Archive for May, 1988

COMMENT CULTURES

May 29, 1988

Blogs are not going to save the world.  No.  That’s the bad news, I suppose.  With any luck, they also won’t destroy it, so that’s something.  But, yes, they are definitely not going to save it.

I would imagine that this is a fairly upsetting notion to the hippie hacker types who were around when usenet was doing well.  Following on from the idea of cyberspace mooted by William Gibson in his 1984 novel “Necromancer”, the web was imagined by its ‘pioneers’ as a place for the free and unfettered back and forth of ideas man, (and it seems generally to have been men) the chance to finally break the shackles of this workaday world, to transcend the earth’s physical limits, and like, really, communicate, baby.  Noted drug aficionado Tim Leary even went so far as to say that the Internet would be the LSD of the 90s.

Which is of course not at all how it turned out.  Whereas the idea of cyberspace seemed to be all sort of brilliant flashing lights and good vibes, anyone looking at the web today would conclude that its closest ‘real world’ equivalent would probably be a bunch of men in overcoats muttering darkly in the fetid corner of a pub, all furiously agreeing with the fatuous nonsense coming out of each others’ corpulent mouths.

Okay, that is taking it too far.  But, not that much too far.  As Geert Lovink points out:

“Blogs create communities of like-minded people. Debates happen within homogeneous webclouds … Most bloggers would admit that it is not their aim to foster public debate. If you disagree with a fellow blogger, it is even unwise to write a comment. Instead, it is much safer to post the remark on your own blog. “I blogged you”. The chance that someone will respond to it is almost zero. Herein is the limit of blogging”

Bang on, it seems to me.  One almost never sees anything approaching broadminded debate encompassing a wide spectrum of political beliefs on blogs.

Instead, it would appear that blog aficionados tend to “cocoon” themselves amongst others with whom they share ideological affiliations. This cocooning, as described by the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, has the unfortunate tendency of pushing people towards more and more extreme ideological positions.

EXHIBIT 1: The “Birther” Movement.  What started off as run of the mill racist paranoia morphed into an immensely popular conspiracy movement claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to be its President.  Although it’s difficult to ‘trackback’ the gestation of this theory, it seems that it gained momentum and popularity through discussion on right wing discussion boards such as Free Republic. The theory went on to be so widely held that the Democrats ended up setting up a website called ‘Fight the Smears’ specifically devoted to rebutting this sort of insane guff.

A man with an insane grievance

Blogging's logical outcome

EXHIBIT 2:  This insane blogpost by “dday” and its attendant comment thread on DailyKos regarding a post by my ‘blog hero’ (jesus…) Harry Hutton.  Hutton’s post was making fun of an earlier post on DailyKos, wherein one “ct” of the DailyKos community literally thanked DailyKos for having saved his and his baby daughter’s life, on account of how “ct” was at the YearlyKos convention when some drunk drove his car through “ct”‘s front living room, which is where “ct” and child might have been at the time, if they had not been at YearlyKos.

Got that?  Now, Hutton’s post basically made fun of  how “ct” was drawing a false correlation by suggesting that DailyKos was  responsible for saving his life, when in reality it was just dumb luck.  But that was not how ‘dday’ saw it.  Rather, he interpreted the post as an example of the “rising tide of eliminationist language” coming out of the Far-Right Blogosphere, and that Hutton (who is in fact generally quite left-wing in his politics) was clearly suggesting it would have been better for “ct” and his child to have been killed, because obviously all he cares about is the murder and destruction of liberals by any and all means necessary.

Which is obviously an insane interpretation of Hutton’s post.  But it was an interpretation readily accepted by many DailyKos readers,  hundreds of whom posted comments in support of dday’s ridiculous jabber.  So, just as the ‘cocooned’ community on the right wing FreeRepublic.com came up with the insane Birther Movement idea, so it is that the ‘cocooned’ community on the left wing DailyKos came up with the insane ‘Conservatives want to kill everyone who is a member of DailyKos’ idea.

