[ed note: found in an empty ink barrel in an alley behind Dow Jones: first draft of Joseph Rago's turgid indictment against the blogosphere]
"Imbeciles eating poo flung by uncredentialed monkeys."
BY JOSEPH RAGO
Blogs are very important these days. Oh, so very, very important. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't get some apocalyptic scaremail from Dow Jones management about blogs this, and blogs that, and how we need to be more bloggy, and how "bloggers don't expense $40 lunches" when management knows damn well that was a legitimate business meal for my last column. Why, even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has one, and were it available in 1938, Hitler himself would have had his own page on MeinKampfSpace. The invention of the Web log, we are told, is as transformative as Gutenberg's press; nay, the phonetic alphabet, maybe even the Cro-Magnons' discovery of fire. "Look Kronk! Og blog! Og blog Gooooood!"
The ascendancy of Internet technology did bring with it innovations. Information is more conveniently disseminated, often with eye-catching dancing hamsters, and there's more of it, especially when you turn your Google "adult content" filter off. What's more, anybody can chip in. Yep, just any-old-body, from good old senile Aunt Gertie to the local early-parole molester. So I guess there's more "choice"--and in a sense, more "democracy," and "fact checking," if you have a hard-on for that sort of "thing." Folks on the "WWW," conservatives especially, boast and crow about how the alternative media corrodes the "MSM," for mainstream media, often with a sneering "LOL," for laughing out loud, as they type frantically into their anonymous "PCs," for personal computers. To this, we must ask: "WTF?", for what the fudge?
The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared, preening, narcissist curators would like to think. Real journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age -- it takes hardbitten, cynical J-school trained newshounds in fedoras and trench coats, willing to dig and probe and expense whatever it takes to break the big story, getting their facts straight the first time, and making sure they've saved all the relevant fact-gathering receipts. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, these filthy, bottom-feeding parasites are like aquatic lice, clinging to the underside of leeches who suck blood from the remora fish who cowardly ride along the belly of this proud, aging shark I call "professional journalism."
More success is met in purveying opinion and comment. Some thoughtful critics note that blogs tend to disinhibit, and are responsible the coarsening and increasing volatility of political life; and, for that reason alone, these critics note that blogs should just go screw themselves. Maybe so. But politics weren't much rarefied when proto-blogger John Wilkes Booth was venting his opinion at FordTheater.com back in '65. The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling. Seriously bad, to the point of physical, gastrointestinal revulsion. Full-on, projectile vomit stuff.
Don't believe me? Go read some blogs. Go ahead, I'll wait.
See what I mean? Hey, don't blame me if you forgot the barf bag, I gave you fair warning. Every conceivable -- and inconceivable -- belief is on the scene, but the collective prose, by and large, is homogeneous: A tone of careless informality prevails; a cacaphonous miasma of perfunctory langorous bellicosity; posts oscillate between the uselessly brief and the uselessly logorrheic; cascading, tremulous arpeggios of useless prosaicity; complexity and complication are eschewed; directivity and candor and perspicacity belied; the humor is cringe-making, with irony present only in its conspicuous absence, which, when one thinks about it, is in itself ironic, creating an infinite, unintended laff-riot loop of ironic non-irony; arguments are totally solipsistic; their obviously drunk and/or crack-addled writers traffic only in pronouncement, and are loathe to employ professional-grade opinion tools like Roget's Thesaurus, or the dramatic sentence-ending ellipsis . . .
The way we write affects both style and substance.
The loquacious formulations of late Henry James, for instance, e.g., owe in part to his arthritis, which made longhand impossible, and instead he dictated his writing to a secretary. This is why we remember him fondly as journalism's "Great Dictator." We can also learn much from the effluvient garrolous pronunciamentos of my biggest journalistic influence, the opinion giant Irwin Corey. In this aspect, journalism as practiced via, and vis-a-vis, blog, appears, per se, to be a change for the worse, ad nauseum. Res ipsa loquitir: that is, i.e., the inferiority of the medium is rooted in its new, distinctive literary form, viz., et al. Its closest analogue might be the (poorly kept) diary, or the "honey do" chore list of a (harridan) housewife, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope, or bathroom stall; e.g., "for good heh, read the whole thing," or somesuch, though these things are not meant for public consumption. The reason for a blog's being is: Here's my opinion, right now.
The right now is partially a function of technology, which makes instantaneity possible, and also a function of a culture that valorizes the up-to-the-minute above all else. Ooh baby, I've been a bad topic. Blog me now, blog me hard! But there is no inherent virtue to instantaneity. Good opinion, like good wine, takes time to ferment and develop a rich, full bodied flavor with hints of oak and apricot; and, like a virtuous maiden, a good opinion waits for the right time and the right reader, and will not just throw herself like a cheap dimestore slut at the first lothario who adds her to his "little black blog book" of RSS feeds.
