Death of the Blog
By Crispin Sartwell
Ponder with me if you feel
like it the sad fate of the blog.
There was a time when "blog"
meant that almost anyone could publish almost anything she wanted, when it
seemed that the media of political discourse were being radically decentralized
with incredible rapidity, when no one could control what people were writing
and reading or its remarkable and strange effects.
The mainstream media (msm) would become
obsolete, their tepid opinions and colorless language swamped in a sea of free,
beautiful, anarchic ranting. And by sheer vastness and variety, all this talk
would be self-correcting; everybody could participate everywhere, and every
mistake would draw a hundred subversions.
It seemed a remarkable realization of
But the blogosphere is now under
full-scale consolidation and colonization. Most of the most-read
"blogs" are simulations. Let's consider a few examples.
The "Daily Kos" is perhaps the
most-visited political blog on the net. The discussion is lively, and
apparently free-wheeling: there's even the occasional cuss word. But truth to
tell it is the mouthpiece of the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic Party, and
taken all in all it is painfully orthodox and unanimous ("with
a Democrat like [Joe Lieberman] on the Armed Services Committee, why do we need
are dozens of official right-wing versions as well, of course.
That is one form of the contemporary
pseudo-blog: the tool of a political party or issue organization
Another genre is the "blog" put
up by an msm outlet. These things are multiplying like mad, and newspaper
websites are quickly mutating into blog collages, on specific subjects or driven
by specific personalities.
Washingtonpost.com lists 25 "blogs."
The New York Times has taken to publishing guest columnists such as Sarah
Vowell and Stanley Fish in blog format. The Los Angeles Times keeps you abreast
of the news and gossip from Vegas, for example, with a blog. Time magazine has
signed up long-time blogger Andrew Sullivan, among others.
These are best thought as slightly
re-formatted msm opinion columns and news stories.
A genuine blog, it seems to me, is
unedited; it is someone specific. It's probably riddled with typos etc, but it
represents the unadulterated voice of an individual rather than the flattened
prose and predictable range of opinions of a bureaucracy.
But an msm pseudo-blog is ultimately
subject to all the same constraints as the rest of the publication. The
publication is just as suable there as anywhere else, and so everything
questionable is going to have to get through the legal department. These things
are edited by cautious and conscientious professionals, and the "bloggers"
know the constraints before they write.
These faux blogs can be good; I very
much enjoy Joel Achenbach's at washingtonpost, for example. But even their
liveliness is just a trifle disturbing. They are attempts to simulate a free-wheeling
idiosyncratic voice and point of view. They take the little frisson that
accompanied the first efflorescence of the blog and try to clone or replicate
it in a context that is anything but free.
And, just let's not deal with
commercial flogs, beautifully designed sites with bold entries such as "Giorgio
Armani Croc-Embossed Tote & Embellished Satin Halter." Amazon.com has instituted "plogs";
there, Meg Wolitzer is telling us that she's almost finished
Ayelet Waldman's "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," "which is
really smart and tender." Nike and Microsoft blog. At the same
time, there is more and more advertising on actual blogs (intapundit,com:
"HELP RE-ELECT SENATOR GEORGE ALLEN"), which can be expected to have
the effect of toning down content.
Perhaps this is the fate of all
media - indeed, all signs of life or communication whatever: bludgeoned by
bureaucracy, corporate, organizational, and governmental. I think it's fair to
say that the blogosphere is liable to come under FEC and FCC regulation, the
traditional death rattle of any form of human expression.
This particular communication
revolution is over. But if you felt like pondering with me after all, I don't
want merely to leave you melancholy. After all, every repression is the
occasion of the next resistance, and human communication essentially
uncontrollable. So bring on the next idea.