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Monday, 05 April 2010

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John Emerson

In 1996 I met a gay black woman at a party who'd just gotten a free trip to California to integrate their convention. She was apolitical in the worst way, not a Republican at all but perfectly happy to work for them.

jme

Is it just me, or is it the case that SEK's political commentary has increased in frequency since his commenter amnesty week? Is there a connection? Or am I imagining things?

To be painfully honest, while my politics are probably nearly identical to yours, SEK, I must relate the following experience which has become (it seems to me) more frequent of late:

(0) New Acephalous post appears in Google Reader
(1) Woo hoo! Cool, funny, well written posts on shit I never even think about!
(2) Oh. Sarah Palin said something absurd. Or some such.
(3) Sigh.
(4) Become depressed at being reminded that there are stupendously dumb people out there. Why are there so many dumb people?
(5) Stare off into space a little.
(6) Stare at Google Reader and contemplate how many of the blogs I subscribe to devote a significant amount of time to documenting Dumb Things People Say.
(7) Think about why I waste my time with this shit
(8) Become more depressed
(8) Daydream about Acephalous posts about comic books, movies and grues.
(9) Become less depressed
(10) Promise myself I won't get too excited the next time a new Acephalous post pops up on Reader
(11) Know that I'll break that promise
(12) Wallow in self-pity regarding my lack of will power
(13) Eat some chocolate
(14) Chocolate makes me feel better!
(15) Eat more chocolate! Yum!
(16) Ugh, my tummy hurts!
(17) And now I'm fat!
(18) Damn you SEK for making me fat!
(19) Promise myself I'll never read another Acephalous post again
(20) Know that I'll break that promise
(21) Wallow in self-pity regarding my lack of will power
(22) Hey, my tummy feels better!
(23) GOTO (13)

John Emerson

Without Scott's political posts I would surely die.

Rich Puchalsky

Ooh ooh ooh, Jme ratified my willingness to complain!

Not really. The problem I have with the political posts starts with something like Jme's 2-4, but then gets into "Why is Scott writing about this anyways? This isn't related to what's politically important right now at all" and then goes on from there to "Well, if I want to read something good about politics I should read blogs by people who work in politics" and then circles back to "Gah, even TPM is doing pieces about how Michael Steele is a token and the GOP likes tokens zzzzzzz......"

I mean, we've just had the most important social legislation in 50 years pass. The most critical worldwide problem that we have, global warming, is just at its local make-or-break stage. Obama is clearly pursuing a version of Clintonian triangulation except that he's triangulating off of his base. The most vital part of the left-of-center is now facing what I think will be the most important radicalization moment since Bush v. Gore as they realize that Obama is going to continue Bush's torture/detention/surveillance policies. All of the important political fights are within the Democratic side, since the GOP is maintaining a No bloc without the actual power to stop legislation. Oh, and I guess that the election-watchers are all going nuts over the upcoming elections.

And the Tea Partiers like tokens. Gosh!

Gas

Yeah, I kinda agree with Rich and JME (with less chocolate, though). :-/

SEK

Well, for one, I did just write a post about baseball that's damn funny if, you know, you follow the Mets religiously. Sigh. Look, I'll repeat here what I wrote to Nick after he posted some damn fine comments about recent comic posts:

Sorry about pumping out the political posts and holding back on the comics, but it's really a matter of me being able toss off annoyances while I'm working on the book. If the book were on anything other than comics, I wouldn't be so damn careful about what I write about panels...which is only to say that when the day comes that I'm writing a book about politics, I'll do naught but post about comics.

Writing about comics currently feels like work, so when I want to write—that is, when I want to focus on my prose without FREAKING OUT about its quality because it'll be put in books and attached to my name forever—I'm writing about what I'm not working on. So, yes, it tends to be about politics. I'm so hyper-aware about the quality of what I write about comics at the moment that most nights I'm physically incapable of pushing "Post" on something comics-related. This isn't to say I don't want to write about comics, or literature, or Darwinism, or etc. etc. etc. It's just that while doing so might entertain y'all, it knots my stomach and leads to all sorts of unpleasantness. So if you want to say I don't have the guts to write about whatever I'm not writing about, you have proof positive here that that's manifestly true. I don't. However, I do still enjoy writing, and enjoying crafting my prose, and I need some sort of subject in which I'm interested to do so with, so I guess I can, you know, start writing about The Wire—or not, as I'm presenting a conference paper on that—so maybe Joss Whe—nope, presenting on that soon too.

Again, I'm not trying to drive folks away, I'm just reiterating that, as always, the blog has been a means of facilitating my professional-type writing—not literally, of course, more in terms of venting prose-fixations that, for whatever reason, are inhibiting me from writing what I need to write. I'd continue, but if I did I'd have to open a livejournal account to accommodate the whining, and there are some lines I just won't cross.

Ahistoricality

Scott, it's your blog. If they don't like it, they can read the Valve. Or some actual comics site -- there's no shortage.

On the actual point, I think this goes back to the projection thing we were talking about before, but at a deeper level -- and I think you were hinting in this direction -- they are ideologically opposed to dealing with race as a structural or cultural issue.