‘Almost Plausible’ seems to have so far avoided this kind of insanity, thank God.  If I ever did provoke some sort of crazy fellow onto my site I could of course just block his comments, but such an eventuality seems fairly unlikely at this stage of the game.  Who is likely to argue with me?  If someone did get riled up enough to point out that Christopher Marlowe never had anything to do with plums, my only reasonable response would of course be to say, “Prove it, you swine.  Show me the proof.”  Nah, jk, lol.  I wouldn’t care.  Because I’m a blogger.  And bloggers are not in it for the reasoned debate, no they are not.

WHITE MALES AND FOOD FETISHES

May 18, 1988

Prior to his much storied political career, a 23 year-old George Washington suffered a major financial setback when he attempted to establish rural Virginia’s first dedicated Maple Taffy store.  Washington developed a fondness for the sugary treat during his youthful travels in New England, where it was long established as an after-dinner delicacy.  His business venture failed, with Washington bitterly noting in his personal diaries that:

“The Virginian’s coarser Palate does not lend itselfe to cultivation of such Delicate Pleasures.”

Washington himself would retain a great affection for the taffy, an affection which would cost him dearly in terms of dental hygiene and political credibility.  After being forced to take up his famous wooden dentures, political foes would often mock Washington with the derisive nickname, “Old Taffy Lips”.

'Old Taffy Lips' Washington

'Old Taffy Lips' Washington would rue the business failure “'til (his) sweete dieing moment.” (en.wikipedia.org)

However, Washington is not the only historical figure to have paid dearly for his food-related desires.  Christopher Marlowe’s legendary love of plums has been a source of interest to scholars ever since his (almost certainly plum-related) murder in 1593.

The celebrated dramatist and espionage agent was vociferous in his love of the tart fruit, once writing that:

“The Mereste Smack of a Primy Plumb’s Deep-Sweete Nectar doth but at once reduceth me to the moste Fool-Begged of Want-Wits.”

Marlowe’s plum love is theorised to have stemmed from his time as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, who was renowned for his extensive and high quality plum fields throughout much of modern day Wigtwizzle and Flagg.

Although scholars believe that Walsingham originally paid Marlowe in plums for his services, it would appear that in time Marlowe’s love of the stone fruit outstripped his earning capabilities, resulting in disastrous debts and his eventual murder.

No mere historical curio, Marlowe’s addiction has provided powerful evidence for the “Marlovian” school, who argue that the works traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare were in fact written by Marlowe. Proponents of the theory have pointed to the many plum references throughout the Shakespearean oeuvre (Guildenstern taking “Plumb and Crabbe-Apple Jam” with him during the trip to England, Lear ranting about “Plumb-Coloured Ducats (coins)”, etc.) as proof of their claims.

Marlowe was often seen in public with plum juice smeared across his lips and cheeks (en.wikipedia.org)

In a similar vein, Vladimir Illyich Lenin was known by his comrades to have an unnatural love for the smell of freshly boiled potatoes.

As low level apparatchik Dimitri Zubkov would recall in his autobiography, “Deeds Done”,

“(After the fall of St. Petersburg to the Bolsheviks) there was much carousing and rejoicing by all of us in the inner circle. We stayed up for days in the Winter Palace, enjoying all manner of fine liqueurs and cordials.

I recall after one particularly boisterous evening, rousing myself and shambling into the (formerly) Royal Kitchen. There I found a most confounding sight: None other than Comrade Lenin, standing over a saucepan of boiling potatoes and clutching at himself furiously!

‘Comrade Lenin!’ I cried, ‘What in heaven’s name!’

Lenin quickly turned around, and pausing only to compose himself briefly, chastised me for having invoked a religious curse.

‘One swears solely by the Deities of Proletarian Struggle now,’ he warned me.”

Lenin.  The Man.  The Potato Fiend.  The Pastry.

Post-Mortem, Lenin miraculously transmogrified into a delicious pastry, replicas of which are enjoyed every year on the anniversary of his death. (shewalkssoftly.com)

NICHE BLOGGING AND THE LONG TAIL

May 1, 1988

In the modern age, the entertainment market place is little more than a long skinny tail, flapping nonchalantly in the wind.  Pre-Internet, the market was more like a short stumpy dock (that is, the bit of a tail left on your dog after you had its tail cut off.  Apparently this  is illegal in Australia now, which somewhat complicates an already horrible metaphor.)

