Monday, June 26, 2006

Blogofascism spittle

As a longtime subscriber to Vanity Fair, one of my favorite pastimes has been to peruse the latest column from James Wolcott among other VF regulars. When Wolcott launched his blog, naturally I was delighted at the fortuitous opportunity to consume his prose more frequently. Today, my reading pleasure was furthered heightened in examining Wolcott's dissection of "Lee Siegel On Culture" at TNR, specifically in response to two Siegel attacks primarily directed at the liberal blogosphere, we denizens of the Internet who dare to write opinions, document errors, and criticize the crooks and liars eroding our democracy. A clip from Wolcott (with emphasis and added blockquotes):

Lee Siegel has it all figured out. Lee Siegel has everything figured out. He's been unwrapping the bows and ribbons of his intellect on websites for years, including a preening Slate diary a few years ago that nearly got him laughed out of the lodge, yet he disassociates from the other riffraff online, behaving as if has nothing in common with the amoebic nonentities who presume that they too have something to say. TNR Online features a column called "Lee Siegel on Culture," which seems like a naughty thing to do to culture, but let that go for the mo. Here, he has quite a go at those revolting peasants climbing over the hedges and tramping across the petunia beds.
"It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere. It radiates democracy's dream of full participation but practices democracy's nightmare of populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction. It's hard fascism with a Microsoft face. It puts some people, like me, in the equally bizarre position of wanting desperately for Joe Lieberman to lose the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont so that true liberal values might, maybe, possibly prevail, yet at the same time wanting Lamont, the hero of the blogosphere, to lose so that the fascistic forces ranged against Lieberman might be defeated."
A writer chiding bloggers for their incoherent rage ought not to be so glib about lobbing characterizations of fascism around. It sounds as if he’s lashing out, doing what he laments others doing, only with fancier language and rhetorical footwork. A lot of those who oppose Lieberman are longtime liberals who are tired of him being the Republicans' pet Democrat, and fed up with his unctuous mushmouth pieties in support of Bush initiatives. I suspect that part of the peevishness Siegel and his fellow epicureans of ideas feel towards the angry amoebas of the blogsphere is rooted in the uncomfortable knowledge that sites such as Daily Kos, Atrios, and Steve and Jen’s News Blog proved a helluva lot more right about the debacle in Iraq than the battle cries of the Beltway intelligentsia.
Ouch! That last statement had to sting. See why I love James? He aims then fires and not the reverse.

Picking up on Wolcott's remark about doing what he laments others doing... Siegel employs a sorcerer's trick of projecting a ghastly image of one's opponents to frighten them into thinking they've been horridly disfigured when, in fact, the effigy has been fashioned in the mold of the magician's disowned fetish. A charade. An ugly illusion. In Lee's case, his covert lust comprises a primal drive for recognition and power simmered in a pseudo-intellectual cauldron of stew so bland that a hungry cat wouldn't eat it. Pompous much?

Exhibit A: Siegel's term, blogofascism. He assigned this newfangled word to liberally-bent bloggers in particular–although fascism sits at the conservative extreme of the spectrum, a quibble–and explained it with dictionary coinage, "any tendency toward or actual exercise of severe autocratic or dictatorial control." Poor thing. Someone spit on his tutu. He gets nasty email. He should read my hate mail about my art to witness the definition of fascism that he quoted. Gotten any death threats? I believe the appropriate word Siegel could have selected would have been, "aggressive." Perhaps on occasion, "rude." But blogofascism? The revelation unveils a poor choice of a fragile ego.

Siegel and like-minded media columnists have stirred liberal bloggers' reactions. Steve Benen queries about a rash of anti-progressive blog criticism–from WaPo to the NYTimes to TNR:
On Thursday, the Washington Post's David Broder rejected "liberal bloggers," claiming that "the blogs I have scanned are heavier on vituperation of President Bush and other targets than on creative thought." Today, the New York Times' David Brooks, while specifically lashing out at Kos, characterized liberal bloggers as "small-minded," and described sites as "squadrons of rabid lambs [who] unleash their venom on those who stand in the way."
And then, of course, there's the ugly fight The New Republic picked with Kos, which ultimately led to this thoughtful reaction to the medium from Lee Siegel, the magazine's culture writer:
It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere….nightmare of populist crudity….hard fascism with a Microsoft face….fascistic forces….beyond the thuggishness, what I despise about so many blogurus, is the frivolity of their "readers."….The blogosphere's fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.
What on earth is going on here? What's fueling all this anti-blog rage? Jealousy? Elitism? And if blogs are written and read by fringe ideologues that don't matter, why are all these major media personalities so worked up?
I smell the fear of a loss of control and envy of an engaged interactive audience. Traditional media readership and viewership has been gushing lost peeps and when mainstream press has its ability to spin diminished and challenged, it could lose its capability to influence audiences, and that spells lost revenue. Kevin Drum comments on Steve's remarks (with emphasis):
I don't know. Maybe it's just a perfect storm of YearlyKos, Ned Lamont, and the TNR-Kos feud. But whatever the cause, it's not doing us any good. Mainstream reporters, despite their generally liberal temperaments, have an odd sort of contempt for actual liberal politicians, who they widely view as being wimpy, pandering, fence-sitting, poll-driven wonks who are hesitant to really speak their minds and insist on giving lots of boring policy-oriented speeches that don't make good copy.
Well, the blogosphere is anything but that, but it turns out the mainstream press doesn't like that much either. I'm not sure how that's going to play out in the long term, but in the short term I have a feeling it's nothing but bad news. "Spittle-flecked loons" seems likely to become the new media CW. Karl Rove must be pleased.
Not doing us any good? Why, Mr. Drum, the media are advertising us! Bring it on, baby.

Just when exactly did mainstream press (of generally liberal temperaments, ha!) recapture its credibility? The bittersweet irony and blowback of decades of conservatives sliming the MSM reputation is that it has lost its potency. Media consolidation and the mis-reporting on Iraq's WMDs has provoked consumers to develop a cautious attitude as they should. Perceptions about mainstream media have dropped into the toilet where they bump against other unethical blobs of excrement: politicians, car salesmen, and telemarketers. Media's criticism feeds the liberal blogosphere's growth...If they say it's bad, it must be newsworthy to click. People aren't as stupid as the dumbed-down news media thinks.

I doubt Karl Rove is all that pleased being a bona fide control freak. He can certainly ramp up the con-apparatchiki into full smear mode–the Broders, the Brooksies, and traditional media to discredit the liberal blogosphere but none can stop the genie that has launched out of the bottle as long as the First Amendment stands.

When mainstream reporters characterize the conservative blogosphere as rabid wingnuts who "unleash their venom on those who stand in the way" (and they won't since they share the same trough) as anyone interested in the complete story can find, then I'll heed the criticism. Until then...The usual spittle-flecked spiel from the propaganda mill.