September 20, 2006

Of oversized things, MSM, and the internet.

Mustachioed WaPo columnist Robert J. Samuelson types out a lot of words about how "the Internet has unleashed the greatest outburst of mass exhibitionism in human history." Wait. Why are you mentioning his mustache? He's complaining about exhibitionism, and I'm just noting that he's displaying a photograph, exhibiting himself. And looking at it, I see that he's a man with a huge mustache, and -- let's be fair -- huge glasses. Perhaps his stylist advised him that adding a couple large things to his face would make his receding hairline seem like a normal-sized forehead. It's all about relative proportion. But why the hangdog expression? And why position the glasses so we can't see your eyes? But let's disengage from this photograph and see if he's got anything to say that hasn't already been said by all the MSM types who don't like the way free-spirited internet writing has diminished their grand stature:
We have blogs, "social networking" sites (MySpace.com, Facebook), YouTube and all their rivals. Everything about these sites is a scream for attention. Look at me. Listen to me. Laugh with me -- or at me....
Blah blah blah. I was going to include more apt lines after that first ellipsis, but nothing struck me. Samuelson, as a columnist, unlike a blogger, had a word requirement. He thinks people writing on the internet are writing too much, trying to establish a big exhibitionistic profile. But the truth is that good bloggers, assuming they would write about this old topic at all, would be much more concise. You can't trim the prose because you've got to fill the expanse of MSM paper. Sorry to increase your anxiety about the future, but internet writers threaten you not only because we write so much, but also because we write so little.

34 comments:

SippicanCottage said...

Forrest Gutenberg Samuelson, riding his mower in the breakdown lane of the information superhighway with his blinker on, doesn't care for your mode of expression.

Is that tapioca in his moustache?

Simon said...

The WaPo's online edition is at least one better than the NYT - the NYT discuss online materials without providing a link. The WaPo discusses similar materials, and it, too, fails to provide a link, but it at least offers a URL, something the NYT does sporadically at best.

David said...

"Scripted Drama...Cheap way to advertise..." Who is Samuelson talking about? Himself?!

The MSM has been outed as a cabal of political hacks pushing an agenda disguised as news and enlightenment for the ignorant masses. The internet has provided a medium to do what these nihilistic hippies have been doing all along. Namely, question authority!

They don't like it one bit!

tcd said...

Big is the new small, don't you know?

MadisonMan said...

Despite his apparent disdain for the web, he does call those who don't know about myspace or facebook unsavvy. So apparently it's something worth participating in.

Fenrisulven said...

Thoreau famously remarked that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Thanks to technology, that's no longer necessary. People can now lead lives of noisy and ostentatious desperation. Or at least they can try.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

"It was of course one of the key principles of the Reformation that the Bible should be placed in the hands of ordinary persons, not kept in the scholar’s study or chained to a pulpit in some church... Of course there was great fear by the church hierarchy that if the Bible was placed into the hands of the laity, it might cause the breakdown of authority or even have a social leveling effect on society. It might break the cleric monopoly over the church as well."

http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2006/08/origins-of-english-bible.html

Dave said...

Talk about a face made for radio.

Though we people hate to admit it, appearance often has a bearing on whether we are sympathetic to someone's views.

Mark Daniels said...

"Everything about these sites is a scream for attention. Look at me. Listen to me. Laugh with me -- or at me....," Robert Samuelson said as he wrote one of his two columns, this one for a large metropolitan newspaper with a major Internet presence, the other for a major newsweekly. He did this without a touch of irony, insensible to the fact that, because of his professional pursuits, he too might routinely be accused of telling the world, "Look at me. Listen to me. Laugh with me--or at me..."

Mark

Henry said...

In their disasterous defeat at Nicolopolis, French crusaders cut the long pointed toes off their ostentatious shoes so they could run away faster.

Ah, the good old days.

Richard Dolan said...

In an essay about Miss Lonelyhearts, Harold Bloom wonders why brilliant parody of the Nathaniel West variety has largely disappeared from the American scene. He says that part of the reason is that no one can compete with TV news or the New York Times when it comes to self parody. Samuelson evidently offers himself as exhibit A in support of Bloom's thesis.

peter hoh said...

