Best, Worst: Blogs, Pop Singles, Movies

Dear readers,

The Kugelmass Episodes is proud to present the best and worst of 2006, as selected arbitrarily by a panel of qualified judges. Those of you who are selected are still in the running to be America’s Next Top Model. For the rest of you, there were a lot of tears, even more laughs. We’ll always have Paris, unfortunately.

So, without further ado:

The Top Five Blog Fumbles of 2006

1. Embedding YouTube

There are any number of good reasons to embed a video clip from YouTube. For certain political posts, it is important to broadcast a video clip that provides evidence. In the case of pop culture reviews, it sometimes makes sense to post media associated with the artist. However, YouTube made #1 in our list of Top Five Fumbles because over 10 million people visit that site every day. Which means that posting something hilarious or rawkin’ from YouTube to one’s blog, with some minimal, enthusiastic comment snaking around it like a textual bear hug, is so far from fresh that you could use it to make croutons. It’s a substitute for content, and it’s a specific kind that makes blogs look like one of those stoner pads with the televisions stacked on top of each other. Or maybe like a Xerox copy of Times Square. The video quality is just awful, and there’s invariably that horrendous, grainy “sample picture” of the video to come. Plus, most blogs aren’t really designed for YouTube (read: wide enough columns), so the embedded video shoves everything out of its way like a virtual Truck-O-Saurus.

Aesthetic say yuck?!

2. The Google Search Post

Sometimes I ask myself, “where does this post come from?” And I believe the answer is: it comes from unease with being publicly read on the Internet. Every once in a while a blogger makes subjective gold out of an improvisatory response to a particularly weird or sketchy Googler. Most of the time, though, this is a post that tries to be a joke and ends up being full of all those familiar questions: “How weird are other people? Like, seriously?” and “Who reads my blog?” and “Does my blog unintentionally reveal to the world that I am totally nuts in a very real and legally binding sense?”

We are going to answer each of these questions in order. First of all, other people + Google = every possibility that exists in the English language. It’s not so much that people are really weird, as that they sometimes think weird things, are drunk, and have access to a keyboard. It’s way beyond my standard “monkeys with typewriters” trope, we’re talking evil monkeys from the Crichton novel Congo, with DSL. The people who read your blog are…who cares? You started this for you! My words are still mine when I’m reading them, no matter how Google slices them, and the rest of the time they are like candy in a bowl, in an abandoned cubicle. As for the last question: yes. We know. Isn’t that a relief, finally?

(Also, the CAPTCHA test [the anti-spam test] is just noise. Talking about it is like a radio DJ saying “Hey, are you hearing any static on your end? Like this little scratchy etch-etch sound over my voice and the music? C-r-a-z-y!”)

3. George W. Bush

Whereas, when people produce dozens of different readings of Trilogy or The Black Book, I just love it, when people produce dozens of different readings of our president it makes political commitment (and blogging) feel strangely more futile. You can’t say anything about this guy that hasn’t already been said: he’s an idiot, he’s a conspirator, he’s a cowboy, he’s a little child, he’s a madman, he’s a walking talking space alien on coke. His speeches, and his manner of delivering them, have been considered so often and in such depth that we must turn our sights elsewhere. You know when you are flipping channels and every station has defaulted to infomercials? It’s almost 3 a.m. and you are eating Saltine crackers with no topping? That’s what the progressive blogosphere is like when a new rhetoricization of Bush appears.

4. Blogging Is A Dangerous Art, or Who Am I?

Naturally, I had to think through the switch from anonymous blogging to using my own name, and all of us reflect on what our blogs mean and how much of “us” is contained in them. Yet I do like the idea of the blog being the tip of Hemingway’s iceberg. The paranoia about certain readers (such as family or exes) finding us, and the element of artificiality in the construction of identities online, and so forth, could be worked out in the silence of the pre-post sips of coffee. I saw some well-meaning bloggers go down in flames this year because they couldn’t stop posting about the dangers of being read and being other.

We are always other than ourselves; thank goodness that, in keeping an online journal going, we can be the other that gives us greatest satisfaction. Whether or not one blogs anonymously depends on whether that other is within or without the social boundaries of shame, as we individually understand them.

5. Every Word Its Own Link

When I was younger I used to play this video game called “Missile Crisis,” where these crudely pixellated lines would come streaming down from the sky to blow up a 2-D row of shapes that represented my “city.” The better you did, the faster these lines would come down (representing missiles), and the more of them there were. I played this game approximately 6 million times, and am now a black belt in pixels.