Karl Steel

I like the political posts, mainly because I share Scott's taste in neither comic books nor movies; I do, however, like the way he writes. I see your point, Rich, about importance, and if I want importance, I'll go somewhere other than here, say, or Sadly No. I come here for clever snark mainly.

Karl Steel

Furthermore, Rich, for at least as long as I've been reading acephalous, Scott's political 'beat' has been race, with a side interest in journalism, witness, and memory. I don't remember him ever writing about environmental or civil liberty issues. Could be wrong, though.

jme

So now I feel a tad selfish for whining. Obviously it's your blog, SEK, and you can (and should) write what you want. And clearly there are plenty of people out there who enjoy the political posts more than I.

And the Mets post _was_ pretty funny (even for a Red Sox fan).

JPool

Personally, I don't have a lot of interest in either the right-wing wackiness posts or the comic book posts. The politics posts generally deal with portions of the internet that I'm content to ignore and I haven't read super-hero comic books since I was a kid. If all Scott wrote about was one or both of those, then I'd probably eventually stop reading here (the posts I most consistently enjoy are the writng, research, teaching, academia, history, literature, music and daily life posts). One of the nice things, however, about Scott not restricting himself to a particularly narrow beat is that there are sometimes posts on topics that I would otherwise not think to read, where his writing or approach make the topic or at least that particular post on it fascinating to me.

BUT, Scott isn't my or anyone else's trained monkey, and he should write about whatever the hell he wants to write about. Rich, I know that you like Scott and feel comfortable hanging out here, but, given that this is just one person's blog, it seems particularly odd that you would expect Scott to reflect back to you what you think is politically important. If you're not seeing the sort of political commentary you'd like to see on the internet, then DIY. JME, your program was funny and, I know, meant to be self-parodying, but cmon, let's be adults and not fanboys/girls.

Rich Puchalsky

I don't have much time at the moment, but:

1. If something about them made them seem more like they were phrased as "blowing off steam posts" rather than "politics posts" I wouldn't mind as much.

2. I think that the quality of Scott's writing has suffered by writing this stuff. Which is pretty understandable, really, when he says that he's purposefully not writing about any of the things that he specially knows things about. (And which was why his post on eugenics was a sudden step up.)

3. I've put in my dues. As an annoying person of long standing, I can tell Scott that he's done better in the past and could IMO do better again.

4. It's not really just Scott. As my mention of TPM shows, I find it just as boring and misdirected when, say, Josh Marshall does it. I really think that a lot of it is due to a kind of learned helplessness from the Bush years that says that we can culturally critique and/or mock silly right-wingers as a gesture because we can't really do anything else. Well, now we can do something else.

5. So, saying "go somewhere else" doesn't really work. And anyways I don't want to go somewhere else.

NickS

Writing about comics currently feels like work, so when I want to write—that is, when I want to focus on my prose without FREAKING OUT about its quality because it'll be put in books and attached to my name forever—I'm writing about what I'm not working on.

Let me just say that, while I may try to tempt you into writing more about comics, you shouldn't feel any obligation to write about anything other than what you want to write about.

It is one of the strengths of blogging, as a medium, that it reveals something of the flow of one's attention and energies. The downside is that the readers will eventually notice if you're under prolonged specific stresses.

jme

@JPOOL

This fan is a boy.

And you'll see I qualified my whining with a quasi-apology above. The most I can say in my defense, I suppose, is that my whining was born out of an intense enjoyment of SEK's non-political posts. So somehow, in my head, that felt like a compliment. A perverse sort of compliment, admittedly.

And now I feel bad. I shouldn't try to be funny. It often goes awry.

SEK

So now I feel a tad selfish for whining.

No worries, jme. The fact of the matter is, I have readers who care enough about what I write to complain when I trend in one direction or another. That's damn rare, and I do take it as a compliment. Also, it's good to be reminded that people enjoy the comics posts, because I currently have five or six sitting in the drafts folder that I just can't bring myself to publish because they don't feel up to snuff. One thing I'm doing a lot of lately is judging blog posts the same way I'm judging book chapters because they're both about the same thing. That's a mental block on my part, and your encouragement is what'll help me overcome it.

SEK

Which is pretty understandable, really, when he says that he's purposefully not writing about any of the things that he specially knows things about.

Well, I do know quite about race and the rhetoric of it, as that's an abiding interest of mine since I switched from Joyce to American literature in 2001. My intro to lit classes concerned African-American fiction and depictions of community, and I taught political rhetoric while affiliated with the literary journalism program, so I'm not speaking from a position of ignorance. (Plus, despite her avowed love of the form, I'm never going to get on Rachel Maddow writing about graphic novels.)

That said, if anyone has a right to complain, it's Rich. The thing about regular commenters is that they've demonstrated a commitment to your work; they've invested hours in honing your thought through argument, and so they do, and should, have some say in what a writer writes.

The same goes for regular readers: jme might not comment frequently, but he's been reading here for years, and I don't want to lose readers on account of becoming obsessed in ways they find distracting. I do try to balance the comics material with the personal, professional and political posts, and I openly admit to not having done the best job of that of late.

