Posts from January 19, 2005

Purple prose

Purple prose

: Andrew Sullivan regrets that blogs have not spawned political hybrids so much as political partisans, like old media.

In big media, the pressures of conformity can be as great as they are subtle. At the Boston Globe or the Washington Times, you know what you’re getting. How many columnists in the mainstream media can be described as unpredictable in partisan terms? How many “liberal” columnists ever praise the president occasionally? How many conservative ones tear him a new one from time to time? (This is a moment to thank God for Tom Friedman, by the way.) The reason is subtle pressure from suits and colleagues and readers. But the point of blogging is that it can liberate you from such pressures. A political hybrid has a secure outlet at last – his or her own. So why, then, the preponderance of the partisans? I know that’s what happens more generally in a polarized polity. But the blogosphere had the potential to be a solvent of this rigidity. Instead, it has become yet another reflection of it (with a few honorable exceptions). Or have I missed some blogs in this regard that deserve more exposure?

I can’t speak for the rest of the blogosphere (well, I could try…) but speaking for myself, I do think he is right in saying that this medium does allow one to become a hybrid. I am a hybrid and I know that’s true because I can get criticism and praise, back to back, from both sides of partisans (and I do not include in that calculation the flamers who live to insult; they are not even partisan but merely rude).

Let’s take it out of the realm of the partisan. I am a journalist but I value this new medium’s ability to push journalism to be better. I value this medium’s ability to teach by example by pushing to make itself better.

That is how I view politics now: I am a Democrat but it’s not disloyal to push for the Democrats to do better in certain issues; neither is it disloyal to support a Republican administration in certain issues. I am an American but it’s not disloyal to push for the the President to do better.

And Andrew’s right that this medium facilitates that kind of thinking precisely because it is a conversation; it’s not about writing a weekly sermon from a pulpit of type.

Andrew, I believe, is a good example of a hybrid (to the consternation of many who thought he was on their side).

But blogs will only reflect the world and the world is filled with partisans — not as many as media would paint in its single shades of red and blue. And blogs — because they are about conversation — also amplify partisanship sometimes because that’s what you do when you argue a point.

This is part of what is interesting about the Zephyr/Kos kerfluffle this week and it’s why I agreed with what I believe was Kos’ distinction that he is not a journalist but an activist and it’s important to label oneself so what you say can be viewed in that context.

And in the broader conversation, partisans can be handy to have around so you can see an issue from opposite sides of the prism. The Wall Street Journal does that effectively today by having bloggers of red and blue stripes argue Social Security.

Giving witness

Giving witness

: There is an odd bit in Virginia Heffernan’s review of a documentary series about Auschwitz starting on PBS tonight. She talks about her high-school teacher who came back to the Holocaust frequently and says:

Why, with so much history to learn, did we spend so long on the particulars of Auschwitz and the practices of the Nazis? I couldn’t help thinking that there was something about the Holocaust – or at least about the Nazis’ cold efficiency – that we weren’t meant to grieve, but to admire.

In “Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State,” a six-part BBC/KCET co-production by Laurence Rees that starts tonight on PBS, Melvin Jules Bukiet, a novelist who is the son of a survivor, says of the Holocaust, “I think we learn nothing from it.”

He goes on, “It is simultaneously endlessly fascinating – because it does embody extremes of human behavior – but it is also endlessly exhausting, because it provides no reward whatsoever.”

What if the Holocaust is no longer fascinating, but only exhausting?

I have not seen the series and have no idea whether it is any good.

There can be many reasons to give such a series a bad review: if it is not well-made, if it tells its story badly, if it exists to exploit (I am always mindful of what Elie Wiesel said: that you should give theater to Auschwitz or Auschwitz to theater).

But if it is “exhausting?” That’s odd. That’s saying, in essence, that we should move on — to other history — because the Holocaust might bore this student/viewer/critic.

I am of the school that remains important to give witness to this event.

I also don’t know Heffernan’s high-school teacher but I imagine he dwelled on the Holocaust because he thought it was an important lesson for his students and for the future. Her accusation regarding his motive — that he may have wanted his student to admire Nazis — is devastating to the reputation of someone people in that New Hampshire town know. I wonder what her evidence is of this.

Yes, this is the second day and the second criticism of Arts critics. Maybe they need new critics or maybe they need an editor who will push back at their assertions about people’s motives. Or maybe we need to keep pushing back.

Now that’s genuine

Now that’s genuine

: N.Z. Bear takes on Sarah Boxer’s unjournalism in The Times:

When I telephoned a woman named Sarah Boxer in New York last week, I wondered who might answer. A DNC flack? A hack posing as a journalist? Someone paid by The New York Times to craft hatchet-jobs on Iraqis who dare to express thanks to America for deposing Saddam? Or simply a lazy writer with some confused ideas about fact-checking and objectivity? Until she picked up the phone, she was just a ghost on the page.

: UPDATE: See also Patterico.