April 28, 2018
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On Not Blogging

From time to time, people chide me for not blogging the way I used to blog. I plan to write a little more here, but I suppose I ought first to explain why I cut back.

First, when I started this back around the turn of the century, everyone in my field had a blog. We had productive arguments between weblogs. We had productive arguments between weblog networks: the Scandinavian Hypertext Feminists were a thing. Those blogs mostly collapsed and have been largely forgotten, but they shouldn't be forgotten. The Great Battle between Ludic and Narrativist Game Theory was conducted almost entirely on weblogs, and almost all of the participants are still on speaking terms. The later conflagration known as Gamergate was conducted almost entirely through Twitter, Facebook, and email harassment on the one hand, and conventional journalism on the other. Almost none of the combatants are on speaking terms, and many allies aren’t, either. (One of the prominent Wikipedia Gamergaters adversaries has been in prison lately, but I don’t think we’d be having lunch even if he were at liberty on Thursday.) Weblogs promoted conversation. I warned (at Blogtalk Downunder) that comments kill weblogs, and I was right. Facebook and Twitter are platforms for comments that dispense with the weblog; they give us all the disadvantages and keep all the profit.

Second, people got busy. They got tenure. They got book contracts. They had kids. A number of key figures were rewarded with valuable administrative positions, leaving them little time for anything else.

Third, many scholars deeply misunderstand popular media. The mark of an open mind has long been a willingness to learn from pop culture, but this led in the late age of postmodernism to a fascination with box office. Some scholars stopped trying to learn from pop culture and instead grew obsessed with the star-making machine. If something was making money, they were for it, and if something else was making even more money over there, they were trotting down the road.

And then, 2016 happened. It started early for me — exactly a year before Trump’s inaugural, Gamergate took over Wikipedia, part of a trial run for the whole megillah.

I’ve been more politically active in my old age; I never kept politics completely out of the weblog, but I write for colleagues in Melbourne, Southampton and Bergen more than for the folks down the block and I didn’t really want to bore people with American parochialism. That changed when Trump won; now, clearly, we all had an emergency on our hands.

But all politics is local politics: in our current catastrophe, a lot of the people who live in my little city have been deeply disappointing. We have people who think (and write on Facebook) that our main problem is all the half-civilized Asians who have moved nearby. We have people who think (and write on Facebook) that it would be a good thing if someone would shoot some famous Jewish financiers. We have people — retired elected officials! — who thought it a great idea to catechize a Muslim who was running for school committee: does she renounce Sharia? Is she, or has she ever been, a terrorist? It’s one thing to disagree about parking rules or signage regulations; when actual Nazis want to hunt down the people who live next door, it puts all that into perspective.

Or, it should: the local Democrats just won’t take a stand for immigrants, for Muslims, for real Democrats running for office, or for anything else. (The local Republicans seem to be scouring Facebook in search of the Russian Recruiting Office.) Sure, plenty of them work har

d for this candidate or that cause, but it’s supposed to be a Party. It’s one thing in normal times to have elected representatives who are decent folk even if they are a little squishy, a bit too beholden to the status quo. When we may be counting on those folk to stop a mass deportation or end a pogrom — well, we know what happened in our parents’ and grandparents’ day.

Mike Dukakis says it was worse in the 50s, that Joe McCarthy and George Wallace were more frightening than Trump and Pence. I want to believe him.

I’ve been too angry to write about politics, and when writing about anything else, I have to ask myself whether that’s playing into the hands of the Nazis. I don’t write well when I’m angry, but it’s hard to be funny when the stakes are so high.

This has been good for Tinderbox — it’s work I can do, and it’s work that I have to do if it’s going to get done. I think we had our best year last year, whether you measure in terms of finances, of engineering, or of art. But things have been quiet here. Perhaps too quiet.