Walkley on blogs

The Walkley magazine (home of the Walkley awards for journalism – the nominees are in this issue), has a feature about blogging, including a bit from me. The money quote from the main article is

Daily Telegraph columnist Anita Quigley spoke for many journalists when she wrote on August 10, 2005: “Why some pimply-faced geek, sicko or average Joe Blow thinks someone else wants to read every random thought that crosses their mind is beyond me. Alongside the belief that we all have a novel in us – we haven’t – blogging is the ultimate form of narcissism.�

There’s also an online blogging forum, but it hasn’t really got started yet.

Also from the Telegraph, a piece by Malcom Farr, which I’ll link without comment. Hat tip, Surfdom

58 thoughts on “Walkley on blogs

  1. The Right will always be funnier than the Left because humour is essentially deflationary ie taking the piss out of someone or thing. It is also a form of cruelty, which is something Right wingers take a certain malicious relish in inflicting.

    That would explain, of course, your scintillating wit and comic verve, Auntie Jack. Solzhenitsyn’s [N.B. correct spelling] not funny either.

    Quigley and Farr clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. If they wrote on blogs their lazy incompetence would result in evisceration. Says it all, really.

  2. “The Right will always be funnier than the Left”

    Gotta agree with Jack on this.

    However,

    “The Right will always be more amusing than the Left”

    Now that’s a lot more problematic.

  3. Jack, even in the light of his retrospective canonisation by the Right, it seems bizarre to characterise Orwell as “right-leaning (sort of)”. In particular, his contemptuous dismissal of “silly-clever” conservatives could be applied without modification to Mark Steyn and his imitators.

  4. For an historical perspective on this, the Right has never quite got over the outcome of one of the Great Debates of the Middle Ages: Did Jesus laugh?

    After a lot of inquisition and many visitations by some particularly scary Cistercians and Dominicans to various monasteries whence was heard quite audible giggling, the official position of the Church was insisted upon. No, Jesus DID NOT laugh.

    The Right, having sucked on the sour teat of Christian orthodoxy, has for centuries found it very difficult to spit in the face of the Faith of their Fathers. Thus they feel uncomfortable whenever they feel a chortle, a snigger, or a chuckle coming on. Outright laughter, of course, was quite out of the question.

    Now, it is true that parts of the Right have successfully secularised themselves in the last century or so. But chaps like P. J. O’Rourke are symptomatic of the continuing difficulties that they have with many of the elements of actual humour. They tend to see the application of their excoriation of their hate-objects on the Left as a kind of cultural chemotherapy. They hope against hope that after the successful application of humour, humour itself will cease to be necessary. Like Marx, after the crisis, Rightist humourists look forward to “the withering away of humour”.

    Right wing humourists work for a world where nothing need be funny any more, and no one will ever think to ask again whether “Jesus laughed”.

  5. jquiggin Says: October 25th, 2005 at 8:36 am

    Jack, even in the light of his retrospective canonisation by the Right, it seems bizarre to characterise Orwell as “right-leaning (sort of)�. In particular, his contemptuous dismissal of “silly-clever� conservatives could be applied without modification to Mark Steyn and his imitators.

    I sort of agree with Pr Q here, but I am going to defend my point. So perhaps a clarification is in order.

    Orwell was a bourgeois socialist who affected a kind of proleterian style. A kind of reverse image of Waugh, who was a bourgeois liberal who affected a kind of aristocratic style. Their personas were their greatest comic achievements, so they need to be handled with care (ie dose of salt) in any attempt at literary interpretation.

    Pr Q is correct to argue that Orwell was a Left wing socialist in substantive political committments. He also had withering contempt for the naive sort of Tory. But he was “sort of Right wing” in his literary style since his most famous satire was directed at toppling Left wing idols. (Homage to Catalonia and the Road to Wigan Pier oscillate between romanticised sentimentality and old-fashioned outrage.)

    [Yawn alert: 4 pars of social theory to follow.] The function of intellectuals in an Open Society is to fashion critique of social institutions that fail to live up to moral ideals. (They are no use running actual and existing institutions – under capitalism they cant get a “real job” and under communism they had to be liquidated.)

    Leftwing intellectuals critique the Open Society on behalf of low-status social classes – proles, women, ethnics, indigenes, non-human animals. There is always plenty of work to be done in this department because low-status outnumber high-status and some elites will always try to get away with murder against the populus.