Pictured: The World (pre-internet)

What?  This is the essence of “Long Tail Theory”, a term popularised by Chris Anderson. Anderson points out that, pre-Internet, consumers were more or less restricted to purchasing only those products which were available in brick-and-mortar stores.  Since these stores had limited shelf space, proprietors were able to stock only those products which they estimated they would sell enough of to cover the cost of having them in the store.  It is for this reason that shops are commonly found to be full of lowest-common-denominator junk, appalling trash that makes shopping an oftentimes excruciating experience.

However, thanks to the Internet, these limits no longer apply, and consumers are now able to purchase all sorts of bizarre trinkets which it would simply not be economical to stock in ‘real-world’ shops.  Rather than stores occupying expensive real-estate near population centres, web merchants like Amazon can house their goods in enormous warehouses out in the middle of nowhere.

Some hole in the UK somewhere
Amazon.co.uk pays hella little rent on this barren bit of Scotland.  Pay careful attention to the lack of bourgeoisie milling around waiting for the store to open. (en.wikipedia.org)

As it turns out, apparently there is still an enormous market for these bizarre trinkets, and thanks to the power of the web, this ‘long tail’ of consumption is now available for all to grab onto and wave around like a demented child.

“Niche Blogs” are basically the publishing equivalent of Long Tail Theory.  No longer do authors have to pick a subject or writing style that will have broad enough appeal to justify publishing a book, or get them a column in a newspaper or magazine.  Since it costs practically nothing to have a blog on wordpress or blogspot, people are able to write about topics which may not have interest to the majority of the population, but will still hold appeal for a particular minority of readers.  A “niche”, if you will.

In this spirit, “Almost Plausible” is situated in the “Fake But Amusing History” niche, which is a fairly nichey niche, even as far as niche blogs go.  I was, for want of a better term, “inspired” to pick this niche due to my following the blogs “Hark, a Vagrant“, and “Chase me Ladies, I’m in the Cavalry“.

Hark is a  comic-blog written by the Canadian cartoonist Kate Beaton.  Although she writes on a number of subjects, she is probably best known for her cartoons about historical figures.  These typically involve her skewering the “important white male” figures which reoccur throughout history, often by portraying them as neurotic buffoons.

Beaton typically updates the site about 2 or 3 times a week, and according to Alexa averages 20,000-30,000 hits a day.  Given the historical flavour of the blog, it’s not surprising that the average reader has at least some “college” education, and the style of humour is apparently most attractive to 18-24 year olds.  Speaking as an 18-24 year old with some “college” education myself, this seems about right.

The blog has a few banner ads on it, almost always for other webcomics.  According to the rates listed on the blog, these cost about US$1 (per hour/per day?), so it would not appear that the blog is especially lucrative for Beaton.  Presumably she derives more income through her online store, where she sells various bizarre trinkets (obviously).

Chase me Ladies is more your standard bloggy kind of blog, written by a grumpy ESL teacher named Harry Hutton.  He blogs about various matters, including his wretched existence, as well as wretched political excreta. He also spends a lot of time writing crank letters to politicians, and occasionally making prank phone calls.

Chase me Ladies is not as popular as Hark, though it comes in at a very respectable (and confusing) no. 61, 392 on the list of Malaysia‘s top sites.  I don’t know how to explain this.  That’s the internet for you.  Apparently Chase Me Ladies is most popular with male grad students who have no children and are aged between 35-44, which strikes me as a fairly accurate description of Hutton himself.  It is interesting that both sites’ “average reader” description seems to mirror that of the blogger themselves.  I would imagine that this will also be the case with my blog.

Hutton makes a point of not having any ads on his blog, as he sees this as basically being the internet equivalent of busking, humiliating yourself for a meagre pittance.

Why do people bother? (he says) I would cheerfully sell my soul for gold, but it’s a question of how much gold. It will cost you more than a carton of milk.

I must say I really respect him for this.  Hutton is keeping it real, stone cold saying no to AdSense.

For ‘Almost Plausible’ I plan to brilliantly combine the historical flavour-flav of Kate Beaton’s “Hark”, with the caustic wittery of Hutton’s “Chase me Ladies”.   With these two as my guide, I would expect that my blog will attract slightly over-educated readers aged 21-23, who will not be willing to see me make any money out of this. Fab-o.