Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bleacher Bleats: Blog Comments and Straw Men

Comment sections on blogs, appearing at they do at the bottom of every entry, tend naturally to generate bottom-feeding discourse with very little redeeming value other than WB-quality entertainment. That’s not to brush off some blogs’ comment sections (Eurotrib, Digby, the eminently comment-worthy Dr. Bitch, to name a quick few), where the action, like the footnotes in a David Foster Wallace story, sometimes outruns the main event. Nor do I mean to downplay the Herculean effort of bloggers to patrol and clean up some of their more skin-headed contributors. I don’t even mean to judge the validity of comment sections; the more the better in my view. I’d have them on this site if I could only figure out the technicalities (along with a few dozen other technicalities I haven’t figured out yet). But you get the idea. Comment sections can aspire to be community town halls. They’re just as often the echo chamber of your neighborhood gutter, shallow enough for knee-jerks to flop about but, like any gutter, easy enough to ignore and be grateful for efficient drainage systems (the scroll or delete keys, the shrug). The gems are worth the muck.
And anyway I’m all for the defense of the muck, if that’s what it takes to have a few gems, or to give voice to those who normally stay too quiet. As Octavio Paz so perfectly said of “bad words,” they are “the only living language in a world of anemic vocables. They are poetry within the reach of everyone.” Lord knows there are enough strictures and brown-shirted patrols of the “acceptable” and the “appropriate” everywhere that a little loose-letting on comment sections can’t hurt anyone. Unfortunately, “being inoffensive, and being offended, are now the twin addictions of the culture” (in Martin Amis’s words). So offensiveness is verging on becoming another one of those victimless crimes we’re so fond of prosecuting. Still, for anyone to cite blog comments as representing anything more than the rhetorical runoff they are is more idiotic than hunting buzzards in an aviary. But because it’s easy, because it makes some people with an inferiority complex feel better, because it’s cheap points on the high and mighty scale, because—to the gullible—it can seem like someone’s got a trend picked out or a point proven, it’s still done and will probably always be done. Read the rest...