What is the function of a political weblog?
Blogging is, it is generally agreed, a symptom of our narcissistic and disrespectful culture. People who refuse to acknowledge the authority of better-informed people set up weblogs and fool even less well-informed people than themselves into believing that the blogger knows what s/he is talking about. The blogger is also orgasmic to overcome the impossible obstacle of lack of talent and energy, by getting the message out anyway, even if there is no message, even if what little there is, is not worth getting out. It is the triumph of mediocre amateurishness.
All right. Something to that. Something, for instance, to reflect the people who endlessly talk about themselves, several times a day, on the Web. (Unlike the Creator, who would never dream of doing this, surely? Surely?) More to the point there are plenty of people who seem wrapped up in their blogs, obsessed with the importance of their blogs, whoring for traffic, popping up in comments sections to announce that they have a blog, won’t somebody come and look at me? Anybody?
Embarrassing, not so?
Lindsey Lohan has a blog — need more be said on the subject?
Well, yes. What about political weblogs? Surely there we are dealing with something dramatically different. Politics is something out there, politics is an acknowledgement that there is more to adhere to than just the individual subject who will rot and decay (while the weblog lives on, possibly enduring beyond the last surviving human, somewhere in a solar-powered server in the dead sandy plain that was once the Guatemalan rain forest).
The purpose of a political weblog is, thus, to get the political message out. It presumes that there is a political contest somewhere, and the weblogger is engaging in the contest by expressing an opinion to all who might wish to read it on the Web. Hence the American concept of the “netroots”, the good old-fashioned webloggers who, sneering at the horrid patricians who go door to door and talk to people and shake hands and kiss babies, transform the whole nature of twenty-first century politics by electronically panhandling for credit-card contributions to their chosen candidates.
Besides, most political blogging is commentary. Where it isn’t commentary, it is campaigning for a person whom the blogger approves of. Thus, that person’s victory is, by extension, a victory for the blogger. So this is distinctly narcissistic; I like Barack Obama or George Galloway or Jacob Zuma and I am glad that he has won, and since I like him, his victory also reflects well on my judgement, so in praising him I am praising myself.
As to the commentary, it tends to be extremely showy and shallow. It is true that there are some webloggers who get down and try to find out what is going on — the Web contains most of the true muckraking journalists in the world, and by this the Creator does not mean Matt Drudge — and others who offer serious and thoughtful commentary. However, the bulk are cheap-shot artists. Sometimes, it has to be said, very very funny cheap-shot artists. However, at rock bottom, this kind of weblogging is essentially heh-indeedery.
What does this mean? Fundamentally, this has to do with the audience. People who read political weblogs want to leave comments. If they don’t have anything to say they will say something silly or irrelevant, like graffiti artists tagging a well, or dogs marking a lamp-post. They do this because they have an investment in the weblog; they expect the weblog to provide them something, and what they expect from it, fundamentally, is solidarity. The people who come to such a weblog are coming there to have their own opinions and prejudices reaffirmed by the kindly blogger.
This accounts for heh-indeedery. The term comes from a blogger, Glenn Reynolds, who called himself Instapundit, and who was fond of citing observations which he considered foolish. He would follow these observations, or suitably cropped extracts from them, with the words “Heh. Indeed.” In other words, “It is not necessary for me to criticise these comments, because you who are reading my weblog already know that they are wrong, and thus I need only make the appropriate phatic communication to elicit your endorsement of their wrongness without your needing to do or say anything intellectual.”
In short, the role of the press in contemporary politics is exemplified by heh-indeedery; the weblog is the perfect place for it.
But there are weblogs which do other things. For example, there is this one, a most excellent weblog in many important ways, which presents the opinions of a left-wing member of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Great Britain. He does his best to present interesting ideas, both his own and those of other people. Of course he feels obliged to provide pretty pictures and entertaining YouTube videos which a purist might deem somewhat populist, but the gist of the weblog is to provide information as well as an opinion which is somewhat uncommon. Sometimes there is a degree of “See! See the evil! Be enraged!”. But sometimes there is also “Lo, I tell you a mystery, I actually know what I am talking about, and I’ll tell you what it is.” Both seem to have a place on such a weblog. What is also interesting is that the comments often contain examples of both, in themselves. Thus some commenters feel the urge to spend many hundreds of words explaining how they agree or disagree with the blogger. Sometimes these comments are almost as interesting as the original posting.
