Idiosyncrasy, Authenticity, and Blogging

Andrew SullivanIs blogging dead? Many people are greeting the blogging retirement of Andrew Sullivan as a sign that it is. This is preposterous. I can’t really speak about what he does, because I actively avoid him. But what most people think of as blogging is someone famous for something else who also has a blog. That’s not what it is. I enjoy reading Jonathan Chait, for example, but his “blog” is just a side thing he does because “everyone has to have a blog.” But there is nothing about his “blog” that speaks about him. It’s just brief articles that are written by him — every couple of days.

I know what people mean when they talk about blogs. They look back at 2003 when blogs were just finding their way. There was still a lot of interaction: blog to blog communication. Clearly, that is a thing of the past. But as far as I can tell, that was mostly useless. And I still see vestiges of it in modern blogs. People will post a brief introduction and then just quote someone — often unedited. I don’t like that. It strikes me as lazy. (Of course, I have something similar with my quotations.) But this seems to be what people think of as the glory days of blogging.

But I think if people were to go back to early days of blogging, what they would find is that the blogosphere looks very much like it does today. I think it is just that because it was new, it seemed a lot more exciting. The idea that nobodies could contradict establishment media figures seemed revolutionary. And it was revolutionary and now we find ourselves in a different media world. But that revolution had nothing to do with Andrew Sullivan. He became editor of New Republic in 1991 — almost a decade before he started blogging. I’m sure Sullivan could have gotten a good circulation if he had started a newsletter. So who cares?

The truth is that the blog is what replaced the mimeographed zines of the 1980s. If the blog is dead, it is just one idea of the blog: the blog as a marketing tool. Jonathan Chait’s “blog” isn’t a reaction to not having another platform for his ideas. He blogs to market New York Magazine. Even Paul Krugman uses his blog simply to work out ideas for his twice weekly columns for The New York Times. For the 14 “Daily Reads” I list on the right, only six are what I think of as blogs: Beat the Press, Booman Tribune, Economist’s View, The Equitablog, Hullabaloo, and Incident Economist. And even among these sites, I’m mostly pushing the definition. Incident Economist, for example, is largely a repository for The Upshot cross posts and Aaron Carroll’s Healthcare Triage videos. And it doesn’t accept comments.

I think that much of the commentariat want it both ways. They want blogs to be freewheeling, exciting, personal. But they also want them to get huge amounts of traffic and be impactful. And this is why the “blogs” that major outlets put up are blogs only in that they use blogging software. They reflect the organization first and the writer second. If I were to sum up Frankly Curious in three ideas, it would be: Don Quixote, puppets, and left wing politics. It is not a recipe for huge amounts of traffic, but it does reflect who I am better than any other work that I’ve ever done.

There once was a blogosphere that was exciting and idiosyncratic. Then all the media outlets came in and added to that blogosphere. But as they were corporations, they soon found a way to make their blogs as careful and inoffensive as their regular output. And then everyone bemoaned the end of the blogosphere. But the blogosphere hadn’t gone anywhere. It was just that many in the media lost site of what blogging was. They mistook a faster publishing schedule for blogging. But I don’t think that was ever blogging. It was just a reaction to blogging. That’s what media outlets do. It wasn’t as egregious as taking Fats Domino and creating Pat Boone. But it’s no more authentic.

4 thoughts on “Idiosyncrasy, Authenticity, and Blogging

    • I still can’t believe that people don’t mention promoting The Bell Curve (which he is still proud of) and giving Betsy McCaughey a platform on healthcare. Yet we are supposed to applaud this guy?! Unbelievable.

      • People also think we should like this guy ‘cus he’s a thinking gay conservative. I think it’s a sign of pathological self-hatred, not cleverness.

        • Usually it is a sign that one sees one’s wealth as what defines who they are. But in his case, I’m not sure what’s going on. Fundamentally, he is like Hitchens: an elitist imperialist.

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