Sunday, September 14, 2008
It's hard for me to tell if I'm switching my allegiance from the New Yorker to the Atlantic because I actually prefer the Atlantic or because the Atlantic is what's lying around my living room. In any case there's no denying my slow accretion of acceptance: similar, I imagine, to way people in arranged marriages gradually grow to love the lumpen mangler of metaphors scarfing dinner across the table from them despite the svelte soccer stars of their youth.
(Lest I be accused of more than my -OK, OK, at least moderate!- share of cultural snobbery, I should note that in addition to this month's Atlantic, I've also read this month's issue of O: The Oprah Magazine, as well as portions of the April issue of a spavined magazinelet called Indianapolis Woman that's been sitting on a table in the teacher's lounge since the beginning of school. Desperate times, my friends.)
Anyway, this month's Atlantic contains nude photographs of Cokie Roberts. That's a lie, but I'm betting I have your attention now. This month's Atlantic contains a pot-shot at blogs, which literary editor Benjamin Schwarz claims serve up, by definition, "unedited, impromptu, self-important ruminations on random events and topics."
He's certainly right about mine (except for the unedited bit -I do give my entries an OCD once-or-twice over...this works better when I am not sleepy). But I wonder if Schwarz has committed the classic scientific blunder of assuming he's got the whole truth because he's got ahold of part of it. I've sifted through a number of blogs and it seems to me there's a taxonomy. (Not to be confused with taxidermy, though I suppose blogging is a forced preservation of something or other.)
I slot blogs into four basic categories:
1) Promotional blogs. Blogs that are trying to sell you something or someone.
2) Niche blogs. Blogs in which you take on a predetermined subject or subjects. These are subject-driven blogs: e.g., the subject is the engine and you're there to steer.
3) Response blogs. Blogs that respond to the stimuli of "random events and topics." Self-important at times, self-focused in its way, but the self isn't the main show. Rather, it's about the world as filtered through the self, self not as content but as form. The world is the engine; you're along for the ride.
4) Documentary blogs. What you did yesterday, and the day before. What you ate, what you saw, what you read: a retelling and/or memorialization of your life. Here self is content and form is incidental: you're the engine. Your words or pictures are the body of the car.
I don't really have a judgment on the superiority of one or another of these categories, except to say that promotional blogs are almost universally snoozeworthy. I write a response blog, but I read blogs from categories 2, 3, and 4. As a group, niche blogs are usually the best-written. Documentation blogs are often the worst-written, but I read more of them than anything else because I'm incurably nosy.
Schwarz is right. But he's also wrong, in that by lumping all blogs together, he misses the subtler distinctions that make things interesting. Some of us think the meat of life is in what we do. Some of us think the meat of life is in how we react. Still others of us think it's in what we sell or what we devote our time to. I think that's worth a rumination or two.