Shaken and Stirred
bond, gwenda bond

fighting words and rubber faces
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So, the lovely Barb Gilly pointed me to a new set of blogs--pleasantly snarky, literary, writery, non-genre blogs--while she was here. Maud Newton's links page being a great place to find links to many more. These are excellent, hilarious blogs and have already pointed me toward a few hidden wonders of the internet.

So, I was aghast, or at least pissed off, when reading Maud Newton's response to an attack on her and many of these other blogs that was obviously unfounded and vicious and no fun at all by Jennifer Howard in this Washington Post piece from November 14.

Reading that piece only made me more pissed off. I will never understand why people, especially people who work for major journalistic empires, are so frightened of the blogosphere. I will also never understand petty meanness, just because you can be, when you're really just talking out of your ass anyway.

A few choice paragraphs so you get the picture:

What began as the ultimate outsider activity -- a way to break the newspaper and TV stranglehold on the gathering and dissemination of information -- is turning into the same insider's game played by the old establishment media the bloggerati love to critique. The more blogs you read and the more often you read them, the more obvious it is: They've fallen in love with themselves, each other and the beauty of what they're creating. The cult of media celebrity hasn't been broken by the Internet's democratic tendencies; it's just found new enabling technology.

The problem's built into the medium itself. Blogs are set up to be personal forums for someone's opinions. That's the point, the liberating thing about them. Bloggers don't have to get their copy past an editor, and they can sound off at any length -- no word limits in cyberspace. They're products of a seismic cultural shift that makes someone's hangover as newsworthy as the arrival of a Harry Potter novel. The sassier the voice, the more successful the blog is likely to be. In a Google universe, success is defined by hits: the number of visits a Web page gets. The more blogs link to each other, the more hits they all get; enough hits and a cyberstar is born. (Okay, color me envious: I don't even know if Google can find my Web site, not that anyone's looking.)

.... and then ....

If the ad hominem tactics made for a better read, I might not mind so much. Sure, it can be fun in a sick sort of way, like watching a bar fight while you nurse a beer in the corner. But more and more it gets in the way of what makes blogs useful to someone like me, and that's information. After making my daily e-rounds, I feel more plugged into what's going on -- and ever more burned out on cronyism and negativity. Even if you rely on blogs for idiosyncratic takes on the news, even if you enjoy seeing sacred cows slaughtered, even if you believe, as I do, that the world needs the kind of Zorro-like cultural commentary they're so good at, you start to wonder: Is this getting a little too personal?

I snipped the sections where she details her main complaint, which seems to be namechecking other blogs. I had to include the paragraph that includes the phrase "ad hominem." As Christopher says, whoever uses that phrase first always loses, because they always have the weaker argument.

(Sorry, for the links heaviness here, but this gets to me and I'm about to make a point. Hang in there.)

There are plenty of intelligent, appropriately tongue-in-cheek or appropriately incensed responses by people mentioned in the piece or not mentioned but hanging from the same blog-shingle--most of them linked to in this post at Moorish Girl.

Briefly, here's what I find offensive about the Howard piece. First of all, to come in throwing shoulder and declare something "ovah" when you admit you aren't a part of it and didn't even know what it was until a few minutes (okay, a year) ago is the teeniest bit self-aggrandizing and nobody has to namecheck you to make it so. Give me a break. Jennifer Howard, who's not claiming she's never googled her own name, is suddenly the expert and arbiter of the built-in problems of blogs, the critic without a stake in the game. Looks like easy pickings to me. She'd have been better off starting her own damn blog or buying a nice stationery set and writing about it to gramma.

The other thing is this: she could just stop reading them. These are a few blogs in a vast sea of blogitude. Move on. Stop readng blogs entirely, if it's so ovah. But don't bitch and moan and slam the people who are still doing it and still reading it and still feel it's worthwhile. If it wasn't important in some way, you wouldn't take the time to write about it. So, put down your shoulder and admit it's all really just a ploy to get people to surf your site. (Actually, that's just an ad hominem jibe.)

But mainly what gets me is her utter lack of ability to get it. Creating communities, pockets of overlapping interest, is what the Internet does. Be it on a mailing list for Tom Robbins fans or a discussion board for avian athletes or an infinite universe of other specialized interests of which literary life is just one. Blogging is a conversation. At its best, it's not even all that one-sided a conversation. What it is not, by inherent design, is the voice crying out in the wilderness. It's about making a connection with other people. What you shouldn't do is bitch about feeling left out of that conversation because you like to watch, rather than join in. What you shouldn't do is get angry that people are connecting to each other and making connections. (That's gotten an awful connotation hasn't it -- connection -- but I mean it here in the best, simplest sense, and in no way a smarmy one.)

What you shouldn't do is write a prissy column slamming people for creating a community you get access to whether you deserve it or not.

And that's pretty much all I have to say about that. Aren't you glad?

Peter Straub's new book is scary, scary. Do not read the last third alone in the house by yourself in the afternoon when you can't remember if you locked the back door. You will regret it.

p.s. The note worked, at least for last night!

p.p.s. Celebrity Poker on Bravo -- oh yeah!

earworm: "Hope is a Thing With Feathers," Trailer Bride

random rec: all those blogs I linked to, yo

namecheck: Old Hag, Antic Muse, Moorish Girl, and all the other lit bloggers

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