    The established pillars of society – patriarchal family, capitalist firm and nationalist state – more or less run themselves. Alpha-males really dont need anyone to stick up for their work, they are self-justifying on performance. So Rightwing intellectuals cannot in good faith make much of a living critiquing these institutions.

    The Right wing really has no purpose in life other than the critique of Leftwing intellectuals. Fortunately the Left have developed a large alternative institutional universe, the academy, bureaucracy, media etc which gives the Right something to chew on.

    This is the kind of critique that occupied Orwell in his later, more famous literary work. So in that sense it is defensible to say that Orwell was a “sort of Right wing” satirist. Certainly that is the way he comes accross in Animal Farm and 1984. And the Right correctly sensed that his satirical work was a weapon in in the ideological struggle against the Left.

  6. Fyodor Says: October 25th, 2005 at 8:01 am

    Solzhenitsyn’s…not funny either.

    If I did not know Fyodor I would swear he must be joking. AS is probably the greatest satirist in modern European history, given the scope of TGA and the scale of its target. TGA itself is a real thigh-slapper, peppered with a constant stream of sarcastic remarks, mordant observations and ironic asides.

    AS was a soldier, prisoner-labourer and teacher before he became the worlds most powerful writer. All these occupations have essentially ridiculous aspects which have fuelled some of the great comic works.

    OTOH, given Fyodor’s general form, he is probably serious in his appreciation of AS’s literary gifts. Which is kind of sad, for him.

  7. Correction: the target rich satirical environment created by the Bush admin does mock the Right’s putative lock on political humour.

    The Bush admin’s “right wing” policies are so bad that they have single-handedly revived the flagging Leftwing satire industry in the US, witness the Onion, Michael Moore, Jon Stewart. Even Chomsky is back in fashion now that Bush looks like becoming the US’s most Latin American-style ruler.

    But I regard Bush-ism as an monstrous ideological mutation that is doomed to extinction. So when Bush is gone Lefty satirists will be scratching about to find someone else half as bad to kick around.

    Satire requires taking the elite down a peg or two. Howard has developed a form of immunity from satire because he has not, until now, strayed that far from mainstream populist values. In fact he has cleverly positioned himself as an anti-elitist which makes it hard for satirists to ping him.

    Also, it is hard for people to laugh at a premier who has presided over the doubling of their property values.

  8. Quigley’s comments about bloggers may well just be a case of the pot calling the kettle black (why, as Jason observes, do professional journalists assume they’re necessarily any better than bloggers), but at the same time I don’t think she’s necessarily wrong about the narcissistic aspect of blogging. Which is something I say as 1) a lapsed blogger who is now content to post the occasional photo and 2) someone immensely irritated by Anita Smugley. I don’t think anyone here has proven yet that it’s not narcissistic. God knows that’s at least partly what motivated my own blog (and to some extent this very comment), i.e. I have an opinion and I believe you deserve to be exposed to it.

    As far as the question of humour goes, Jack is right about humour being ultimately about the subtraction of urine from a given target. I’d only say that, back in those long-ago days when I still bothered to read rightbloggers, relatively few of them seemed able to stay on the right side of that fine line between being funny and merely being abusive.

  9. “As far as the question of humour goes, Jack is right about humour being ultimately about the subtraction of urine from a given target.”

    Taking the piss out of folks you think are wrong.

    “…relatively few of them seemed able to stay on the right side of that fine line between being funny and merely being abusive.”

    Pissing on others who think differently.

    Two generations of angry, bitter white men crapped themselves with glee when PJ O’Rourke (a good buddy of Hunter S. Thompson incidently) started poking fun at various sacred cows (which yes. many were more than ripe for slaughter). But since then we’ve been treated to them echoing the sound of PJ’s now voided bowels.

    He did write some good stuff, but who gives a shit about O’Rourke now. In the US (our motherland), Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, the Onion et al (not mention the great talk show jabbers that reflect popular opinon like Letterman) have picked up the torch that Will Rogers, HL Mencken and Ambrose Bierce used to light their cigars.

    If everyone pssing through here named their top ten greatest comedians ever (there’s a post concept John Q.), I bet you most of them would have been of the side of the just plain folks and not our rulers. Unlike most rightwing bloggers who now seem to spend most of their time defending or spinning the boss’s fuckups.

