Wasn’t it just a few years ago people were asking, “What’s a blog?” Or, even more recently, “What blogs do you read?”
Since my usual response to anything new is to say, “That’s stupid; it’ll never catch on,” I, the original mossbacked, outmoded, you’ll-never-catch-me-on-a-cellphone Neanderthal, didn’t think blogs had a chance in hell of catching on.
I didn’t think I’d be interested in reading anything related to “viewers comments,” either. Who cares what “they” have to say?
Wrong on both counts.
(Of course, as any of us a few decades into life know, times flies when you’re having fun. The other day when a young woman in one of my classes said she was in third grade during the first Gulf War my mouth hit the floor and I couldn’t help but blurt out, “But wasn’t that just last Thursday?”)
Now, still in the afterglow of finishing a book or seeing a movie or hearing something in the news and looking for some way to keep that spark of a glow alive and to discuss further my feelings or thoughts, the first thing I do is to step over to my laptop - newly resuscitated after a recent and intimate encounter with a glass of red wine - punch up the name or topic and read the reactions of other people.
I’m not talking about reviews or commentaries from experts or professionals. They’re well-written and professional but sometimes a little too lofty and highbrow, a little too safe and sanitized.
No, I like to read the reactions and reviews of people who are not in the business. Ordinary people. And guess what? There’s some really smart and thoughtful “ordinary” people out there in the hinterlands. They don’t all live in New York or Los Angeles, which is where most of our official opinion-makers seem to reside.
They don’t all live in big urban areas, either. Up until now they just haven’t had an outlet for their judgments. There hasn’t been a venue for people like me to see what they have to say.
Reading letters-to-the-editor in local newspapers used to provide some of the same satisfaction of seeing what the nonprofessional thinks. But not so much anymore. The papers never print more than four or five letters. They’re usually general, often dated and frequently predictable.
And since papers have only so much space and they are so intent on pleasing everyone, the number of stories printed is limited, which makes the letters even more limited.
Not so with blogs or viewers’ comments.
Take the last two movies I saw: Twelve and Holding and This Film is Not Yet Rated.
Since these are not widely distributed films - This Film is Not Yet Rated, a documentary about the industry’s iron lock on the ratings board, comprised of a “secret” (up until this movie) cabal of people, will tell you why some films get an NC-17 and others an R - I did not have a widely available audience of friends to talk to about them.
But each of the films has a web site with space available for viewers’ comments. And since the web sites attract people from all over the world the comments are usually pretty interesting.
When I turned the last page of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, an engaging book, by the way, despite the hullabaloo about some rearranging of his life, I wasn’t ready for the tale to end. Like Frey, I needed more. And if it wasn’t going to be crack (his problem, not mine) or excessive amounts of alcohol (also his problem), it was more discussion, more reflection on his style, his grit, his experience and more firsthand accounts from other addicts.
Yes, somewhere along the way, I read the transcript between Larry King and Queen Oprah as well - a perfect example of how one can waste one’s time on the internet - but in the end the more illuminating comments came from other readers, other people in Frey’s situation.
It’s safe to say no one is shielded from critique these days. When I read something by the New York Times’ Frank Rich, for instance, I love to peruse the section of readers’ comments. They’re not all positive or glowing. Not by a long shot. But most are thoughtful and many pick up where he left off.
Which just goes to show you. We are more than a bi-coastal society. And there’s always more to say.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, what fun to read the reactions of other sports fans to an event happening in “real time.” I got hooked when I was watching the U.S. Open and I didn’t have cable. Now even with cable I love to read the blogs of games in progress.
That’s how I saw Ben Schmitt’s name. Schmitt used to report for the Savannah Morning News and is now orchestrating some sort of sports blog for the Detroit Free Press, which I am reading to follow the fortunes of the Detroit Tigers, this year’s team of destiny.
The world is indeed flat. We can all participate. If we wish.
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.