Monday, July 30, 2012

Nine Years at the Keyboard

It was about this time of year in 2003. The freelance assignments had dropped off, but I was selling enough work to get by, just barely -- I had to give up my car in 2002. While I was glad for what work I could get I was missing being my own assignment-maker. My wiseass voice was feeling somewhat muzzled by the publishers who were still printing my words and art.

So that summer my son-in-law, Katey’s husband Brian, suggested I try blogging. I still thought the word “blog” was ridiculous, but when he offered to set it up for me -- at Katey’s urging -- I said, “OK, I’ll try it.”

Figuring that learning how to make posts, and so forth, would be a good skill to acquire, I followed through and started fiddling with it as the Dog Days rolled by. Before I knew what had hit me I was addicted.

The blog was named SLANTblog, as I considered it to be an online continuation of SLANT, my old ‘zine. Which made me a political blogger, right away, but I didn’t know that yet.

Of course, I hadn’t the foggiest notion of how chat rooms and the like had operated in the ‘90s, so I had little sense of the protocols that were migrating from that realm into the blogosphere. Which meant I couldn’t understand why anonymous bloggers/commentators were given any credibility at all. That view clashed with the views of many of my fellow bloggers as the Virginia Political Blogosphere began to coalesce in 2004. 

By 2006 things had gotten much more organized. There were teams of bloggers and there were professional bloggers. Aggregators were magnifying the reach of Virginia’s busiest bloggers, especially those with the savvy to work the system. And, so came the development of partisan attack bloggers, who called their opponents names and posted whatever they could to sabotage the online discourse. This was a turning point year. The comments under posts exploded with trash-talk.

As 2007 wore on the predictability and uselessness of keeping up with the universe of political bloggers had me steadily detaching from that realm. Its soap opera of feuds and noisy echo chambers were a waste of time. They were boring, even to a guy who had always loved to debate politics with people who could think for themselves.

But I didn’t break clean from my connection to political bloggers. My posts still appear in some of the aggregators. So, a few of the most obsessed of the old political bloggers still want to draw me into their wordy feuds, or to punish me for not acquiescing to one of their demands.

A couple of weeks ago, I was labeled as, “stupid and arrogant,” by a prolific leftwing Virginia blogger. And, by pure luck, the same day I was branded as a “coward” by a prolific Virginia rightwing blogger. Or was it the other way around?

Although these two cats are polar opposites in their views of politics, the tactics they are accustomed to using are quite similar. Both men view politicians as celebrities and are wannabe professional propagandists, middle-aged men who are dreaming the Big Boys will beam them up, one day, to play spin doctors at the top level.

Both mean-spirited bloggers claim to be attorneys. No real surprise there.

Those two bloggers are perfect examples of why the blogging world split apart early in the development of blogging. By 2006 there was already a bright line separating political bloggers from all the rest. I know that because I tried to straddle that line with SLANTblog and saw that I was bucking a trend.

The rest of the bloggers wanted nothing to do with political bloggers. I discovered that when I called together a meeting of the most prominent local bloggers in the spring 0f 2007. Subsequently, I realized how few bloggers about food, recreation, music, art, gardening or anything else, wanted to associate in any way with political bloggers.  

Nonetheless, I wouldn't change my focus to suit the non-political bloggers' dictates, either, so once again I found myself refusing to be pigeonholed and having to pay a price for not obeying the people who see themselves as branders. Alas, it's been that way for me a lot longer than just my almost nine years of blogging.

After doing without, I don't miss the car as much as I feared I would. Bicycle-riding is good for me, physically and mood-wise. 

Next month: Happy ninth birthday, SLANTblog.

-- Cartoon by F.T. Rea. It originally appeared in SLANT in 1986. 


frenchie said...

Great cartoon and caption.

F.T. Rea said...

frenchie, you obviously have good taste. Thanks.