The Great Divide, by Elayne Riggs
As I’ve made clear in previous columns, I like reading. I have Bloglines subscriptions to almost 700 blogs, of which I probably read 400-500 pretty regularly. I tend to group my blog subscriptions into two major categories, culture and politics – what I call "news and views" – although lately I’ve been supplementing those with blogs speaking to other interests of mine, like food and grammar and LOLcats. And I’ve noticed the same problem with these blogs, particularly the political ones, which I came across in just about every hobby of mine through the years. By and large, the writers seem to believe their subject matter is the only one worth pontificating about, and any blogger who has "outside" interests is not worthy to be in their circle.
We live in an era of divide and conquer, where each faction is encouraged into its own little category, where the idea of a well-rounded individual is anathema to getting ahead, where specialization is the order of the day. Because of deadline pressures, many artists who make their living doing comic books have to choose between penciling and inking. My husband is fond of noting that in England, where he lived for the first 36 years of his life, there was no such artificial division of labour when he learnt his craft. Imagine his frustration when we were going over the rudiments of baseball and he found out about all the different subdivisions of pitchers and fielders! He still can’t understand how a professional ballplayer can’t field at just about any position, and why most pitchers can’t complete an entire game. To tell you the truth, the part of me that’s been a baseball fanatic since girlhood, and remembers lots of complete games, readily agrees.
But everything these days is compartmentalized to within an inch of its life. "General interest" and "Renaissance person" have become almost freakish notions these days. Why this is so in the days of "multitasking" is beyond me. We’re expected to juggle umpteen tasks simultaneously at work but we can’t choose more than one passion in our downtime?
Five and a half years ago, when I started blogging, cyber-territory was already beginning to be staked out. Perhaps it always had been; after all, if you wanted to discuss comics online in the ’90s, you went to the CompuServe or AOL comics sections, then to the rec.arts.comics Usenet newsgroups. So it was the logical assumption that if you wanted to discuss comics in the newly-evolved one-to-many forum of blogging, you would create a comics blog. And you’d talk about comics, pretty much exclusively, and you’d be a comics blogger. And you could fit into that nice neat little pigeonhole and be nominated for yearly comics blogger awards and everyone would be happy. Except, of course, you, if you feel like talking about anything besides comics.
It’s the same with political blogs. I’ve long dreamt of being in the finals for the liberal blogger Koufax Awards (’cause see, Sandy Koufax was a left-hander). I’ve been nominated a few times, but never even made it to "Blogger Deserving of Wider Recognition" or whatnot. Because I don’t blog just about politics. My feelings about the current administration were certainly among the reasons I started my blog; 2002 was a big year for online authors deciding to vent their frustration. But in 2004, when it looked like Kerry actually had a chance before Rove & co. engineered another win for the Republicans, and again in 2006 when the Democrats were poised to take control of Congress, one of the biggest laments heard in liberal blogtopia (yes! skippy coined that phrase! – see, I can even do the liberal blogger in-jokes) was "What in the world will I blog about if the election results are in keeping with my wishes, and the Democrats start taking the country back from these radical reactionaries?" Never mind that the Dems’ poor performance since November ’06 in carrying out the will of their constituents rather proves these bloggers needn’t have bothered worrying. The point is, they couldn’t imagine having blogs where they couldn’t specialize in their one and only passion.
I never envisioned having such a dilemma. Can’t write about politics? Write about comics. Or sushi. Or New York. Or baseball. Or post some pretty pictures of foliage or my cats. Or congratulate a member of my family on some achievement. Or remember a friend or loved one. I’m a human being, for cripe’s sake, I contain multitudes!
But much of the liberal blogosphere reserves such a "big tent" philosophy solely for discussions of Democratic strategy and identity politics. They pontificate at length about the false divisions created by our mainstream media between "black" and "woman" in the 2008 campaign, for instance, and that media not being able to acknowledge the presence of actual human beings who are both black and female, and how that really smashes the prize-fight analogies to little bits. But many of them can’t help perpetuating divisions of their own.
There’s a huge segment of the liberal blogs that does nothing but make fun of conservative blogs. They seem to need to define themselves mainly by their opposition. I read a lot of these blogs, many of them are quite amusing. But it’s all rather one-note when you encounter post after post about how, sweet Jesus, they hate Chris Matthews, or omigod how stupid is Jonah Goldberg. That Matthews is a sexist boor or Goldberg is an amateur with no grasp of history who’s only famous because his mother sold out Monica Lewinsky is self-evident; I’m not sure we need to be presented with dozens of variations on that same theme. But for all their lamenting about what an unthinking echo-chamber right-wing blogs are, the liberal blogosphere contains almost as much cavernous reverberation. After awhile, no matter how well-written, everything just seems to blend together. You think it’s bad watching Keith Olbermann surrender to the pundit within and abandon his acute analysis of today’s most pressing issues in favor of endless horserace speculation and kissing of Tim Russert’s tuchus? That’s nothing compared to reading blogger after blogger saying the same exact thing, often taking their cues from the same mass media they decry, all cross-linking like crazy to one another.
I dunno, maybe it’s just me. If I have something to say that I don’t think anyone else has noted, I’ll post about it. But what’s the point of going on and on about something that someone else has already written , in most cases, better than I could? That’s what links are for.
The more I read liberal blogs, the more of a slog many of them become. I seem to be much more buoyed by cultural blogs that occasionally dabble in political sophistry than the other way around. Add to that my suspicion that most of these blogs no longer link to me because, you know, I’m not laser-focused. So this coming Sunday, which has been ironically christened "Blogroll Amnesty Day" (see explanation here), I’m going to go through the political section of my blogroll (that’s the list of other people’s blogs to which I link on my blog’s sidebar) and clear out some deadwood, in keeping with the central theme of BAD – linking instead to other, smaller, perhaps more original, lively, reciprocally-minded blogs, sites that nurture the feeling of community which attracted me to blogging in the first place. As I’m pretty sure one of the reasons for these blogs not achieving more popularity is their refusal to specialize, I’m looking forward to a lot more variety in my daily reading to come. After all, to most of us politics isn’t just a theoretical game of one-upsmanship, played with a single-mindedness that excludes more casual participants – it’s part of how we live our lives. Lives which consist of lots of other parts, too.
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix’s news editor, and urges her fellow New Yorkers to get out and exercise their franchise on Super-Duper-Pooper-Scooper Tuesday.