Of course, membership of a party can be hampering. The SWP recently split with the RESPECT coalition and is feuding with the rest of the splitters (sigh, standard operational procedure in such cases) and so the blogger is often extremely tense with the opposition. Sometimes slightly paranoid (especially at the time of the split). On the other hand, for an ultra-leftist, this person is not bad.
Mark you, this one, which comes from the other side of the RESPECT split, while nowhere near as good in its posts as that one, has some extremely good debates, possibly because it is not so heavily moderated. The trouble is that an endless diet of posts about how horrible the regime ruling the world is, does not satisfy. One does want more; the possibility of hope, the possibility of challenge.
In the United States, although there remain some leftists of interest such as this person, whose weblog is remarkable for its wordy content which nevertheless manages to be readable, most political weblogs are more or less liberal. That does not necessarily mean they are boring — this one, for instance, which does a great deal of intellectual analysis of the extreme Right in the U.S. and how it poses a potentially fascist threat, is quite sprightly. However, at rock bottom the answer is, usually, simple; vote for the Democrats and all will be well.
Oddly enough, there are some disagreements. Many webloggers, like this one and this one, started out as completely uncritical Democrats who believed that all would be well once Bush was crucified and buried at a crossroads with a stake through his heart (a reasonable enough activity in the Creator’s perspective, but not guaranteed to bring good solutions, especially if not enough garlic is applied). However, they have become much more interesting over time and with the growing realization that Democratic politicians are evil sleazebag sellouts. Sometimes the latter one poses vaguely Socratic questions which open gigantic gulfs of radicalism beneath the unwary readers’ feet. The commenters, too, have tended to become more radical.
Then there are fun ones, like this one, who seems out to provoke — it seems easy to be provocative in the United States, all you need to do is get drunk, take drugs and have anal sex, or ascribe such activities to people in the White House. Behind all that seems to be a serious outrage about American conservative politics, but behind all that is a weary willingness to suppress outrage so long as a Democrat can get in. Sad, really.
And again, there is this one and this one and this one, all of whom are Creator-given gifts to a long slow day at the office with nothing much to do. All are rightly celebrated. And yet, although all have their occasional bursts of commentary and intellectual engagement, all are basically heh-indeed tracts. Look! Over there on the Web! A stupid right-winger! You didn’t see it? Let me dissect it for you! Mmmm, smells foul! Now let’s move on to the next one! It is frankly true that what they identify is awful, odious and horrific — rather like this crowd in Britain, who are the worst political weblog that the Creator has spent any amount of time in. (Never call the Creator a purist; look at the created universe for proof.) But at the same time all this promotes a kind of unison, a solidarity, which discourages analysis of one’s own side. (In several of these weblogs, the commenters are extraordinarily good; Herr Dokter Bimler is particularly impressive.)
There are informative political weblogs despite their liberal credentials (this one, started by a gentle, bright leftist cartoonist and now hosted in part by some really sharp and wacky analysts, is particularly good, and also offers links to some fairly savage artwork). On the other hand, while this one has its moments, it is overwhelmed by the horrific fact that people sometimes make jokes about fat people, as if the existence of evil on the planet gave its creator (another gentle cartoonist) the vapours. There are also a few good debating weblogs; this one, mostly British, is extraordinarily entertaining and then falls into tedium with a sickening thud. About two days a week is it glorious. This one, at the Guardian site, which isn’t really a weblog but is hosted by a newspaper, is interesting because the comments bring out some of the most stupid and dishonest people on the planet; it is reassuring that they are sitting at keyboards rather than cheating toddlers out of their lollipops or blowing up frogs with thunderflashes.
So one can get a lot of information out of political weblogs, and sometimes some really great writing (this one yields to none for sheer rhetorical power, despite the fact that its actual political ideology is spinach, and this one, similarly spinach-oriented, has the savage accuracy of a hatchet to the back of the skull).
The trouble with all such political weblogs is that they accomplish nothing in themselves. They can only assist the accomplishments of others. And too many people become obsessed with the Web as a place where battles can be fought (meaninglessly) and victories won (worthlessly) without reference to the real world. Hence the absurd troll phenomenon, wherein people struggle to disrupt the activities of enemies who exist only in virtual space.
But the only truly successful political weblog, the only one which lived its dreams, made its ideologies real and succeeded in converting multitudes, is this one. Anarchy and the end of the world and the destruction of the boring old Sun, the war with decency and honour everywhere and the destruction of authority by means of pies? The Creator is pleased with Fafnir, Giblets and the Medium Lobster.