I don’t like bloggers much.
This might seem odd to you, given that I am a blogger. But that’s not really odd when you consider that I don’t like myself much. Still, category “blogger”: what exactly is that supposed to be? Why should I allow myself to dislike such a vague, meaningless category? And fair enough. (This is one of the reasons I don’t much care for myself.) But if you’ll permit me the irrationality… I don’t like bloggers much. And I can articulate different reasons for different varietals of bloggers. DC politico types, AV Club culture bunny types, Manhattanite try-not-to-look-like-you’re-trying-hard-while-you-desperately-try types…. It’s a virtual bestiary. Like I said, this is not my best feature.
One thing that seems common to bloggers of many stripes: the idea that the world is full of only lucky duckies and chumps. If you’re perceived to have too good of a gig (like, say, tenured professor) you must necessarily be a lucky ducky who is living off of largess and must, in the name of all that is good, be taken down a peg or three. On the other side of the coin, if you have made a choice that seems difficult to understand from the outside (like, say, to attend graduate school) you are a chump, who deserves only to be mocked for making such an obviously stupid mistake. As a doctoral student, I am very used to this argument. You’ll note that they can change places; for a very long time, going to law school was the purely practical ideal, a downright mercenary act in comparison to the airy, pretentious romanticism of going to graduate school. Now, it’s earning mockery that transcends that for people getting their PhD in French poetry.
What animates both of these is the same impulse: people who, when you get down past their loud derision for others, don’t feel very good about themselves or what they’re doing. That’s true of these writers and it’s true of their readership. That’s the dynamic that has made Gawker such an economic powerhouse for so long: the use of other people’s perceived unhappiness to distract you from your own. Trust me: no one who writes for Gawker, or any of these sites which act as arenas for the endless cultural competition of overeducated white people, wants that to be their final gig. Nobody yearns for that job; nobody grows up dreaming of being particularly bitchy on the Internet. Hard to say what Gawkerites or similar actually think of as the right life. Sometimes I think that they only respect other people who are professional bloggers. Sometimes I think that they are happy only with people who live quietly miserable existences in dispiriting cubicle hell. After all, that level of quiet sadness is something people understand, something they can compartmentalize.
How to respond to that is something of a challenge to me, the only kind of challenge that really matters, the challenge of greater empathy. Things are hard out there. They’re not equally hard for everybody but they’re hard in many places and people are doing their level best in spite of that hardness. What makes me more sorry than anything is that so many have responded to that difficulty by lashing out at other people who are trying for something more. We have such a cannibalistic culture now. The idea of wanting something, particularly if that something is beautiful and bigger than yourself, is considered pathetic. And the only thing worse than wanting and failing is wanting and succeeding.
So it’s nice to read that Will Wilkinson is going to school to get his MFA, and it’s nice to read an announcement that is so free of irony, defensiveness, or guile. I find it quite gratifying in the current climate to read someone say “I want more out of life, I want to make something beautiful, I recognize that the odds are long but it’s worth trying, and I’m willing to take my swings despite the long odds and poor economics of the decision.” Good for him, and shame on all of the people who would mock that impulse or that directness and purpose.