    “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” – Will Rodgers.

  10. TGA itself is a real thigh-slapper, peppered with a constant stream of sarcastic remarks, mordant observations and ironic asides.

    Oh yeah, Auntie, The Gulag Archipelago’s a laugh-riot. One belly-laugh after another, what with all the slavery, degradation, torture and execution. It’s a veritable comic masterpiece. You should read Anne Frank’s diaries – the saucy little minx really whoops it up.

    Here’s another gratuitous tip for future reference: the presence of gallows humour doesn’t make a hanging an inherently funny event.

    You’ve clearly:

    a) not read the Gulag Archipelago, or any of Solzhenitsyn’s other works (hint: Cancer Ward is his deliberate – and unfunny – satire); and

    b) demonstrated a sense of humour more stunted than even I thought possible.

    Congratulations! You’ve undershort my – already low – expectations once again. Seeing you in action, I often wonder if you walk around with a shovel looking for holes to fall into.

    And what Nabsy said.

  11. Fyodor Says: October 26th, 2005 at 8:36 am

    Here’s another gratuitous tip for future reference: the presence of gallows humour doesn’t make a hanging an inherently funny event.

    Gallows humour is still funny, despite being about the gallows. Thats why they call it “humour”. Duh!

    Fyodor is a rather slow fellow. One often finds oneself patiently explaining the bleeding obvious to him. He is being a naive literalist or doing his usual part-time job of spreading mischievous misrepresentations.

    I never said that AS’s depiction of Soviet forced labour and death camps was humourous in itself. I suggested that AS’s satirical commentary on the powers behind the Gulag was funny.

    AS’s humour mainly comes from juxtaposing the high-minded ideals of a classless society under utopian socialism with the insane and inhumane reality of forced labour, torture and executions in the Gulag. A bit like juxtaposing rosy visions of multicultural amity with a ride down snipers alley in Sarajevo.

    George Orwell’s satire in Animal Farm and 1984 works on much the same principle. No one suggests that Big Brother is a funny fellow. But most people call 1984 a satirical work, with plenty of witty remarks about the Party’s hypcritical machinations.

  12. Nabakov Says: October 26th, 2005 at 1:18 am

    If everyone pssing through here named their top ten greatest comedians ever (there’s a post concept John Q.), I bet you most of them would have been of the side of the just plain folks and not our rulers. Unlike most rightwing bloggers who now seem to spend most of their time defending or spinning the boss’s fuckups.

    There is some truth in this but not the whole truth. It is hard to be genuinely funny when your side has the money and guns. The National Review used to be kind of funny when Buckley fumed against Carter. And in the early days of Clinton, when it could style itself as part of the Opposition. But under Bush it has become, a gang of fawning synchophants, apart from John Derbyshire.

    I agree with Nabakov that the Left has for the moment got the upper hand in the political humour stakes. This is due to the overwhelming political dominance of the Republicans and because the Bush faction is so bad, situations which may not last.

    [Bore alert: one par of yawn-inducing social theory italicised ahead for ease of skipping.] An intellectuals job is to fashion a critique of social set ups. A Rghtwingers intellectuals job is to critique Leftwing society and ideas. Humour usually reqiuires satire of elites.

    Rightwing humour is a form of populism which teams up the RWDB humourist and the regular guy against the la de da, hi-falutin, Chaddonnay drinking, latte sipping cultural elites. Most cultural elites mostly subscribe to a form of Soft Leftism that is pretty easy to make fun of because it usually consists of dandied up moral posturing.

    Rightwing humour satirises Letwing cultural elites. The social reference groups of Right wing intellectuals is not Wall Street or the Pentagon. It is Harvard and Hollywood. In this context most RWDB humourists are “just plain folks” poking fun at their social betters.

  13. There are many interesting and useful Blogs, especially this one, but I liked a Gregory cartoon in a recent ‘New Yorker’ of two dogs talking; one says ‘I used to have my own blog, but now I’ve gone back to meaningless barking’.

  14. Shorter Jack Strocchi: AS’ depiction of Soviet forced labour and death camps wasn’t funny, but he told a couple of jokes so he’s probably the greatest satirist in modern European history. George Orwell was satirically funny, and he’s right-wing. Or not. It depends on me being able to tell left from right.

