The Future of Writing; Or, Paranoid Thoughts on the Future of Discourse

I am so, so delighted that Indira has revived the blog!

As Indira and I met through feminist activism, it seems appropriate to relaunch apparatchicks with a meditation on wtf has been going on in the feminist blogosphere of late.

It all started with Olivia Munn, a new member of the Daily Show cast. Jezebel proposed that she was not qualified and, what’s more, that The Daily Show was a shite place to work if you were a woman. The Daily Show women employees retorted. The internetz fluttered. Then, Emily Gould wrote the mother of all responses, suggesting that the Jezebel column was merely a manifestation of a disease plaguing feminist blogs the world over. The article is appropriately entitled “Outrage World,” and it identifies an Internet culture in which suggestions/accusations/ideas intended to get the blood boiling are favored over sophisticated thinking; ad revenue generated by many page-views is the goal, and writers have to up the ante in order to get the views. She writes:

It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines… But it may just be that it’s not possible to have these conversations online. On the Web, writers tend to play up the most jealousy- and insecurity-evoking aspects of controversy…It’s just how the Internet works.

So, if she’s right, and I think she is, how depressing is that? Ultimately, Gould’s argument is an economic one; she is suggesting that journalistic or ideological integrity can’t win on the Internet, since more thoughtful, less zealous writing wouldn’t get the page views needed to make $$$ at a for-profit media company. For several reasons, this bodes poorly for the future of discourse, the foremost reason being that journalism’s final frontier is the Internet. So, as long as someone needs to make money off your words, and reasonableness must be sacrificed for coveted revenue, what does this mean for the future of writing-and of ideas–in general?

Pardon me if I sound like I’m all on some apocalyptic shit; you must understand, I regard the Internet with a mixture of awe and fear, much like peeps regard their gods. And I know, like people know of their gods, that the Internet is a Force capable of bringing massive good (a savior) along with the bad (a flood). But let me just focus on the bad for a sec.

Indeed, I have often pondered the way Internet communication (e.g., chatting), writing (e.g., blogging), etc, will change the way we conceptualize the world. It seems that Emily Gould has isolated at least one instance of how the business of writing online churns and condenses complicated topics into base and uncouth bylines, and eventually, dollar billz.

Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

–anna, from her underground bunker

3 responses to “The Future of Writing; Or, Paranoid Thoughts on the Future of Discourse

  1. I’ve been following the TDS-jezebel coverage with great interest. I think Jezebel’s barking up the wrong tree here and it’s largely because of what you say. Outrage = more views. It’s sort of the time feministing dissed Desmond Tutu and called him a sexist. Haha, i’m holding out hope for more mainstream blogs, though. Blogs like Think Progress and TPM are largely staying away from the over zealous writing that seems to be the cornerstone of many feminist blogs. I wonder why? I’m glad we’re back on this btw!! I’m sick of using my (mad) writing skills for worksheets, lesson plans and notes home!!

  2. I guess I see some major structural differences between the tabloid world/yellow journalism and the exploitative writing appearing on -ism blogs. Fo sho, the motivation is the same: $$$. But I think there is another important motivation on with these feminist and other inflammatory posts that I didn’t really get into here–that there is a genuine need, as readers and believers in a cause, to be outraged by something, to rally around something, to crucify someone, etc, in order to feel relevant and vital. This need is perhaps just as large a motivation for this stuff being written as ad revenue is. It’s some zealotry and I think the internet offers a particular mode that is ideal for encouraging zealotry… but more on that some other time.

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