Hold the presses: Althouse says that men who want to write should trim their mustaches. Doesn't she know that men have mustaches? I know -- she's jealous of Samuelson's big, droopy mustache.

Goesh said...

He seems threatened by all the talent being 'put out there' in such a free and spontaneous manner. Threats n' bets, my money is on the bloggers.

Fenrisulven said...

I don't even read the NYTs anymore. I tried to fisk, ignore the bias, and read between the lines for quite some time. At one point, the distortions became so frequent that it became a tedious excercise - I realized I might as well be reading fiction. When I want to hear what the other side is saying, I now go with Wapo.

John Althouse Cohen said...

You only hint at the worst thing about the piece, which is the very premise that blogs and MySpace and so on have caused millions of Americans to be "exhibitionists," that we thus might not value our privacy so much after all, and that it turns out that everyone might get to have their 15 minutes of fame as Andy Warhol once said. A blogger wouldn't have written the same column more concisely; a blogger would have been embarrassed to write even one sentence earnestly rehashing these cliches. Yet that's what passes for insight in the MSM.

Incidentally, the first few words of your post--"Mustachioed WaPo columnist Robert J. Samuelson..."--made me LOL!

Pogo said...

Hey! look at me! I'm posting something!
Wheeeeee!

Ann Althouse said...

John: Yeah, that Andy Warhol line ... how can anyone bring themselves to roll that one out again.

Michael said...

internet writers threaten you not only because we write so much, but also because we write so little.

You let me know when that happens, somewhere on the Internet....

Old Dad said...

Samuelson's editor was asleep at the switch. It's so damn tedious to hear people bitch about what other people like.

Ann Althouse said...

"You let me know when that happens, somewhere on the Internet...."

It happens all the time as bloggers try to keep posts very short. I constantly edit my sentences and posts down to make them as short as I can. I have zero motivation to pad, and I remove any excess I can find. Other bloggers go even further and try to keep to one-liners.

Paddy O. said...

The internet might be new, but Samuelson is only applying ancient wisdom to a new context. What he was talking about was considered a deadly sin by a good number of folks in centuries past.

They called it vainglory, which unfortunately got folded up into the much more narrow vice of envy for inclusion in the more official Seven Deadly Sins lists.

Along with pride it was considered the most pernicious sin, because it was peculiarly strong in those who are actually doing everything right. It was when a saint overcame the rest of the sins that vainglory and pride snuck in to overthrow the victory almost achieved.

It's also a very tricky sort of sin because it is terribly hard to parse, with the only real evidence found deep in a person's soul.

I tend to agree with Samuelson and do think vainglory is likely the most common sin to be found on the internet. Even a lot of pornography comes not out of lust but rather a desire to be seen and acknowledged for whatever gifts possessed. These gifts can include writing, insight, knowledge, expertise, social activism, or physical endowments -- or any combination of these (as earlier posts suggest).

Like any deadly sin, this one can absolutely be justified or rationalized away. It can also be a great tool to finding success in this world.

Deadly sins aren't deadly because they are repugnant. They are deadly because they promise life more abundantly.

Whether a person agrees with this promise or even cares about this whole topic really has more to do with what they think is beyond this present world.

knoxgirl said...

the information superhighway this, and "cyberspace" always make me giggle.

Reading this, I keep expecting him to say, "Why, I tuned into the internet just yesterday..."

jeff_d said...

I'm neither a blogger nor much of a devotee of blogs, so forgive my ignorance. But I think the main thing he gets wrong is the generalized claim that those who expose their personal lives via the internet are exhibitionists motivated by a hunger for celebrity or notoriety.

It seems to me the overtly personal nature of many blogs is not a play for notoriety as much as an effort to connect with viewers who share the same idiosyncratic interests (or some of them). It appears that the motive for many bloggers is not as much to get the attention of the many as to share a kinship with the few. The internet allows for more precise matching of interests and views between publisher and reader than any other medium of communication known to man.

The Washington Post has to appeal to the masses to keep up circulation. So its opinion pages try to stimulate some without offending others. At its worst, this results in trite, bland crap, of which Mr. Samuelson's column is Exhibit A. By contrast, those who publish on the web, at lower cost, and for the most part with fewer economic risks, can engage exactly who they want to engage without worrying about the others. This is accomplished in many cases by emphasizing personal details rather than generic ones--hardly a surprise.

