I was curious about what the commenters at Cartoon Brew thought about Wall-E. While I was there, I was drawn into reading a much-commented upon entry about one of the writers for Kung-Fu Panda, and a blog entry he had made about how much he disliked working on the film and working for Jeffrey Katzenberg.
About midway through the comments, the original blog writer, Dan Harmon, makes an appearance. I found his comments really interesting, and I think they speak powerfully about the evolving nature of blogging as a whole.
I’m going to quote the whole comment below.
You guys cut and pasted excerpts from a post in a forum where I talk to people who are there to read what I wrote, where I frequently express my personal feelings about my work and say horrible things about myself. You made something that already existed in its full context, one click away, into your own “article” by adding mocking editorial about how stupid I am for not understanding the obvious fact that because an animated film involves drawing, it’s always written last. You gave it the headline “Dan Harmon talks a bunch of shit about Jeffrey Katzenberg” to draw web traffic, and your readers follow this bit of reporting with a bunch of comments about how my experience as a writer in an animation factory is meaningless because I didn’t enjoy it and because my imdb entry contains silly titles of videos I make for my own fulfillment instead of money. And you hate public ranting. And ungrateful, unprofessional people.
What do you guys like? Cartoons and journalism? Cartoons and prudence? Fairness? Restraint? Order? Justice? Love?
You know, the more you do this to people who say things, the less and less is going to get said, and you’re going to have to hunt harder and harder for the next guy to entertain you with his unpunished foibles. You kind of finished me up, here. I’ve been saying things on the internet for 15 years, and this is the first hint I’ve gotten that I should think twice before I say anything. And I’m taking the hint, believe me. Sorry to either waste your time and/or make your day with my failings.
I’ve made it clear that I think some of the biggest critics of online writing are exaggerated in their complaints, or that they are completely unreflective about failings in the pre-Internet norms that governed public debate, cultural criticism, and opinion journalism.
However, I think Harmon’s right that there are some problems with the evolving norms of interblog writing and commentary. All weblogs tend over time to create small communities of readers, some of them active commenters, some just lurkers. As those communities evolve, they tend towards stronger and stronger feedback loops of sentiment and opinion that in turn often shapes what is said in the main body of any weblog. This is good in some ways: blogs which are about everything, or about nothing in particular, are both hard to read and hard to maintain. It is bad in other ways. I know I’ve given up on participating in the comments at several academic blogs where I feel the main author isn’t really interested in discussion and where the loyalist commenters are likely to abuse anyone that they see as being a critic of the author. It feels too much like being a party-crasher.
The real problem, however, is what Harmon describes, which is an accelerating disincentive to be honest, to disclose, to take risks in what we post, for fear that we will end up fodder at someone else’s blog where we actually care about what that audience thinks. It’s not that disturbing to be misquoted or mocked at a weblog whose audience is completely outside your own interests or communities: being called a “neo-Stalinist” for criticizing a badly written report was simply amusing. But Harmon, for example, obviously does care and should care what some of the commenters at Cartoon Brew think of him, and so I think he’s right to be frustrated by the waving of rhetorical torches and pitchforks that commences in the comments to the original post. I think Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi do a great job with Cartoon Brew in general, I should add. But the original post in this case certainly did “cue” the hostility in the comments to follow.
Blogging as a whole depends upon honesty and it depends on people being willing to create content that interests the rest of us as readers. If the scale starts to tip to the point where bloggers in general start to find it to be more trouble than it’s worth to start original conversations, to provide raw material, to disclose selectively, to host a salon, then the form as a whole will go fallow, leaving behind a desert of sanitized public-relations promotions and crumb-feeding from the table of the mainstream media.