I’m not sure what it says about our general sense of humanity that, the less we know someone, the less obligation we feel towards treating them fairly. A couple weeks ago, for example, the National Enquirer ran a cover story called “Cellulite of the Stars,” replete with pictures of skinny twenty-something celebs bending over in shorts and bikini bottoms; un-noteworthy shadows on their skin were identified as cellulite by flourescent arrows. And, though it doesn’t seem fair to judge a culture’s sense of decency by its tabloids, the ease with which we critique celebrities is, almost always, at odds with the courtesy we show friends, acquaintances, and most non-public figures on our weblogs and in our papers.
That, more or less, is the first half of my response to a recent email I got about bloggers’ (overly?) enthusiastic reaction to Kevin Guilfoile’s upcoming book, Cast of Shadows. According to the email’s author,
The book is awful, it fails even as throw-away thriller, but Kevin will get a pass thanks to his connections to Radosh, Coudal, and the Morning News. This hypocritical clubbiness is turning the book blogs [into] the new establishment.
Whether or not Cast of Shadows actually sucks — and I’ll get back to that in my next post — the real target of the letter is bloggers’ circle-jerk mentality. While I’ve always thought the MSM’s response to blogs — of all things! — linking to each other, and treating each others’ best posts with the same respect they’d show pieces in the NYT — was absurd, I’m beginning to wonder if the letter’s accusation of “hypocritical clubbiness,” in relation to blogs’ product-plugging, isn’t so off-target. While blogs treat most books like they would celebrities — at least, in the sense, that they feel free to openly critique them — the more casual atmosphere of blogs (versus, say, newspapers’ book reviews) has two obvious results: 1) bloggers feel comfortable encouraging readers to check out their friends’ books, and 2) other bloggers have begun to count as friends — i.e., people who can be publicly plugged, but not publicly critiqued. If blogs are moving — as the suspiciously trend-hungry media occasionally suggests — to the center of our literary culture, it’s easy to wonder if they, even more so than traditional media, will fall prey to a “hypocritical clubbiness” — one that’s clear to everyone but them.