Political blogging is not always a trivial pursuit
In 1993, Stephen Carter in his important book The Culture of Disbelief argued that religious expression is trivialized in public discourse because of political habits of reducing it to a purely private pursuit or hobby with no authority and little influence in public life. Conceding all of the ways that blogging and religion may be different from one another, I intend to underscore a significant way they are alike in American culture: except for the very large, influential houses, they are both politically and economically trivialized as subjective and individualized expressions impinging little on society.
I do not intend to argue that personal, private expressions of opinion do not carry any intrinsic value or have their own kinds of influence. Hobbies and subjective pursuits are invaluable and can give rise to significant projects. What I am more focused on is the way writing as blogging is hemmed in and marginalized by attitudes that power, authority, and legitimacy arise elsewhere.
I am also not attempting to skirt the truth that blogging has often brought the minimizing on itself. Blogging has turned the publishing world on its head. Throngs of people who were previously unable to make their views accessible to a wide audience may now pile up their thoughts and jam the web with thousands of mundane meditations on anything anytime they can get online with a worldwide audience. Bloggers trivialize themselves to an extent through the sheer force of numbers, too.
But as long-form blogging (like I’m doing now) has started to recede to social media (Facebook) and micro-blogging (Twitter), the throngs are shifting and the people who stick around to blog like this are here because of certain benefits they derive from the writing.
Nonetheless, the shrinking remnant faces challenges. According to Stowe Boyd, big business and conventional media are rushing in and taking over:
Now the leading ‘blogs’ are either run by old media giants, or bloggers who have become new media giants. Social media has been strip-malled. The funky soulfulness of the early days has been replaced by SEO, ad networks, and ersatz earnestness.
The competitiveness and the accessibility of blogging are retreating, and bloggers like me face terrain much less wide open than it used to be.
Hence, I do not derive value necessarily from a horizon of infinite events and possibilities. Moreover, there is a personal component to blogging. However, there is also more than that, short of a sense that I can do anything I want with a blog.
With the consolidation of the blogging field around power and money, two attitudes arise: one political and the other economic. The first maintains that blogging-without-giants amounts to a glorified letter-to-the-editor. In this sense, local blogging does not affect social or political change. It merely exposes the blogger to political classes and party wonks who claim legitimate power. It has no effect at the grassroots.
The second attitude assumes that blogging short of a bankroll is strictly a matter of passion. In this sense, blogging means little beyond the intangible edification it gives the individual blogger. Value has little meaning outside the blogger if it does not accrue solids like disposable income or fixed assets.
There is some truth to these attitudes, but they also trivialize the difference blogging can make on occasion.
In the 6 years I have blogged hyper-locally, I have had a number of leaders tell me that my writing assisted them in informing and mobilizing people in their communities to affect change on various issues. It is true that blogging has also exposed me to political classes and brought in minimal revenue (which I donated to local non-profits), but I believe that my writing has had effects at the grassroots more than once, including motivating people, who might not have participated in the political process, to claim seats at the same table with elite classes in Nashville.
Based on my experience, I would argue that blogging is more than just op-ed, more than mere passionate hobby. It holds the potential to play an integral role in communities if the writer navigates the obstacles left by shrinking writing opportunities. And hyper-local bloggers need not focus narrowly on local issues to make a difference. They can also localize national and international events in relevant ways for their audiences.
Stowe Boyd argues for a “New Spatialism” where bloggers reconstruct web media on a human scale akin to New Urbanism. Not only would I warn Boyd based on my own hyper-local experience that New Urbanism finds its own ways to sell out to power and money (witness the May Town Center proposal in Nashville), but I would insist that the human scale is always-already contained in hyper-local blogging across various offline communities. There is nothing trivial about that.