Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?

Fracturing the Crossfire Approach
Inside the Internet.
Sept. 5 2002 6:32 PM

Are Weblogs Changing Our Culture?

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Mr. Sullivan:

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I'll take your outburst of grandiose idealism first, because I think it's exactly right, and it's why blogging as a phenomenon—in the realm of political discourse especially—is indeed so exciting and fraught with promise. (Even though, day to day, a lot of blogging will always be tedious wankery, vanity publishing in a hot new form.) This goes back to my complaint the other day about the sterile, boring, binary, Ann-Coulter-vs-Michael-Moore, Limbaugh-vs-Donahue, E-Z-ideology matrix into which so much of our mainstream discourse is crammed these days. I'm all for anything and everything that fractures or moots that Crossfire approach to ideas and debate—and, maybe, eventually, incrementally—to politics itself. If a blog-inspired recombination of the old left and right intellectual camps into more nuanced and lively new camps really continues apace, then maybe we can move beyond a WWF politics dominated by scripted rassling matches between the Tom DeLays and the Dick Gephardts.

The potential for new cluster-blog magazines and journals may indeed be enormous. But truly great magazines in any medium, as you know, require an inspired editorial dictator (or junta) to make choices about the components of the magazine's mix that day or week or month. Great magazines are great as a result of a million deliberate and semiconscious combinations and juxtapositions of articles and pictures and charts and design and all the rest of it. It is, to use the discredited mot juste, synergy. So, there's an inherent tension between the gleeful, kooky, ultra-independence of blog-style journalism and the orchestral nature of magazines. Should your explosion of new aggregated-blog journals occur, it will be interesting to watch how smart editors deal with that tension. I wonder: Is it the current scarcity of great, exciting print magazines to which blogs are, in part, a healthy reaction? You know, antibodies arising to fight the chronic malaise afflicting the larger media organism.

And I also agree with you about the beauty of the "informal, this-isn't-what-I-do-for-a-living feel of blogland." For a few years now, ever since I first read Daniel Boorstin's exquisite essay on the amateur spirit, I've been proselytizing for a renewal of this quintessentially American approach to the work of the world.

One final point. I've always thought that particular writers (and editors) are temperamentally and intellectually suited to particular frequencies—there are daily writers, weekly writers, monthly writers, book writers. Some people can successfully and happily straddle a couple of categories, occasionally three. The blog, obviously, extends this frequency spectrum to the hourly and beyond. In other words, there is a peculiar rat-a-tat-tat blogging temperament, a sensibility that craves and thrives in the perpetual fray. Everyone doesn't have it. For instance, I really do not.

But I'm happy that you and your fellow members of the blog community do. By the way, a screenwriter friend of mine following these dispatches in L.A., e-mailed me today and said about andrewsullivan.com: "I confess—I read his postings every day. He is his own general interest magazine." So, there you have it: They really, really like you.

It's been a pleasure.
Kurt

P.S.: My wife and two of my siblings sometimes call me Kurto. But Kurtie? Nope, no one until you, until now. I will treasure it forever.

Kurt Andersen, the author of Turn of the Century, is now at work on his second novel. He's also the host of the public radio program Studio 360.

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