Sunday, September 26, 2004

Is it fair
Getting back to Matthew Klam's NYT Magazine cover article on blogging the conventions, here are a few comments that I feel safe making about his portrayal of the superstars of Left Blogistan. Since I don't know any of the people involved I can't say whether his portrayals are fair or accurate, but since his portrayals will form some of the stereotypes that others will form of all of us, I'd like to get my analysis on the record.

Klam shows three different, yet equally insecure, smart kids trying to prove themselves in the big kids' world: Wonkette, the over-smart social climber, Markos, the bully magnet turned intellectual bully, Josh Marshall, the wrinkled loner. They represent three different aspects of blogging going professional. Wonkette (in Klam's view) represents the path of blogging as a pure media phenomenon, content and form are meaningless while image is everything. Markos represents the political phenomenon of blogging, raising money for campaigns, creating a true dialog between the campaign and it's supporters, and uping the speed of communication to several exchanges per news cycle. Marshall represents blogging as an addition to the spectrum of news media; whether that addition is complementary or competitive is not yet clear.

I think, Wonkette comes out the worst of the three. Though listing her with the left, Klam doesn't show her having any actual convictions. Though a star among the bloggers, he shows he despising her peers, refusing to mix with them and preferring to aspire to divahood among nine year-old girls. It's a cruel portrait.

Markos appears to have the self-righteous conviction of a convert. He is an angry, yet naïve, newcomer sure that he has discovered the secrets that have escaped all previous comers. Though his portrait is more sympathetic in some ways than Wonkette's, we are still left with the impression that he is immature and on the verge of gaining a rude, cold dose of reality.

Marshall is portrayed as the most complex personality of the three, which makes the silly literary conceit of continually referring to his wrinkled clothes all the more annoying.

As I said three posts ago, Klam portrays us as a bunch of socially insecure nerds who never went to the senior prom. In graduate school, I remember sitting a seminar discussing a Journal of Higher Education article that made that accusation about History majors (this was before Wonkette's tenure at that august publication). We all put on our best superior airs an denounced such an image as a shallow straw man argument devoid of value. I asked, just out of curiosity, for a show of hands as to how many of us had gone to our senior proms. Less than one quarter (for the record, I was very busy watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show that night).

Is the nerd portrayal fair? Not really. Is it accurate? I don't know. Is it relevant? No. Klam's article is an interesting color piece, but it is not good analysis. We might be nerds, but so what? How does that make us different from participants in other communication media? Are we to believe that everyone currently in the radio, television, and print media were popular in high school and we are the first nerds to ever attempt talking to the world? Don't make me laugh.

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