Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Narcissistic Shriek at Mid-Summer (Why We Blog, or, Why Do We Blog?)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the blog, an observance that would have passed us by save for a big write-up on same in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. Although the provenance is in some dispute, the first blog, as well as coinage of the term “Web log”, is generally credited to the “polemical” Jorn Barger*, as the WSJ describes him, whose Robot Wisdom was launched in 1997 and is still going, if not going strong.

Since then, WSJ writer Tunku Varadarajan notes
… blogs, once a smorgasbord of links, have evolved into vehicles for a fuller, more forceful and opinionated prose. Not all of it has been lovely to behold, or even edifying. Inevitably, there has been bombast, verbosity and exposure to the public eye of thoughts that, ideally, should have remained locked inside fevered heads.
In observation of the anniversary, the WSJ trotted out a range of non-fevered heads, from James Tarnato on the right to Jane Hamsher on the left to the proprietor of, and blog consumers, including SEC Chairman Christopher Cox and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, to ruminate on the meaning of the Blogosphere (or the “jerk-off-osphere,” as we have occasionally referred to it, but only good-naturedly and usually after reading the latest blog offering from the formerly blog-less local newspaper). We were nodding along to the music until we got to the contribution from somebody named Tom Wolfe, who is identified as a “novelist,” whatever that is, and who expends most of his allotted 6 or 7 inches grousing about a falsehood he says he espied in the Wikipedia entry on a novelist named Tom Wolfe (not of Time and the River, um, fame).

This Wolfe, who seems to be a fusty old lady with an especially displeasing personality, does proclaim that “the universe of blogs is a universe of rumors”---although he offers no evidence, that is, facts, for this sweeping assertion---and allows that he has no favorite blogs because he no longer reads any, owing to his purported weariness with “narcissistic shrieks and baseless ‘information.’ ”

So there, sonny … blah and harrumph.**

Wolfe’s harangue set us in mind of another bowtie-wearing wordsmith, the man we credit with being the inspiration for our humble little operation (“Bestest Blog in the Greater Upper Meyerland Area,” 2005 and 2007) and for getting us back into the blogging game after the demise of our short-lived first venture, (cited by the Pearland Penny Shopper as “Bestest Blog in 40-Point Type” for 2000).

That would be James Howard Gibbons, person in charge of the Houston Chronicle editorial page, who back in early 2005, before his newspaper had flooded the blogosphere with the brackish effluvia of its many dubious offerings, deigned to “sample a few blogs” and reported back, with Wolfe-ian hauteur, that he found "most blogs lack[ing] the elegance, wit and insight one looks for in magazine commentary and editorial pages in their ideal state.” Others quickly noted the irony in the editor of the city’s ill-written, poorly argued purveyor of unexamined conventional wisdom scorning any other written product for a lack of wit and insight (we assume this was simply a momentary affectation on the part of J. H. Gibbons, whom we remember as a pleasant and engaging sort in person, although our raising inclines us to be wary of anyone who publicly presents him or herself bearing three names---no exceptions).

We occasionally have taken pause to wonder why we bother with this blogging business, aside from the money, sex and fame that regularly comes the lone blogger’s way, and always conclude that an honest inventory would start with a reason that Tom Wolfe would deplore, possibly with exclamation points: There is indeed an element of showing off, of strutting and preening, at work here. Beyond that, there is the simple desire for an outlet, and the knowledge that, if done right and amplified in the right quarters, one’s work can have at least some marginal impact, perhaps along the far edges. Or at least provide a moment or two of cheap and reliably tawdry entertainment. And, of course, there is the unshackled ability to tell the truth, the small-t truth as we see it, free from the usual constraints. But mostly it comes down to a question, a question we would put to Tom Wolfe or, in his stead, James Howard Gibbons, or even Mia Farrow, if she were available and for the hell of it. It is the most American of questions, one that requires us to cue the banjo music while apologizing in advance for resorting to the upcoming use of a bad word (this, after all, is a blog).

The question is this: Who … the fuck … are you?

*Barger is not what is now considered to be a typical blogger, as he mostly provides links to stuff he finds interesting and forgoes writing about what he had for dinner or the proposed garbage pick-up fee, although he does have a world view.

**In contrast to Wolfe, Norman Mailer, another gone-to-seed American novelist who long ago presaged the coming of the Internet Age through the exquisite title of his 1950s collection Advertisements for Myself, has said somewhere---we can’t find it right now, but you can trust us---that if he were a young writer today he’d be blogging like crazy.


Banjo Jones said...

Jon Barger is Sonny Barger's grandson, we heard.
We forget where we heard that, but that's what they said.

Slampo said...

We did not know that, although we've read on Web somewhere of the alleged link between blogging and the Hell's Angels.