily found. Don’t get me wrong—I still miss it. Ironically, now that I can’t keep up people are starting to ask my opinions on it. Perhaps the same will happen with horror and monsters, but long after I’m able to respond effectively. Experts on social media learn to monetize their interests so they can spend full-time at it. And that does, in fact, make them experts in the very specific field of being an expert.