Even I cannot manage to click on links that consist of the letter “a”. But the real issue here is not one of physical coordination. The issue is an intellectual one: the archives exist, either on your blog or on a mixture of your blog and other blogs, and you want readers to be able to find them. It is so helpful to explain what the links are, or to start the entry with a full title and link in shopping-list format. It is also very commonly possible to just summarize the prerequisite material without any linking at all. The alternative is a sentence constructed of tiny links. This is the blog version of Alice in Wonderland (and what happens if I eat this cupcake?), and each person who falls for its seductive convenience owes Mark Z. Danielewski ten dollars in royalties. I have confirmed this.

The Top Three Blog Triumphs of 2006

(I know. You’re thinking “shouldn’t there be five? Otherwise it’s too negative?” Well, there’s a difference in importance. It’s a slight annoyance, and occasion for comedy, if somebody makes a bunch of links hard to follow. On the other hand, these three things make reading and writing blogs worthwhile, despite everything.)

1. Respectability

It was so pleasant to be voted Person of the Year by Time Magazine. Sure, it was a cop-out on the magazine’s part, but it did reflect something that was in the air, everywhere. Music blogs are now a greater influence on buzz than any single media source, with the possible exception of Pitchfork. Political blogs were front-page news during the election.

Closer to home, “academic” blogs got a boost from all the attention at the MLA, which I mentioned before. Finally, despite hordes of marauding, adorable photographs of cats, the word “blog” started to refer to what disempowered, ordinary people think. Of course, it takes impartial, organizational sites like Feministe to keep the blogosphere looking sharp at a glance. But after the glance, it is the work of people like the ones listed on the right that makes blogging work, because the idea that “nothing much” was going on in our lives (or nothing much you would want to publicly state) started to yield to the writer’s epiphany: everything can be a thought. Everything can be an occasion for eloquent argument, or poetry. That is what will really make blogging respectable.

2. Excess

I want to put in a good word for excessiveness here. Blogging, as uncomplicatedly recently noted, is a messy affair, and it is certainly surrounded on all sides by anxiety. A certain anxiety about readership tends to buttonhole us into writing snappy posts that look good on RSS feeds, and can be digested in the time it takes to eat a donut. But sometimes you need to write a post that is twelve or thirteen donuts long. I’ve done it, and I’ve seen all of the bloggers listed here do it. You can come back to a blog post over a few days. You can learn it the way you learn a song.
I didn’t read all the way through all the novella-length posts myself. It’s impossible to find the time. But I read through some of them, and the rest are out there waiting to fulfill a passion. The excessive post is the darling of Google, whether one is searching for “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” or “The Klein Bottle + Philosophy,” or “Lieberman,” or “asian fetishes,” or “cult thinking,” or “no Whitman“…you get the idea. Tomemos, I loved to see you going off on Veronica Mars. Spurious, I cannot believe how much you’ve written about Will Oldham; your only match was petitpoussin‘s thing for Justin Timberlake.

3. The Real World

This was the year of the real world. A commenter over at the Valve accused me of getting a little help from my friends on one particular thread, and in a sense he was right: many of the people who started out as Internet acquaintances here have since become friends in real life. There was an exciting moment over at Spurious when Spurious and Jodi Dean meet up, and Jodi makes vague, witty personal remarks. The exchanges at the MLA produced all kinds of unmaskings and new links (including Bitch, PhD risking a lot by giving a presentation of her own). A friend here wondered whether petitpoussin and Jane Awake were people he knew at Irvine.

In addition to revelations of the sort “I am the author of scarletpimpernel.blogspot.com!”, and the friendships that began through posts, there were also the leaks between online conversation and real conversation. Of course, everyone who says “On my blog…” should be shot in the fleshy part of the thigh (I offer myself as the first condemned), but the fact of the matter was that the re-discovery of content online led to an increasing number of parallel conversations over beers or lunch or in the hallway. It was an oasis in the desert of the Real.

And, come to think of it, people never stopped being polite. Perhaps the politest place on earth is the tenuous border between virtual identities, and real ones.

***

One last thing: I’ll list my top ten movies, and top 20 pop singles that weren’t on my favorite albums, in a comment to this post. After that, au revoir, 2006.

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