But blogs must be timely if they are to influence politics. Instant response, with not even a day of delay, impairs rigor. It is also a coagulant for orthodoxies. And there is nothing that pisses me off like an orthodoxy coagulated by impaired rigor. We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought--instead, panics and manias; entropic frenzies and chaotic tumults; clamors and hubbubs; boiling folderols and dins and confusions; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and turmoils, and also panics and manias. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate and hook up for sleazy one-opinion stands, creates a kinky virtual bathhouse in the cyberspace red-link district.
This cross-referential and interactive arrangement, in theory, should allow for some resolution to divisive issues, with the market sorting out the vagaries of individual analysis. Not in practice. Verily, analytic vagaries lie about, willy-nilly, mocking us, and the market itself, with their cruelly unresolved unsortedness. The Internet is very good at connecting and isolating like-minded people, and also good at illustrating why these same people should never have been given access to computers in the first place. The petty interpolitical feuding mainly points out that someone is a liar or an idiot or both. Then the inevitable response. Then somebody blogs something about somebody else's baby's momma, and then it's on, and before you know it both Tupac and Biggie are dead, and Dre can't blog without at least four body guards. Chill, y'all.
But because these violent political blogs are predictable, they are also excruciatingly boring. More acutely, they promote intellectual disingenuousness, as well as crudely designed novelty T-shirts. Thus the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq. "Iraq? What's an Iraq?? Click on my distracting BlogAd for the new hilarious Hillary t-shirt!!" Conservatives have long taken it as self-evident that the press unfavorably distorts the war, which may be the case. But today that country is an intellectually disinhibited disingenuous vastation, and this is precisely my point.
Leftward blog fatuities too are easily found: perhaps almost as many as the many, many specific examples of fatuous conservative blogs I cited in the preceding paragraphs. But that's not the point; the fatuity matters more than the politics. It's the fatousity, stupid, and the first thing a journalist learns at Columbia Journalism School, right after the "4 Ws," "plus H," it is the eschewition of fatuositiness. If the blogs have enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Conrad's judgment of newspapering--"written by fools to be read by imbeciles"--they have also demonstrated a remarkable antidisestablismentarianist ecumenicalisticationism in filling out that same role themselves. Because we are enshrouded in a protective membrane of elastic latex, while they enrobed of visciduous mucilage, everything they say bounceth off of us, and sticketh to them.
Nobody wants to be an imbecile. More acutely, fewer than 6%, with a 3.2% margin of error, according to on October '06 WSJ survey of national imbecility trends. Part of it, I think, is that everyone likes shows and entertainments, like the naughty boys who sneak under the tent at the county carnival to catch a peek of the hootchie-cootchie girls, only to snag their knee britches and get pinched by the sideshow barker. They get a whuppin' and extra chores for shaming their ma and pa, and are made an example at the Sunday-go-to-meetin'. But do you know what? At the after-meetin' fried chicken picnic, those same boys will be sneaking off behind the band gazebo to to ogle French postcards and smoke Cubebs and write up their animal-passion blogs. Because blog mobs are exciting, and if you ask one why they blog, they will tell you, "it's the beat, daddio! The beat! The beat! The beat!"
People also like validation of what they already believe, and don't even think about telling me different. The Internet, like all free markets outside newspapers, has a way of gratifying the violent, mediocre passions of the imbecile masses. And part of it, especially in politics, has to do with conservatives. In their frustration with the ancien régime, conservatives quite eagerly traded for an enlarged discourse. In the process they created a fast-food-for-thought counterestablishment serving up a menu heavy in greasy, trans-fatty panics; and one completely bereft of nutritious bon mots, high-irony French and Latin idioms, or even a simple eleven-syllable salad bar.
Certainly the MSM, such as it is, collapsed itself. It was once utterly dominant yet made itself vulnerable by playing on its reputed accuracy and disinterest to pursue adversarial agendas. Maybe somebody could have mentioned that to me before I ran up a $60 grand student loan to get a goddamn license to get a goddamn job on this goddamn Titanic. Still, as far from perfect as that system was, it was and is not wholly imperfect. But do the blogs give the MSM get a single shred of credit for the times we have not completely fucked up? Oh, no, not our precious blogs, they just ignore it and move on to the next political panic, or cat picture, or YouTube video testicle accident.
Bitter? Oh, not me, not old Joe. Of course, once a technosocial force like the blog is loosed on the world, it does not go away because some find it undesirable. So grieving over the lost establishment is pointless, and kind of sad. But democracy does not work well, so to speak, without checks and balances. And believe you me, you'll get yours, blogs. You will get yours.
And hey, one more thing, blogs? When that day comes, Ol' Joe will be sitting there "ROTFLOLPIMP." Until then, just go eschew your self.
Mr. Rago is as assistant editorial features editor at The Wall Street Journal, pending the outcome of a Dow Jones expense report audit.