Thursday, April 20, 2006

A tale of two blogs

One of the things about being an adult is that, unlike high school, people who aren't meant to be around each other aren't forced to interact. There might be the occasional workplace dustup or subway incident, but by and large, people get to be self-selecting.

This has some unhealthy results: I wish I had more Republican friends, because most of my political conversations are an echo chamber. Other results of this are much more troublesome: Hello, residential segregation!

But on the day-to-day points I appreciate that it's been more than a decade since I heard someone talk about their outfit, tried to get me to church, or asked what the State Department is.

Not so with blogs. It's easy to stumble across a site that wasn't meant for you, leave an anonymous comment, and generally piss off a bunch of strangers. This has been happening at the apolitical Neil Young site Thrasher's Wheat, where Neil's fans find themselves stuck in the trenches in an invasion of right-wing psychos. Ourselves, we've had comments from an Etros shirt enthusiast, and some random who implied that he wanted to fight me, then shoot me. (That one got deleted before commentor Evil Girl started a brawl in the comments.)

Gawker recently linked to a proudly sophomoric sports-oriented site, The Realests, announcing that one of their gross-out posts sucked. The post won't be mistaken for Becker-Posner, and includes pictures of feces and a used condom. If Flop tried that kind of thing on here, Cole Slaw Blog would confront the biggest schism since the Protestant Reformation. Nothing indicated that the post was intended for Gawker's audience, but there's no reason to think that Gawker linking to it or disapproving was objectionable. Anybody can link to anything. If my posts here were meant for private consumption, I'd write them out in longhand and then burn the paper.

After Gawker linked to the Realests, the fun got started. Appropriately, the Realests took aim at Gawker:
First of all, their comedy is supposed to be biting, but instead just comes off as bitching. The site seems to be run by a brat that wishes she was an heiress and some dude that tried to bring attention on himself by writing "controversial" columns for his school paper.
All told, that critique is mild. Certainly less ferocious than Gawker deserves.

What made this episode so interesting were all the comments from people who were outraged (outraged!) that these guys had the nerve to criticize Gawker and its half-baked proprietors. In the grand teleology of outrage inspirations, this is a little like being outraged (outraged!) when a Dixie Chick says something mean about George W. Bush. Compared to Gawker, a site like The Realests doesn't have a lot of power. It's not like a little trash talk is going to destroy the Gawker empire. Presumably, if these guys don't care for Gawker's repetitive, all-hating schtick, they don't want to be linked by Gawker again.

But the level of indignation in the comments left by the Gawkerites was still startling. Borderline Manchurian Candidate.

This leads to an observation: Some number of Gawker's readers have been treated badly for their entire lives. Gawker has empowered their misery. Any criticism of it (no matter how mild) appears to be outrageous, and blows their fucking minds. Craving attention and affirmation, they mistake Gawker's insults as compliments. So what do they do? They go to a site that clearly wasn't intended for Gawker's audience and sputter around in a mess of indignation and contempt.

Don't mistake this post as being about me taking aim at Gawker. Although I regard the site with the blend of exhaustion and contempt that I normally reserve for George W. Bush and Leeza Gibbons, I know that (like Bush and Gibbons) Gawker isn't for me, and is probably unstoppable anyway. I'd rather focus my critical faculties on institutions that matter, like The New York Times, the Supreme Court, and the Duke lacrosse team. If it weren't for the zombie commentors, I never would have brought this up.

There's also a little illustration about what happens when people who aren't meant to be together are forced into proximity. Gawker's world of celebrity cocksucking is as far removed from The Realests as Flop and I are from the line outside Spice Market. I mean, there are reasons why, back in high school, the captain of the wrestling team probably didn't hang with the marching band. That's not a value judgment, it's just a fact. Not many trombone players enjoy the nelson hold.

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