Seven Machos said...

Just wait, Ann Althouse. Legions of angry posters from the Washington Post soon will be here, defending his honor.

It's just a mustache. It grows. Get over it.

altoids1306 said...

This is one of those "why worry?" issues. Even if it is a problem, what can you do about it?

The internet will become faster and cheaper. Cell phones will have better cameras. There are going to be more pictures of a lot of drunk people on a lot of personal websites.

Why deny technology?

SteveR said...

At some point everyone's does it and it ceases to be a big deal. I'm sure the first people to own automobiles were criticized in much the same way. Indoor toliets, whatever.

Who has time to view all this stuff anyway, if no one reads a blog does it make a sound?

Doug said...

I get far more enjoyment and knowledge out of the exibitionism on blogs than I get out of exibitionism from Venezualan blowhards who attention whore at the United Nations.

Mortimer Brezny said...

This is so offensive, Ann! You are totally, like, objectifying Samuelson! I mean, like, he's a person! Next, you'll be talking about his, omigawd, breasts! Haven't you learnt from the Feministing Fiasco (a.k.a Boobgate)? See www.feministing.org


(Note: The feministing fiasco totally different than the femifisting fiasco, which, remarkably, also involves Bill Clinton)

Word verification: pumlbssx

Mellow-Drama said...

I think that clearly Prof. Althouse is suggesting that, if Mr. Samuelson wants to be taken seriously, he needs to clamp down on that moustache with Ace bandages.

It is funny, though, that people are hitting on the appearance/hypocrisy connection, because that's ultimately what boobygate was about: A gentle jab at appearance used to make a larger statement about hypocrisy.

Fenrisulven said...

Paddy O: I tend to agree with Samuelson and do think vainglory is likely the most common sin to be found on the internet. Even a lot of pornography comes not out of lust but rather a desire to be seen and acknowledged for whatever gifts possessed. These gifts can include writing, insight, knowledge, expertise, social activism, or physical endowments -- or any combination of these (as earlier posts suggest).

Excellent post. Thanks for the perspective change - it takes me back to C.S. Lewis. I'm nodding along with all your points, but I think you are giving Samuelson to much credit. I wish you had written the article instead, because he doesn't drive the point home.

Paddy O. said...

Thanks Fen for such nice words. They are appreciated greatly.

Of course mentioning Lewis and an article makes me think there's something I have to say and everyone should read it and then I'll be so, so happy, and people will be impressed, and I'll have floods of visitors coming to my website where I'll talk about spiritual issues of our time while posting lots of workout pictures as an ironic symbolism, while being sure to avoid dustups with misandrist law professors who would make snarky comments and thus crush my feeling like I am oh so serious and knowledgable. No mustache, however. I have my limits.

Or, I'll just drift back into my usual lurking state, which is much better for my soul.

Fenrisulven said...

LOL. Sorry to tempt you with the Father of all Sins. ;)

I have noticed a trend where I craft look at me! posts. I'll even use self-effacing humor to slip it in.

Ah hell, I just did it again. Ha.

Ann Althouse said...

Mellow-Drama: "I think that clearly Prof. Althouse is suggesting that, if Mr. Samuelson wants to be taken seriously, he needs to clamp down on that moustache with Ace bandages. It is funny, though, that people are hitting on the appearance/hypocrisy connection, because that's ultimately what boobygate was about: A gentle jab at appearance used to make a larger statement about hypocrisy."

Thanks. I intended for this post to have that effect. I really resist the push-back about talking about how people look in a photograph that they choose to post on the internet. I've been talking about how politicians look, and this is a totally normal thing to do. It's image. It's important and part of the political discourse. Bloggers are part of that. They aren't sacrosanct. A writer should be free to describe how things look and to analyze appearances... not in a cheap way, but the things that have meaning. And some horsing around is justified.

Anonymous said...

John: Yeah, that Andy Warhol line ... how can anyone bring themselves to roll that one out again.

Oops

Seriously though, is it just a coincidence that this article comes out as PBS is airing an Andy Warhol documentary?

Anonymous said...

John: Yeah, that Andy Warhol line ... how can anyone bring themselves to roll that one out again.

Oops

Seriously though, is it just a coincidence that this article comes out as PBS is airing an Andy Warhol documentary?