The Right, Stuffed
Tom Wolfe, Blog Snob
The 10-year anniversary of the birth of blogs is giving newspapers a chance to half-celebrate, half-flatter what they dread most (the end of their monopoly), while giving writers like Tom Wolfe a chance to prove why their time has passed. If they ever had it.
Newspapers never tire of writing about blogs. They can’t. They know blogs are breathing down their collective necks. They know they can’t ignore a phenomenon that has about a hundred million practitioners. So they approach it half in dread half in fascination. Their air of condescension, once a stench, has diminished to a faint snort. If blogs are their own genre, newspapers and magazines writing about blogs are evolving a sub-genre, thickening with new entries by the week. The latest is the Wall Street Journal’s “Happy Blogiversary” celebration in its last weekend edition. The paper sets Dec. 23, 1997, as the day when the first blog was born. It was Robert Wisdom’s. On that day he wrote: “I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis.”
The paper’s Tunku Varadarajan writes a happy, flattering introduction (“blogs, once a smorgasbord of links, have evolved into vehicles for a fuller, more forceful and opinionated prose”), citing a few famous bloggers, then puts this question to a dozen famous people, bloggers and non-bloggers: What would we do without blogs? The Journal solicited blog-length answers from Harold Evans (former editor of the London Times), a couple of corporate types, Mia Farrow (www.miafarrow.org), a spokesman for the American occupation in Iraq, Newt Gingrich (“blogging is enabling particularly rapid mobilization and organization”), and, well, Tom Wolfe. All but one not only say blogs are here to stay, but that blogs are either the only hope to balance out “traditional” media monopoly or the only way to get at raw truths that only individuals’ unfiltered writings can create. Sure there’s plenty of trash. But that’s true of every medium. What blogs prove again and again is that talent and individuality are much richer, more diverse, more endlessly interesting than the tiny bottleneck of traditional media could ever allow us to know.
The exception, of course, is the entirely predictable, snotty, tight-assed, if from time to time entertaining and even fascinating, Tom Wolfe. Not this time. He’s bothered that one detail in his Wikipedia entry isn’t, he alleged, accurate—that major media reported of his death in 2003, and that he called Larry King to deny it, using the words “ain’t dead yet.” So logically he claims that “only a primitive would believe a word of Wikipedia” as if Wikipedia were a blog, though he addresses that little bitty point by claiming that Wikipedia “shares the characteristics of the genre.” In effect he skirts the question and bashes the genre for knowing, apparently, next-to-nothing about it. Stuck on his thirty-year-old “me-generation” coinage, he gives no favorite blogs because he no longer reads them, being “weary of narcissistic shrieks and baseless ‘information.’” This from the author of “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” whose eight hundred pages could have been trimmed, without missing a glint of Charlotte’s lip gloss, to a Saul Bellow-size (but no Saul Bellow-quality) novella of 100 pages.
The question is: why would the Journal solicit his opinion, most likely knowing he’d respond as insipidly? Because it needed at least one counter-intuitive, nay-saying voice, and raking the bottom of the barrel, Wolfe was it. He proves the very thing he’s trying to disprove, that blogs are rapidly becoming a universal phenomenon, and that old-line scribes like him are like people who still complain that print is inferior to handwriting, or prose automatically inferior to poetry. Those are prejudices, not opinions, and Tom Wolfe, in his creaking old age (he’s no Philip Roth), is just a grumpy old dandy.