I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say, or whether to say anything, about the issue of blogging in the Edwards campaign. Outside of a few comments threads, I decided to not say anything while the issue was hot, partly because I think the people attacking Amanda Marcotte were largely hypocrites or nutcases. None of them struck me as having an evangelical commitment to online civility or a temperate tone in blogging. I don’t see any of the people on the right complaining about some of the material from Pandagon giving right-wing blogs (including some associated with campaigns) the same kind of going-over for issues of tone and fairness. (They would have had to attack their own blogs to do so.) I’ve read Pandagon for a long time, I like it (and Amanda Marcotte’s writing in particular) sometimes and sometimes I don’t like it so much. That assessment didn’t magically go away because Amanda Marcotte was being attacked, but it’s not a strongly felt sentiment on my part, so it wasn’t terribly relevant to share urgently.
I also was wondering a bit at whether a current political campaign actually needs a “head blogger”. Obviously Edwards was hoping to imitate Dean, both in fundraising terms and in gaining the loyalty of the “netroots”. But paying for it by moving someone onto your staff almost strikes me as buying something you can have for free. Why not just extensively court some of the most influential bloggers, maybe see if you can’t grow a blog yourself within the campaign that has a fresh, aggressive tone, and so on? Again, I might have wondered that at the time of the announcement if it hadn’t turned into such annoying sound-and-fury.
What finally made me want to write something short was reading this thread at Geeky Mom, where she wonders about whether to keep blogging. As readers here know, I’ve wondered the same thing about my own blog. I hope Geeky Mom continues: I find her blog really valuable and interesting.
But the one thing I didn’t like from some of Marcotte’s defenders was the proposition that somehow what we have written in the past in our blogs is trivial, or disposable, that our freedom as writers requires that blogging be understood as Not Ready For Prime Time. I was reminded a bit of a similar discussion at 11D.
In a way, that’s true. I misspell things in my entries here. There’s often grammatical errors. I write hastily, sometimes poorly. I write off-the-cuff. Also, I certainly do not write about some of the things that I might wish to talk about in the context of academic life. I can’t use the blog for some kinds of cathartic release. These are all reasons that I would hope any reader following the trail of digital breadcrumbs into my online archives would do so in a tolerant spirit. Sure, there’s stuff that makes me look kind of dumb. I’ve changed my mind from time to time.
Yes, it’s true, as Marcotte herself has said, that blogging has the rapid-fire liveliness (and sometimes the vileness) of written and spoken political debate in the late 18th and 19th Centuries, and that this is precious. It’s also true, as she said, that it poses a threat to some kinds of mainstream media writing. In my opinion, the threat is to op-ed writing and other kinds of punditry, which is often less well-informed, less well-written and much more smug than what the blogs have to offer.
In earlier cultures of political and polemical writing, as now, you have a choice about what you want to be and how you want what you say to represent your aspirations. I love Mencken and Twain, but if you want to be a 21st Century Mencken, it should hardly be a surprise that your voice doesn’t carry well into all places and contexts. You can warm your pen up in hell, just don’t be surprised if it’s then unwelcome in a church.
Blogs are not greasy kid’s stuff. They’re informal, they’re spontaneous, they’re freer in some ways than the mainstream media, not just because of the genre’s evolving expectations but because of their technological and economic character. But they matter, and they should. We can’t suddenly ask that they be dismissed as mere prologue to whatever else we want to do with our voices, our thought, our politics, when the day before we were trying to do something that mattered.
This is not just about blogging: it’s about history. The more you write, the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new–or whose betrayal is necessary should you wish to be free of your shadow. I get the vague whiff from some of Marcotte’s most ardent defenders that they want to have it all. I’m free to say what I like, and if I say it at a cocktail party or talking with a friend, I would have every right to say, “Hey, come on, that was not for publication”. When I write it–even in a blog–it has, and ought to have, some greater weight. If that weight becomes like Marley’s chains, forged in life, it’s up to me to do the hard and complicated work of unlocking, not to complain that what I wrote was read.