Tag Archives: Internet

The Web politicizes everything

People love to leap into political debates and disputes from the safety of their computers.

And why not? The anonymity, immediacy and reach of the Internet fires people up about politics. That’s good, in a way. We’re probably more informed about issues, and more engaged as voters, than at any time in our history.

But there’s a downside. Because the Web is such a polarizing, self-selecting information filter, and because we live more of our lives on it and through it, people politicize every aspect of life, even trivial ones like fast food or comic books  or coffee.

One of my favorite Twitter comedians, Uncle Dynamite, posted a fantastic essay on his Tumblr page about this disturbing trend a few months ago. Here’s a sample:

I don’t unfollow people for their politics because I understand that this really is who people are now. I don’t think they realize that because of this politicization, they’ve become greatly diminished. Boring, hectoring, supercilious, condescending, self-important and taken up with politics for much of the day. And YES, caring. Caring, caring, caring. We all care. I care. You care. Everybody cares. You don’t care that I care and I don’t care that you care. What’s important, everyone thinks, is that I myself care. You? You’re another story. (i.e. not as important as *my* story).

And more:

It’s important, in politicization, to never see the other’s point of view as even sometimes workable. Politics is a zero-sum game, unlike most of reality. “The other person’s view can only be stupid and evil. It’s motivated by money, by a desire to enslave people, or simply by wrong thinking made manifest. The candidate from the other party is not even human, could never be human, and therefore we are allowed to say the vilest things about him and do the internet equivalent of repeatedly poking him in the eye with a sharp stick. 

In that same vein, Sonny Bunch, a writer for the right-leaning Washington Free Beacon, wrote this recently:

This may sound odd coming from someone who has spent his life working in political reporting, but I find it extremely sad when people can’t separate politics from the rest of their lives. I’m not talking about people getting worked up about politicians; we live in divided times, so things are bound to get heated when talking about elected officials. I’m talking about people who say “I want nothing to do with [Person X] because he is a conservative/liberal/ Republican/ Democrat in his personal life.” …

I’d like to think I’m more tolerant about this sort of thing because I’m a conservative who loves pop culture. If I had to boycott every artist I disagreed with, well, my iPod would be pretty empty and my DVD shelves would be bare. Being tolerant of differing opinions is a defense mechanism, in a way: without tolerance for those I disagree with, I’d go nuts.

If you disagree with that last sentence, you’re stupid and evil and should be banned from typing on the Internet.


A gentle reminder for Richard Ford

Acclaimed American author Richard Ford, the man behind such classic novels as The Sportswriter and Independence Daygives an interview to the U.K.’s  Guardian about his new novel, Canada, and he has some fascinating things to say about the country that has showered him with fame, riches and literary accolades (hint — it’s not Canada):

America beats on you so hard the whole time. You are constantly being pummelled by other people’s rights and their sense of patriotism. So the American’s experience of going to Canada, or at least my experience, is that you throw all that clamour off. Which is a relief sometimes. … There is this very strong “If you are not for us, you are against us” feeling in America just now. Perhaps there always has been. You are not allowed to complain. Or even have a dialogue. But if a novel is there for anything I believe that is what it has to induce.

To which commenter Bix2bop responded:

Yeah, it’s a real drag to live in an multiracial democracy when you’re a Mississippian born in 1944 and your books are reviewed in the NY Times by fellow writers who happen to be female or African American.

When Alice Hoffman gave The Sportswriter a bad review in the Times, he took one of her books out in the yard and shot it with his gun.

After Colson Whitehead gave A Multitude of Sins a negative review in the New York Times, Ford spat on him at a Poets & Writers party.(read about both altercations here — ed.)

I have read Ford’s Wildlife and I’ve been meaning to read his Frank Bascombe novels, but the idea that Richard Ford, of all people, has been “pummelled” by the American experience … (the rest of Bix2bop’s comment calling Ford out for his hypocrisy is not to be missed — ed.)

And some people say anonymous commenters don’t bring anything of value to the online conversation.

Anonymous posters: Threat or menace?

This Boston Globe piece on nasty anonymous Internet commenters certainly has inspired a lot of comments — more than 200 at this writing. (Here’s one, from “DoctorEvil”: “I have nothing to say other than that the Globe is the worst newspaper on the planet. Have a nice day.”)

It’s easy to abhor what passes for “dialogue” on news sites and popular blogs. It’s mostly insults, innuendo, slander, profanity, conspiracy theories, product pitches and worse. That’s why I rarely read the comments on blog posts or news stories.

And yet, I’m not sure about this:

Online postings can sway political opinion and heavily influence whether products or businesses thrive or fail. They can make or break reputations and livelihoods. On one side, anonymous comments give users the freedom to be completely candid in a public forum. On the other, that freedom can be abused and manipulated to spread lies or mask hidden agendas. With all that in the balance, the thinking goes, shouldn’t we know who’s saying these things?

Hang on a second. First of all, this makes it sound like anonymously influencing political opinion is a bad thing, which doesn’t extend much hope to the online citizens of places like Iran or China. Second, it should be obvious to anyone with a modem, TV, radio or subscription to the Boston Globe that anonymous commenters are pretty insignificant when it comes to opinion-swaying, reputation-breaking, lying and agenda-hiding.

But while the article strives to bring a human face to the deeply engaged readers who wish to remain anonymous on the Boston Globe‘s website, it also strains to imply that they represent a threat to civilized dialogue — they’re a “problem” that needs to be “solved” by ever-more-intrusive website registration procedures. (Not a single expert quoted in the story suggests otherwise.)

I’m sure a lot of the hand-wringing over comments is driven by a legitimate fear of the coarsening of public debate. I also suspect that most of it is driven by the shock of reporters and editors seeing readers dump all over their hard work in real time.

Either way, it’s fascinating to see some journalists — our leading free-speech advocates — cheering on ideas that dis-empower unfettered expression. If they had their way, they’d turn the simple process of typing “Teh Celtics suck!” onto a newspaper’s website into something nearly as complicated as registering to vote.

Which is another form of anonymous expression that seems to work pretty well, come to think of it.

Brazilian soul? No. 1 with ‘Bullet’

Mindless channel-surfing can combine with purposeful Web-searching to spin you in surprising and satisfying directions.

I was flipping around one night after work when I stumbled across a disturbing, fascinating documentary on IFC, Manda Bala (Send a Bullet). The film’s subject matter — crime and political corruption in Brazil — would be compelling enough on its own. But what really grabbed me was the soundtrack, and this song in particular:

I was instantly intrigued by the tune, so I jumped on Google to try to find out more about the soundtrack. From there, it was an easy search for the artist, Tim Maia (a fascinating character worthy of his own documentary). And then to  iTunes, where I purchased the song, and then to YouTube, where I found the video and shared it on my Facebook page. Pretty cool.

There’s a lot of talk about how the Internet is making us stupid, and in an online world populated with cat videos, illiterate Facebook status updates and much worse, they may have a point. But 15 years ago, it would have been impossible for me to learn about and purchase a song I really like within 10 minutes of hearing it on TV — and do it without leaving the comfy chair in my den.