    Keep digging, Auntie.

  15. I’ve just bought Terry Pratchett’s “Going Postal”. Deconstruct that and see where he is going with it if you like. Oh yes, there’s some nice gallows humour at the beginning just before they hang the (anti)hero.

  16. If you liked “Going Postalâ€? try “Monstrous Regiment”. Not sure where Pratchett is going these days, much less human farce but more establishment farce. I think he might be finding it hard to resist…

  17. Fyodor Says: October 26th, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    AS’ depiction of Soviet forced labour and death camps wasn’t funny, but he told a couple of jokes so he’s probably the greatest satirist in modern European history.

    Both AS and Orwell were larger than life complex men. This might be difficult for a small-minded person like Fyodor to grasp. But he will just have to be brave about that.

    The idea that TGA’s satiric potential was exhausted by “a couple of jokes” is a travesty. The book starts with a black humour anecdote about zeks digging up a ten thousand year old frozen salamander and “devouring it with relish”. Ivan Denizovitch ends with Ivan being thankful that his One Day in an Arctic slave labor camp was a good day since he got some extra gruel. AS’s many books on the camp system continue in much the same vein, with derision and scorn heaped on conniving camp officials and foolish Leftwing intellectuals who were suckered by them.

    AS’s humour relies on “irony”, the juxtaposition of consequences perverse to intentions which underscore a more general theme. Perhaps this sort of literary technique us bit above Fyodor’s head. I know now why I have to have screaming irony alerts bookending every figure of speech, lest they be done to death by Fyodor’s tedious interpretations.

    And AS’s satire is the “probably the greatest in modern European history” mainly because of the scale of the target – the major alternative ideological social system of the 20th C. And the effect of the barbs – the communist system collapsed in part because dissident intellectuals made it laughable. AS and Havel and the rest of the slavic black comedians made the Soviet system look ridiculous.

    George Orwell was satirically funny, and he’s right-wing. Or not. It depends on me being able to tell left from right.

    Its compex but not rocket science. Orwell was both: Leftwing in his ideological politics and Rightwing in his literary politics. His political constructions were obviously Leftwing, such as the ILP and POUM. But his best litarary works (1984 & Animal Farm) were satirical criticisms aimed at toppling Leftwing idols ie following the Rightwing tradition of debunking Leftwing intellectuals and their rackets.

    To make matters even more complicated (this may cause Fyodors little head to spin!) Orwell fraternized with Europes bohemian elite but in his personal life was very much the bourgeois gentleman. The package came with private schoolboy anti-semitism and a distaste for Leftwing camp followers and fellow-travellers:

    We have reached a stage when the very word socialism calls up…a picture of vegetarians with wilting beards, of Bolshevik commissars (half gangster, half gramophone), or earnest ladies in sandals, shock-headed Marxists chewing polysyllables, escaped Quakers, birth control fanatics, and Labour Party backstairs-crawlers.

    Sound familiar?

    Tom Wolfe is another Right wing intellectual who has tapped into the rich comic vein of debunking Leftwing pretensions. If there is a better social satirist writing in the English language right now I would like to know.

    Of course there has been a revival of Leftwing satire in the past few years. They have more work to do now that Rightwing governments rule much of the EU, US and AUS – and not without some misadventure. This recent reversal of comic fortunes underscores the Decline of the Wets thesis.

    Fyodor would probably prefer that I not rub his face in that fact.

  18. Shorter Jack Strocchi: eating frozen salamander and gruel is really hilarious. Irony doesn’t mean what I think it means. It’s rather ironic that I don’t understand satire either…I’m still confused about Orwell but I insist on playing him both ways. That way I won’t be wrong about him either. Ramble, Tom Wolfe, ramble, Decline of the Wets Thesis, ramble.

    The Gulag Archipelago is not satire, Auntie Jack. It’s a mostly accurate history of the GULag system, as experienced by AS and his fellow convicts.

    That you find humour in the wrong places is not entirely surprising. You should take a look in the mirror sometime and enjoy Jack Strocchi the way the rest of us do.

  19. Per the online blogging forum at the Walkey mag which JQ linked to in his post – I did chip in (24 hours or so ago) but my comment doesn’t seem to have cleared moderation. Way to open a dialogue!

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