JPool

jme, what you wrote was funny, and I shouldn't have singled you out since it was your first time writing something like that.

Of course people can express their preferences — I expressed mine above. But if you express those preferences and the person says, "Sure, I'll be doing some of that, but I'm also going to continue doing some that first thing that you don't like," then that's how things are. To keep bringing it up when they've already expressed their own preferences is a) pointless, and b) obnoxious.

Rich, it's not a matter of you going somewhere else (though you may have been responding to Ahist there rather than me), it's you expecting Scott's place to be what you want to see on the internet. Here's where I get confused: I understand that you're generally opposed to dialog or debate with conservatives. Personally, I don't think it generally does much good, but I also don't think that it does any harm and I don't think that treating them with contempt is any more effective. That's neither here nor there. What I don't get is, what you would have folks doing instead? I understand that if all folks are doing is snark it becomes impotent, but surely that can be part of a balanced diet. You said that there are things we can/should be doing now on the important issues of the day, that riffing on right-wing looniness somehow gets in the way of, but you never say what those things are. For me the salient fact is that those of us who are left of liberal have very limited electoral pull. You say it's a question of learned helplessness, but I really don't see how power or policy are ours for the taking.

JPool

Crossed with SEK. I'll shut up now with my upper-midwestern sense of manners.

Rich, I am actually interested in what you think effective action or useful strategy would be at this point.

Rich Puchalsky

"What I don't get is, what you would have folks doing instead?"

Um -- didn't I give a list, right up there? I mean, I'd substitute "writing about" for "doing"; I'm not one of those people who think that writers have to stop writing and get out on the streets or something. List again:

"I mean, we've just had the most important social legislation in 50 years pass. The most critical worldwide problem that we have, global warming, is just at its local make-or-break stage. Obama is clearly pursuing a version of Clintonian triangulation except that he's triangulating off of his base. The most vital part of the left-of-center is now facing what I think will be the most important radicalization moment since Bush v. Gore as they realize that Obama is going to continue Bush's torture/detention/surveillance policies. All of the important political fights are within the Democratic side, since the GOP is maintaining a No bloc without the actual power to stop legislation. Oh, and I guess that the election-watchers are all going nuts over the upcoming elections."

I'm not really personally interested in the last part, the election-gaming, but some people are and it's important. So, how to talk about this stuff through race and the rhetoric of race? I'm not sure. (Though I already see a problem with criticizers of Obama on the left trying to find rhetoric that doesn't sound like right-wing, racist rhetoric). Paradoxically enough, I don't think that the rhetoric of race really is all that important right now. I mean, the wingers are all over it, yes; I'm not delusionally saying something stupid like American racism is over now that we have a black President. What I mean is that the Tea Partiers and so on are gaudy clowns. That may change if/when they commit some culture-changing act of terrorism, but until then, the distinguishing feature of Obama's Presidency is that events are actually happening.

That's why I'm sort of puzzled by the "effective action or useful strategy" part too. Everyone who I know who works in politics is working full out. There's a question of what the best strategy is, yes, but my general sense is that everyone is vigorously pursuing something. Usually people start to focus in on what effective action or useful strategy would be when nothing is really working. Well, there's a lot happening that I disagree with tremendously, but it's not a matter of stasis any more.

I guess what the base thing is is that with political. literary-journalism writing, I assumed that Scott's model was Joan Didion, or someone like that. Someone who tries to catch the sense of the moment. The bits about Tea Partiers and their love for their tokens seem to me to be very end-of-Bush-era. The new political writing has to focus on where the life and action is. And, frankly, where the power is too. The Tea Partiers are basically powerless, so writing about them now is sort of like writing about classical musicians during the 60's, or poor people in the late 80's, or small farmers during the tech boom. There is a virtuous element to that, of course, but it's not the capturing-the-distinctive-elements-of-the-moment thing. It's like writing all about anti-war protestors during the Bush years. Or course it was important, though wholly ineffective, to be an anti-war protestor then. But the Bush years were about Bush's cronies and their lawlessness.

Anyways, I'm not saying that Scott has to write about politics. I'd be happy to discuss, I don't know -- James Branch Cabell's book _The Silver Stallion_. I'm not doing some plea for relevance, particularly. It's just that if political writing is going to be there, I'd rather see it done differently.

Rich Puchalsky

"For me the salient fact is that those of us who are left of liberal have very limited electoral pull."

I sort of missed this part of Jpool's comment in my reply above. I guess that my answer is that people who are left of liberal now have greater political (I don't know about electoral) pull than at any time since Reagan, possibly since Nixon. The fight over the public option in the health care bill was an actual fight. It was lost, and it was never very well carried out, and it had as its greatest opponent Obama himself. But it wasn't quite the mere kabuki that such proposals have been for the last few decades. (I leave aside the Clinton health plan. I was working on something else then and never really figured out how close that really came and how good it would have been.)

In fact, people to the left of liberal have just as much power now as the Blue Dogs do. If they jump ship, they stop Obama absolutely. Are they willing to credibly threaten to do so? Maybe, maybe not, but the actual power is there.

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