The Gist: Bleacher Bleats
Blog Comments And Straw Men
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, April 5, 2006
Comment sections on blogs, appearing at they do at the bottom of every entry, tend naturally to generate bottom-feeding discourse with very little redeeming value other than WB-quality entertainment. That’s not to brush off some blogs’ comment sections (Eurotrib, Digby, the eminently comment-worthy Dr. Bitch, to name a quick few), where the action, like the footnotes in a David Foster Wallace story, sometimes outruns the main event. Nor do I mean to downplay the Herculean effort of bloggers to patrol and clean up some of their more skin-headed contributors. I don’t even mean to judge the validity of comment sections; the more the better in my, as in OxBlog’s, view, although this amended policy, from the otherwise absorbing Alas, was disappointing for its overbearingness (the overbearing being exactly what so much of Alas is devoted to deconstructing). I’d have them on this site if I could only figure out the technicalities (along with a few dozen other technicalities I haven’t figured out yet). But you get the idea. Comment sections can aspire to be community town halls. They’re just as often the echo chamber of your neighborhood gutter, shallow enough for knee-jerks to flop about but, like any gutter, easy enough to ignore and be grateful for efficient drainage systems (the scroll or delete keys, the shrug). The gems are worth the muck.
And anyway I’m all for the defense of the muck, if that’s what it takes to have a few gems, or to give voice to those who normally stay too quiet. As Octavio Paz so perfectly said of “bad words,” they are “the only living language in a world of anemic vocables. They are poetry within the reach of everyone.” Lord knows there are enough strictures and brown-shirted patrols of the “acceptable” and the “appropriate” everywhere that a little loose-letting on comment sections can’t hurt anyone. Unfortunately, “being inoffensive, and being offended, are now the twin addictions of the culture” (in Martin Amis’s words). So offensiveness is verging on becoming another one of those victimless crimes we’re so fond of prosecuting. Still, for anyone to cite blog comments as representing anything more than the rhetorical runoff they are is more idiotic than hunting buzzards in an aviary. But because it’s easy, because it makes some people with an inferiority complex feel better, because it’s cheap points on the high and mighty scale, because—to the gullible—it can seem like someone’s got a trend picked out or a point proven, it’s still done and will probably always be done.
A Salon blogger who must have been hitting a dry spell a couple of days back picked out the comments that appeared at the bottom of a brief item about the wedding of two television talking heads. One of the talkies is from NBC. The other is from that parody of a news division whose greatest achievement in the world of discourse has been the reduction of four-letter wordsto its own three. The comments were not kind. They were rude (“and their union will no doubt spawn another privileged,conservative waste of a human being”). They were vile (“Oh my God, is he fucking ugly! Yet more proof that women are whores!”). They were mean-spirited (“At her age she has to take what she can get...even if it is gay and younger than she is”). They were puerile. They were also, on at least one occasion, funny (“You knew it was a traditional GOP wedding because as they left the church, the crowd threw lies at the bride”). What was silly was the Salon blogger’s elevation of the post to something Thomas Friedman loves doing, in his undoing since he became a columnist—the transformation of a dust particle into a big-ass trend worth deconstructing: “Let’s hear it for those on the left who dismiss a man they don’t like by calling him ‘gay,’ and who take a woman down a couple of notches by throwing around the word ‘whore’ and labeling her ugly, old and desperate. No wonder they hate Senor’s Republican ties so much; Republicans are mean and intolerant people.” She’s not wrong. But as much as straw men are a fetish for our current Lord and Savior as blow jobs were for our previous one, you don’t walk in a pile of cow shit in a feedlot and blame the cows, or give the feedlot more sniffs than it's worth.